Monthly Archives: May 2013

Budgeting for Children: Making the Dollars STRETCH!

As I mentioned yesterday, we adhere to a strict budget for children’s supplies and learning materials.  Despite that, I never feel like Kent lacks for things he needs.

Here are some ways we keep the costs to a minimum:

  • Always, always read the reviews and do research before making a purchase.  A cheap product is not cheap if you have to replace it often.  For example, Kent’s snack cup cost $16.99.  Lesser models can be purchased for $2-3.  However, we only have ONE cup to keep track of and it works infinitely better than the cheap ones.  It has been going strong for well over a year now and still looks like new.  We will purchase ONE cup for the new baby, too, because Kent still uses his in the car.  They will surely outlast both boys.  We like having one cup to wash, store, and keep track of.  Plus, Kent is learning the value of having quality things and taking care of them.  We’ve followed this same guiding principle when selecting everything from crib mattresses to shoes.
  • Make it known what is needed!  Kent is blessed to have wonderful grandparents on all sides.  They know that we try hard to pick long-lasting products and they are wonderful about asking what would be useful.  I maintain a wish list on Amazon and try to keep it fresh with new ideas, especially when gift-giving occasions are near.  I’m sure I sometimes come across as too picky but usually everyone is happy to have suggestions and know that he is getting something that really caters to his current interests and will get lots of use.  I also try to update our families on what we will be learning in the near future.  For example, we are starting to learn about shapes so they know to snatch up related items if they see a deal.
  • Rarely buy new!  There are a few things I do buy new: mattresses, toys, carseats, and few select items that I want to last as long as possible.  Almost everything else I try to find secondhand.  I actually prefer secondhand clothing over new because the pesticide residue on conventional cotton dissipates over time.  The same goes for plastic items: there is less off-gassing and fewer odors left from manufacturing when you buy used.  I love scouring estate sales for old toys and kitchen accessories.  The old metal and wood versions of things are so much nicer to use and hold up better over time than the newer plastic models.  That’s my opinion, anyway!
  • Always check ebay, craigslist, and etsy.  Al three, every time, always.
  • Ask around.  For example, we scored a globe by asking on Facebook if anyone had one sitting around collecting dust.  Thanks Kristi!
  • When you found a deal, jump on it!  This can be tricky.  I do usually consult with Brian first in case he has a better idea.  Most of the time, though, I hunt and hunt for a deal and when I finally find something I know we need I grab it.  This is easier if you don’t spend all your envelope money in the first week. 😉
  • Buy ahead.  For example, I just bought some shoes on ebay that the new baby will wear next summer.  They were new in the box but half the price of new, plus they shipped free.  That will be one less expense next summer.
  • Constantly move towards higher-quality.  Pick out the lowest quality, worst wearing, most likely to break items and look for better options.  Again, here are some examples:  Kent received a fair amount of footie pajamas as gifts when he was born.  Most of them are faded, worn, and starting to pill.  They are well known name brands.  They will suffice for maybe one more child but look rough and I’m not looking forward to using them.  So, I asked around and read and read and found a better option.  I’ve been picking up Hanna Andersson brand sleepers on ebay when they come up for reasonable prices.  Yes, they cost more than most secondhand pajamas.  The difference is apparent, though.  All the ones I purchased are pre-owned and they are still thick and soft with no fading and very little pilling.  This means that if we have a third child I won’t have to spend the money to replace most of them again.
  • Enlist help from other bargain hunters!  For me this is my Mom and my sister.  They love to shop and are garage sale addicts.  It helps that my sister works at Goodwill so she gets to scope out their stuff.  I like resale shops and garage sales, too, but realistically I don’t go to many now.  I keep the family up on what we’re looking for, they have fun looking for it, and we all come out happy.  (At least I think so.  If not they should speak up! :D)

So there, that’s what helps up stay on budget.  This is just what works for us in our current situation.  If you have more drive time and get the chance to garage sale you may enjoy replacing clothing and not benefit from spending extra on longer-lasting things.  I try to limit my driving, though, to save on gas.  Also, we don’t know how many kids we’ll end up with so it’s more important to us that things last than it would be if we knew we were done at two.  I hope this helps if you’re in a similar situation!

What’s your best practice for stretching the baby/child budget?


Budgeting for Children: Learning Materials and Beyond

I’m not sure why but I feel led to write about this right now.  We’ll see if Kent sleep schedule agrees.  😉

In my post about our Montessori Inspired Kitchen Setup I shared some of the products we’ve purchased for Kent to use.  We are on a tight budget around here so it is important to pull together nice materials for him without spending a fortune.

You can read more about our financial situation by clicking on “Our Money Story” up above.  We follow Dave Ramsey’s teachings and operate on a zero based budget by utilizing the envelope system.

