Posts Tagged ‘Frugal’

The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Note: In honor of our M Challenge focus on Technology, I’m reposting this because I still can’t live without my iPhone, and these apps are still some of my top favs! Please chime in with any you use now, too!

If you asked me the one thing that I could not live without, it would be my iPhone. Today I want to share the top iPhone apps that have organized my life and my family. This gadget has brought more organization to my life than I dreamed possible and is what I rely on daily to tackle the day-to-day tasks as a mom. Of course, you don’t have to have an iPhone to benefit from these apps, almost all of these are available to any smartphone user. Here are my top 7 apps to get your family organized.

Cozi App

Cozi

Whenever I talk about the best apps to organize a family, I always think of Cozi first. Over the years, this app has evolved so much and fits perfectly into our family’s everyday needs. Cozi is a calendar app that is made with a mom in mind. It is easy to use, color-coded (for each family member), includes pictures of your sweet little ones, helps you with your grocery list, and offers text message alerts to you for appointment reminders…all from one central location.

My favorite feature that has saved our family countless fees and embarrassment is their text reminder service. When I input our family’s appointments, I can have a text sent to myself or to my husband that reminds us about that appointment. The reminders can come whenever you designate them (one hour ahead, one day ahead, one week ahead, etc..).  Does your child have jean day at school? Super silly hair day?  Little things like that are even input in this handy calendar and a text reminder goes out to me first thing in the morning to save my children from their mom’s forgotten dollar or the super exciting monthly “skip your uniform,” day.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

 

Mint

If you are looking to get your family’s finances back on track this year, my favorite and most reliable financial reporting comes from Mint. Mint can be set up through your home computer, your smart phone, or tablet.  An account with Mint can be set up in less than five minutes and gives you the chance to set budgets to your spending categories and track them with handy pie charts and graphs. In one glance, you can monitor your checking, savings, investments, and retirement at any moment during the day.

Most of the spending categories are immediately categorized for you while unfamiliar categories (like your favorite local restaurant or doctor’s visit) may need a quick categorization for accurate reporting. For tax purposes, you can also tag items for reimbursement so that it can help later when filing your taxes.

The best part, I have found, is that Mint will alert you via email when spending or withdrawals seem high. Did the mortgage company take out an extra payment? Did you have an unusually high amount of withdrawals in one month? Was a large deposit made? Mint sends you an email to alert you of unusual transactions happening in your account which could potentially save you from being the victim of credit card fraud.

(Free. Available for most devices.)

 

Grocery IQ

Making and sticking to your grocery lists has never been easier thanks to the Grocery IQ app. 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.

Since I always have my phone with me,  switching to an electronic grocery list has been much easier than I thought it would be. The coupon feature helps save our family money on items we were already planning to buy and the list helps keep our family budget on track. I also love that I can sync my list from my iPad to my iPhone so I can use whichever device I have handy to add items when we need them.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

Evernote

If you are trying to stop the paper pile-up from school, Evernote is a fantastic tool for  clipping and saving those papers in one spot that you can access from your phone or computer. When items come home to us that I might need to reference for our family later, like the cafeteria lunch schedule or the recess schedule, I can either take a photo of what I need or I can scan that item into Evernote and tag it with, “School,” for easy reference.

Things that I often refer back to, like our library card numbers, gift card numbers that I want to store on my computer, receipts for purchases, or even keeping track of the books my children are reading in a particular series are all housed in my Evernote account for easy accessibility when I need them.

No more scraps of paper all over the house or hanging on to newsletters for one paragraph of information, Evernote has become my virtual notebook to keep us organized.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

SpringPad

Menu planning can be a challenge for families and keeping track of all of those recipes you want to try can be a challenge when your Pinterest boards are overflowing with ideas. I have come to rely upon SpringPad for creating our family’s weekly menu plan. I think of SpringPad as a virtual notebook where you can privately or publicly share things you want to reference to manage your life. Notebooks can be created on any topic, but I create weekly notebooks of menu plans for my family, adding those recipes into a notebook so that I can reference them later, whether I am cooking in the kitchen or I am at the grocery store and not sure if I added all the ingredients to my list like I thought.

Depending on how the recipe is input into the source, SpringPad will either pull the recipe right into your notebook so you can view it right from the notebook, you can manually add in the recipe, or a link to the recipe will be provided so you can access it from the page you found it.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

30/30

Setting a timer to get tasks done around the house is an old school method that works remarkably well for productivity that has now been brought to the future with this 30/30 app for organizing your day.  The idea behind this app is very simple: you work for thirty minutes and focus on a single task with no distractions. When your time is up, you give your mind a break and do something completely unrelated, also for thirty minutes. This 30/30 cycle is repeated until your tasks are done.

