Archive for the ‘Parenting & Marriage’ Category

What I Wish We’d Known About Money Before Getting Married

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Marriage and Money

I don’t remember getting a lot of advice before I was married. This may be the result of a faulty memory; after all, we’re talking about 16 years ago. Or it may be because most of my friends and family stuck to the party line: “Don’t get married. You’re too young.”

Those helpful folks were half right. We were certainly too young to get married, but we sure did it anyway. I’m glad – but I do wish we’d gone into the rest of our lives, forever and ever amen, with a little more wisdom. Okay, a LOT more wisdom – and especially in the area of finances.

Over the past decade and a half, my husband and I have made so many mistakes with our money. (SO MANY.) Today we’re feeling optimistic, though I’ll admit we’re still paying off some of our more recent and long-lasting mistakes. So while I’m certainly no expert on family finances, I do have a list of things I wish we’d known about money before getting married. We’ve figured them out along the way, the hard way. My hope is that if I share them with you, you won’t have to!

Practice living with one salary. This is actually the one piece of advice I remember hearing in the days before my wedding, but as a young, stubborn, modern girl, I ignored it. Because I wasn’t going to “just” be a stay-at-home mom! I was going to work! I couldn’t wait to work! And I would always want to work!

Right. You can see where this is going, can’t you? As it turns out, living within one salary is good preparation for times of unemployment or underemployment (we’ve had both, huzzah!) – even if both spouses continue working. And, what you don’t know at the ripe age of 20 is that you might change your mind on how much you want to work later in life.

Save now. And if you don’t need two salaries to pay your bills, you can save a whole lot of money when times are good. As it turns out, you should also try to save a little when times are hard, too.

Plan to give it away. (And then, you know, give it away.) Though I grew up going to church, I wasn’t necessarily taught to tithe (give ten percent). Though my parents and my in-laws are giving in their own ways, neither my husband nor I were taught how to align our giving goals with our financial priorities. The importance of this is different in each family, but we’ve grown in our desire to give more over the years – and wish we’d made choices early on that allowed us to give more now.

All the years we’ve spent paying ridiculous interest on credit card debts or car loans add up to a lot of years we’ve missed out on the gift of giving. We look forward to the day we pay off our last debt and can help others more.

Just because you are approved, doesn’t mean you should. Speaking of credit cards…

Actually, I’d say this goes for every kind of loan: credit cards, vehicles, homes. I’m not saying that it’s bad to have a car payment or a mortgage! What I’m saying is to really consider the reality of what a bank will give you compared to what you can truly pay back.

That starter house might be your home for 20 years. The one time we made a good choice (without making a whole lot of bad ones first) was when we shopped for our first home. Now, we made a whole lot of first-time home-buyer choices. Don’t even get me started on the wisdom of buying a house without a basement in a place very near the inspiration for The Wizard of Oz! But when the bank pre-approved us for a large amount, we said no thanks. We bought a house for much less than we were approved for, which is good because we’ve had many months (years? yeah…years.) of barely scraping by when even that smaller payment seemed impossible.

It’s also good because we’ve lived in our first home – our STARTER home – for almost 12 years now. Thank you, real estate market crash! And that leads me to…

Something always comes up. House repairs on that starter home you can’t sell? Check. I’m not talking about a tear in the screen door either. I’m talking about replacing an entire sewer line from your [only] toilet, under the house, through the front yard, to the street. And if such a thing happens and you’ve slacked off on your savings plan or don’t have any wiggle room in your budget because you’re using every penny of every salary, then you’re in big trouble.

Not all home repairs cost thousands of dollars, obviously. But something – daycare tuition increase, basketball shoes, speeding ticket – always comes up.

And ignoring it does not make it go away. I mean, maybe you wouldn’t try this strategy. But just in case you would, let me tell you it does not work. (Don’t ask me how I know!)

Those are the big things my husband and I have learned, the hard way.

What money lesson have you learned that you’d like to pass on to someone starting out?

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Guest Post: How to Incorporate Healthy Living Back in Your Life

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Note: This is a repost of Ashley’s post from January of 2014 that I thought we needed to see again as we journey through our m challenge of focusing on our health because not only is Ashley inspiring, she gives some wonderful, concrete tips to make healthy living a real part of our daily lives!

I am Ashley Johns, a Personal Trainer, Writer, Creator of Fierce Forward and Fierce Forward Intention Bracelets.  Ever since losing over forty pounds and taking back my life, my mission is to empower others to move forward, fiercely and healthfully, towards the life they want.

I met Amy at a local blogger’s get-together where I learned how retro-chic and creative she is!  We chatted about me guest posting on Momadvice and decided something very valuable I could share with you are my tips on how to make you and your family’s health a priority.

Maybe you’re wondering, “Does this chick have kids?”   Let me answer that.  I am a fierce chick and I do not yet have children, but I sure do know how to manage healthy living and make it work for anyone!

Oh, and I am a master empathizer.

Last September, I married my love, Marcus, and with kids in our foresight, I have made it a priority to position myself in a healthy, balanced lifestyle before all the madness begins, or so that’s what my friends are bracing me for!

Although I’m not yet a mother, I can tell you that I have the utmost respect for all mothers out there and am so grateful to have my mother as my best friend, along side my husband.  Having a full time job, cooking, working out, grocery shopping, friend time, date night, bubble baths, doing your hair on a good day, prepping your healthy food, drinking your gallon of water each day;  I mean, how would all this be doable with a little person(s) in your life?

Well, I know that one day I will figure it out and take it from Amy that it can be done.  After all, I believe nothing is impossible and if you want something bad enough, you find a way and make it work!  Because us women do hard things.

Here are my tips on how to incorporate healthy living back in your life!  

Stock your car.

