Thursday, June 20, 2013

Coupon Quest

When Mike and I were going through our finances a few months back to come up with a budget, I was shocked at how much money we spend on groceries!  We typically spend upwards of $150 every week!  That's crazy!  And since we are anticipating moving very soon, we have taken a hiatus from the cloth diapers so that it would be one less thing to worry about.  But that is one GIANT expense to tack on to our grocery bill.  Diapering two children with disposable diapers costs around $150/month!  I am so glad that we are not paying that on a regular basis, and after these few weeks of disposables, I am itching to get the cloth diapers back out to save some serious dough!  (I could make a whole post about how much money we have saved by using cloth diapers!)  I also don't have to buy formula or baby food, and my weekly bill is still around $150!  After talking with some friends who are in the same boat, we decided to do something to remedy it.

So we took a couponing class last week, and the title of it alone gave me the motivation to get back into couponing:

I took a class a little over a year ago, in which I bought this awesome binder:

Yup, you wish you were as cool as me, right?  I have no idea why I felt the need to write my name on the outside.  (And I didn't center it, which drives me crazy on a daily basis.  OCD much???) As if having said binder isn't nerdy enough, now my name is on it... right next to Coupon Pro.  Really wish it didn't say that either, but that's how the binder came.  

I love the inside because it keeps everything organized.  And the best feature is that it zippers up.  Essential when you have little ones that knock it over all the time.... or if you are clumsy and drop it constantly like I do.  

It has these fun little colored tabs to keep everything categorized and easy to find:

I use two different sized pockets.  Baseball card size:

And larger pockets for the bigger coupons:

And yes, I tote this thing with me to the store :)

Anyway, I bought it and kept up with it pretty well last year until Emma was born.  Having two children under the age of two threw me for a loop, and I fell off the couponing wagon.  Because although it can save you TONS of money, it can also be pretty time consuming.  But I have decided that I'm ready to hop back on that wagon.  I mean, I should probably be doing something productive every evening while I veg in front of the TV right?  That is the perfect time to organize my coupons and my meal plan for the week.  (I'll make a separate post about meal planning.  It is 100% essential for us!)

So I got everything organized and headed off to the store.  I went two separate times because my grocery store doubles coupons, but only 20 per day.  So I went both yesterday and today.  Not too big of a pain for me because the grocery store is only 5 minutes away.  Plus, I typically go when Mike is home so that I don't have to tote the girls along with me.

Now, I am by no means ready for Extreme Couponing or anything like that.  I don't leave the store with a cart full of free groceries, but I am pretty proud of how I've done for just starting out (again).

Yesterday I got $110 worth of groceries for $39.50!  Yup, I saved over $70 with my coupons!!  Not bad for my first day, right?  I get so excited to see all of the money falling off my receipt at the register!  

The key to successful couponing is pairing your coupons with items that are already on sale.  That is how your really save money.  All of the bold print is money that was deducted because the item was on sale:

So you can see that I didn't buy anything that wasn't already on sale.  Then when I paired those sale prices with coupons, I got some amazing deals!

The idea is to stock up on things when they are on sale so that you rarely have to pay full price for anything.  If you stock up when it is on sale, you shouldn't need it again until it's on sale again.  Typical sale cycles are every 6-8 weeks.  So you want to try to have enough to last you that long.  Obviously this doesn't work for produce and other things that go bad quickly, but it does save you lots of money on household staples if you have the time for it.

Here is my favorite part of the receipt:

Right there in the middle.  
Coupons tendered: $70.17  That is the total amount saved with sales and coupons :)

This morning Emma and I headed back to the store while Addy was at camp and picked up a few other great deals, including lots of freebies!

My total for this order was $11.43!  I saved $54.22 with sales and coupons!  Plus I am getting about $2.00 back on my grocery store rewards card from some electronic coupons that I had.  So the total for all of this food ended up being under $10!!  