Type in what your ideal day will look like including blocking out times for a little down time like enjoying a cup of coffee, time wasting on sites like Facebook or Pinterest, or just time with a great book.  Then set up what the rest of your productive day will look like and use the 30/30 app to visualize if you are going to get your tasks done in the designated time.  It provides a countdown and a visual reminder of what you are working on and beeps when your time is done. Simple, visually pleasing, and highly effective, I can’t recommend this app enough to increase your productivity.

(Free. Available for the iPad or iPhone.)

8MM Vintage Camera

Capturing my children on-the–go is one of the main reasons I decided to get an iPhone. While I rely heavily on Instagram for capturing still images of our family from day-to-day I also love to capture movies of them.  Although we have many fancy camcorders laying around our house, the one recorder I always have with me is my phone. I am a huge fan of vintage looking film and pictures so I have found that the  8MM vintage camera app is a fun way to add a little vintage to our family’s most precious recorded moments.

($1.99. Available for the iPad or iPhone)

What are your favorite apps for keeping your family organized? Chime in here and share your family’s favorite tools!

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Evaluating the Cost of Home: Renting vs Buying

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

One of the largest expenses we have is our homes. Whether you’re renting or buying your home it can add up fast. While most financial experts recommend you spend 25% or less of your earnings on your home costs, location plays a huge factor in whether you can meet that guideline or not. This month we’ll be evaluating how to make the decision to rent or buy, and I’ll share some money saving tips that will help whether you rent or own your home.

Evaluating the Cost of Home Renting vs. Buying

When deciding if you should rent or buy it’s important to consider a number of factors:

1. Evaluate your Needs and Where you Are
Knowing what you need in a home or rental is the first step to your evaluation between renting vs buying. In addition to knowing what you need in a home, location plays a big factor. Look at the community you want to live in, but don’t be afraid to look outside your ideal area because the savings may be worth it.

Renting: If you’re renting it’s easier to look for something that fits you right now, but that may be a mistake. Consider what plans you have in the next several years because it is easier to stay put than it is to move you want to ensure you don’t go through the upheaval of moving multiple times especially if you have a family.

Money saving tip: Before you sign a lease find out if your rent is negotiable. For instance you may be able to make repairs or improvements for savings.

Buying: If you’re buying or own a home you will want to consider a little more long-term. For instance, if you’re planning to add children to your family or possibly care for an elderly relative you’ll want to be sure your home has enough room to grow into.

Money saving tip: Homeowners should evaluate their mortgage to see if refinancing will save them money.

2. Cost is King
Cost is a major factor in your decision to rent or buy. The costs of home ownership and rentals in your area will play a big role in your decision. In some communities and urban areas it never makes sense to buy because rent is low and home prices are high. In most areas though it can save you money in the long run to own your own home. As rental prices increase your mortgage payment will stay the same.

Renting: One of the major costs of renting a home is the deposit you have to put down. Generally this will be 2-3 times the monthly rent. In some urban areas they will require a larger deposit especially if you have poor credit. This could end up costing you several thousand dollars to tens of thousands in higher priced areas. In addition, you will have to factor in what other costs are covered (or not) by renting. Your rent could include utilities, WiFi, and water bills or might even include a building gym or services especially if you live in a metropolitan area.

Money saving tip: Consider all the costs you will have to pay when comparing rentals. If you find a rental that’s going for $1,000/month but you have to pay $300/month in costs for electric, water, and association dues that is more expensive than the $1,250/month rental that includes everything.

Buying: The major cost for buying is the down payment on your home. With the collapse of the housing market options have become more limited for people who don’t have a large down payment. However there are options to consider, so be sure to check with your local bank and mortgage broker. In addition you will have moving costs and repairs to consider if your home needs anything immediately.

Money saving tip: Shop around for pre-approval for a mortgage if you decide to buy. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by doing your homework on mortgage rates.

Prepare to Save

No matter if you’re buying or renting here are some steps you can take to get a better deal:

1. Improve your credit-
Use your free credit reports (1 per agency each year) to ensure everything on your report actually belongs to you and there are no false reports on your credit. I

Money saving tip: A credit dispute can take up several weeks to be fixed and can affect your mortgage interest rate and your ability to rent.

