Posts Tagged ‘Marriage’

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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5 Ways to Date Your Husband This Fall

Monday, September 8th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

NIKON D700, AF 50mm f/1.4G f/1.8, 1/400, ISO 200, 50mm

Fall is my favorite season. October, in particular, is my favorite month; it’s the month when I met my husband and when my oldest daughter was born. But I’m pretty partial to the entire leaf-changing, sweater-wearing, pumpkin-craving time of year.

And even though it can also be one of the busiest times of year (leading up to the holidays, which always take the cake as The Very Busiest of All), there’s just something about the combination of blue skies and crisp nights, colorful leaves and spicy breads that makes me want to plan a date or two with my husband.

Unfortunately, my husband’s and my schedules don’t always cooperate with each other – or with our budget. So sometimes date planning takes a little more creativity than checking the local movie times and rifling through my stack of nearly expired restaurant coupons.

I sat down and did a little brainstorming, and today I’m sharing five ways to date your husband this fall.

5 Ways to Date Your Husband in the Fall

1. Revert to childhood.

Take a look at all those fall bucket lists on Pinterest – and pick a few of the activities to save for the grown-ups. Carve some pumpkins together or pick some apples. Drink cider or jump in the leaves after the kids are in bed.

We know several couples who attend a Halloween costume party – in full costume – every single year. Why not? Why not make a fall tradition of being silly together?!

2. Walk down memory lane.

Visit your old campus for an afternoon. Take in a football game if you can! (This would be perfect for us, since I actually met my husband at one of our high school football games!) Go for a drive or a stroll or a hike, and reminisce a bit. (Remember, making – and keeping – memories can help you make the most of your marriage.)

Or pull out those dusty photo albums and recreate the poses and photos from your early days of dating or marriage. (Bonus points if you use a collage of the old and the new pics for your Christmas card!)

Dating in the Fall - 2

3. Try something new.

Cook something new for your dinner in, or check out the farmer’s market or antique shops in the next town over. Go to a play, or watch your favorite band – or maybe one you’ve never heard of! – in concert.

This November, my husband and I are going to a book signing for one of our favorite comedians – something we’ve never done together!

4. Act like a tourist.

When we first moved into our house, I decided to look up every fall festival in the metropolitan area. We never made it to the chili cook-off, but the sidewalk chalk festival was amazing and the Renaissance fair remains one of my favorites today.

Find your city’s visitor center’s website and pick an event or attraction you’ve never seen, and go together!

Dating in the Fall - 3

5. Get prepared and be spontaneous.

Fall can be a hectic season. And sometimes plans don’t work out; kids get sick or someone has to work overtime, and date nights get canceled. So what if we were prepared for those last-minute realizations that we have some free time?

I KNOW. It doesn’t happen often. But when it DOES … grab it! And if you’ve taken time to brainstorm easy dates, grab your “go bag,” too.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about tossing some paper plates and napkins, a bag of chips or trail mix or cookies, some water bottles and a blanket in a basket that you keep in a closet or the trunk of your car. Then when you discover a kid-free afternoon – or even an unscheduled lunch hour, you’re nearly ready for a picnic or a hike.

Next time I find myself with a few extra minutes to talk to my husband (this will happen someday … right?!), I’m going to ask him to brainstorm with me for fun, creative dates. That way, when we find time together that we weren’t expecting, we won’t be restricted to what movies are out and when the next one starts.

Of course, if all else fails, you can always do some early Christmas shopping. Together time and crossing something off your to-do list? Win-win.

How do YOU date your husband in the fall?

{Photos by Sean McGrath, Shaun Anyl and Seth Lemmons}

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Make the Most of Your Marriage by Making Memories

Monday, July 14th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Improve Your Marriage by Making Memories via MomAdvice.com

My husband and I have friends who have known each other their entire lives. I’m not even exaggerating. They have a photo of themselves as toddlers, playing together. And sometime in their early childhood, they reportedly were married in someone’s backyard or living room.

{Of course, the photo above is not the famous one of my friends. But it IS their son with my daughter, and I figure I better keep it in a safe place just in case they end up marrying in 20 years or so!}

Though I joke about being a child bride anytime someone asks how long I’ve been married, I didn’t actually meet my husband until my sophomore year of high school. Still, that was obviously a LONG time ago – and means this year marks 15 years of marriage and 20 years of being a couple. We’ve known each other for longer than we didn’t.

All that time together means a lot of things. It means baggage and patterns and finish-your-sentence arguments. But it also means inside jokes and stories and finish-your-sentence-in-a-good-way. We’re working on those bad habits and same old arguments, but I’m also convinced that focusing on the memories we’ve made together can do just as much good for our marriage.

—————

Earlier this year our pastor spoke about improving relationships. He cited a study where new couples and established couples were observed eating dinner. Younger couples talked for the majority of an hour spent together, while couples married for several decades only spoke to each other for a few minutes out of an hour.

A few minutes?! Yikes! I think that goes well beyond “comfortable silence” that can seem like paradise after a day with noisy kids or chatty co-workers.

As I’ve thought about these two things (knowing my husband for 20 years and older couples not having anything to say to each other), I’ve wondered if one will affect the other – and how we can avoid becoming silent senior citizens who are more interested in their meatloaf than their marriage.

Improve Your Marriage by Making Memories via MomAdvice.com

Since my marriage hit a low point a couple years ago, I’ve learned so much – about marriage, about my husband, about myself. I’ve read countless articles and books; we’ve spent hours (and dollars, SIGH) on counseling. I now have a much better grasp on our love languages, on love and respect, on the importance of date nights and being on the same team.