In today's trip I got:

-1 Pantene shampoo
-1 Pantene conditioner
-4 boxes of General Mills cereal
-1 frozen pizza
-2 boxes of kids yogurt
-2 bottles of soy sauce
-2 avocados
-1 bag of Chex Mix
-3 packs of Stride gum
-1 box of Motts fruit snacks
-2 bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo

Pretty good for less than $10, if I do say so myself :)  And it's all stuff that I use.  That was one of my concerns when I got started.  I thought that serious couponners must just buy a bunch of random crap that no one uses just to save money.  And I could see where it would be easy to fall into that trap... and easy to become a hoarder, ha ha!  But don't worry, that hubby of mine would NEVER let that happen ;)

Now, I realize that it's pretty darn hard to save this much on every shopping trip.  Especially if you are getting things like meat and produce.  Those things are expensive and there are very rarely coupons for them.  To be honest, it seems pretty tough to eat healthy on the cheap.  But I'm going to try!  By putting in a little bit of time, I am going to be able to stock my pantry for so much less!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Beach Trip Tips!

Last time my mom was visiting we decided to embark on a day trip to the beach with both girls while Mike was away for the weekend.  And let me tell you, an excursion like that takes days of planning!  Any trip where you are gone all day with an infant and a toddler is nerve wracking, but a trip to the beach, where you are outside, with no other place to go, and you are two hours from home.... let's just say my anxiety level was high.

But I really wanted to go, knowing that this will be the first year that I can ever remember not taking a week long beach vacation.  Mike and I decided that it's just too much hassle with the girls at this age.  Everyone naps at different times, Addy didn't even like the beach last year, and we are to the age where sleeping in the same room with them is miserable for everyone involved.  No one sleeps very well, and a whole week of that just did not seem like a vacation to us.  So no beach vacation, but I wanted to at least get a glimpse of them at the beach.  I wanted to see if Addy liked it any better this year, and I wanted Emma to experience the beach for the first time this summer.

So I brought up the idea with my mom, and she was on board!  We knew it might be logistically difficult, but with lots of planning ahead and preparing for the worst, we nailed it!

Let's see.  First and foremost, bring lots and lots of snacks.  Addy is a complete snack fiend, so as long as she is eating she is typically pretty happy.  Now is that how we get through a normal day?  Of course not.  But being away from home, I was ready to use whatever means necessary to keep her happy.  We had so much food it was ridiculous.  PBJ as the main course.  Then lots of fruit, and crackers, and granola bars, and water.

Next bring toys.  Toys they don't usually play with, so it seems really new and fun.  Addy loves her sand toys, and she had lots of fun digging around and playing with buckets of ocean water.  She is still pretty scared of the ocean itself, so she wanted no parts of going in or even near the ocean.  But she had fun in the sand.  And at low tide, when there were little pools of water around, she had a blast running and jumping in all of those puddles.

I managed to snag one little video of the festivities.  Don't mind Addy's nip slip that she had going on all day in that bathing suit ;)

Next, when going to the beach with small children, bring an umbrella and lots of sunscreen.  Little kids especially need time out of the sun, so an umbrella is essential for us these days.  And I dropped the ball on the sunscreen.  I reapplied on Addy since she was in the sun a lot, but I never reapplied on Emma since she was mostly under the umbrella.  Well that was a bad call, because little Emma got some sunburn on her arms.  Bad Mommy.  Her porcelain skin wasn't used to any sun, so she needed frequent sunscreen whether she was under the umbrella or not.  Live and learn.

And as far as sunscreen, get the tear-free kids spray sunscreen.  Spray is so much easier for reapplication once the kiddos are a sandy mess.  And I am told that stick sunscreen is easiest for the face, so I'm going to get that for next time.  Since we were going to be out for a lot of the day, I used the cream sunscreen on them first (because I'm afraid of missing spots with the spray).  But I did that before we even set foot in the sand, because cream + sand = disaster.  And Addy is now terrified of sunscreen because she always seems to get it in her eyes.  She (for some unknown reason) immediately rubs her eyes after I put sunscreen on her.  Then she freaks out about it hurting.  I couldn't figure out how to remedy that, because she needs sunscreen on both her hands and her face, but how do I keep it out of her eyes?  Well that tear free spray has been wonderful for that.  I spray some on my hands and wipe it on her face and she seems fine with that.  (But, like I said, I'm going to get the stick kind soon.)