Stock your car with water bottles and bring healthy, kid friendly snacks with you when you are on the go.  My favorite snacks to pack that are fast and easy are nuts, protein bars, Larabars, cheese sticks and my amazingly delicious baked oatmeal.  This way you leave your house prepared and you won’t be inclined to get fast food in a pinch.

Know your fast food alternatives & set a healthy precedent for your children.

It is so easy to be on the road, feel hungry and pull through McDonalds in 2 minutes; boom, the kids are happy.  Don’t fall prey to this behavior because you and your children deserve more.  There are so many healthy fast food alternatives available to you, such as Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal or Greek yogurt, Panera Bread’s Secret Low Calorie Menu, Subway with mostly fresh ingredients and so many more.  Be mindful of where you take yourself and your kids when you’re out by browsing the online food menus available at most restaurants.  You and your family deserve to eat healthfully and it is possible when you set the intention to do so.

Pack your gym bag the night before.

After a long day’s work, it is easy to put off going to the gym, but if you have your gym bag packed and with you in the front seat, coupled with a quick snack from your snack pack, you will be much more likely to hit the gym.  If you have your kids with you, there are plenty of gyms that have child care.  I look forward to my future “me time” at the gym when I have kids.  Use it as your time to decompress, breathe and regroup so that your children get to vibe off of your calm nature as you go on with your day together.

Breathe.

A lot of people underestimate the power of breathing. When you’re going from place to place, dropping one child off at day care and entertaining another child in the car while on your way to get groceries and feeling the stress on your shoulders, take three deep breaths, exhaling slowly to release the stress, anger and frustration you’re feeling in the moment; then smile.  My motto is, ‘Just breathe through it.’

Be kind to you.

This is a hard one for us women!  Put a spot for you on your to-do list or make a date with yourself.  As women, we spend so much time and energy on others, it’s also important to make time for yourself.  Make sure you’re at the top of your to-do list!  Don’t for a second, forget that you are just as important as everyone else that gets your love and energy.  You deserve that love and energy and need it.   Be kind to yourself, allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes, laugh it all off, smile, make time for you and know that whatever you need, you have it now.  You are enough and you are perfect.

Be intentional.

I have heard children are like sponges.  I truly look forward to the time I can be a source of influence and inspiration to my children.  I wholeheartedly believe in the power of intention and that what you think becomes your reality.  By allotting more time to focus on your intentions as a family, you are creating a more solid foundation in which you are grounded in.  When you know where you are going, it is easier to get there.  I created Fierce Forward Intention Bracelets to empower myself and others to live with intention each day.  Having a visual reminder of your Purpose, Commitment, Courage & Strength, you begin to embody these intentions the more you focus on them.  I even make them child sized upon request!

Fierce Forward Bracelet

You are so lucky to have a family, a foundation, to build upon and work towards something bigger, together!  Be intentional as an individual-remember that girl in the picture- and as a whole and you surely will have a healthy family and a healthy you.

My final tip I will leave you with is to find a picture of yourself that radiates who you are.  This can be a picture from childhood, a picture of you caught off guard five years ago or a more recent picture.  Take your time in choosing and make sure this picture speaks to you and truly nails the definition of you.  Put it up on your DIY Chalkboard (that link will take you right to my tutorial!) or your bathroom mirror, look at that picture every day and remember to take care of her.

DIY Chalkboard Project

Thank you so much for reading my words and thank you amy for the opportunity to reach your Community of Fierce Mothers, whom I look up to!

Fierce Forward Bracelet Ashley from Fierce Forward

To Find Out More About Ashley:

Fierce Forward Intention Bracelets
Website:  Fierce Forward
Find Ashley on Facebook
Find Ashley on Pinterest, on Twitter or on Instagram! 

How do you make healthy living and “me time” a priority for yourself? Feel free to leave your ideas in our comments below!

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The First Aid Essentials Every Mom Needs (Free Printables) & a $100 Walmart Gift Card Giveaway

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

This post is sponsored on behalf of BHG at Walmart.

A fresh new year is a great time to  not only declutter our homes of unnecessary items, but it is also a great time to stock up on life’s daily essentials. Emergency preparation has been something that has been on my mind these days and with the focus of our site being on health/wellness for the m challenge, I thought this would be a great time to address my poorly stocked First Aid Kit, a unique way to package it for the home, and I would love to give you the chance to win a gift card of $100 to create one yourself out of products from BHG at Walmart.  What do I know about First Aid essentials and preparedness. It turns out, not much.

How to Stock a First Aid Kit: ER Doctor Jamie Shoemaker

I am not an expert on emergencies and emergency situations, but lucky for me, I actually happen to know an ER doctor in town who has seen his fair share of emergencies at his hospital. Dr. Jamie Shoemaker is an ER Doctor for Elkhart General Hospital and GRACIOUSLY offered his expert opinion on what every mom should have in her First Aid Kit to be prepared for emergency situations.

It should come as no surprise that I barely had the bandages and cream category covered.

Ahem.

On his list of First Aid essentials, he suggested different size bandages, Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, Hydrocortisone creme, Triple antibiotic ointment, hydrogen peroxide, nasal bulbsuction, syringes for oral med admin, tweezers, tape, gauze of varying sizes, Ace wraps, aloe, nail clippers, antiseptic wipes, instant cold compresses, scissors, pairs of non latex gloves, thermometer, splint, safety pins, calamine lotion, flashlight, blanket, tooth preservation
kit, contact lenses saline and case and a first aid manual.

Don’t worry- we have a printable for all of this for you to take when you head to the store.

He also noted that aspirin should be avoided in children due to Reye’s syndrome so he did not include it on this list for moms.

Thank you, Dr. Shoemaker, for helping us get prepared for emergencies in this new year.