In short, I’ve learned how much WORK marriage is.

And it is. But it’s also a lot of fun!

Or . . . it’s supposed to be.

As a mom, a type A personality, a [recovering] perfectionist, an oldest child, I’m not always very FUN. I’m responsible and organized (sometimes), I get things done, and I take care of people and business. But fun? Not so much.

After 20 years I forget too often how much fun I can have with my husband. But taking time to reminisce every now and then reminds me that one of the most fun parts of my marriage IS the fact that we’ve known each other so long. We’ve grown up together, and our lives are enmeshed in a thousand ways. Our families, our jobs, our homes, our friends – all of it is connected in one way or another.

Every time we visit our hometown or old friends, I remember how it felt back in the day, how much we laughed, how amusing (and not annoying) I found his teasing, how my shoulders didn’t hunch and my jaw didn’t clench with the stress of the everyday. And I remember being in love – young love, early love, no-real-responsibilities love.

As we walk down memory lane – whether literally at his dad’s farm or figuratively with a yearbook, scrapbook or long-forgotten mix CD – something special happens. We smile a bit more, we laugh out loud a lot more, and my heart just feels warmer toward him in general. Reminiscing is good for my relationship.

I don’t think this is restricted to couples who grew up together. No matter how long you’ve been married, you’ve created memories with your husband.

  • That place you met – or had your first date
  • That song you danced to
  • Those photos of your funniest faces or fanciest prom outfits
  • Your favorite movies – and movie quotes
  • The inside joke you can share with just a wink or raised eyebrow
  • Those friends you double dated with back then

Remembering those things together will help you recall the sweetness of young love and also remind you of your heart connection. And it might just help you remember how to be a little more fun!

Of course, as I think about those older couples with nothing to say during dinner, I’m even more determined to keep making those fun memories. I ask him if he’s heard a new song that I think he might enjoy as much as I do, we binge-watch a TV show together, we plan vacations and take last-minute road trips. We pass notes in church (shhh! don’t tell!), and we take those obnoxious-to-everyone-else selfies when we manage to get a date night.

We make memories – so we have something to look back on, no matter how old we get or how many dinners we share.

Reminisce with us today. What’s one of your favorite memories of your husband?

Photo source

 

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One Surefire Way to Improve Your Marriage

Monday, May 12th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Improve Your Marriage - Mom Advice

Later this month I’ll celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary. As a matter of fact, come this October my husband and I will have officially been a couple for 20 years. Obviously that means a) we met at a VERY young age and b) I am a total expert when it comes to relationships.

Well, yes and no.

(Side note: I learned today that crystal is the traditional anniversary gift item of Year 15. And while I don’t anticipate receiving anything made of crystal this year, I also am happy to point out that crystal beats the traditional gift for the seventh wedding anniversaries: wool. Huh. Wool is the gift of choice for the year of the infamous seven-year itch? Surely THAT can’t be a coincidence! But I digress…)

Anyway.

While I’ve made it to my crystal anniversary and am happy to say my marriage is stronger than ever, I would never claim the title of relationship expert. I have much to learn and am thankful for the opportunity to keep doing just that. But even while I’m in the process of learning to be a better wife – to create lasting memories, healthy boundaries and open communication – I know there’s one surefire way to improve my marriage in an instant.

Are you ready? Here goes:

Say thank you.

Now, quit it! Don’t roll your eyes at me! Give me just one minute to explain this seemingly simple piece of advice.

I know – OH I KNOW – there are times when it’s easier to say thank you than others. Some days gratitude just spills out of us – whether it’s to the husband who gets the trash to the curb seconds before the garbage truck rolls around the corner or the one who holds our hand as we await results from that terrifying medical test. Little things to big ones force our thankful hearts to bubble over into our words, our faces, our touch – into everything.

But – and please believe me, I’m talking to myself here, too – isn’t the same true when we are LESS than thankful? When that husband we love so much insists it’s your turn (AGAIN.) to get up with the baby or forgets your anniversary or birthday or big-presentation-at-work day? When he doesn’t ask how your day went or isn’t thrilled to eat tacos (AGAIN.) for dinner? How thankful are we then? What overflows into our eyes and our conversations then?

For the first MANY years of my marriage, I offered my husband conditional love. In fact, I was convinced that he needed to earn my love, my appreciation, my gratitude.

You’re right. This was NOT the recipe for a happy marriage.

Once I realized that gratitude was the answer – and not just some irritating platitude of all the marriage conference speakers and cheesy plaque makers – my marriage began to change.

I’m not saying that expressing gratitude changed my husband. No, it changed me. It changed my heart and my perspective. When I focused on the things – something, anything! – that I appreciated about him, all of a sudden my Spidey Sense went alert for the good parts of the man I married instead of the mistakes and failings I’d been lasered in on before.

This isn’t easy. I mean, yes, sometimes it’s easy to look back on the day and recount all the wonderful ways my husband blessed me. But other days? Not so much. That’s what making this gratitude a habit is so vital.

In an era of “conscious uncoupling” (what the what??), why not make a stand for conscious coupling? Why not choose to be mindful of the things that still draw us to our husbands? Why not be intentional about choosing gratitude and choosing him?

Sure, fine, yes – but what does that even mean? Well, I think it looks different for every couple, but here’s what it looks like in my house:

Use your manners. Say thank you.

I know. I already mentioned this. But I know for me the first people to suffer my bad moods or exhaustion or stress or WHATEVER are my family. The people who I love most and deserve my best often get my leftovers – and when that happens, it certainly doesn’t include using my manners.