My mom bought us one of those carts with the big wheels that you pull through the sand, and it was a godsend.  Now that we have an infant and a toddler, a day at the beach requires a lot of crap.  So you pile the sand toys, and the towels, and the umbrella, and the cooler, etc etc in that.  Then you hang the beach chairs on it and pull all of your stuff at once.  Much better than making multiple trips to the car and back.

Of course, as with any excursion with little ones, bring plenty of diapers, wipes, and extra clothes.  The rule that I use when out for the day is to bring one diaper for every hour that I plan to be out.  Do I ever use that many?  No.  But it's better to be safe than sorry.  So I had about 5 swim diapers for each girl and about 5 regular diapers.  (We were gone for almost 10 hours!)  Then I brought an extra bathing suit for each, just in case.  And two outfits for each girl.  Yup, like I said, lots of planning and lots of crap to bring.

I brought two wide brimmed beach hats for each girl as well.  They wore them for most of the time until the end of the day.  Addy doesn't usually like wearing sunglasses, and she is used to hats because for so long she had no hair, and I forced her to wear a hat whenever we were outside.  Emma doesn't seem to mind hats either, which is good.  Gotta protect those little baby noggins from the sun's rays, and putting sunscreen on heads with hair is not something that I'm into.  Easier to throw a hat on them.  Protects the face that way too.

As far as the car ride, we decided to leave early (around 6:45 AM I think).  So we woke the girls (something I try to do as infrequently as possible), changed diapers, I nursed Emma, and off we went.  The girls rode there in their pj's and we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts drive through for breakfast.  We had the portable DVD player to entertain Addy.  Complete with headphones so that mom and I didn't have to listen to whatever kiddie movie was playing.  Those DVD players are a godsend for long car trips with little ones.  Otherwise it is non-stop talking/whining/crying the entire time.  (Our trips to PA are worlds better now that Addy is old enough to pay attention to a whole movie.)

So we were at the beach by 9, meaning that it was easy to find a parking space very close to the beach.  The later you arrive, the harder it is to find parking, and the idea of carting both girls and all of their crap to the beach from some parking space in Timbucktoo was not appealing at all.  So we were able to park in the lot right near the bathrooms, which was essential for us since we were going to be there all day.

For the end of the day, I always bring a big Ziploc bag filled with ice and a few washcloths (a tip from a friend of mine).  Throughout the day the ice melts and then you use the cold water and washcloth to do a quick little wash of your face and arms, etc before getting in the car to go home.  It's amazing how much better you feel with the salt, sunscreen, and sand off of just your face for a 2 hour car ride home.  We actually didn't really need it this time because we never got in the ocean so we didn't have that caked on salt feeling.  It was a perfect day where the temp was not too hot, so we never felt the need to get in the water to cool off.  Good thing, because Addy is terrified of the ocean ;)

Another tip that Tina told me about the other day, is to use baby powder to get sand off of little ones after a day at the beach.  I haven't tried it yet, but apparently it works wonders.  You know how sand just seems to end up everywhere on them?  And no matter how much you try to brush it off with a towel, it never seems to work.  Well, if you cover them in baby powder, I'm told that the sand just wipes away with one easy stroke!  And then you have the added bonus of the car smelling nice and fresh for the ride home.  I'm definitely going to try this one!

So with all of this planning, how did the girls do?  Excellent.  Truly, we couldn't have asked for it to go any smoother.  Addy was stellar, and she was the one I had big worries about.  Visions of tantrums on the beach  were dancing through my head.  But she did not have one single meltdown.  Amazing.  She did fine despite waking up early and not taking a nap.  But let me tell you, once we got in the car to head home, she passed out!

