Archive for the ‘Frugal’ Category

How We Successfully Raised $6,000 in Two Weeks for Burkina Faso

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

One of the most important and proud moments of my life happened almost 2 years ago when you all helped us give $8,000 total to provide clean water wells for Burkina Faso by donating $6,000 in just 2 weeks. You all blew us away!! I then shared this post on how to successfully raise funds for YOUR favorite charities. How fitting to end our November M Challenge focus on giving by republishing our story – if you’ve raised money for a charity using any of these tips, let me know in the comments!

How to Successfully Raise Funds for Your Favorite Charities from

I could not be prouder of my friends and readers than I am today. Today we were able to give $6,000 in raised funds to our Wells of Hope campaign for Burkina Faso and pitched in another $2,000 raising our total to an incredible $8,000 to build wells. This gift gives up to 4,000 men, women, & children access to clean water.

How did we do it? I am baffled myself! When we initially pitched the idea to the ministry team at our church that we wanted to do this, I had no clue if we would ever be able to pull it off. I am no Momastery, in traffic or in size of influence, but I did believe that my passion for this project could be contagious, if seen in front of the right eyes.

If you are trying to raise funds for a passion project of your own, I want to share with you the strategies I used for this campaign. I believe that there is enough love and money to go around to fund these projects, but it is finding ways to make that voice heard that is essential for funding.

Start With a Clear Plan & Goals

I am a big believer in getting everything on paper and when I came to the team with my big dreams of birthday wishes I didn’t speak vaguely of what I believed I could do. Let me be clear though, saying it out loud is hard. I did not want to let a single person down.  At the same time, knowing that I was trying to commit to a goal, offered motivation for me to really pull through for Burkina Faso. We shared that our family was financially committed to one well and we hoped to raise enough funds for at least two more wells.

I shared every avenue I was willing to tap into, how we could gather our funds, what I would need from the team to get people to connect to our cause, and what would be happening each day in that first week on our site.

How to Successfully Raise Funds for Your Favorite Charities from

Get People Curious About What You Are Doing

I began posting teasers that we were up to something a couple of weeks in advance of launching our project. We wanted to get people excited that something big was going to be happening and that we would be calling on them to be a part of it.  You can do this even if you don’t have a blog or website, but just through your social media channels.

How to Successfully Raise Funds for Your Favorite Charities from

State Your Needs Clearly So People Know Who They Are Helping

People need to know what they are funding and what organizations they are helping. In a case like ours where there are numerous organizations involved, I tried to clearly state exactly who the partners in this project were, facts about the community & people that would be impacted, and what a donation would mean to this cause.

Saying that we need clean water for people in Africa would not be as impactful as, “One out of three children will probably die before they ever reach the age of ten. The deaths are mostly due to a lack of fresh water. The women of Burkina Faso often walk several miles to a dirty stream or stagnant pool, just to fill a bowl with water.”

Children dying before they are ten?

Women walking for miles to find a water source?

It is awful, but truthful information that calls upon people to help in a very visual way.


How to Successfully Raise Funds for Your Favorite Charities from

Find an Avenue for Easy Collection

I have been a longtime fan of Pure Charity and knew that I wanted to use this site to spread the message of what we needed. I cannot recommend their site enough for what they can bring to your passion projects.

I could go on and on about why I love them so much, but it all boils down to people being able to connect with your cause, see their money grow, and know how many they have impacted. You can take a peek at my campaign to see how this looked.  I can’t tell you how many people went back in and donated a little more after their first donation to the project, just see the money bar go up a little more. After each donation is given, through Pure Charity, the person is told exactly how many lives their donation impacts. Even if you were only about to offer $10, you knew that you had impacted five people that day once your funds were submitted.

This method of collection was easy and you can connect your organization right to the funds.

How to Successfully Raise Funds for Your Favorite Charities from

Donations Are Great- Whether Big or Small

Unless the organization’s collection form states that you need to have a minimum donation, show people small and approachable ways of donating. Anything over $1 was considered a donation on Pure Charity so I tried to think of things that were a little over $1 that people could “give up” to give a child clean water. A Redbox flick, a Starbucks coffee, a ticket to the latest movie, or a quick stop for a burrito is money that could be spent to give clean water to Burkina Faso.

It worked so well that people were donating after they went through the drive-thru or they gave up their weekly latte run or pizza night for my cause.

The point of this was to prove that you don’t have to be a millionaire to give. Every donation was important to me. Every. Dollar.

Connect Your Cause With Your Social Media Channels

If you are active on social media, use it to your advantage and ask your friends to spread the word. My two biggest audiences on social media are Facebook & Instagram.

Here’s a fun fact, I absolutely despise video or hearing myself on video or anything to do with video. That being said, some people like pictures, some people like videos, and some people just like to read a status. I tried to utilize every avenue from the beginning. An intro video connected you to our cause, I did a couple of thank you videos to thank people as we met goals, and we shared lots of pictures. If you want to make quick banners or collages for your cause, PicMonkey is great for your websites and if you are looking to add text to your phone images, I love Rhonna Designs app.

Thank Everyone for Everything Often

Each time we received a donation, I thanked them, whether publicly or privately. I was so grateful to everyone who gave, whether it was a dollar or a hundred dollars. The fact that they connected with my cause and helped meant the world to me.

Anytime I have ever donated to someone and received a thank you, it acted as double validation for what I did. With 121 contributors to our campaign, I tried not to overlook a single person and sent an email or message to them as soon as I could to say thank you.

After all, if we didn’t have these AMAZING friends we could never be sharing our success story with you today. My friends ROCK!