He passed you the bread? Say thank you. He helped your daughter with her homework? Say thank you. He brought in the mail? Say thank you. He rented the movie you suggested? Say thank you. For all the little things – the things you would thank a stranger for, perhaps – say thank you.

Keep a gratitude journal.

When we began doing this I really only meant to teach THE OTHER PEOPLE who live in my house to be more thankful. Obviously, I didn’t have a problem with it. Except – and I’m sure you saw this coming – it teaches me something, too. Every time. Taking time to be thankful, expressing gratitude on purpose somehow transforms us into more gracious, more appreciative people. Not just in the three minutes it takes to go around the table and share. No, when you know that you’re going to be asked to tell your family what you’re thankful for each day (or, in the more practical case of my family, each day that you remember to do it…which might be closer to once a week), YOU LOOK FOR THINGS TO BE THANKFUL FOR.

And so it goes with marriage. Before we even celebrate our 15th anniversary, I’ve decided what I’m giving my husband for our 16th. I’m committing to writing down something I’m thankful to him for EVERY DAY (or, again, every day I remember – but I’m really shooting for every single day!). Then after a year and more than 300 thanks recorded, I’ll have an amazing gift to give him (which certainly beats hollow silver items, apparently the traditional gift for everyone’s 16th anniversary – YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!).

End your day with thankfulness.

Whether you climb into bed together or not, why not make your last words of the day to your husband ones of thankfulness? My husband works nights, so I often text him a good night message before I hit the hay. Though he’s never mentioned the days I make sure to thank him for getting up early to play with the kids or grilling chicken for dinner or attacking the weeds around the front porch, I can’t imagine it hurts. (Plus, he’s a man of few words…unless the topic involves sports or cars or work…) And now that I think of it, I need to do this more often.

Our schedule is crazy; yours might be, too. Some days are so busy we barely see each other and my thank you might be for something more big-picture, like Thank you for loving our girls. or Thank you for working so hard at your job.

I realize that not every marriage presents opportunities for gratitude easily. And I definitely know from experience that every marriage goes through challenging seasons where you might have to look REAL hard for something to thank him for. But I sincerely believe – and I have seen it in my own life – that looking for the good (and then appreciating it) can go a long way toward improving your marriage, your outlook, your life.

What’s one thing about your husband that you’re thankful for today?

Photo by John Hope

 

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Cheering for the Same {Marriage} Team

Monday, March 10th, 2014

From our marriage/parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Mary Carver, from Giving Up on Perfect, is truly the perfect voice for our marriage & family section of our site. I never had the right words to say on these topics, but what I love about Mary is that she has the *real* words to say on family & marriage. It isn’t easy and we all know that. I know you will want to share her posts with others as soon as you read them. I am thrilled she is sharing her heart here!
Cheering for the Same Marriage Team - MomAdvice.com

I have a newborn who doesn’t believe in sleeping through the night yet – or sleeping more at night than during the day, actually. And while I’ve heard of moms who can feed their babies while vacuuming or fixing lunch or knitting, I’m not nearly that coordinated.

All I can manage during those late-night feedings is to hold my phone and scroll through Facebook. Which means, of course, that I’ve taken every “What [Disney princess/Friends character/Muppet/arbitrary object {WHAT?!}] Are You?” quiz that exists.

{In case you’re wondering – and of course you are – I’m Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey, Leslie Knope from Parks & Recreation, Jessie from Saved by the Bell, Jerry from Seinfeld, Leonard from Big Bang Theory, Princess Leia, Hermione and Rumpelstilstkin. Don’t even ask me what that last one means. I don’t want to talk about it.}

Most recently I took the quiz asking which celebrity couple my significant other and I are. According to this highly scientific test, my husband and I “are” Barack and Michelle Obama, the powerhouse couple.

Ummm, okay?

Politics and pretend psychology aside, the definition of our spirit celeb couple had one good point:

Despite being two individual powerhouses, you make a perfect team.

I still don’t know about the powerhouse thing, but I do know that we’re at our very best as a couple when we function as a team.

Two years ago my marriage faced some major challenges. When crying and yelling about everything didn’t work, we spent our 13th wedding anniversary with a marriage counselor. I won’t tell you that we have a perfect relationship now, but we’ll celebrate our 15th anniversary in a few months in a much better, healthier, more loving place than we could have imagined two years ago.

And what changed us most was a lousy counselor and cheering for the same team.

Cheering for the Same Marriage Team - MomAdvice.com

At first our counselor seemed nice. But eventually we came to the conclusion that, as a counselor, she was actually kind of terrible. She asked bizarre questions, focused on the least important part of our discussions, and assigned us ridiculous homework. And each time we met with her, we had to remind her about our background, our problems and our progress.

So the counselor we saw wasn’t great. Coming to that conclusion with my husband, though? Kind of great.

See, throughout our relationship what has glued us together is the mindset that we’re in this thing together, that we’re on the same team. And we’d forgotten that.

Being on the same team means we fight together, not each other.

After years of unmet expectations and disappointments, we’d unknowingly worked ourselves into a combative relationship. It was me against him, and neither of us was winning.

But when we took time to reflect on our relationship – the good parts, too, not just the bad ones – we remembered that the times we’ve felt the closest are when we worked together on a project, when we faced a common “enemy,” when we cheered for the same team.

And nothing changed our attitudes about each other and our relationship faster than realizing THE TEAM WE NEEDED TO CHEER FOR WAS US.