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

I headed to Walmart with his list and wanted to stock up on every item, but also knew that I had to find a pretty way to package it. Thankfully, the BHG product line at Walmart offer a variety of cute totes, baskets, and other organizer essentials. Since I have nowhere to tuck my First Aid kit, it will rest on top of our little bathroom storage unit, on display for our guests. I wanted something attractive for storage so I settled on this handy Better Homes & Gardens Chesapeake Magazine Basket for under $13 that housed all of these fabulous First Aid essentials with ease and kept them tucked away without anyone knowing what is in there. How perfect is that?

Emergency preparedness is such an essential part of running a household and I know that this is something I should work on in our home. Whether it is being prepared with a bandage and some cream for the neverending injuries in our home or making sure our home is stocked with candles and flashlights for our neverending power outages or even more seriously, the need for disaster preparedness with canned foods and water…

Let’s face it, this stuff tends to fall on the shoulders of many mothers.

I know it falls on mine.

I can admit that I have done a pretty lousy job at stuff like that, but this year I want to do better and I want to encourage you to do better too. This month, the m challenge isn’t just about focusing on our own needs, but also on the needs of those we love. I hope this little push can help you this year to address key needs in your own household.

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

(just a screenshot- click below for the printable please!)

I have prepared for you a FREE printable list of First Aid Essentials that you can take to the store of all the recommendations Dr. Shoemaker offers for us.  There is no need to stress about being prepared this year- we have you covered!

Enter below to win one $100 Walmart Gift Card from BHG at Walmart to stock your First Aid Kit for the new year. One lucky winner will receive this gift card to stock up on all the essentials. This giveaway ends on January 21st! Good luck, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Live-Better-Network-Badge

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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Planning for Your Marriage to Succeed in 2015

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Making 2015 Plans for Your Marriage

I’m a big fan of lists. Making lists, setting goals, creating intricate plans for success – all of these things send me to my happy place. But even the biggest list-loving nerd can admit that some lists are more fun than others.

Grocery lists aren’t nearly as fun as my list of books I’ve read. And that spreadsheet of bills to pay each month can’t hold a candle to my plan for an upcoming birthday party or the Pinterest board of craft projects and science experiments my seven-year-old picked out for her spring break.

That’s why I think New Year’s lists, goals and plans are so beloved. After the chaos of the holidays and the stress of DOING ALL THE THINGS ON MY LIST during the last quarter of the year, it’s refreshing to literally start a new page. Looking at the blank expanse of the first page in a new planner, calendar or journal can offer our hearts and minds peace that we crave after hectic holidays and the race to the final days of the year.

And so we sharpen our pencils, format our spreadsheets, crack open those notebooks, or line up our colored pens – and we dream. We dream and we plan and we hope for the very best in every area of our lives. And in that moment, the one right before the ink hits the paper (or screen, depending on your method, of course!), it’s all possible, isn’t it?

I see a beauty in this time of year, but also a balm. Often we can find ourselves limping toward the finish line of another year – grumpy, discouraged, disappointed and longing for that fresh start. What a relief to turn the page and begin again!

Nowhere is this more true than in my family, with the people I love most. Unless you count the state of my dining room floor, which is the sticky victim of a toddler who delights in throwing food. I’d love to begin again there, too! But if I focus on the things I can change (because no amount of firm redirection is phasing said food-throwing baby girl…), I find my marriage at the top of my list for 2015.

The past two months in my house have involved celebrations and joyful moments, for sure. But they’ve also included tension, misunderstandings and short tempers.

Like many of you, we have a busy schedule that leaves little time for long walks on the beach or meaningful talks over gourmet meals. But as 2014 came to a close, we made a point to spend some extra time together. I’m not saying we stopped choosing one more episode of our favorite show over gazing into each others’ eyes completely. But even a few minutes can make a difference. And this year, we’ve really enjoyed dreaming together and making a few plans for 2015.

We’ve done our best to set challenging but attainable goals for the year, and we’ve talked a bit about what worked last year and what didn’t. (And let’s be honest – picking Friday Night Lights as our show to watch after the kids go to bed on Saturday nights WAS a winner!)

If your marriage is on your 2015 list of things to improve, focus on, or otherwise nurture, here are a few ideas.

Goal Planning for Marriage

Plan those date nights: I don’t know how many times I’ve spent an evening clicking and pinning all those clever ideas for date night jars. Or date nights in a jar. Or a jar of date nights in a jar. Clearly, there are tons of ideas out there! (And for some reason, they all involve jars…) But for my husband and me, we don’t need an elaborate system or an adorable tool. We simply need to make a plan.

For us, that means deciding how often we can make a date night happen and then clarifying our expectations for what those evenings look like. It also means making a list (yay!) of new places to try and ideas for Plan B (when the kids are sick or the babysitter cancels or we just don’t have the money for a night out).

Set some goals: I’m not sure where your marriage needs to grow or change. Sometimes I’m not even sure where my own relationship needs the most help! And, actually, I’m not positive that my husband and I would answer that question the same if asked right now. For me, setting a goal or two for my marriage is a double win, because simply aligning our hearts on the most important things has huge value to us. Meeting that goal throughout the year is just icing on the cake. (Unless you’re one of those couples who sets goals like, “run a marathon together.” Then it’s hummus for your carrots or something…)

Take a test: Second only to my love of lists is my love of personality tests. My husband does not share this affinity, so I’m not sure this one will ever make it to our yearly planning session – but a girl can hope, right? Until recently, my favorite personality test has been the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (any other ENJFs out there??), but several of my friends have talked a lot about the Enneagram system this past year – and I’m intrigued. Perhaps I should sneak, “take personality or love language test,” onto my list of date night ideas…

Choose one word or a life verse: I know lots of people who have life verses from the Bible that they focus on as an overarching theme for their lives, as well as lots of people who choose one word to focus on each year. I also have friends who have family mission statements or vision statements for their businesses. Personally, I’ve chosen one word for the past few years and I have life verses for my children. But I’ve never chosen or created any of these for my marriage.