Don’t Stop Once You Reach Your Goal

How to Successfully Raise Funds for Your Favorite Charities from goal was to raise enough funds for three wells. In the end, the money kept trickling in and bit by bit we were inching closer to our fourth well. If we would have given up when we reached our goal, we would have never known we could have achieved an additional well.

I’m not done with Burkina Faso though. The water of funds will continue to trickle as I knit my way to another well this year. I am working on my first round of wares for an Etsy shop to give all the profit to Burkina Faso.

If you have a talent for something and a burning desire like this amazing young lady that shared her story with our readers, you can continue raising funds in whatever little ways and pockets of time you have in your day.

How to Successfully Raise Funds for Your Favorite Charities from

Whatever your project, I pray that God blesses you abundantly in it. I also thank each of you for helping us reach and surpass our goal of giving clean water to the people of Burkina Faso. Thanks to your donations, we will have water for up to 4,000 people. What an incredible gift you have given us and these people.

Thank you for celebrating the site’s tenth anniversary with us in such a grand and beautiful way! It solidifies my belief that this is just what God wants me to be doing with my life.



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How to Make a Homeless Care Package (Free Printable Supplies List)

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Note: From November 2012, this is one of the articles I’m most proud of on Mom Advice, and I’m SO happy that it’s also one of the most pinned, making me proud of YOU. I’m republishing it for our November Focus on Giving M Challenge with the hopes it will see a whole new group of people who will be inspired to give!

One thing that you may not know about our family is that we are really passionate about caring for the homeless. Creating a homeless care package can be one fantastic way that your entire family can be involved in caring for the homeless. Today we want to provide a checklist of supplies for the homeless, a local resources sheet you can print out (if you are in our area), and some tips for involving the whole family in this project.

This month Walmart let me choose a project that I was passionate about for the holidays and showcase how families could recreate it in their own homes. As I always disclose, I am compensated for my writing, BUT instead of accepting the compensation, we invested what I would have earned along with the gift card budget Walmart gave me to give back to the homeless in our community. 

These homeless care packages can be prepared for your local homeless shelters or kept tucked away in the trunk of your car for those you may see on the street looking for your help. I love feeling armed in these situations and these kits are a simple way to show how much you care.

I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t tell you that my husband inspires me every day with his giving heart. Last winter, he was coming home late from work because he would see people in need and run to stores to get them supplies and gift cards.

That is his heart.

That is why I love him.

If there is one thing I firmly believe in, it is that giving should be a family affair. We have to lead our children by our example. I want my children to remember that what made our family special is that we always gave with our whole hearts.  

My kids assisted in every aspect of this project. My son came with me and did the number crunching on a good old-fashioned calculator, my daughter helped sort and organize all of the items we bought, and both kids helped fill the bags with all of the necessary items.

Here Are My 3 Essential Elements to a Great Homeless Care Package

Feed Their Needs- One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone who is homeless is personal hygiene items and food to nourish their bodies. Begin by picking up items that will satisfy this area in their life first. Simple items like shampoo, a razor, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, a bar of soap, and tissues are great items to keep on hand.

Food like granola bars, crackers with peanut butter, trail mixes, dried fruits, and a bottle of water are also great items to tuck into your bags. If you have the funds, small denominator gift cards (we did $5 Walmart gift cards) can also be great to give so that they can pick up a meal or item(s) they might need.

Provide Warmth- We live in Indiana and the winters here are brutal. I can’t imagine how cold it would be to stand on the streets without the proper items I need for warmth. Add items like thermal boot socks, gloves, scarves, and hats to your gift bags. Items like these may seem out of your financial reach, but I found all of these at the dollar store and the sets of gloves were a mere $.50 each.

Feed Their Souls- I am sure it goes without saying, but feeding someone’s soul is just as important as feeding their needs. You can feed their souls in a variety of ways depending on your families beliefs and resources. We created a local resources list (available for local residents to download) that they can tap into for further resources in our town. A note that lets them know that they are on your prayer list, a note of encouragement by your children, or a scripture that you find comforting can also be excellent additions.

God has been so good to us, but 10 years ago we were in a very different place than where we are now.  My husband was unemployed for almost an entire year, our financial situation was a house of cards, and my heart was in a bad place. Although I don’t like to admit it, I wondered what my purpose on this earth even was. I never have forgotten that dark place and it is why we still try to be so careful with the resources we have been given and why I have such a tender place in my heart for those who are struggling.

Being careful though doesn’t mean that you can’t be a giver. There are fantastic ways to give, both big and small, around the holidays. Be sure to check our list of ten painless ways to give back to charities to help you get started.  I call these smaller ways to give the, “scraps of life giving.”  I have talked a lot about that with my partnership with Pure Charity as well! 

We want to help you give back to your community! Here are some resources to do just that!

Grab our Free Homeless Supply Checklist for your your care packages. Don’t just click on the picture, head to this link to grab a full-size PDF version!

Grab our Local Resources List for your care packages (if you don’t live in Michiana, you can use this as a template for your own sheet)!  Don’t just click on the picture, head to this link to grab a full-size PDF version!


How do you give back in your community? How do you teach your kids to be givers?


I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts. For this project, all compensation was invested in aiding our area homeless.  My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

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My Favorite ePantry Items

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

My Favorite ePantry Items from

This week we won’t have our weekly happiness since I will be sharing my favorite reads with you tomorrow for the month! Instead, I thought I would share my favorite items that I order through ePantry. In case you missed my announcement this week, now through November 1st (9PM EST)  you can get a FREE Mrs. Meyer’s Seasonal Scents hand soap, dish soap, and multi-surface cleaner, plus a Full Circle renewable dish brush with any $20 minimum purchase! Not only that, but shipping will also be free (scroll down to cash in on that offer!)