2. Research, research, research-
Knowing what typical rent and home prices are is the key to finding a good deal and simply not overspending on your home. You can use sites like Zillow, RedFin and local realtor sites to get an idea of pricing.

Money saving tip: Set up email alerts or app alerts so you don’t miss when new properties become available.

3. Set Expectations-
Know that there will never be the ‘perfect’ home. In most cases we have to choose the best options out of what is available and what we can afford. In some cases this means trading square footage for location or choosing an older home because the neighborhood schools are worth sacrificing granite countertops.

Choose the things that are the most important to you now and think ahead for the next several years. Will this house or rental suit your needs as your kids get older? Or are your kids older and you’ll be able to live with less space in a few years?

4. Real Estate is not an Investment (for Most of Us)-
While there are exceptions (like people who make it their business to buy and sell real estate) for most of us our homes are simply a place to live. While it’s important to pay attention to the costs it’s unlikely the housing market will climb the way it did pre-housing boom in most areas.

Since most families don’t stay in their homes and locations the way they did in past generations it’s not as common to pay off your home mortgage. Even if your mortgage is paid off and you own your home outright you will still have the costs of repairs and upkeep. When/if you do eventually sell a paid-off home you’re going to use that money to buy again.

5. Repairs are Costly-
If you’re renting, having a landlord means you will have someone to lean on when things need to be repaired and won’t have to cover the cost yourself. While you may not incur the cost directly it will be passed on in the form of your rent.

If you buy a home all the cost and work of repairs will be on you. While you can DIY some things larger repairs can be get expensive. An inspection before you buy will help identify some needed fixes when buying a home, but you may encounter things you didn’t expect.

No matter what you choose or how you save money on your home it can be challenging but worth it both financially and for your happiness. Examining costs and weighing your options may not seem especially exciting but by saving on the place you call home you can slash your budget significantly.

Of course there is one thing you can’t put a price on and that’s the feeling you get when you’re truly home.

For more in our series of money savvy tips read:

 

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Fabulous Fall Drinks Round-Up

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

I am SO excited for one of my favorite times of the year, fall! While I enjoy every season and the special things we like to do in each, there’s something about the falling leaves and the cooling temperatures – and the fun holidays we get to celebrate – that makes the autumn months some of my absolute favorites.

Fabulous Fall Drinks  MomAdvice.com

And I’m here to admit that one of the reasons I look forward to the fall is all the fabulous flavored hot drinks I can enjoy again during the cold weather! You know I’m a coffee girl, and adding flavor to coffee is probably one of the greatest inventions ever in my book! I’ve rounded up some of my favorite hot drinks I’ve created as well as a few others I’ve found that I can’t wait to try.

The only thing I have to decide: which one first?

Mom Advice Classics:

Homemade_Pumpkin_Spice_Latte

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

homemade_salted_caramel_mocha

Homemade Salted Caramel Mocha

DIY_Starbucks_Peppermint_Mocha

Homemade Peppermint Mocha

Homemade_Vanilla_Chai

Homemade Vanilla Chai Mix or Cocoa Mix

(these make great gifts for anyone who needs a warm weather pick-me-up!)

DIY_Gingerbread_Latte

Homemade Gingerbread Latte

Homemade_Mint_Truffle_Creamer

DIY Flavored Coffee Creamers

Here are more fabulous drinks I found for you to try – including a couple for adults-only!

peanut-butter-caramel-mocha

Peanut Butter Cup Caramel Latte @ Lunch Box Bunch

crockpot-coconut-hot-chocolate

Crockpot Coconut Hot Chocolate @ How Sweet It Is

SprinkleBakes Whiteout Cocoa

Whiteout Cocoa @ Sprinkle Bakes

Irish Coffee

Irish Coffe @ iVillage

tiramisu tippers

Tiramisu Tippers @ Better Homes & Gardens

And here’s a fun bonus – one of my favorite ways to keep warm on-the-go drinks from being uncomfortable to hold: easy handmade knitted coffee cozies!

Knitted_Coffee_Cozies

You can find even more great drink ideas on our Drinks Pinterest board and if you’d like a few more cooler-weather ideas, be sure to check out our Pinterest boards: Soups & Stews, Slow Cooker Dishes, and my favorite, Knitting!

Well, are you ready for the cooler fall weather now? I know I am!