What difference could a word, a quote, a verse or a statement make in our relationships? I think it could be huge – giving us a touchstone, a reminder for what matters most and for what we value about each other, so perhaps this year will be the one we finish feeling closer and stronger than ever.

Make a vacation wish list: A couple years ago, my friend Amanda wrote about the list she and her husband had made – 100 places they wanted to take their kids. The places ranged from the Eiffel Tower to her grandmother’s house to a nursing home to summer camp, and I have not been able to shake this idea since! So this year, when Mark and I talked about our vacation plans for the summer, I mentioned to him that we only have 12 more summers with Annalyn (before she goes to college). That means, we likely only have 12 more big vacations with her – so we’d better plan carefully!

Next thing you know, Mark is looking at his watch while I click on link after link after link promising to tell me the Top Best Most Awesome Family Vacation Ideas Ever in the History of Family Vacations. Of course, that’s what happens when you start this list right before bed. We tabled the discussion for now, but later this week, we have a date to start it up again. I can’t wait!

Set a budget: Money is not always a fun topic, but making realistic plans for paying off debt, saving up for big purchases, or making work/life changes can be exciting. I won’t tell you that our budget conversation was stress-free, but it was good to put everything – our bills, our bank statements, our hopes, our fears – on the table and use it to form a 2015 game plan.

It may not be possible to do all of these things, but doing even one means you’re making your marriage a priority – and might just keep it at the top of your Important Things list all year. I’d even say that this time of year has the potential to be more romantic – and certainly more meaningful – than any Valentine’s Day date coming up next month. So, let’s not wait! Let’s plan for success in our most important relationship right now.

How are you planning for your marriage to succeed in 2015?

{Photo sources: Juanedc and Sergio Vassio Photography}

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10 Ways to Make the Holidays Meaningful for Your Kids

Monday, December 1st, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Making the Holidays Meaningful

We took our girls to get their picture taken with Santa the weekend before Thanksgiving. And just like that, the race was on. I’d already liked and shared a local mom blog’s list of holiday events around the city, and don’t even get me started on my mental debate about Christmas cards.

Every year I swear I’m going to do less; I swear off holiday bucket lists. I vow to focus on what’s really important, to truly take to heart the idea that being present is so much more valuable than any present I could make or buy or wrap in pretty, pretty paper.

And every year I still manage to drive myself – and my family, at times – a little bit crazy anyway.

Despite my tendency to go a little haywire during the holidays, I keep trying. I have to! It matters too much to quit. I know the importance of meaningful holiday experiences, and even more than desiring them for myself, I want to create them for my children. So today I sat down with my seven-year-old, and we brainstormed a few ways to turn this wish list into reality.

Here are 10 Ways to Make the Holidays Meaningful for Your Kids:

1. Remember (or research) the meaning of the holiday.
Read the Christmas story from the Bible (or the story of the holiday you celebrate). In the past couple of years, we’ve loved learning about the origins of lots of the holiday traditions celebrated during Christmas and Hanukkah by watching Why Do We Call It Christmas, a video with funny puppets and catchy tunes.

2. Take time to give back to others.
For the past few years my daughter and I have enjoyed shopping for items to fill an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. But there are plenty of different ways you can give during the holiday season. Whether you buy gifts for a child in foster care or drop a handful of change in the red Salvation Army bucket outside the store, serve dinner at a homeless shelter or buy an extra set of blocks for Toys for Tots, giving to those in need is always going to help us remember both to be grateful for what we have and to focus on others instead of ourselves.

3. Change the kind of gifts you give.
For me, giving gifts is one of the most fun parts of the holiday season. I love finding the perfect present for the people I love. But I realize that sometimes more is not better if my goal is to make the holidays meaningful for the young people I love!

Several of my friends have chosen to only give each of their children four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. I love that! I’ve also seen floating around Pinterest lots of non-toy gifts. Beauty and Bedlam and Raising Memories have great lists of ideas!

4. Decorate with intention.
This was my daughter’s idea! When I asked her for ways to make our holidays meaningful, she said, “Well, Mommy, holidays aren’t all about decorating…but decorations are nice. So…maybe if we decorated with Jesus things??”

She recently received her first nativity set from my parents and is excited to find the perfect spot to place it in her room. So she might be a little biased with her advice, but she still has a good point. I don’t have anything against ceramic Santas or Frosty mugs, but I also love pulling out my own nativity sets and placing them in a place of prominence in our home. And anytime I have a chance to use my Jesus is the Reason for the Season platter, I take it!

5. Add meaning to your countdown with an Advent calendar.
A simple activity each day in December can keep your focus on what’s most important to you and your family. Whether that’s reading a Bible verse, performing an act of kindness, or completing a craft project (or a coloring sheet, for the less-crafty moms like me), taking time out of the holiday craziness can remind kids and grownups alike why we’re celebrating in the first place.

My daughter and I love doing Truth in the Tinsel, which incorporates crafts and scripture to create meaningful conversations and experiences. You can find a 12-day schedule for Truth in the Tinsel here, and the ebook also includes four alternate schedules as well: Just the Basics (with 6 activities), By Book of the Bible (6+ activities), Characters (10 activities) and Prophecy (7 activities). (And if you’d rather not tackle craft projects during this busy season, you can also buy the printable ornaments. Easy peasy!)

Read Christmas books together

6. Read a book a day.
Speaking of a simple daily activity…we tried this one a couple years ago, and it was a blast! I wrapped Christmas books – from our own collection and from the library – and we opened one each night. And this is one you can start at any point during the season.

7. Plan a family date.
For as long as I can remember, my parents have made a point to plan a Christmas date for our family. Even as adults, we made room in our calendar for this outing for years. These days, my daughters have taken over as their designated Christmas dates, but that’s okay. My husband and I are excited to start this tradition with our own family, planning an outing with our girls. (Probably a trip to see Santa and a stop for hot chocolate this year. Nothing fancy, but still special for the season.)