This offer is valid for new ePantry customers only, however, existing customers can add a FREE Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap to your next order through this link. If you already signed up, be sure to snag your freebie! 

Not sure what to spend your $20 on? I have tried just about every item that ePantry offers and I want to share with you my absolute favorites!

My Favorite ePantry Items from

Yes To Blueberries Brightening Facial Wipes

I am big on washing my face every night, but since the evenings have been so chaotic lately, I have gotten out of the habit of a good facial routine. I purchased these Yes to Blueberries Brightening Facial Wipes and I absolutely love them to get my make-up off before I head to bed. I love the smell of these and they do a great job getting my make-up off without drying out my skin. If you have gotten out of a good skin routine, these are awesome! Although I had hoped to like the Cucumber ones, they actually made my skin flare up (I’m not sure why) so I stick with the Blueberries one for my sensitive skin! ($5.49 for 25 wipes)

My Favorite ePantry Items

ACURE Moroccan Argan Oil

My latest obsession is Argan Oil for my sensitive skin and after about a month of doing this, I see an incredible difference in my skin. After  I wash my face, I apply two pumps of Argan Oil to my face while it is slightly damp. I then layer on a thick layer of nighttime cream before I head to bed. I noticed that ePantry started offering Argan Oil recently and I purchased some and I am in absolute amazement at how good my skin looks. Fine lines appear to be more smooth on my face and my skin has never felt softer. The bonus is that you can use this on dry hands, cuticles, and to calm down frizziness in your hair- all especially necessary in these long winter months. I swear, it’s my new beauty miracle! One bottle lasts me about a month with daily use. ($10.95)

My Favorite ePantry Items from

Grove Orange Thyme & Cardamom Candles

If you are looking for a great smelling candle for the holiday season, I am absolutely in love with the Grove Orange Thyme & Cardamom Candles. It really smells like you are baking something absolutely delicious in your kitchen and the scent is powerful, but not overpowering. Although these candles look small, weighing in at just eight ounces, these burn over seventy hours! That is about twice the length of time of most of the candles I have purchased that were much larger than this one. ($12.95)

My Favorite ePantry Items from

Tom’s of Maine Toothpaste

If you would have told me I would become a natural toothpaste lover, I would have laughed. I absolutely made fun of people that purchased this! When my usual toothpaste wasn’t available through ePantry, I substituted with this and now that I have tried it I will never go back.  I have sensitive gums and teeth and this toothpaste delivers on getting clean teeth without the use of harsh chemicals. I worried my kids wouldn’t like the switch, but they haven’t even said one thing about it so I guess we all adapted easier than we thought and I apologize to anyone I may have made fun of for making a purchase like this! I am a believer now!

My Favorite ePantry Items from

Mrs. Meyer’s Laundry Detergent

When I don’t have a batch of my homemade laundry detergent on hand, I have found that Mrs. Meyer’s Laundry Detergent works incredibly well on our clothes. I use this and the Method Fabric Softener (also available through ePantry) in the Lavender scent and everything comes out smelling so good with only a tablespoon of detergent per load! The bottle doesn’t seem that big, but it actually is enough for 68 loads!  In all honesty, I have discovered that if Mrs. Meyer’s makes it, I know I will love it! ($16.64)

That is exactly why I want to be sure you get to take advantage of the Mrs. Meyer’s Seasonal Bundle! 


Cash In On This Exclusive Offer!

Now through November 1st (9PM EST)  you can get a FREE Mrs. Meyer’s Seasonal Scents hand soap, dish soap, and multi-surface cleaner, plus a Full Circle renewable dish brush with any $20 minimum purchase! Not only that, but shipping will also be free.

This offer is valid for new ePantry customers only, however, existing customers can add a FREE Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap to your next order through this link.

1. Sign-up HERE for Cranberry, HERE for Orange Clove, or HERE for Iowa Pine (you can mix & match once your get to your basket, too). Click on the “get started” button (new customers only).

2. You’ll be asked a few questions to personalize your account a little better. (This only takes about 30 seconds.)

3. After answering the questions, a customized dashboard will pop up with a set basket of suggested items for this deal. You’ll see the Mrs. Meyer’s Seasonal Scents and Dish Brush included. On the right, you will see the discounts for the freebies and free shipping.

What the basket will look like upon checkout

4. Modify your basket to your liking and preferences. Your minimum order amount just has to be $20 or more to get the bonus free products. You can choose any combination of seasonal scents for the freebies, too.

5. Shipping is free.

After the freebies, it’s like paying just $2.33 per item shipped!This is a such a great opportunity to save on festive cleaning products for your home during the holiday season!

Here is a breakdown of pricing:


Remember that this offer is valid only through November 1st (until 9PM EST)! Happy Holidays!

ePantry: Free Mrs. Meyer’s Seasonal Scents Pack ($29 Value) + Free Shipping!

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Mrs. Meyer's Seasonal Bundle

I am such a BIG fan of ePantry and their green offerings for both home & beauty and I have talked about the value in it for keeping your home stocked especially in these busy seasons of life. Today I have a very special offer (valid for the next six days only!) to give to our MomAdvice readers that I am so excited to share with you!!

Through November 1st (9PM EST)  you can get a FREE Mrs. Meyer’s Seasonal Scents hand soap, dish soap, and multi-surface cleaner, plus a Full Circle renewable dish brush with any $20 minimum purchase! Not only that, but shipping will also be free.

This offer is valid for new ePantry customers only, however, existing customers can add a FREE Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap to your next order through this link.

There are three different delicious-smelling seasonal scents to choose from: Orange Clove, Iowa Pine, or Cranberry. You can grab your freebies all in one scent or mix & match to try all three scents!