At first simply attending counseling appointments and doing our homework together was enough to nudge us into the mindset of us-versus-the-world (and our problems), instead of me-versus-him.

Then, as we realized that neither of us liked our specific counselor (but we were determined to stick it out and glean what we could from our sessions), we remembered we were on the same team, facing down a weird therapist and a whole host of marital mountains we needed to climb together.

We started talking more, problem solving and coming up with ways we could fix this mess together. TOGETHER – that was the key word. The moment we abandoned our posts in the war between us and starting fighting FOR us instead, life changed. WE changed.

I’m not telling you that everything was roses and sunset walks after that. No, it was certainly a process – one that we’re still working through – and a strategy that even now, we have to remind ourselves to use instead of falling back into old habits and turning on each other at the slightest provocation.

We have to remind ourselves which team we’re cheering for.

I’m thankful for that counselor, even though she was far from what we initially hoped for. I’m grateful our sessions with her reminded us that we are in this together – and that we are fighting for this, for us, together.

What helps you remember that you and your spouse are on the same team?

{Photos by istockphoto and chase_elliott}

 

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9 Simple Ideas for Frugal Date Nights

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Just in time for planning your romantic Valentine’s Day night is a list of 9 simple and frugal ideas for creating a wonderful night with your spouse. If my recipes for a fantastic steakhouse dinner don’t win your husband over, maybe one of these inexpensive ideas will!

I don’t know about you, but I never knew how creative I would have to be in order to squeeze in a little alone time with my spouse. We don’t get to escape as often as I would like and it is hard to find people you really love and trust enough to watch those that are most precious to you. Not only that, but teenagers sure seem to be a lot busier than they used to be! I am so thankful for the grandparents who offer to take our kiddos time and time again so we can get that time away.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some creative ideas for dating that will cost you little/no money and won’t even require paying a babysitter. These are the ideas that have worked for us through these years and I hope you can share some ways that you have found to creatively date your spouse when you are low on cash and sitters.


Book Club Night- My husband and I have started, what I jokingly refer to as, our “magical book club” together. I have been dying for him to read the Twilight series and he has been dying for me to read the Harry Potter series. We made a deal to exchange books and talk about them each night. Obviously, this is not intellectual material we are talking about, but I have to say that I am so enjoying every moment of this exchange.

You could also read the same series together or tackle a literary classic together. Better yet, reread those amazing books from your childhood. Have a book club night together instead of a night parked in front of the television.

Once we have finished the books though, we plan to have a screening night of the movies together too. I am wondering if I am pushing the envelope too much if I make my Edward cupcakes?

Engage in Conversation Starters- I think I know just about everything there is to know about my husband, especially since we have been together since we were teenagers. Conversation starter questions though can sometimes lead to some beautiful surprises of happy memories that we had never heard before. Look at these unique conversation starters, these sweet conversation starters, or this list of fun questions to get the ball rolling. My husband & I sometimes just ask each other questions in Facebook quizzes. Anything that gets you talking together is a great investment of your time!

Late Night Dinners- When our kids were really little, our time alone really felt few and far between. We would sometimes shift our dinner hour until after the kids went to bed to enjoy a romantic and quiet dinner together. I would put table linens on the table, break out the beautiful dishes and stemware, and make a fancy dinner that the grocery budget would not be able to normally accommodate. After all, you are still staying in so there is still a great savings in that!

Don’t be afraid to move your dinner somewhere else in the house. Sometimes I would set up a folding table and chairs and dress it up in a different area of the home or put a fancy spread out on the coffee table with a fun movie. In those long days of newborn feedings and diaper changes, this little change in location was really something to look forward to.


Game Time- My husband & I are both very competitive so we love to play games together after the kids head to bed. For outdoor games, we love a good badminton match and for indoor games we love a good board game challenge or a fun game of Wii bowling. Challenge each other to a match and feel free to indulge in childish behavior to escape the reality of adulthood.

Dollar Store Extravaganza- This is something that I have planned for the two of us as a fun date night idea. Just make a small budget of $10 or less and challenge each other to a contest to see who you can come up with the most creative gift from the dollar store for each other. You can really put a lot of creativity into this and it will be a fun exchange to do after the kids go to bed. See if your husband really knows what your favorite candy in the world is and he can see if you know how to pick a great book for him or what type of puzzle book would be a fun one.


Enjoy Some Time By the Fire- After the kids go to bed, we love to start a little fire in our fire pit and sit by it together. We are finding it is a great way to unwind and have some time to discuss the day together. Make some s’mores and snuggle up under a blanket together. If you have a fireplace, you can do the same thing with some cocoa in your warm house on a wintry night.

Plan an Anniversary Getaway- I decided awhile ago to begin putting money into a separate savings account for our ten year anniversary. At the time, we were really penny-pinching, but $25 a month didn’t seem like a ton of money so it has been automatically transferred every month for our anniversary getaway.

I swear that we talk about this (at least) once a month. Even though there is just $1,000 saved, we have come up with a zillion places we could go to and have been number-crunching to see how much we will have from making this tiny investment each month.

Sitting around and just planning a vacation can be so much fun together. It is such a fun way to spend your time, imagining the places you will go and talking about how quickly we are approaching our big anniversary.

Make it more fun by challenging each other to plan the best anniversary getaway package. You could each research and put together your own vacations and then sit down together and see who came up with the best ideas for the least amount of money. File it away for future reference when you actually do to get to go on that getaway.