8. Plan a family night in.
Christmas movies. Slice and bake cookies or a bag of microwave popcorn. Sticking label and stamps on the holiday cards. Trying on new, matching pajamas and playing Uno. In a season of busyness, a night at home with the people you love most is a gift in itself and just might do the trick to center your minds and hearts on that meaning we’re all longing for.

9. Consider your calendar carefully.
I try to stick to one “festivity” during the week and one during the weekend in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For my small, easily overwhelmed family, that’s just about all the extra fun we can handle. Others might be able to do more, while some families might be better off cramming everything into one crazy week. You can’t do everything, so consider your calendar – and capacity – carefully when making your plans.

10. Just say no.
Whether this is your last resort or your go-to response, saying “no” is an option – even during the holidays. We can say no. We can! We can say no to the light display or the homemade goodies or the elaborate countdown rituals or the open house at your house or the cookie swap at someone else’s. We can say no to the expectations and the demands and the stress. Whatever doesn’t work for your family, whatever takes your focus too far from the true meaning of our holidays – you can say no to it. Go ahead, give it a try!

How do YOU make the holidays meaningful for your family?

 

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Putting Marriage at the Top of Your Holiday List

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Put Your Marriage at the Top of Your Holiday List

Last weekend I went out of town for a business trip. It was a good trip but an exhausting one, and by the time I pulled into my driveway I was ready to drop. After we got the girls in bed, my husband asked, “Do you want to watch a show or are you going to bed now?”

[He was being considerate, but I’m pretty sure he was also crossing his fingers that I’d vote for one more episode of Friday Night Lights, our most recent binge-watch series.]

I dropped down on the couch and he queued up our show. But then I remembered something I wanted to tell him. He paused the TV and gave me his attention. One topic turned into two turned into rabbit trails and problem solving and venting and story sharing. Four hours later as he turned out the light and said, again, “You’ve got to get some sleep!” I realized we hadn’t talked that long in . . . well, I couldn’t remember when.

My husband works nights and an extra-long shift, to boot. I work from home, and we have two children. Throw church, school and other extra activities into the mix and you’ve got two ships that would be thrilled to pass in the night just once this week. I bet some of you have your own version of this too-busy, over-scheduled life that makes couple time complicated at best and impossible at worst.

That’s why we need to put our marriages at the top of our holiday lists.

Life is busy in all seasons, but the holidays can turn that craziness up to 11. Whether you call it a bucket list or a to-do list or a countdown to Christmas or end of year chaos, it’s likely you have some sort of plan and at least a few goals for the last two months of the year. I do. Even though I’m trying to preserve my sanity and my budget by keeping plans simple this year, I still have new recipes to try, thankful trees to draw and fill up, gifts to buy (and wrap), family photos to schedule and take, cards to address and mail, schedules to coordinate and parties to attend.

Winter Evening

If I’m not careful, Mark and I won’t have another chunk of time together (outside marathons of the aforementioned TV show) until 2015. And that thought makes me feel as grumpy as a pre-ghost Scrooge.

To keep that from happening, I’ve thought up a few ways to keep my marriage at the top of my mind – and my holiday list. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Revive a pre-children tradition. The first Christmas Mark and I were married, we baked and decorated dozens of Christmas cookies. We had the best time – and I’m pretty sure we haven’t done it since! What’s something you used to do together to celebrate, perhaps during your dating days or before the kids were born? Whether it was picking a live tree or watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special or something completely different, try putting that old tradition back into the rotation this year.
  • Schedule a holiday date night. Both my husband and I have December birthdays, so we’re even more motivated to make time for a night out around the holidays. But even if your birthdays are months away, it’s still worth it to find a babysitter and get tickets or make reservations for a special, holiday date. (Maybe this year will be the one we splurge on tickets to finally see Trans-Siberian Orchestra!)
  • Plan an adults-only holiday party. This one is a little trickier, but you don’t have to coordinate an elaborate, fancy party. (Although you CAN…if you want!) But maybe you invite friends over for an afternoon open house with cookies and cocoa. Or what about chipping in for a babysitter for all the kids in your group of friends, so the grown-ups can have a Postage and Poker party (where your reward for addressing and stamping all those holiday cards is a fun game night with friends)? Really, though, you don’t have to get creative at all. Simply putting the kids to bed early, inviting friends over and ordering pizza to forget about the holiday stress for a couple hours will do the trick!
  • Have your own thanksgiving dinner. You don’t even have to roast a turkey for this dinner. Just make time to sit down for one meal together, where you tell each other what you’re thankful for. (Remember, gratitude is the one surefire way to improve your marriage!)
  • Team up for those other holiday to-dos. While it might seem more efficient to tear your to-do list or shopping list in half and attack those pesky line items separately, it might be more fun to do a few of those things together. Shop for your kids together, put up those lights together, even buy the holiday dinner groceries together. It might take a bit longer, but that time invested is worth it.
  • Exchange gifts before the kids get up (or after they go to bed). I don’t know how it is at your house, but Christmas morning at mine is all about the children. If you and your husband exchange gifts, don’t let it get swept away in the chaos of giggles and wrapping paper fights. Stay up a few minutes late or (if you’re morning people) get up early and trade presents alone. That way the tie you put into finding something special for your someone special can be truly appreciated and enjoyed.
  • Let the kids sit out on one of those family photos. If you’re having a new family photo taken for your holiday cards (or grandparents gifts!), make sure you get one of just you and your husband. Even if it doesn’t make the card this year, a shot of the two of you can still make it into a frame or your wallet or a canvas for the wall. (Valentine’s Day gift – check!)

How do you focus on your marriage during the holidays?

{Photos by Will Folsom andiRuben.}

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Review & GIVEAWAY: Empowered SAFETY Membership

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

How to Keep Your Family Safe by Monitoring Product Safety Recalls from MomAdvice.com.