Mrs. Meyer's Seasonal Scents

Cash In On This Exclusive Offer!

1. Sign-up HERE for Cranberry, HERE for Orange Clove, or HERE for Iowa Pine (you can mix & match once your get to your basket, too). Click on the “get started” button (new customers only).

2. You’ll be asked a few questions to personalize your account a little better. (This only takes about 30 seconds.)

3. After answering the questions, a customized dashboard will pop up with a set basket of suggested items for this deal. You’ll see the Mrs. Meyer’s Seasonal Scents and Dish Brush included. On the right, you will see the discounts for the freebies and free shipping.

What the basket will look like upon checkout

4. Modify your basket to your liking and preferences. Your minimum order amount just has to be $20 or more to get the bonus free products. You can choose any combination of seasonal scents for the freebies, too.

5. Shipping is free.

After the freebies, it’s like paying just $2.33 per item shipped! This is a such a great opportunity to save on festive cleaning products for your home during the holiday season!

Here is a breakdown of pricing:


Remember that this offer is valid only through November 1st (until 9PM EST)! Happy Holidays!

This post contains affiliate links! We only recommend what we love!

How to Spray Paint Furniture

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Some of my absolute favorite transformations in our home have come from simple paint – it’s amazing the difference it can make! Since we are focusing on Transforming Your Home for our M Challenge, why not find a piece of furniture to paint – I’ve got all the tips here to share with you again so you can transform something humble into something fantastic!

How to Spray Paint Furniture Painting furniture can be time consuming that is why I have fallen in love with spray painting my furniture to get a fresh new look with a small time investment. Today I am going to show you how to spray paint your furniture to give an old piece in your home a new lease on life with just spray paint and an easy antiquing and distressing technique.

How to Spray Paint Furniture

Choosing a spray paint can be a lot of fun and Walmart asked me to share about a new product line that they are now carrying at their stores that I think you guys will really like. It is the Rust-Oleum American Accents Ultra Cover 2X paint.

The thing that makes this paint special is that it can cover twice the square footage of other general purpose spray paints.  This new paint contains 44% more solids which creates a higher performance than other paints and gives you better coverage with fewer passes. What makes the paint economical is that one can performs like two cans, so it saves you time and money.  The price also fits nicely into a DIY’ers budget at a mere $3.77 per can

I love this corner in our office, but have not loved this side table for many years. These chairs are so fun, but the table added no personality to this corner. I had planned to donate it to Goodwill, but I wondered if I could give this piece a spray paint face lift that would reflect this fun space. I decided to give the table a makeover with a little spray paint and antiquing.

How to Spray Paint Furniture

Supplies Needed to Spray Paint Furniture


Spray Paint Primer (gray if doing a dark color or white if doing a light color)

1-2 Cans Rust-Oleum American Accents Ultra Cover 2X, any shade (I am using Moss Green), available in the Spray Paint aisle of your local Walmart Store

Rust-Oleum Standard Spray Grip (in the same aisle)

Rust-Oleum Decorative Glaze in Java Brown


Sand Paper


Hardware (optional) or spray paint to paint it

How to Spray Paint Furniture

How to Spray Paint Your Furniture

  • To begin, prepare your surface by wiping the entire piece down with a clean cloth. Disassemble any drawers and hardware to prepare it for painting.
  • Next, give the entire piece a good sanding to smooth out any imperfections. Sand any edges with a piece of sandpaper and use a sander to smooth the top of your piece.
  • Once the piece is fully sanded, wipe it down with a damp cloth to prepare it for priming.
  • To help prevent drips and to make sure we get into every crevice of this piece with paint, we are going to start with our piece INVERTED. I promise, it is going to help the painting process go so much smoother than if you start with it upright.

How to Spray Paint Furniture

  • Starting with your piece inverted, begin spray painting it with your primer. Be sure to give your primer a good shake and begin priming your surface well.
  • Hold your can 8 inches away from your surface and spray your primer in a sweeping motion side to side with a slight overlap. Allow the primer to dry for one hour.
  • Put the piece right side up and finish priming the top. Allow the primer to dry for one hour.
  • Repeat the same process with your choice of Rust-Oleum American Accents Ultra Cover 2X in your favorite shade. Once the piece is fully painted, allow it to dry overnight before glazing.

How to Spray Paint Furniture

  • Using a coarse sandpaper, begin roughing up the edges on your piece to create a more antique look.
  • Using a clean rag, dip your rag in your glaze and then begin applying in a circular motion to your piece.
  • With a clean and damp cloth, remove as much of the glaze as you would like. I again, removed this in a circular motion from the piece until it added a hint of variation to the piece, but didn’t look sponged.

How to Spray Paint Furniture

  •  If you desire, you can spray paint your hardware. As you know hardware can be expensive to replace and sometimes older pieces have more custom fitting hardware so spray paint can be a great way to freshen it up. We chose to replace the wooden handle with a black hardware piece and then spray painted the old gold accessories black with a can I had in my craft supplies. We have spray painted many a handle in our home and you would never know it wasn’t that color originally.

How to Spray Paint FurnitureHow to Spray Paint FurnitureHow to Spray Paint FurnitureHere is my finished piece. I am so darn proud of it and love how vintage this piece looks thanks to the glazing and sanding process that I did on it. In full disclosure, there were some missteps along the way.

How to Spray Paint Furniture

Temperature Changes Effect Spray Paint

If you live in Indiana, you know that the drops and changes in temperature can be quite dramatic and that is just what happened when I painted this. I put a final coat on my perfect table before I went to bed and woke up to a table and drawers that had bubbled in the night. Try to pick a time of day when the temperature is warmer and will hold steady (nothing below fifty degrees) to prevent bubbling of paint. I used the advice provided by Kate, at Centsational Girl, on what to do if your spray paint bubbles and it worked like a charm.