Exchange Babysitting With a Friend- I am really lucky because if I really want to go out with my spouse, I can call up my sister and ask if we can do a babysitting exchange. If you have a good friend that you can exchange babysitting with and trade nights out, then you get great care for your kids without having to shell out any money.

While you are enjoying some time alone, you can still enjoy the frugal things in life. Some of my favorite date nights are hitting a movie at the second-run theater, packing up a picnic dinner and taking it somewhere with a view, lounging around Barnes & Noble looking for home improvement inspiration, or even enjoying an evening at home without the kids.

If your spouse can take off work, use a vacation day and try and plan your date during the day. You can take advantage of cheaper matinee rates and even affordable meals out at restaurants because of the earlier hour.

Start a New TV Series- Now that I have given you lots of ideas that don’t involve the television, I think I can bring up an idea that does. I love to pick up a new television series together, particularly in the summer months when nothing good is really on television. You can rent these using a movie membership or check on Hulu or the network websites to watch a series. Try looking for an older series that you have never seen before and watching it for the first time. On our list of never seen television- Lost, 24, and House. We also love to watch rerun sitcoms and relive all those funny moments all over again and watch Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, & That 70’s Show just for laughs.

I don’t mean to brag, but this man of mine is awesome! He works a full-time job AND manages to run all of the programming on this website too. I am willing to set aside as many fun & free nights as I can to hang out with him. Even when times were very lean, we have found creative ways to spend time together. I know we both benefit from it and so do our children!

What is your favorite budget-friendly date night activity? Please share your creative and unique ideas for keeping the romance alive!

Family Game Nights Reign Supreme

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

As my children get older and the years go by, we seem to be continually adding to our board game collection. I love board games because it is one way to bring us all together and focus on aspects of teamwork and family that we really need to focus our efforts on.

The calendar seems to be overflowing with activities as my kids get older and these commitments can sometimes pull us away from each other. I remember my own parents enforcing a strict Family Night on our calendar each week where we were not allowed to go anywhere or do anything except spend a night together as a family. Our night together included fun food and a great sitcom. There may have been weeks I acted as though I resented it, particularly in those middle school years, but now I look back on that time together fondly. It was important and essential to our parents and I looked forward to it just as much as they did.

To steal a line from Iron Chef, “Board games reign supreme,” in our house. Family nights usually include a homemade pizza, a board game, and a fun family movie together. We all look forward to it and I love sharing these precious moments with my children.

Board games not only help promote togetherness with our children, but also togetherness as a couple. A board game with your spouse is the ultimate in frugal date nights and I can think of no better way to spend an evening together than dusting off an old board game and just being kids again!

I try to get our board games at our local thrift store because it is a great way for me to try them out without making a huge investment. Sometimes I buy games and we discover that it isn’t something we would want to play over and over again. When they cost us only $1.50, it makes it much easier to donate it back and try something else out.

You might be able to do this without even making a small investment by checking with your local library. Our library actually has games and toys that you can rent for your children. We were able to try some games out for our son and found that he either didn’t like them or they were way too advanced by just checking them out for a week. We were able to return them and then try them at a later date with him, when they were more age-appropriate.

Starting your own game collection does not have to be expensive. If you don’t have somewhere that you can buy them secondhand, ask for these as a family Christmas gift or ask for them for your children as birthday gifts. Some of the best childhood games are Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, Memory, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Life, and Clue.

Games are a great way to bond with your family and are an inexpensive “date night” with your spouse. We try and devote (at least) one night a week towards playing a game together and enjoy playing these games on the weekend.

Twister Hopscotch- Twister Hopscotch is a great game to keep in your collection for rainy days because it is still a physical activity, but can be done indoors instead of out. The game consists of different colors of rings that can be made into a formation. Just like regular old Twister, you give it a spin to figure out your color, hop to your circle, and then do the required “silly” activity… at least I think this is the rules. In our family, we hand the kids the box and let them discover whatever it is they would like to create or do. It is a great game for preschoolers because they can create patterns, it helps with color recognition, and coordination. We really love this game and I think your kids would too! (Age Recommendations- 4 and up)

Disney DVD Bingo- This game was given to us as a birthday gift from a friend and it is one of the most used games in our collection. Each card has characters from the Disney movies on each of the Bingo spots. You pop in the DVD and choose the style of Bingo game you would like to play. For younger kids, you can stick to the basic Bingo, but older kids will enjoy the challenge that some of the other games offer. The DVD tells you what numbers are being called and occasionally there are very short Disney movie sequences that are shown. Both of my children love this game and paired with a big bowl of popcorn, they are entertained for at least an hour. Make it more challenging by adding extra cards for each child to increase the difficulty. This is a great game for recognizing numbers, colors, and patterns. (Age Recommendations- 4 and up)

Apples to Apples- If you have not played Apples to Apples before, you are really missing out on a treat. It is my new favorite game to tote around to all of our family functions and any opportunity where I can get a few friends together. Simply deal the cards out to each player and one person gets to be the judge. The judge will share a card and you select from your cards the best match to that card. Once everyone has given their card to the judge, the judge decides which card best fits the card they shared.

The fun is in the variety of unexpected comparisons people make, sometimes apt, funny, creative, or simply absurd. For example: people might match “Awkward” with “Oil Spills,” “My First Kiss,” “Dandruff,” and “Gold Chains. ” Or: “Painful” with “High School Reunions” and “Regis Philben. ” Strategy comes into play since, because each player takes turns being the judge, you begin to pick up on the preferences of each player and tailor your choices accordingly.