 

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Our Best Disney Tips

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Disney Tips

Our family is currently having the time of our lives at Disney World for the Social Media Moms Conference and I was reminded of our family’s first experience visiting the Magic Kingdom and what we learned during that trip.

Are the tips I shared then still helpful? You bet! In fact, coming into this trip armed with the “insider” tips we learned during our first visit has made this one a lot smoother, even though it’s a bit different because I’m also attending a conference.

MA_Disney_collage

So I thought I’d take a moment to share again how we planned for Disney and what we learned (for further information on each tip, be sure to read the original post), and give you the opportunity to add any of your tips or tricks you’ve learned in visiting Disney World in the comments!

1. Advance Preparation Tips

  • Financially: start saving and looking for deals as soon as you start thinking about your trip.
  • Safety: print out current photos to carry of each child, bring a sharpie to write cell phone numbers with, and assign buddies.
  • Meals: plan for snacks and drinks before heading to the park.
  • Souvenirs: buy them at a local Disney store or the party store and pack them with you!
  • Navigation: load all needed GPS info beforehand.

2. Ride Tips

  • Make a family plan: list the rides everyone wants to go on by importance.
  • Visit rides with longest wait times first.
  • Use FASTPASS to get through longer lines faster.
  • Add the Wait Time App to your mobile phone to check ride wait times.

3. Photograph Tips

  • Capture your children’s view – not only of them seeing things, but how they see it (get down to their level).
  • Capture the moment – as many of the hilarious ride moments as you can!
  • Take pictures on the go, too – in the car and at the hotel – using both phone and regular cameras.
  • Remember a family photo: scope out someone who can take a picture of your family in front of something you like.
  • Capture the nighttime magic – do a bit of research in advance to know your camera settings so you can get some good memory shots of the fantastic light displays.

Now it’s your turn – what can you share with us about the best way to experience Disney?

 

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Hello Kitty Birthday Party Fun

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

We had an exciting week this week as we celebrated my daughter’s sixth birthday with a fun Hello Kitty birthday party. I wanted to keep the party simple and sweet with her closest girlfriends for her special day.  I didn’t spend a lot on this Hello Kitty party at all, but it made me smile to hear the girl’s remarking that it was, “the best part ever.”

Just in case you are thinking about spending a lot of money, for five and six year-old girls the best party ever need only include pink things to eat, glittered nail polish, tiaras, and a Barbie movie.

Here are a few of the fun projects we did for her birthday party:

1. Tissue Paper Pom Poms in Pinks & Purples to go over her party table. I did buy a package of Hello Kitty napkins and paper plates this year to match her theme and then used all of our past party supplies to bring our pink-themed party together.

2. Hot Cocoa Filling Station- I found inexpensive holiday mugs at Michael’s Craft Store. I added a batch of our homemade cocoa mix, whipped cream, homemade pink peppermint marshmallows, and lots of sprinkles for the cocoa. Each girl got to personalize her mug with her favorite additions.

3. Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes- Emily’s favorite show is, “Cupcake Wars,” so I knew that I needed to make a spectacular cupcake for my big girl. I made these cupcakes adorned with pink buttercream frosting and a shake of pink sprinkles. Each cupcake was topped with a Hello Kitty ring (that had lip gloss tucked inside). The rings were just $.50 each, but the girls really loved them.

4.  Getting Glamorous- I bought four different colors of nail polish (including clear glitter) and a package of nail stickers to do the girl’s nails. Each girl got fancy nails and a Hello Kitty tiara to wear home with them ($2.99 each plus a 20% off coupon).

5. Movies & Popcorn- We ended our birthday fun watching, “Barbie Princess Charm School,” and munching on popcorn. The girls loved this movie and thanks to a tip from my best friend, I managed to DVR the movie on Nick Jr., saving me the cost of the rental.

My sweet Emily is the type of girl that captures the heart of anyone who meets her. Her sense of style is stellar and she has just this incredible independence that sometimes makes my jaw drop to the ground. I was never as fiercely independent as her.

Most days  I shake my head and think, “How is SHE mine?” I was never that cool.

Happy birthday to our beautiful girl- we love you so much!

Tips for Your Next Disney Magic Kingdom Trip & Ideas for Capturing the Magic

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Our family spent our Thanksgiving holiday in Florida this year.  It was our first real family trip and our first time heading to the Magic Kingdom. I am a Disney newbie although I had the incredible opportunity to see many Florida sites with the Orlando Visitor’s Bureau with my son last year as a trip for just the two of us.