Shake Your Spray Paint Can Well

Having that handy trigger on the spray paint makes it easy to paint quickly, but I forgot to shake the can every so often to keep my paint looking even and glossy. You definitely will want to make sure you shake it very well at the beginning, and shake it every so often when painting with it.

Who Knew You Needed to Be So Tidy?

Make sure after sanding that you really have a nice clear surface to begin your painting, otherwise you will have a crummy surface…literally. The same can be said for choosing a nice clean rag when doing glazing and keeping the piece as clean as you can, which is super difficult if you are in your filthy garage like me!

Distressing Can Hide Flaws

Distressing the piece more not only helped me minimize the bubbles, but it also added character to the piece. For my first spray painted furniture piece, I would definitely recommend it the first time to help you get the hang of how to paint with spray paint.

Practice Makes Perfect

This piece isn’t my best work, but I love it in spite of its flaws. As with all skills, it takes a little practice to get the hang of spray painting furniture. Even though I struggled a bit with my first project, I can’t wait to paint my record cabinet in our office next in the same shade and now I know what to do and what NOT to do when it comes to spray painting my furniture.

How to Spray Paint Furniture How to Spray Paint Furniture

What a difference a day makes? Isn’t she lovely? She has certainly brightened up this corner of our home! I highly recommend giving this new paint a try! Fast coverage and an inexpensive way to add a pop of color in your home!




Have you ever spray painted furniture before? What is your advice?



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Tips for Successful Menu Planning

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from

One of the most stressful parts about my job as a mom is creating menu plans to feed my family and accomplishing the weekly grocery shopping. Today I want to share with you some of my own tips for successful menu planning, but first I want to work on some honesty with you about my attitude towards food preparation in my house.

Is it okay to say that I have a terrible attitude about this?

I hope it is because something happened this summer that has helped transform my mindset a bit.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from

This summer I wanted to create some great learning experiences for my kids and to teach them how lucky we are for all that we have. One of those experiences has been volunteering at our church’s food pantry where over 400 local families are served each month. I had not expected the enthusiasm that these two brought to the job, but these kids were so happy to do this that they begged to return the next week to help again.

I am not sure what it is like for you and your children, but I feel like we live in this protected bubble that I am constantly trying to push them out of… but not TOO far.  I’m pushing on those walls because there is such a big world out there full of people who need us and it’s important to see and address those needs when we can.  I thought it would be great for them to serve others and to understand how lucky we are.

As we pulled in the first day to volunteer there was a gathering of people waiting for the doors to open. At the time we had pulled in, there was TWO MORE HOURS until the food pantry doors were open to the public. When I asked about this, I was told that they arrive that early to be able to be the first to select the food. The food given would last a family of 4 a few days, an incredible offering when one needs  it, but it made me very ashamed about my attitudes towards feeding my family.

I can plan meals for my family and buy whatever we need for the week in one trip without any worries.

I complain when the grocery line is too long, but others wait for hours just in the hopes that they will have fresh produce.

I whine about how annoying it is to have to haul so many bags from my car and put them away.

Guess who had the transformation?

I know we can’t always go into that zen place of happiness when planning our meals, but I’m working on my attitude and I want to do what I can to simplify this process for our family. It’s a bit of a privilege to go into the store with a plan and come out with what we need, isn’t it?

Meal planning is necessary to stay on budget. In fact, as I have said in my book, I feel that this is one of the biggest places I feel families should analyze when living on a budget. This is a flexible area in our spending, but it takes a good plan to stay on budget.

Here are a few of my tips for successful menu plans:

Gluten-Free Orange Chicken

gluten-free orange chicken

Be Realistic About Your Meal Plans

The overachiever in me really believes that I will cook a great meal for my family every night. The reality is that many nights I am running kids to activities and I am not home (or too tired) to execute all those good intentions. What happens when you have a lot of intentions and not a lot of time?

Spoiled food and wasted money.

I shop for 5 meals for the week, giving us two nights for leftovers and reality.

Kind of the same thing- ha!

Take a serious look at your calendar and analyze what will be happening for the week so that you can create a menu plan that will serve your family well. Slow cooker dishes are arranged on busy days where I don’t have time for food preparation, Sunday suppers are leisurely meals with all the fixings doubled so we can enjoy the dish another night, and grocery days are often prep days for chopping and dicing for quick wraps & salads for nights I don’t have the time to cook.

Slow Cooker Carnitas

slow cooker carnitas

Try a Rotation Schedule

I am a lover of routines and that also comes to the food that we share around the table. In our house, we usually have one slow cooker dish, one pot of soup or a large salad (depending on the season), some type of taco night, one “fancy” dish for Sundays, a brunch dish (that later acts as breakfast on busy school mornings), and I try to implement one new recipe a week to keep things fresh. A rotation schedule creates a clear routine for a busy week and makes grocery shopping easier since you know what you typically need each week. 

Routines are my jam!

I try to make one dish that can easily be doubled or tripled since we have been working on weekly entertaining or to share with someone who might be having a hard week. This can also be a great time to feed the freezer for another week.

Gather Inspiration for Your Meals

It would be hard not to be inspired now that we have tools like Pinterest at our disposal. I think more than anything it is not to feel OVERWHELMED with all of the meal choices or choosing dishes that are far too ambitious for your time constraints. My best bet for busy weeknights are 30-minute recipes or 5-ingredient or less ideas and that is typically what I search for when hunting down new dishes to add to my menu. 