Honestly, if you find yourself hosting a dinner party where you are worried about conversation or a family gathering that you don’t have very much in common with, this is the game to break out to get through those awkward silences. Kid v
ersions of this game are also available. (Age Recommendations- 12 and up)

Trouble- Trouble is a great game for younger kids because it is a very simple concept and the playing time is perfect for shorter attention spans. Adults may remember this great game from their childhood. With this game, you just move your four pegs around the board and put them into the finish spots. If you land on an opponents peg while going around the board though, you can boot them back to the beginning and make their piece start all over again. Instead of rolling dice, you push the “Pop-o-matic,” in the center which throws the dice for you. My kids really love this game and you will too! (Age Recommendations- Ages 4-9)

Connect Four- Connect Four is one of our favorite games and both the kids really enjoy it. The game is a vertical version of tic-tac-toe. Each player has a color and you drop the pieces in and try to get four in a row. The other player can block your moves with their pieces and this is a great game for strategy building to see if you can outsmart your opponent. This is another game that is short and sweet so it is perfect for children with short attention spans or for a quick game before bedtime.

Rummikub: This is a game that my husband loved to play when he was growing up, and now he has me addicted to it too! The game is intended for ages eight and up and can be played with two or more players. With rules similar to gin rummy, Rummikub is a classic tile game that’s guaranteed to get at least a million kid-hours of use in any family. Players take 14 numbered tiles and try to get rid of them as fast as possible by creating runs (for example, 7-8-9) and sets (7-7-7). The link provided is for their deluxe edition (which we do not have). This deluxe edition is cleverly designed so that the four plastic tile racks fit together to form a carrying case for the game. Junior editions of this game are also available.

Scrabble- What is not to love about this game? Intended for two players or more and recommended for ages eight to ninety-nine, you can play this game for years with your children. The game has been improved with a swivel board (less stretching required!), raised holders to rest the tiles into, and a bag to store all of the tiles. This is one of my personal favorites and we play this a lot in our house. Don’t forget to purchase a copy of the Scrabble Dictionary and store it with your game board. Take some time to study some words and really beat your opponents! Want to see what Scrabble obsession looks like? Rent the movie, “Word Wars.” It is all about the Scrabble championships that are held and people who attempt to make a living from this sport. Junior editions of this game are also available.

Upwords- Along the same vein, this is another fabulous word puzzle game, but with a twist. You build words just like Scrabble, but you can build up and up (five letters high) to change words into new words. The more you stack, the more points you earn. I think it is more challenging than Scrabble, but the scoring is much easier to do. This game is for two players or more and recommended for ages eight and up. This game can be a powerful tool when your children are beginning to read because it can help teach them how to change words using different letters. Consider it a cheap version of “Hooked on Phonics” and a game that they can enjoy for years after they have learned to read!
Skip-Bo- This was my favorite game growing up and my sister & I would play this for hours and hours. Created by the makers of UNO, this card game is a delight for anyone of all ages. The game is a sequencing game of skill and strategy intended for two players or more and ages seven and up. Players create sequential stacks with cards on the board, the first player to use all the cards in their stack wins. The deluxe edition has a board wi
th placeholders for all of the stacks of cards and score sheets to keep tabs of the winners. I love this game because it is easy to still have conversations while playing, making it a great game to socialize with other couples.
Yahtzee- A classic game of dice that has been around since 1956 and is still played in millions of homes today. You can play alone (which I don’t think would be as much fun) or with more players. The ultimate in

this game is to actually get Yahtzee or five of a kind. This game is so much fun and also a great teaching tool for children. Children can learn basic addition and subtraction, as well as sequential ordering.

Monopoly- I had never played this game until high school, and I can honestly say that my husband is always the winner, which is why we don’t play it as much! This game is a great teaching tool in

money-management and in buying real estate. We have a couple of different versions of this game, but my favorite is the Dot Com Monopoly, which we purchased when Dot Coms were ruling the world. Few of the companies on the board exist anymore, which makes for interesting conversation and fond memories before the dot com bomb hit for computer nerds and geeks alike!

We have many more games in our collection and the last time I hit the thrift store, I picked up another stack of new ones. Our collection keeps growing and we hope to have a game collection that our kids will enjoy someday with their friends. In a day of technological bliss, game nights now seem “retro.” Why play on a board when you can just grab your game system or play a computer game online? I hope that board games will last the test of time because they can be an essential part of family bonding and creating a family night to remember!


What are your favorite games? Any new games that I should be adding to our collection?

9 Unique Ideas for Frugal Date Nights

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I never knew how creative I would have to be in order to squeeze in a little alone time with my spouse. We don’t get to escape as often as I would like and it is hard to find people you really love and trust enough to watch those that are most precious to you. Not only that, but teenagers sure seem to be a lot busier than they used to be! I am so thankful for the grandparents who offer to take our kiddos time and time again so we can get that time away.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some creative ideas for dating that will cost you little/no money and won’t even require paying a babysitter. These are the ideas that have worked for us through these years and I hope you can share some ways that you have found to creatively date your spouse when you are low on cash and sitters.


Book Club Night- My husband and I have started, what I jokingly refer to as, our “magical book club” together. I have been dying for him to read the Twilight series and he has been dying for me to read the Harry Potter series. We made a deal to exchange books and talk about them each night. Obviously, this is not intellectual material we are talking about, but I have to say that I am so enjoying every moment of this exchange.

You could also read the same series together or tackle a literary classic together. Better yet, reread those amazing books from your childhood. Have a book club night together instead of a night parked in front of the television.