I will admit it, I was nervous about it all. I wanted to surprise them, I wanted the day to be magical, I wanted the weather to cooperate, I wanted the crowds to be minimal, I wanted us all to have the best time of our life.

Is that too much to ask?

Lucky for us, all of these things really did happen and we had a magical day at the Magic Kingdom.

Accommodations were provided by the grandparents as well as a cooler filled with drinks and snacks for us to take on the road and a few to nestle in a bag that I carried with me.  The truth is, we went into it knowing it was going to be an expensive day. We also went into it prepared financially for this day and I worked some extra freelance jobs to cover the expense.

Here is what we learned from our experience at Disney:


Preparation is Key

Financial Preparation- Whenever our family is tackling a big financial project, we set aside money into a separate savings account to prepare for whatever that financial goal might be. Consider talking with your bank about opening accounts for your Disney trip. Have an automatic transfer made for $25 or more each month put into this account all year long and then you will have the money saved when it is time to make your family trip.

Savings can be had when booking your travel through places like AAA and additional savings can be found while visiting in Orlando by printing a free Orlando Magicard to take with you when visiting restaurants and attractions while you are in Orlando.

Safety Preparation- I don’t need to tell you that Disney is a big place and safety is very important when visiting theme parks.  Each child was assigned a buddy to be their partner throughout the days and they were to hold their buddy’s hand while we were there.  We took additional safety precautions by printing out recent pictures of our children to keep in our wallet and bags just in case something should happen and they were separated from us. With a handy Sharpie, I wrote my cell phone number on their arms so if they were separated from us, someone could call us and reunite us quickly.

Meal Preparation- You can bring snacks and drinks into the park with no problems. We packed fruit snacks, granola bars, and bottles of water for our day in a bag with no objections. Rely on these snacks and bottles of water to help cut some of the costs. I recommend visiting this MouseSavers page to find the best cheap eats while you are at the parks.  We did get table service for the evening, but you want to call ahead since reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance of your vacation. Since we called the reservation number that morning when we arrived, we ended up at the Plaza. The table service was about twelve dollars more than the fast food service in the park and quite a bit better with a lot more food included with our meal. If you want to explore the menus before you go, you can view all the menus for the parks here.

Souvenir Preparation-  Souvenirs are a big expense and children can be plagued with horrible cases of what our family lovingly calls, “a case of the gimmies.” At the same time, I remember the amazing souvenir ears I got and how much I wanted those items when I went to Disney.  I hit the Disney store for t-shirts and small toys which were a third of the price as they were in the shops and a girlfriend recommended picking up ears at a local party store (only $5.99 each). The kids were thrilled with their ears and shirts which they wore throughout the park and they did not even ask for anything while we walked through thanks to this little bit of preparation.

Navigation Preparation- When you pick up your tickets, you can pick up a handy map of the park. Thanks to my iPhone I was able to get some reinforcement on the map with Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) and helped us navigate the parks easily and find what we needed quickly. We also had everything in our GPS before we left for getting to the park and how to get back to where we were lodging.

Getting the Most Out of Your Ride Time

Make a Plan of Attack- Along with your Navigation Preparation, discuss as a family what rides are most important to you and order them in a list of importance. The rides with the longest wait times we rode first so that we could make sure that we got those out of the way before the crowds and wait times got really long.  If you aren’t’ sure what rides would be best for the age group of your kids, I do recommend buying the Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) because this actually gave you a plan for your day based upon your age group. They have tour plans for adults & teens, parents of preschool children, parents with children ages 4-8, and senior Disney lovers.  It gave us a great starting point for deciding how to make the most of our day.

Use FASTPASS to Make the Most of Your Day-FASTPASS isn’t anything you need to sign up for, it is simply a way to place a reservation on rides with long wait times. On your map that you receive when you come in, it will have a FASTPASS icon next to the rides that you can FASTPASS. In the Magic Kingdom, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Jungle Cruise, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, & Peter Pan’s Flight are the rides you can FASTPASS. Head to those rides and a machine will be available to insert your ticket and a receipt will print out when you can come back to the ride with a one hour window that you can cash in on. Head to other rides with shorter wait times and then come back at the designated time to go through a faster line.

Add a free Wait Time App to Your Mobile Phone- No need to invest in a pricey Wait Time App, just the free Disney World Wait Times app will work perfectly since all wait time information is user generated. Check the wait times on the rides and use that to help decide which rides you want to go on.