I subscribe to my favorite food blogs through Feedly and utilize their bookmarking tool to save the recipes I want to come back to. I also utilize a private Pinterest board just for my family to test out different recipes in our kitchen. Cookbooks are like old reliable friends that I know I can always count on for a recipe or two. Foodgawker is where I also favorite dishes that I want to try in our menus (you can see our own dishes that made the cut over here!)



Tips for Successful Menu Planning from

Use Your Smartphone to Make Smart Lists

What did I ever do without my smartphone? This little device has made creating and maintaining my grocery lists each week so much easier. I am a BIG fan of the Grocery iQ app (FREE!)  for creating my grocery list because you can reuse the same master list that you use over and over again (especially if you have a routine rotation of meals) and this app automatically organizes and finds any coupons that you might want to use for your purchases. 

With Grocery iQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Switching to an electronic list was much easier than I expected. It also keeps me off my phone while shopping so I can really concentrate which is half of the battle for me when it comes to menu planning.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from

Journal the Family Favorites & Put Them In Your Plans

In our family, every person has a favorite dish or a favorite memory of a meal we have shared together. To make your week easier, creating a family journal or scrapbook where you have all your family favorites for weekly inspiration and rotate a family member’s favorite each week.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from

We made a food journal and printed out our favorite recipes and why the kids loved these dishes. This can be a fun craft project to do together AND it is something you can pass on to them when they leave the nest (but that won’t be for a LONG time so I’m not worried). If you want to try making your own cookbook, you can see this tutorial we created for it!

One thing I don’t think very often about is that many of our favorite recipes are online. If the sites ever go down (which has been known to happen), we may no longer have access to our favorite dishes. I want a place where we can keep all these food memories so a family journal is a fun activity that you can enjoy for years to come.

Pick What’s Important & Make it Happen

I have many friends that deal chase for their menu plans, but I have never been much of a deal chaser.  As the extracurricular schedule grows and my work becomes more demanding, I have to make choices about what I realistically can and cannot do. It’s okay to not chase deals.

I do my menu planning first thing in the morning (eat the frog!!) and I go to grocery stores where deal chasing doesn’t need to happen. ALDI has (and always will be) my first destination for our family groceries and thanks to the Savings Catcher app, a scan of my receipt at the end of my shopping at Walmart means I can look forward to pocketing any savings if any store goes lower in prices without chasing deals anymore.

You may find shopping at night is better for you or you may get a thrill from a deal well chased. Pick what’s important to you and make it happen for your family, but do what fits best with your own lifestyle for menu planning success.

Do you have any strategies you can share for menu planning? Let us know in the comments below!






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How to Make a DIY Salad Bar for Your Fridge

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Originally published in 2012 as a summer salad option, we’ve found having DIY salad bar ingredients in our fridge is great for quick, healthy dinners and lunches all year long, making it a perfect addition to our August M Challenge Focus on Meal Planning. I hope you are inspired by this idea to eat healthy any time of the year!

DIY Salad Bar- a healthy dinner ready to go in the fridge

Healthy eating should always be a priority, but making it a priority has gotten to be more challenging because we seem to always be eating on the go, no matter what the season. Enter an easy DIY salad bar that you can quickly prepare on your grocery day to enjoy all week long! This DIY salad bar can be kept on hand in your fridge so that it’s always easy to put together healthy salads for lunches, picnics, and quick dinners.

All of the supplies can be found at basic stores- you will need a fridge/freezer storage basket, three plastic 5 cup lidded containers, and 1 larger 12.5 cups container. Chop up your favorite salad ingredients and organize them in your containers like shown. The largest container does not sit firmly flat, but it still wedges in there nicely so that you can place all of these neatly in this wire organizer.

I love having such fresh ingredients on hand to choose form and creating a salad bar couldn’t be easier with the fantastic selection we have of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m showcasing just a few of the basics we love in our salads. You could definitely fill your produce drawer up with a few other great salad add-ins!

Ingredient Ideas for a Great Salad Bar

Bell pepper
Sunflower Seeds
Corn Kernels
Onions (none for me please!)
Artichoke Hearts
Homemade Dressings

One ingredient I always have on hand in the summer for quick summer salads and wraps is roasted chicken. I don’t keep a lot of fresh chicken around and prefer to buy the frozen chicken breasts instead. There is money to be saved in buying and preparing whole chickens, but my family only likes white meat  so for convenience sake (and to get them to eat it), we stick to the chicken breasts.

I buy the 3 pound bag of chicken  cook and slice all of the chicken for the week. The chicken is then ready to go to be made into wrap sandwiches, fast paninis, a protein addition to my salads for lunch, and it helps me save a step for our dinners for the week. Here is how I batch-cook our chicken:

Roasted Chicken Breasts for Bulk Cooking

Preheat the oven for 375 degrees. Spread the frozen chicken breasts out over one or two cookie sheets. Drizzle a little olive oil over the chicken breasts and then sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Allow the chicken to rest ten to fifteen minutes (to allow the juices to redistribute within the meat). Dice, slice, or shred for your recipes for the week.

Here is my beautiful salad bar on full display! Isn’t she pretty? It makes me really happy to have all of our fruit and vegetables chopped and ready to go for our week, making it easier to eat healthy.

Since we are a family on the go, I wanted to show you a fun way to enjoy your salads while you are out and about:

I picked up a collapsible basket and packed it with our outdoor blanket, salads (and fun bowls with forks included), fresh cut fruit, and homemade iced tea for an afternoon picnic to encourage healthy eating wherever we might be!


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How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200

Monday, July 6th, 2015

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

This post is sponsored on behalf of BHG at Walmart.