*This post is sponsored by the Empowered SAFETY. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

When my children were small, I was absolutely obsessed with tracking recall information. Let’s face it; the sheer amount of equipment needed to keep your baby safe in that first year is astounding.  Back then I subscribed to Parents Magazine and would skim the magazine for the latest recall information. Over the course of those first few years as a mom, there were many recalls, but I was so busy and so tired that I struggled to stay on top of that and keep up with it all.  Thankfully, there are faster and easier ways to stay on top of recalls now.

This week I am partnering with a fantastic site called Empowered SAFETY to share with you all of the great advantages of a membership & how it can help you keep track of legitimate complaints & recalls when it comes to items you use in your home and the food you consume. We are giving everyone one free month to try this service and giving one lucky reader a six month subscription.

  How to Keep Your Family Safe by Monitoring Product Safety Recalls from MomAdvice.com.

What Does Empowered SAFETY Offer?

Did you know that there can be hundreds of complaints made to government agencies about child-specific products before a recall is actually issued?  Instead of waiting for the recall to occur, a subscription to Empowered SAFETY can alert you of the complaints prior to the recall even is issued.

With a premium membership you can simply match the products in your home with the half-million child products in Empowered SAFETY’s database, and you will receive an email notification on that product should complaints be made against it. It is as easy as that!

How to Keep Your Family Safe by Monitoring Product Safety Recalls from MomAdvice.com.

We aren’t just talking car seats and baby equipment though; the service also offers valuable information about food safety which, as we know, can be potentially life-threatening to a child with food allergies. You can receive the food recalls in the area where you live so you can stay on top of potential allergens and safety hazards in your home.

How Can This Help You When Making Purchases?

When I make purchases for my family, I spend hours online trying to decide which item will be the best for us based on the reviews of other shoppers. I hate wasting my money or time on purchase that don’t have longevity in our home. When it comes to purchases that keep our family safe, I really want to know that the items that I am choosing will do their job well and that I won’t find myself needing to replace them later.

Empowered SAFETY can let you know if the product you are thinking of purchasing has had any complaints on it, allowing you to be a more empowered consumer and saving you valuable time.

What Do They Monitor For You?

Complaints can come in many different ways and Empowered SAFETY monitors all the different sources so you don’t have to. Not only do they monitor actual consumer complaints, and product and food recalls and warnings to government agencies, they also follow news reports, legal filings, press releases, blog postings, federal & state agency websites for outbreaks & health alerts, as well as member-reported product issues.

As a busy mom, I certainly don’t have time to monitor all of that so a membership like this can save your family a lot of time, hassle, and unnecessary clutter from items that are potentially unsafe and won’t have longevity in your home.

Everyone is a Winner

Today I am giving EVERY reader a free 28-day promo code to try the Empowered SAFETY site. Just enter code the code ES28DAY93  (Expires 11/30/14) upon sign-up on Empowered SAFETY.

Follow the instructions below in our Rafflecopter widget to enter to win a FREE six-month premium membership to Empowered SAFETY.  Good luck, everyone!

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*This post is sponsored by the Empowered SAFETY. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Do You Really Need That Degree? College Loans, Options, and Savings

Monday, October 27th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

College debt has reached an all-time high in the United States. Collectively, we owe over a trillion dollars in student loan debt. Yes, trillion with a capital T. It’s actually over $1,200,000,000,000. Ouch.

Is that degree really worth it

Student loan debt is unlike most other debts though in that it is nearly impossible to get rid of, known as forgiveness or discharge. This means even if you fall on hard times, lose a job, or your life circumstances change drastically it’s extremely uncommon to have that debt wiped away – you’re pretty much stuck with it. For some adults this means they will be carrying debt from choices made in their teens and twenties well into their middle age and often they’ll still be paying off those debts while paying for their children’s education.

When considering our finances it’s important to look at the impact student loan debt has since many readers are impacted by college debt. It’s likely you still owe for your college education if you have one (and often even if you don’t have a degree!). Others may be considering college costs for their children whether they’re toddlers or getting ready to head to college. Finally, there are many adults who go back to school when they change professions or need additional education to improve their earning power.

Since there are a lot of scenarios to cover here I’ll break them down, and you can head to the subsection that applies to you.

Already in Student Loan Debt

You already have a degree and the debt to prove it. While you may owe anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands the advice to not get into debt doesn’t apply. You need solutions and advice on getting out of student loan debt.

Consolidate

If you have multiple loans look into consolidation. You can consolidate loans with your spouse as well. This may allow you to get a lower interest rate or lower monthly payment, but it also makes it easier to manage than several loans.

Pay More than the Minimum

While it’s common sense, paying more than the minimum means you will pay it off sooner. Some ways you can ‘find’ more than the minimum in your budget include: slashing expenses (like dropping cable or getting a cheaper cell phone plan) or adding any pay raises to your loan payment.

Work a Side Gig or Second Job

Need to earn extra money to meet your loan payments or increase your payments to pay it off quicker? Get a side gig or work a second job to earn extra money to put towards your college loans.

Investigate Options

If you’re really struggling financially like having no job call your student loan company before you skip a payment. They may be able to hold or defer payments or offer some other options to help keep you from defaulting on your loans.

Getting Ready or Going to College

If you or someone in your family is headed to school or back to school for a degree it’s the perfect time to consider all the options.

Do you Really Need That Degree?

While a college degree is still statistically going to increase your earning ability over time it’s not always a necessity in every profession. Some professions simply don’t require a degree, and many trades are desperately seeking qualified and well-trained individuals.

Additionally, the job market has changed drastically to allow small businesses with little overhead to thrive. In an age of consulting, freelancing, and startups a degree is nice-but it’s not exactly a requirement. Depending on your skillset you may not have the need for a traditional college diploma.