Capturing the Magic

It is the most magical day of our kid’s lives and the last thing I wanted was terrible pictures that didn’t showcase just how amazing our day was.  My parents have this great picture of me when I was a little girl wearing my mouse ears, posing with the characters, sunburned and freckled cheeks, grinning with the biggest toothless grin at five that is still one of my favorite pictures from my childhood.

Capture Their View-  When Emily saw the castle for the first time…well, I could start bawling just thinking about it. I wanted to see that moment over and over so I captured her first gaze at the castle and then got to her eye level and took a picture at her level at exactly what she was seeing.  Having pictures both of them seeing this magical beauty and the magical beauty itself are captures that your family will never forget.

Capture the Movement- How can you capture the hilarious and dizzy feeling of some of those rides without movement in the picture.  Capturing motion in photography is so much fun especially when riding on the teacups. I focused on the bag in this picture as we spun around and and around.  I recommend this article if you are looking for more tips on how to capture motion blur in your pictures.

Take Fun Pictures on the Go-  My camera equipment can get awfully heavy so we took turns with the big camera and I relied on my mobile phone when I wanted to capture details quickly and easily. I love Camera+ and Instagram for sharing fun pictures on the go. It is such a fun way to take a quick photo, add an effect, and send it to family and friends to keep them updated on how your day is going.

Get a Family Photo- I will admit that I looked for someone who had a camera like ours to take our family picture. If you have a point-and-shoot,  finding someone to snap a picture should be really easy.

When I handed off my camera I switched it to Aperture Mode (Av on my Canon) and changed the Aperture to f/7.1. I was really worried we would be out of focus and Disney is a very busy place. I then used Picnik to crop as many of the background people out of our picture.

They have people all over the parks taking pictures and you can have them snap your picture for their portrait and then ask them to take one with your camera too. They know the best spots with good lighting and backgrounds for your family photos. Best of all, they know how to work cameras.

Capture the Nighttime Magic- Nighttime magic was tricky to photograph and may require a little research on your part. When I took pictures of the castle I was so disappointed. The colors were off and lights were blurry. It was not the magical pictures I had hoped for.

Over dinner, I went on this Disney Photography Blog and found this information how to capture the nighttime parade. I took test shots after our dinner until I was happy with the lighting and able to capture some of the nighttime beauty at Disney.

What are your best tips for doing Disney on a budget? Do you have any tips for making the most of your time at the parks? Please share!

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Below is our big reveal to our children when we told them they were heading to Disney. It was the thrill of a lifetime to get to surprise them with the news that they would be seeing the Magic Kingdom for the very first time. It still brings tears to my eyes that we got to have such an incredibly magical day with them!

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Homemade Gingerbread Latte

Monday, December 5th, 2011

I absolutely love anything that has gingerbread flavors in it and I had a reader request that I share a recipe for their favorite Starbuck’s treat, the delicious Gingerbread Latte. Always up for a challenge, I went on a search for a recipe for this yummy Gingerbread Latte treat to create at home.

This drink tastes like gingerbread itself and is filled with ginger, molasses, and cinnamon within the gingerbread syrup you create for your latte. I found that if I mixed the latte together with the syrup and let it sit for a minute or two and then stirred it again, that the flavors came together more fully than if I drank it right away as the spices seemed to blend in better.

This gingerbread coffee syrup does not look like the usual simple syrup gingerbread coffee syrup that I had originally thought I would create. To me, the most important flavor is the molasses in the gingerbread though and without it, I don’t think it would taste like a true gingerbread treat. If you are looking for a simple syrup version though, I found this Gingerbread Coffee Syrup that would fit the bill beautifully.

So this holiday season whether you are sipping a Peppermint Mocha, a Salted Caramel Mocha, a Pumpkin Spice Latte, or this little version of a Gingerbread Latte, I hope you enjoy saving a little extra cash and can enjoy these homemade treats to unwind with during this busy time of year.

Recipe:

Homemade Gingerbread Latte

Ingredients:

1 cup milk, steamed
1 cup very strong coffee (4 tablespoons coffee grounds to 1 cup of hot water, I prepared this in my French Press, but you can brew a strong drip pot if you prefer)
1 tablespoon white sugar (can omit if you prefer a drink that is less sweet)
1 tablespoon gingerbread syrup (you can use the recipe provided below)
Whipped cream (optional)
Ground Cloves (sprinkled for topping, optional) or Festive Sprinkles (sprinkled for topping, these just aren’t optional)

Directions:

Prepare your hot water in a kettle. Add four tablespoons of your favorite coffee grounds to your French Press. Pour 1 cup of hot water over them and allow the coffee to steep for four minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a pot, heat up one cup of milk until it is steaming. Froth the milk with a wire whisk or an immersion blender until it is nice and foamy.