If you have learned anything from my past posts, you know that my desire is to make the most of every corner in our little home. Small space living requires works especially when want you make each room as functional as possible. I love how much it challenges me and today I wanted to show how we made over a neglected closet into a closet office as a birthday gift for our soon-to-be teen son. As part of the BHG Live Better Network, I am partnering with them to show how to help someone create a new space so today we are showing off our ideas for small space office that we think would work beautifully in a closet in your home. The best part is that this makeover cost us under $200 to pull off!

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

My son’s room is small and his closet is pint size like our’s (thus why I embraced the fashion capsule project so much).  Over time though, we have learned that these closets are just right for us and this closet wasn’t getting a lot of use now in his room. We had pulled his dresser in there to save space, but you can see how beautifully that all worked out (ahem!). Too small clothing and the piles of clothes given to this kid to put away in his drawers on laundry day had created a mountain of a mess. The first step was to weed through the pile and, with our recent growth spurt, we were able to whittle this pile down to nothing and give our great stuff to someone in need. The dresser was relocated to the end of our bed which freed the space up entirely for a new purpose.

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

The hard part with this makeover was just getting this space prepped and ready for its new purpose. We removed all the old closet hardware and trim, painted the walls in our favorite shade of Benjamin Moore Gray Owl (leftover paint from our shed makeover last summer) and sanded down the old eighties paint job on the high shelf to create a more distressed wood look to the shelf.

Here’s a fun fact! We found a little boy’s name scrawled on the side of the wood when we took it off the shelf. That is one of the best parts about having an older house…the sweet discoveries of little things like that add to its charm. We, of course, left it there for someone else to discover one day.

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

Pictured Above: Better Homes & Gardens Traditional Task Lamp ($22.56)/ Mainstays Parsons Desk With Drawer ($53.53)/ Mainstays Contemporary Office Chair  ($45.00) /Mainstays Canvas Ironwork Curtain Panel ($11.18)/ Better Homes & Gardens Boule Bronze Curtain Rod ($25.38)

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

We hung a single curtain panel that helped frame the space and also could be a way to hide the inevitable chaos that will happen on this desk. As you can see, we hung the bar high to help prevent our chair from rolling into our curtains and also to make this tiny space feel bigger.

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

On the side, we moved our hamper so it is tucked away for tossing our clothes into. A giant pegboard was added to the wall for odds & ends and any art we want to display.  I hung his favorite hat on top of a thumbtack that I had pushed in. This sign made him laugh so we thought it would be a cute touch (found at Hobby Lobby). A task lamp with extension cord creates a well-lit space for doing our homework in this space.

Happy 13th birthday, Ethan! We hope you create your next artistic masterpiece in this new space we have created for you! Thank you BHG at Walmart for the fun challenge this month! We couldn’t be more thrilled with our space and to create a new purpose to a once cluttered closet!

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from


In accordance with the FTC Guidelines, I am disclosing that I received compensation from BHG at Walmart for my time and participation in the BHG Live Better Network. Although we have material connection to BHG, any publicly stated opinions of BHG and their products remain my own.

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Beautiful Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining With Goodwill

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Beautiful Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining With Goodwill from
I love entertaining outdoors in the summertime and today I wanted to share with you some fun and frugal ways you can entertain utilizing items found at your local Goodwill store. Outdoor entertaining does not need to be expensive and many of the items found at Goodwill can be repurposed into great items to have on hand for outdoor meals and entertainment for your guests.

Join me over on the Goodwill Tips blog for a few beautiful summertime ideas I have gathered to help you  make the most of your outdoor space! I just know you will feel inspired after you see these fun ideas! 

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Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

My husband and I went for our first time out of the country this past month and it was the experience of a lifetime. In the upcoming weeks, I wanted to share with you a little bit about our experience with traveling internationally from how we saved the money to do it to packing for your vacation.  Since this is our first time out of the country, we lack the seasoned advice of travelers like Tsh from The Art of Simple (I have been just dying over their family’s incredible adventure, haven’t you?), but I hope we can bring a new voice to it about first-time international travel.

One of the keys to our success was utilizing a travel agent and going the group tour route for our first time traveling internationally. This surprised us so we wanted to share that experience with you especially if you are trying to travel internationally on a budget.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

The savings plan (I will go over that next week) had been in place for many years so that our family would not feel the pinch when we decided to take our 15th anniversary trip. Since it was our first time out of the country we had to get our passports. We headed to the post office to get the paperwork filled out which I was pretty nervous about.  I have so many issues because I dropped my middle name when I got married and this has been the biggest headache of paperwork ever since because my license and Social Security card do not match (thank you, Indiana).

My husband’s passport showed up in our mailbox quickly and I, of course, got a letter that my name was not correct on my license. After it being put before a board to determine if I am who I say I am (Sam I AM), they sent the passport with my correct name and that is when we started moving on the booking of grandma (bless her Jesus-sized heart!) and the booking of our travel.

I asked my friend Erika Brown from Chic Shopper Chick to help us because she and her husband had taken an excursion to Italy and she is my go-to gal when it comes to travel.

Armed with her amazing advice, we reached out to Cheryl Oddo from Carefree Vacations (telephone number 800.683.4074 and her email is coddo(at)carefreevacations(dot)com) to assist us with booking our travel.

PS- She said you can reach out to her if you are interested in pricing for yourself and she is awesome. Please tell her you are my friend! 

This was our first time working with a travel agent and it definitely will not be the last. Cheryl asked what we were most interested in seeing and looking for in a trip to Italy. She then sent to us several ideas for group travel packages that we could do and the pricing for each option. The pricing was carefully spelled out and told us what would be included (transportation, breakfast at our hotel, walking tours) and what wasn’t covered (airfare, additional excursions, tipping). We noticed the rates increased during the height of tourist season and selected one right before the rate hike for Italy to make the most of our money and the timing of our incredible grandma.