Check Pay Rates and Rental/Home Prices

Whether you’re going back to school or headed to college for the first time you need to consider the cost versus the income you will earn in the future. While we all know there are no guarantees of future income checking pay rates in your area and investigating the cost of housing will help you get a general idea of what you’ll have to spend on student loan repayment.

For instance, it doesn’t financially make sense to spend $150,000 on a degree if the average entry-level earnings are $35,000 per year and average rentals cost $750/month.

The math would show you it would take an awfully long time to pay back your loans, and in the end it’s unlikely to be worth the added stress and costs when you could get a solid education and degree for 1/4 that cost.

Exhaust Scholarship and Grant Options

Grants and scholarships are plentiful, but it takes some hunting and some time to getting the most money you can for school. If you dedicate the time upfront though you could end up saving thousands of dollars. There are scholarships and grants that are high value and competitive, and there are smaller scholarships and grants that are for less money and more obscure.

Consider Starting Small

Instead of diving into a 4 year college with big expenses consider a local, smaller school to get your initial credits out of the way. You could even consider an online education if you’re an adult or need to work full-time to fund your education.

Saving for Future College Costs

Saving for your children or family members who you hope to help go to college is a great gift, but you have to consider all the options before you start saving.

It’s vital to be sure you aren’t locking up money that is needed for an emergency fund or for retirement first and foremost.

However, if you have a healthy emergency fund and are (mostly) on track with retirement savings here are come options to consider:

529 Plans

529s are a great option since they offer no taxes when withdrawn for qualified education expenses like tuition. Many states also have no tax on withdraws.

There are two types:

  • Pre-paid plans: You pay for college costs at today’s rates even if costs go up when your student goes to school.
  • Saving plans: Savings plans are based on the stock market with a mix of investments that get more conservative as your child nears college age.

The downside: Funds that aren’t used for college are taxed fully and a 10% penalty is tacked on. While it’s hard to tell when they’re infants, it’s not exactly ideal if Junior decides not to go to school or ends up with a full scholarship.

Roth IRAs

Roth IRAs are a retirement savings vehicle, but they also offer the option of withdraw for college expenses. This can offer the best of both options for families who need to get the most out of their long-term savings.

With a Roth IRA you can use funds for educational expenses OR retirement meaning if your child doesn’t need all the funds you can continue to grow them for retirement without paying penalties.

The downside: Current Roth IRA limits mean you can only save $5,500 each year or $6,500 if you’re over 50 in these accounts.

Note on investing for college: You can encourage family members to add to your little tyke’s college fund (for instance in lieu of gifts for the holidays or birthday presents). For instance grandparents can gift funds to each child, currently you can give $14,000 per year without penalties. 

When Should You NOT Save?

If you’re in debt or struggling financially saving for college shouldn’t even be a consideration. High interest debt (i.e., not your mortgage or your own student loans!) should be tackled before you consider saving for college. If you’re paying 14.99% on your credit cards the math is against you saving for college costs…for now.

Parents often make the mistake of saving for college funds over retirement thinking they have less time to ‘catchup’ on college education costs, but if they aren’t maxing out their retirement savings they could be in major trouble later in life.

While it is a great goal to make sure your children enter adulthood debt-free it shouldn’t come at the cost of your own savings and financial stability-that will impact your children now.

What it comes down to is this–take care and consider all your options whether you’re paying off college costs or saving for your children’s future.

What are your thoughts on student loan debt and college savings? Do you still owe for your education or are you worried about financing your children’s education?

 

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5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids

Monday, October 13th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

My six-year-old will turn seven in just a few weeks, which for our family means a party. My mom told me yesterday that Annalyn had reminded her of pending celebration and said, “I need to get busy and make some lists!”

Hello, apple. I’m your tree.

It’s true that my daughter gets her penchant for list-making and party planning from me. Some of that may come along with her curly hair and short legs, but most of it is likely a learned behavior. The fact is that I love planning events, and as my daughter has grown, I’ve shared that love with her.

When I planned her first few birthday parties, I handled every little detail – just like I have for every other event I’ve planned. From theme to food to decorations, I took care of all of it. But when I began dreaming of her fourth birthday party – a Mickey Mouse themed bash at our houseI decided to let her help.

Since then, my little mini me has jumped on every chance to help me plan a party, from birthdays and holidays to fundraisers and church events. She gets so excited, and it’s been a fun way to share something special. Today I’ve got a few tips for making party planning a family affair at your house – without losing your cool (or ending up with an all-candy buffet and buckets of glitter on your floor).

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids

1. Be prepared for brainstorming.

It can be a lot of fun to dream up ideas for your next party with your kids. But – what’s that phrase? Don’t give the keys to the zoo to the monkeys? (No, no, YOUR kids aren’t monkeys. Just mine.) Seriously, though. Unless you are truly 100% okay with your party taking any shape your kids can imagine, I’d recommend having a framework in mind before sitting down to brainstorm with your children.

Anyone can get overwhelmed or out of control when faced with too many options – and that rings even more true with children. I’ve learned the hard way to do my Pinterest surfing in advance, to narrow down the options and filter out the crazy (too expensive, too difficult, not age appropriate, etc.) ideas before bringing Annalyn into the mix. Now, I talk with her about ideas for a theme (if it’s her birthday party), then create a Pinterest board for us to look at together.

Not only does this keep her options limited and manageable, it also makes sure we don’t land on less-than-family-friendly pins and pages by accident while searching. (Believe it or not, searching for Minnie Mouse costumes with my four-year-old on my lap taught me that lesson!)

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

2. Take the guesswork out of your guest list.

Left to her own devices, my daughter would invite every girl she’s ever met to her next birthday party. Telling her she was only allowed to invite seven girls took the wind out of her sails and began a weeks-long deliberation.