In your coffee cup, add your coffee syrup and white sugar. Pour your coffee over the gingerbread syrup & sugar and then stir well with a spoon until the gingerbread syrup dissolves and the spices are incorporated well. Pour the milk foam over the top of the coffee/mocha mixture and stir again to incorporate. Allow it to merry together for a minute or two and then mix once more. Top with whipped cream and festive sprinkles or a dusting of ground cloves.

Drink.

Be Merry.

Note- This is just a base recipe that can be played with to your own tastes and preferences. It is meant to be personalized depending on how you like your latte!

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Serving Size: 1

This Gingerbread Syrup is thicker than a traditional simple syrup so this can be stored in a jar rather than a pour spout container. The molasses combined with the brown sugar, ginger, and cinnamon make it a rich and decadent treat to add to your latte.

This Gingerbread Syrup would make a fantastic gift to give to a friend or loved one. Place this syrup in a jar and tie with festive ribbon. In a basket add your syrup, coffee, and a shaker of festive sprinkles, along with this recipe. So easy and a great way to start anyone’s day.

Recipe:

Homemade Gingerbread Coffee Syrup

Ingredients:

1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

In a jar, mix together your molasses, brown sugar, baking soda, ground ginger, and ground cinnamon until well incorporated. You can store this mixture in a jar in the refrigerator for two to three weeks.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Serving Size: 8-10 drinks

Recipe Source: Latte courtesy of MomAdvice, Gingerbread Syrup from AllRecipes.com

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36 Handmade Gift Ideas

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The holidays are here and for me that means lots of holiday crafting, baking, knitting, and creating.  Today I wanted to share with you 36 handmade gift ideas that you can create for gifts this year. It can be a challenge to come up with great handmade gifts year after year so I hope that these 36 handmade gift ideas will give you some inspiration this holiday season as you tackle your own holiday crafts.

Of course, all month long will be dedicated to baking, crafting, and knitting as we prepare for the holidays. After this month, we will get back to tackling the organizing and caring for our homes after the holiday aftermath.

For now, I am looking forward to reveling in a lot of one on one time with my glue gun and baking in the kitchen with you.

Let’s get crafting!

36 Handmade Gift Ideas

1. Knitted Anthropologie-Inspired Scarflet
2. Coffee Filter Wreaths
3. Close to My Heart Barrette
4. Honey Nut Granola
5. Treasure Chests (For a Boy or Girl)
6. Yarn Wreath For All Seasons
7. Cinnamon Delight Bread
8. Cabled Knitted Headband
9. Personalized CD
10 Light Banana Oat Bread
11. Waffle Stitch Fingerless Gloves
12. Peppermint Syrup (for Homemade Peppermint Mochas)
13. Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Brownies
14. Gap-Tastic Cowl
15. Hot Cocoa Mix
16. Knitted Dishcloths (Part One)
17. Knitted Ruffled Scarf
18. Knitted Dishcloths (Part Two)
19. Oreo Biscotti
20. Movie Lover’s Gift Basket
21. Hand Painted Mugs (DIY Painted Pottery Day)
22. Spiced Pumpkin Bread
23. Vanilla Scented Granola
24. Gorgeous Gathered Scarfs
25. Merci Scarf
26. Photo Journals With a Unique Spin
27. Vanilla Chai Mix
28. Shades of Gray Knitted Headband
29. Yarn Ball Wreaths
30. Cozy Knitted Fingerless Gloves
31. Oatmeal Cookes & Milk Bath Soak
32. Stretchy Ribbon Bookmarks
33. Rolled Rosette Rings
34. Snickerdoodle Biscotti
35. Candy Cane Bath Salts
36. Knitted Prayer Shawls

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Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

I am so excited to begin sharing some new gift ideas for all the people in your life. Of course, if there is one trend that is hot right now it is mustaches. We wanted to jump on the mustache-loving trend and share with you some free mustache templates that can be used to adorn any mug and a free mustache printable for your favorite teachers.

Mustaches can adorn anything from a fun glass beer mug for a great guy gift, to a cute little shaving set for your favorite dad, to a fun mug for your best friend.