Here is where I keep things real….

I did not want to do group travel for my 15th wedding anniversary.

I did not want to be social.

Mostly, I just didn’t want to share my husband with anyone and I wanted to have a really romantic vacation with just him.

We weren’t thrilled.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

At the same time, we had NEVER been anywhere out of the states and the idea of navigating Italy was, indeed, far too daunting for the two of us. My husband didn’t feel comfortable driving and I didn’t feel comfortable planning an itinerary and finding public transportation to everything. This did seem like the best option and what unfolded was quite glorious.

Here are 7 reasons why I think group tours are a great travel option (if you are a seasoned traveler or not):

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

You Can Avoid the Lines for Important Monuments

The lines at some of the important monuments and museums had minimum wait times of an hour or more. Since we were on a group tour, our guide knew what time to take us to avoid the crowds to get the best experience, and they had a VIP line for tours where you could bypass all the people who were not on a tour and just go right in to see everything.  For us, we were only able to spend seven days in Italy and we wanted to experience as much as we could in this short amount of time. Doing the tour allowed us to see multiple attractions in a single day and beat the crowd doing it.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

You Have a Great Ride to See Everything Up Close

Our tour offered a motorcoach that even included WiFi so that we could share our photos and update email on the trip. Not only did we have an incredible guide, but our driver got us as close to our destinations as possible which helped us waste less time walking and more on the attractions themselves. The first night, for example, we got to see the lights of Rome and the bus pulled right up so we could take a photo. A nice touch of Andrea Bocelli singing Time to Say Goodbye certainly completed the mood while gazing upon the beautiful city.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

You Learn SO Much Through Guided Tours

Here’s a little secret, I was a terrible student and listener.


It’s hard to hold my attention so I was on the fence if a guided tour was going to be my cup of espresso, so to speak.

Here’s another shocker.

It was.

The reason?

The tour guides were phenomenal. One of our guides majored in art history the other was doing archeology in Rome. These guides just didn’t know a little about these attractions, they knew everything. Standing at the feet of David would have still been a moving experience, tour or not, but when the guide told the story of Michelangelo and his passion for art as well as helping us discover details that we would have never noticed before, it made it an entirely different experience.


Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

You Still Have Time To Shop & Explore On Your Own

Our big worry was that we would just be on a neverending tour everywhere, but that wasn’t the case. On some of the excursions, we were given a quick walking tour and then we were told where to come back for meeting and for other tours and you always had the option to opt out of any experience and do your own thing. For us, the travel into destinations would be more to cab it and try to navigate on your own then it would have been taking the motorcoach in and having the free time.

One day we skipped a tour to visit the Uffizi. We let our travel director know where we were headed and he not only checked to see if he could get us tickets (impossibly awesome to do this), but he walked us to the cab, told us how long we might expect to wait, and where could pick a cab back up. After three hours trying to get in, we walked in the museum to see my husband’s favorite work of art and had a glass of wine on the rooftop with an incredible view. When we got back, my husband hugged our tour guide with tears in his eyes because it helped make the impossible possible.

It was the sweetest thing ever.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

You Will Know the Lay of the Land

No matter where you go there are good parts of town, bad parts of town, appropriate etiquette and tipping guidelines, and protocols  that you will need to know when navigating somewhere new. A guide can tell you where to find a bathroom (invaluable, if you ask me!), if you should tip someone, where to watch for pickpockets (and how they operate), as well as assist you if you have special dietary needs.

I thought being gluten-free would be an issue, but it NEVER was. I let our tour director know that I couldn’t have gluten and he let every single chef know wherever we ate. When on our own, he supplied incredible recommendations for where to get a bite to eat.

Safety would have been a big concern if we would have been on our own. We were advised how to hold our purses and where we shouldn’t be going to avoid having our money stolen.

Part of me disbelieved the hype until we stood in line at a museum and a girl told us how kids were distracting her and being cute in a seat next to her while they stole all the money in her purse on the subway.

Maybe this wasn’t just hype. Maybe we were really lucky to know this after all.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

You Will Save A LOT

Not only did the travel agent provide good advice for making the most of our money, but the group tour option saved us thousands thanks to the affordability of group travel.  Factoring in the better budget accommodations, the transportation (by boat and by car), the included meals, and the walking tours, we really saved a bundle by going through a group tour.

Were all the meals spectacular? No. Were all the hotels fantastic? No.

We shrugged it off and worked around it. Most places we were there only a night or two so it was easy to laugh off. If we wanted better food, we could cab it somewhere better than the hotel offerings.

Group travel does require flexibility and it isn’t always perfect. For the most part, it was about the destination and the people…not necessarily the accommodations!

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from

You Will Make Incredible Friends

You know those two people who just wanted to be ALONE and not be social?


We met people from ALL OVER THE WORLD.

I even met two bloggers/photographers (check out Better Family Photos & Kellie Carter Photography)- what are the odds?

It never felt lonely or isolating when you had people to talk with.  Everyone has a story and I tried to put my listening ears on (see above why this is hard) and really listen and learn from these incredible people. My heart was so full and we had so much fun together that I was teary-eyed when it was time to go. Not to just leave this incredible country, but to leave these incredible friends. How lucky we are to have a place like Facebook where we can continue to follow one another.

There you have it.

Group tours are not only far more affordable, but they are officially the Clark jam.

We can’t wait to do another one!

Have questions? Ask me! Have a personal experience doing a group tour? Share it here! See more photos of our trip on Instagram (I’d be honored!) xo

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