Unless your budget is unlimited, you might have to cap the number of invitations you send, too – and I’m learning that elementary school adds a whole new level of complication to this process. When we started talking about this year’s party, I didn’t realize the politics involved – and the life lessons that would come out of these conversations. After all, if you can’t invite every girl you know, choosing who to invite can be hard. Making these decision together has given me the opportunity to discuss friendship and fairness with my daughter – as well as financial responsibility. (Because yes, of COURSE inviting all 22 girls on her first list would be easier!)

3. Ask for input about the agenda.

Much as I like to think I’m hip to what the kids are loving these days, I don’t actually have a clue. So while I think musical chairs and carrot sticks in the backyard is a perfect plan for a sixth birthday party, it turns out my actual six-year-old (hypothetically speaking, of course) might prefer Goldfish and swimming at the community center.

Likewise, when planning a family event or other party that’s not necessarily celebrating your child, he or she might have the creativity you’re looking for. (Playing charades at the family reunion? Serving pizza at the committee meeting? Making a welcome banner for small group or book club? Why not?!)

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

4. Cook up some fun with your menu and decor.

Keeping it simple is the key to every part of planning a party. But when you bring kids into the planning, you might just find your event looks a little more whimsical than you originally imagined. That might mean streamers in every color of the rainbow or balloons covering the floor instead of floating in bunches around the table. It could mean a build your own waffle bar or a pitcher of chocolate milk next to the fancy tea party china. Or it could mean pizza delivered to your door instead of the Pinterest-inspired three-course meal you’d envisioned.

Or, if you aren’t smart enough to curate a Pinterest board before your brainstorming session, it could mean you find yourself making an ocean-themed cake for a mermaid party – despite your annual vows to Never Make a Birthday Cake Again.

5. Put them to work!

When I was a kid, my parents often teased my brother and me by saying the only reason they had kids was to have someone to do chores. Now that I have my own home to manage, I’m not sure there wasn’t a bit of truth to that! But even more than lightening my load of work before and after a party (which may or may not happen, depending on the task and her age and ability), working side by side with my daughter as we prep for a party gives us one more opportunity to spend time together and teaches her the skills of cooking, decorating or cleaning. It also helps her understand just how much work goes into a fun afternoon or evening!

Special Offer: If you’d like more tips for planning parties – with or without kids – I’d like to offer a discount for my ebook, Plan a Fabulous Party {without losing your mind}. Just use the code MOMADVICE for 50% off the regular price!

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5 Ways to Teach Kids Money Management

Monday, September 15th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

5 Ways to Teach Kids Money Management
Teaching kids to manage money can be a challenge, but with a little planning you can share lifelong skills that will help the kids in your life live a richer life.

5 Ways to Teach Kids Money Management

 

1. Give an Allowance

Allowances are useful tools that allow kids to manage their own money on a small scale. There are lots of considerations when giving your child an allowance.

  • Should you give it to them weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly?
  • Will you track via an app or will you give the kids cash?
  • Should you tie it to chores or simply use the allowance as a tool for learning?

What works for you and your children may take some time to sort out. Additionally it will depend on their age what you consider an appropriate amount of money and how often they should receive it. For instance, a 5 year old may only get $1 per week to spend and save, while a 14 year old may need $15 per week for things like school lunches, spending money, and savings.

Manage their expectations by being clear about the rules of how they spend their money. These are a few rules that we use with our kids that you may find helpful:

  • No going into debt with the Bank of Mom & Dad
  • Savings must equal 10% or more
  • Giving must equal 10% or more
  • Mom & Dad have final approval over all purchases

Start your kids on an allowance early (around age 5) and you’ll find plenty of teachable moments as they learn to manage their money.

Read more: Kids and Allowance

2. Make Giving a Priority

Giving back is an important part of our financial life so we pass on this value to our kids by making it clear that giving back is a priority. You can do this through monetary donations, but don’t overlook the value of time as well.

Ideas for Incorporating Giving Back as a Family:

  • Set aside a % of allowance for donations
  • Commit to donating X hours of time each month as a family
  • Participate in community events like Fun Runs to raise funds and awareness for a cause
  • Find small ways to give back such as buying extra school supplies for your children’s teachers or collecting gently used winter gear for kids in your community
  • Give back by donating items you no longer need like giving used books to your local public or your school library

Read more: 5 Ways you Can Teach Your Kids to Give Back.

3. Encourage Mistakes Now

Encourage your kids to have some freedom to make mistakes with their money now so that they learn when they are young how those mistakes can impact their long-term goals.

For instance, if your child decides they “must have” a toy or item that you know won’t be worth the money you can explain it to them, but also allow them room to make their own decision. They will quickly learn how certain toys are marketed to seem much more fun than they really are!

While it’s hard to watch your child make mistakes they will learn from their actions instead words, and those lessons tend to stick with them much longer. It’s better to make a $10 mistake now than it is to make a $10,000 one when they are an adult.

4. Practice what you Preach

Speaking of actions being louder than words-be sure to show your kids a good example as well. While we’ve covered a range of financial topics here in the past it’s the everyday decisions our kids seem to latch onto readily.

By doing things like shopping with a list, avoiding impulse purchases, and sticking to your budget you will be doing more than just saving yourself money-you’ll be teaching your kids to do the same.

5. Involve Kids in Family Money Decisions

While some families may feel the family money is a private matter be sure to be open about how the bills are paid and how family money decisions are made.  For instance, if you’re planning a family vacation you can set up a family money jar and discuss what things the family can cut back on to make the vacation a reality.

As kids get older you can become more open about your finances and teach them the real nuts and bolts of managing credit, debt, and making the tough financial decisions that most of us face.

While your 6 year old may not need to know how much you pay for electricity each month you can explain how much you save if he turns his light off before he leaves for school. The older your child becomes the more you should share with them. For instance perhaps with a 16 year old you may be more apt to discuss car payments, insurance, and maintenance as they learn to drive.

What advice do you have for teaching kids money management skills?

 

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