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

To begin, there are many ideas for paint that you can use with your mug. You can buy a fine tipped painter’s marker at the craft store and outline and paint your mustache with this and/or you can buy a porcelain paint set (that requires not heat setting), or a porcelain paint that needs to be baked.

With the type of paints that don’t require heat, you are looking for one that has a conditioner, the black paint, and then the gloss. These do not need to be heat set, but do require ten days to set up.

I used a combination of the two. I applied the conditioner, used the paint marker and filled a bit with the black paint, and then applied the glaze to set the paint. I have had great success with the non-heat setting variety, but you can choose whichever type works best for your budget, is already in your craft supplies, or whichever is on sale.

You will also need a beautiful mug for your project. I found these large white mugs for a little over $2 at Walmart. Feel free to visit the dollar store or thrift shop for an inexpensive mug of your choice!

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

Begin by applying the conditioner to your mugs and let them dry. This should only take about ten or fifteen minutes.

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

Cut, secure with a little tape underneath, trace with your painter’s pen, and fill in your mustache of choice. We have three different options available so you can choose your favorite for your mug.

Let it dry overnight and then apply the glaze over your piece.

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

Of course, what fun is a mustache mug without a great printable go along with it? This mustache printable is the perfect sign to adorn any teachers desk.

“Raise Your Hand If You Must Ask (Mustache) a Question,” is a great motto for class. I placed this fun printable in an inexpensive frame that I spray painted red. The mug is filled with a small denominator Starbucks gift card to round out this budget-friendly gift for your favorite teacher.

Get Printing:

Raise Your Hand if You Moustache a Question Free Printable

Printable Dimensions: 8 1/2 x 11″ (can be trimmed for an 8×10 frame)

Print on Heavy-Duty White Cardstock

 

Three Free Mustache Templates

Printable Dimensions: These mustaches are 3″ long

Print On Standard Computer Paper for Tracing

 

Mustache Mugs & Free Mustache Printables from MomAdvice.com

Happy mustache mug making!

What holiday craft projects have you been working on?  Feel free to share any links to what you are working on! Access all of our craft fun on MomAdvice by visiting our Craft Section. Happy crafting, friends!

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Anthropologie DIY Ruffled Lamp

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

We have come to the final project in my daughter’s big girl room makeover. I am so proud of all of the little detai this room.  Many of the items in my daughter’s room had great bones, but seemed a little young for her.  The lamp in her room looked like it belonged in a nursery so I was excited to update this for her.  Instead of getting rid of a perfectly good lamp though, I wanted to figure out a way that I could do a stylish budget-friendly update to it. I happened upon this Ruffled Burlap Lamp tutorial on mama says sew and knew that this would be the perfect way to update her lamp and add a little big girl style to her nightstand.


As you can tell from the picture above, I was planning to just spray paint the original base and save myself a few dollars. Unfortunately, it rained that night and I had a spray paint fail with the paint never hardening and creating a big giant mess. I ended up buying a new lamp base for $12 at Walmart and then spray painted that to match her room. It goes to show that I can screw up even some of the simplest craft projects around here.

I bought one can of spray paint and two yards of burlap which worked out to be eight dollars in supplies (if you don’t count my big spray paint screw-up).

You will first want to cover the entire base of your lamp with a layer of burlap. Any of the metal around my lamp shade base, I just snipped a tiny slit to work the burlap around it. I used my hot glue to cover around it and secured the glue along the edge of the interior of the base.

If you have never worked with burlap before, this material is a MESS to work with. I had burlap pieces and strings everywhere. You definitely want to cut this on newspaper that you can toss out when you are done.

I got out this clothes-presser-thingie (can’t remember what this contraption is called) and pressed strips of burlap that were 1 1/2 times the length of my shade. These were 2″ strips that were then folded in half.

Just attach the pieces in a roughly manner all around the lamp. I went around it once and then filled in any empty spots with a ruffle in the middle where any holes were.

Keep going around and around until the shade is full. It is so pretty and I absolutely love how this turned out. I want to make one for our bedroom now since it is such a fun way to dress up a lamp.

 

This is definitely one of my favorite projects in my daughter’s big girl room and I would highly recommend making a lamp for a room in your house too. Thanks to mama says sew for the inspiration. Please visit her blog for the full details on measurements and a tutorial on how to make a ruffled lamp for a corner in your room.

What craft projects have you been working on?  Feel free to share any links to what you are working on! Access all of our craft fun on MomAdvice by visiting our Craft Section. Happy crafting, friends!