Emma, on the other hand, I had no worries about.  I just assumed she'd roll with whatever (as she typically does).  I thought we could just toss her on the beach blanket under the umbrella and she'd nap with no problem.  Well, I was wrong there.  Emma is at the age where she doesn't just sleep wherever anymore.  She's still way better than Addy ever was, but sleeping on the beach with all of that noise was not easy for her.  She fought it hard.  Mom had to walk her up and down the beach for a long time to get her to fall asleep.  And even once she did, she slept for maybe 20-30 minutes.  Despite how short her nap was, it seemed to do the trick.  She was happy as a clam when she woke up and was fine for the rest of the day.

Give this girl a spoon to chew on and she's a happy lady :)

And I had to try to snag a photo with my ladies....never an easy task.

This picture cracks me up!  Emmy is a disheveled mess!  Her hair looks like a toupee, belly's hanging out, no bathing suit bottoms.  Can you tell this was the end of the day?  

And then here is us trying to get that pic, not realizing the camera was on video mode :)

When mom and I got the girls to bed that night we immediately grabbed our wine glasses and headed for the hot tub.  Much deserved after a very busy day :)
Check out my random patches of sunburn.  Why does that always happen to me?  I always think I am being so careful with sunscreen.  Sheesh!

All in all, a day trip to the beach with an infant and a toddler is not easy, and it's certainly not at all relaxing, but it was a lot of fun for all of us!   Would I ever tackle it alone?  Hhhhell no!  Having mom there with me was essential.  Even with two of us, it was busy, busy, busy the whole time.  It was funny because before we left, mom asked if I was bringing a book.  Ha!  Yeah right.  We didn't even really need beach chairs because we barely sat down!  But the girls had such a great time, and in turn, so did we :)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

May Self Portrait

Shocking that this is posted late again huh?  Have I had a single self portrait posted in the month that I actually took it?  Don't think so.  Blogging in the midst of chasing around an infant, a toddler, and a dog is proving to be quite difficult these days ;)

Anywho, I love, love, love the month of May.  I love it for many reasons.  The weather, strawberry picking, knowing that summer is right around the corner.  But mostly I love May because May is the month of ME!  Mother's Day, my birthday, and our anniversary are all in May!  Lucky for me...not so lucky for Mike ;)

In May we did lots of fun things including date nights, shopping sprees, trips to the beach, and an amazing (CHILD-FREE!) anniversary trip to Wilmington!  That trip was the first time that I have been away from Emma overnight (other than when I was working) since she was born.  Did I miss my girls?  Of course.  But it was glorious... and quiet....and relaxing.  Ahhhhh.

Mike planned out our anniversary trip and he booked us two nights in this amazing old mansion (built in 1906) that had been converted into a Bed and Breakfast.  The Graystone Inn.  It was beautiful, and right downtown within walking distance to the river walk and all of the restaurants and bars.  Perfect.

We woke up to delicious breakfasts and then headed to the beach all day where we could, gasp, read a book!  A book?  If it wasn't written by Dr. Seuss, then I haven't read it lately.  Fabulous and so relaxing.  We would then return to our B&B and get ready for dinner.  Leisurely.  Without children crying, and whining, and clinging to our legs.  Once we were ready, we headed downstairs for some wine in the great room.  And then we walked to our restaurants of choice.  Notice I said our choice.  We didn't have to worry about the time, or whether or not it was kid friendly, or whether there was going to be a long wait.  We had all the time in the world.  We almost hoped for a wait, because how relaxing would it be to sit at the bar and wait for a table, just the two of us?  The first night we hit up a sushi restaurant (not usually something kids are into), and the second night we went to an oyster place where we both got possibly the best meals we have ever had.  I'm not exaggerating.  We both got seafood meals, and they were outstanding.  Afterwards we headed to a fondue place for dessert on the first night and to a rooftop bar for drinks on the second night.  It was a perfect anniversary trip.  Truly perfect.  I want to say a special thank you to Mike's parents for coming down and watching the girls for us so that we could go!