Once we have finished the books though, we plan to have a screening night of the movies together too. I am wondering if I am pushing the envelope too much if I make my Edward cupcakes?

Engage in Conversation Starters- I think I know just about everything there is to know about my husband, especially since we have been together since we were teenagers. Conversation starter questions though can sometimes lead to some beautiful surprises of happy memories that we had never heard before. Look at these unique conversation starters, these sweet conversation starters, or this list of fun questions to get the ball rolling. My husband & I sometimes just ask each other questions in Facebook quizzes. Anything that gets you talking together is a great investment of your time!

Late Night Dinners- When our kids were really little, our time alone really felt few and far between. We would sometimes shift our dinner hour until after the kids went to bed to enjoy a romantic and quiet dinner together. I would put table linens on the table, break out the beautiful dishes and stemware, and make a fancy dinner that the grocery budget would not be able to normally accommodate. After all, you are still staying in so there is still a great savings in that!

Don’t be afraid to move your dinner somewhere else in the house. Sometimes I would set up a folding table and chairs and dress it up in a different area of the home or put a fancy spread out on the coffee table with a fun movie. In those long days of newborn feedings and diaper changes, this little change in location was really something to look forward to.


Game Time- My husband & I are both very competitive so we love to play games together after the kids head to bed. For outdoor games, we love a good badminton match and for indoor games we love a good board game challenge or a fun game of Wii bowling. Challenge each other to a match and feel free to indulge in childish behavior to escape the reality of adulthood.

Dollar Store Extravaganza- This is something that I have planned for the two of us as a fun date night idea. Just make a small budget of $10 or less and challenge each other to a contest to see who you can come up with the most creative gift from the dollar store for each other. You can really put a lot of creativity into this and it will be a fun exchange to do after the kids go to bed. See if your husband really knows what your favorite candy in the world is and he can see if you know how to pick a great book for him or what type of puzzle book would be a fun one.


Enjoy Some Time By the Fire- After the kids go to bed, we love to start a little fire in our fire pit and sit by it together. We are finding it is a great way to unwind and have some time to discuss the day together. Make some s’mores and snuggle up under a blanket together. If you have a fireplace, you can do the same thing with some cocoa in your warm house on a wintry night.

Plan an Anniversary Getaway- I decided awhile ago to begin putting money into a separate savings account for our ten year anniversary. At the time, we were really penny-pinching, but $25 a month didn’t seem like a ton of money so it has been automatically transferred every month for our anniversary getaway.

I swear that we talk about this (at least) once a month. Even though there is just $1,000 saved, we have come up with a zillion places we could go to and have been number-crunching to see how much we will have from making this tiny investment each month.

Sitting around and just planning a vacation can be so much fun together. It is such a fun way to spend your time, imagining the places you will go and talking about how quickly we are approaching our big anniversary.

Make it more fun by challenging each other to plan the best anniversary getaway package. You could each research and put together your own vacations and then sit down together and see who came up with the best ideas for the least amount of money. File it away for future reference when you actually do to get to go on that getaway.

Exchange Babysitting With a Friend- I am really lucky because if I really want to go out with my spouse, I can call up my sister and ask if we can do a babysitting exc
hange. If you have a good friend that you can exchange babysitting with and trade nights out, then you get great care for your kids without having to shell out any money.

While you are enjoying some time alone, you can still enjoy the frugal things in life. Some of my favorite date nights are hitting a movie at the second-run theater, packing up a picnic dinner and taking it somewhere with a view, lounging around Barnes & Noble looking for home improvement inspiration, or even enjoying an evening at home without the kids.

If your spouse can take off work, use a vacation day and try and plan your date during the day. You can take advantage of cheaper matinee rates and even affordable meals out at restaurants because of the earlier hour.

Start a New TV Series- Now that I have given you lots of ideas that don’t involve the television, I think I can bring up an idea that does. I love to pick up a new television series together, particularly in the summer months when nothing good is really on television. You can rent these using a movie membership or check on Hulu or the network websites to watch a series. Try looking for an older series that you have never seen before and watching it for the first time. On our list of never seen television- Lost, 24, and House. We also love to watch rerun sitcoms and relive all those funny moments all over again and watch Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, & That 70′s Show just for laughs.

I don’t mean to brag, but this man of mine is awesome! He works a full-time job AND manages to run all of the programming on this website too. I am willing to set aside as many fun & free nights as I can to hang out with him. Even when times were very lean, we have found creative ways to spend time together. I know we both benefit from it and so do our children!

What is your favorite budget-friendly date night activity? Please share your creative and unique ideas for keeping the romance alive!

Six Easy Ways to Save on That Weekend Getaway

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

My husband and I celebrated nine years of marriage last month. We wanted to celebrate our anniversary in a special way and so we decided to take a little trip to Traverse City, Michigan and enjoy a weekend getaway for just the two of us. My husband’s family was kind of enough to take care of the little ones and we were off for two days of sightseeing, window shopping, and delicious eating.

We remained true to our budget through careful planning and research and I wanted to share with you a few ways we found to save on our memorable weekend getaway!

We Researched Hotel Rates- There were tons of great places to stay in Traverse City and I wanted the place that we stayed at to be close to the downtown shopping and a fun getaway for us. We checked Kayak for room rates and found the Grand Traverse Resort to be approximately the same price as the other hotels, but it had many amenities. The reviews on the hotel were great and we were thrilled to find a rate that saved us about $70 a night versus the hotel rates.