I took a bunch of pictures on our trip, but here is the one that I have chosen for my self portrait:

In the words of the Zac Brown Band:  
I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand
Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand.
Life is good today.
Life is good today.

Ahh May.  The month of me :)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Emma: 8 Months!

Dear Sue Sue,

Your nickname that started as Emmy Lou Who, has progressed slowly over the months, and these days we often find ourselves referring to you as Sue Sue.  Doesn't make any sense, as Sue is not in your name anywhere, but nicknames often emerge out of strange places :)

Anyway, you are getting more and more of a personality every day.  You are still as pleasant as ever, and so many people have commented to me that you are the most content baby they have ever seen.  It's true sweet girl.  All we have to do is look at you, and you are smiling from ear to ear.  You bring more joy into our lives than we ever thought possible!

Even when you are uncomfortable, we often don't even know it.  You have a diaper rash?  Smiling.  A fever?  Still smiling.  Cutting your first teeth?  Still smiling!  That last one makes me feel bad because the night that you were getting that first bottom tooth you were up several times throughout the night whimpering a little bit, but you were never even crying, so Daddy and I attributed it to the fact that we had just driven back from PA the night before and you were off schedule.  That's all we thought it was.  When we looked in your mouth and saw that little tooth the next day we felt terrible!  You were probably in pain, but you never even cried.  Just a few small whimpers.  You are one tough little cookie!  Aunt Tina thinks you will grow up to be a people pleaser, and I tend to agree.  It's like you try to make everything as easy on us as possible...and we love you for that!!!

Speaking of teeth, you did in fact get your very first tooth this month at about 7 1/2 months old.  Obviously, you took it (and my failed attempts to get pics of it) like a champ.  Your second tooth came in just a few days later, and you are sitting pretty with two bottom teeth for now :)

These days, you are loving the doorway jumper, and you are kind of over the activity mat.  Now that you are sitting up so well, you'd rather be upright than laying under that mat.  And you had your first experience on the swings at the park this month!  You had so much fun!

As you can see, your hair is still nice and long on the top, but pretty sparse around the rest of your head.  Makes for the perfect "Pebbles" ponytail :)

You love to be held, and these days you have started reaching for me to hold you whenever I walk in a room.  It's adorable and breaks my heart at the same time.  I can't hold you every time, but you sure do try! And when you get excited you do what we refer to as, "the emphatic yes".  It's exactly what it sounds like, and its so cute to watch you throw your head back in delight!  Another of your signs of excitement is what we call the "pug dog".  You start breathing hard and fast, and since you always seem to be a little bit congested, you sound just like a little pug dog :)

Your daily routine has not changed much recently.  You still wake up around 7:30, take 2 good naps a day, and go back to sleep at 7:30 at night.  In the past month (now that you finally roll over), you have started sleeping on your belly.  Almost every night when I check on you before I go to bed, that is how I find you.

You still nurse four times a day.  Morning, night, and after both naps.  Then we give you one container of food three times a day.  Your favorites are the orange foods.  Sweet potato, squash, carrots.  You love them.  And oddly, you are not a huge fan of fruits.  It seems as though you prefer the veggies.  (Are you really my child??)

You have been doing lots of babbling, which includes dada and mama.  It still doesn't seem like you really say those words to us, but who knows.  You also really love to hear yourself scream, which is cute, but makes this already loud house even louder.  It often feels like a zoo in here!

Gnawing on your toes is still one of your favorite past times:

Grandma and I took you to the beach for the very first time this month.  It was a day trip, and had us very nervous, but all in all, you and your sister were awesome!

Here are your monthly photos:

This face cracks me up!

Your big sister's preschool ended this month, so this was our last month of quiet Tuesday and Thursday mornings, just me and you.

I know that I am biased, but I think you are the cutest baby around!  The cutest and by far the sweetest!  You are such a blessing to our family, and I am so thankful that God chose me to be your Mommy.  I love you to the moon and back baby girl!