All of that being said, it seemed because we had booked this discount rate, we also got the discount room. Our room was the one without the view, on the ground floor, and smelled like a smoking room. We also had no idea that they would charge a resort fee of $9.95 a day for all of those amenities that we did not use.

We still did score a great rate, but realized that the amount of time we spent in our room was not worth the grandeur and we will find a less expensive place next time!

We Requested A Visitor Packet- While the visitor packet for this town lacked coupons, it did give us some ideas for neat places to visit and offered great historical information on the places we planned to visit. Through this packet of information, I was able to jot down some ideas for places to eat and see while we were in the town.

We Found the Best Places to Eat- I wanted to eat the coolest spots in town and we were able to do that with just a little research on my part. I hopped on Chow and checked through the forums for information on the town we were visiting. People offered honest opinions on the best spots in town and we decided to eat at two of the restaurants that had been recommended.

This first restaurant is called Trattoria Stella and was a fantastic Italian place in a renovated insane asylum. No, I am not joking! My husband, who watches many of those ghost-chasing shows, was thoroughly creeped out and it made for great conversation with our waiter. The food and wine choices relied heavily on local farmers and local wines which made for a fresh and delicious dinner.

The other recommendation was for Don’s Drive-In, which was absolutely everything that I adore about diner food. Greasy burgers, giant shakes, and the best fried mushrooms ever. We took our shakes to go and drove near the water for a view. It was far too cold to sit too long, but we prided ourselves on making the most of our two day getaway!

We Talked to the Local Folk- When someone comes to my town, I love to be a local authority. Isn’t it fun to share all of the hidden gems of your town? We talked to anyone who would chat with us and they shared their special places to eat, shop, and their favorite wineries to visit in town. People just love sharing about their home and that is how we were able to discover an out-of-the-w
ay winery that was not listed on maps. It ended up closing before we arrived, but we were able to take some wonderful pictures of the view.


We Put Together Our Own Tours & Packages- The Grand Traverse Resort offered a room package that you could take to tour the local wineries. The package included a two night stay and a tour of three wineries. The price? A whopping $224.50 per person. They had the wineries listed where they would be touring and I jotted them down and we decided to do our own tour. The price for us to do our own wine tour? Gas plus $3-5 per tasting at the wineries. With the money saved, we were able to take home a bottle of wine from each of the three wineries as a memento of our special anniversary. The two highlights for us were Shady Lane & Black Star Farms.

We saved ourselves even more time and money by trying wines at the restaurant and even picking up a bottle at the gas station. We discovered what wineries were not worth visiting and which ones we could not wait to enjoy at their winery.


We Put Our GPS To Good Use- We had a gift certificate last year and we put it towards a little GPS unit for our car. It has saved us so much money in gas and an inevitable divorce because we always get lost. It has been one of the best investments for our family- I truly could go on and on!

If you have a GPS unit, program it with all of the places that you would like to go before heading on your trip. I visited all of the sites of the restaurants, our hotel, even the downtown shops that I wanted to hit so all of the information was right at our fingertips. We enjoyed a scenic view to the town and we were able to navigate our way around without any problems to all of the places we wanted to see.

If you don’t have a GPS, print out maps for the places you would like to go and tuck them in a folder for your trip.

We Stuck To Window Shopping- I won’t say we didn’t make any purchases, but the majority of the day was just spent window shopping and picture-taking. I was able to take pictures of all the beautiful windows and antiques that we saw and that seemed to satisfy any urge I had to shop. We did enjoy oodles of free food samples downtown and shared a slice of pizza on a park bench to people watch over our lunch.

What a happy 9th anniversary that was and almost 15 years of being together!

Do you have any weekend getaways planned? What is your favorite way to save on your vacation travels? Please share!

Spending Money Like We Got It!

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

This weekend, my husband and I had a date night. We went to a very nice restaurant in town. We ordered fancy drinks, an appetizer, two delicious dinners, a dessert, and then we shared more drinks after the meal was over. We didn’t really glance at the prices and we spent about seventy dollars on dinner.

You must be wondering how someone who preaches frugality to the masses could be dining out like she has money to spend? If I saw people eating the way we did, clutching our bellies because we were so darn full, I would wonder how they could afford all those “extras” during their meal.

Lucky for me, I was able to mystery shop this restaurant and was reimbursed for my dinner out. In return for paying for my meal, I had to complete a short survey on the service that I received there. It took me about a half hour to fill out so for a sixty dollar reimbursement, that was a pretty good time investment.

Mystery shopping is a legitimate work-at-home opportunity. I personally never relied on it for income purposes, but I did rely on it for meals out or small cash rewards for taking the time to fill out surveys. In fact, before the site started to take up a lot of my time, we only went out to eat or had date nights when I had a mystery shopping opportunity.

Don’t think this is for you? Well, you can still spend money like you got it by using gift certificates from Restaurant.com. This has been the latest way that we have been able to afford dinner out. Our favorite restaurant recently dropped out of the program, but there are still a few restaurants in our area to chose from.

They are currently running an awesome promotion, that won’t last long, where you can get $25 gift certificates for only $3 using the coupon code PRESENT when checking out. This is a 70% savings and you can stock up on these as holiday gifts or for your family. The gift certificates are good for an entire year! The coupon code is good from July 24-31.

If you do decide to get these, I would love if you used this link provided because I do make a small bit of money from the affiliation. I promise I would only promote something that I absolutely loved and these gift certificates have funded many of our fun nights out.

Related Readings:

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping
A Real Review of Restaurant.com
Don’t Throw Out Those Take-Out Menus
Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget

Sound Off: How do you save money when dining out?