We have a line in our budget for “Kent”.  This line will eventually changed to “Children”.  As is stands right now the amount will not increase with the number of children.  Right now it is $60/month and we put that amount, in cash, in an envelope for him every month.  If he needs something, or there is something I feel we should have to aid his learning, I go to his envelope first.  Here are some examples of what I have purchased from his envelope:

  • sunglasses
  • sensory materials (water beads, etc.)
  • puzzles
  • story books
  • books to aid me in teaching him
  • cloth diapers
  • shoes
  • snack cup
  • toys
  • dishes
  • storage containers
  • shelving
  • mats for him to work on

Pretty much anything that we wouldn’t buy if not for him can come from that envelope.  However, we have other options if his money is running low or if we need to purchase a big ticket item.  Examples:

  • clothing and shoes can come from our “clothing” envelope
  • books that I want for teaching him can come from my “Blow money” envelope
  • organizing, storage containers, and dishes can come from our “home repairs” envelopes (this envelope would be better titled “home improvement”)
  • special materials that we’ll give him at his birthday or Christmas can be purchased from the “gifts” envelope

So, there are a lot of options.  Usually when one envelope is empty another has a surplus.  I rarely feel like there is something he NEEDS that we can’t afford.

That being said, I don’t think $60 is much compared to what many people spend per child each month.  Kent’s line gets more money than most of our other envelopes so even when sharing among all the categories there is not a lot to work with.  I’ll have a post up tomorrow about how to stretch those dollars and still find quality products.

Babies don’t cost us much so I don’t anticipate much added pressure in the budget for a couple years.  I used some of Kent’s funds to round out our cloth diaper stash recently so as long as we are blessed enough to breastfeed again this baby will cost us almost nothing until he starts eating solids.  The books, toys, and materials that we are buying now should still be here when the next child is ready for them.  Most of our budgeted funds should still be able to go to what Kent needs as he grows, with a smaller portion being used to replace broken or outdated materials.

How do you manage your finances when it comes to children’s needs and learning materials?  I’d be interested to hear!

Incorporating Montessori in Our Home: Kitchen Setup

It’s not like me to post pictures of something before it’s perfect and completed… but it’s also not like me to actually post pictures of anything I intend to share. I want to make sure this makes it on the blog so here it is in it’s current state. I intend to post more pictures as we add things.

I’m really into Montessori lately. It’s all about fostering independence in the child and helping them feel that the things they spend time on have a purpose. Every child has a drive to do things on their own and Montessori is all about embracing that and making it easier.

Enter our kitchen setup.IMG_5204

From left to right:

Hooks on the wall, within his reach, for his aprons to hang on.  These are both from IKEA.  The green one is waterproof and wipe-able for things like finger painting.  The red one is thin fabric and really pretty useless as food (including tomato sauce!) goes right through it.

On the floor under the aprons is a small caddy with a microfiber cloth and his green feather duster.  This is the start of his cleaning supplies and I’m not sure they will stay there.

The big basket on top of the shelf contains his dishes.  For glasses he uses old jelly jars, the kind that need wax to seal.  I got ours from estate sales and am still looking for more if you have any you don’t want!  They have similar ones on etsy here.

His silverware is standing up in a small round basket inside of the bigger basket.  My Mom found individual “olive forks” at the outlet mall and they are the perfect size for him.  For spoons we have two metal ones with plastic on the handles.  They both came from resale shops or garage sales.  I recently saw online that IKEA has an all metal set that includes a butter knife so I’ll be looking for that the next time I go.

In front of his silverware we stacked his bowls.  They are from Libbey glass and can be seen here.  I found them individually at Meijer, I believe the cost was $1.29 each.  I am very happy with them.  They are cheap, strong (durable!), and the lids are really handy for putting leftovers in the fridge without dirtying a second container.  They don’t tip easily but are sloped enough that he doesn’t struggle to get food out of bottom edge.

His plates are the Corelle Enhancements 7 1/4″ salad/dessert plate.  They are from the set that my Dad and Stepmom got us.  I’m finding that the 7 1/4″ plate is a little small now that he eats full meals so I think we will try some of the 9″ plates soon.  We are fortunate to have a Corelle outlet close by, too, so I can pick up a few from their open stock.  Brian and I use the 10 1/4″ version but that’s a bit big for Kent.

I researched dinnerware pretty extensively when Kent started eating solids and decided I was happy to stick with Corelle.  Porcelain is heavier and I’m sure we would have broken several by now.  As it is, I’ve broken more dishes than Kent and we’ve all dropped them several times without incident.  Melamine was another option I looked in to but we do use a microwave and the safety of heating melamine is sketchy.

The wooden tray on the middle shelf is borrowed from his Melissa & Doug Cutting Food.  It didn’t fit where we store the food so I moved that to a different basket.  We’ll put his food prep and serving utensils in it.  So far he has a small metal serving spatula with a wooden handle.  That came from Brian’s Grandma Betty’s kitchen.  I also recently purchased a wavy chopper for him but we haven’t opened it yet.

The spot to the right of the tray is for his cutting board.  I picked this one but we don’t have it yet.  The same one is sold by Montessori shops and supposed to be good quality and free from chemicals.

On the bottom left is a basket holding his bibs.  He is a very good eater but we still find bibs to be a necessity for greasy or liquid foods.  Who couldn’t still benefit from a bib, really, adults included!?  It cuts down on stain treating.  Even when the baby starts to need bibs I think it will be helpful if Kent can access them and grab them for us.  Most of our bibs are from green sprouts and can be purchased here.  I’m comfortable with the materials and they are still waterproof.  We do have one towel style bib that came to us secondhand.  I’d like to make more of those because I think Kent could take them on and off himself.  The basket was new from either Jo-Ann’s or The Dollar Tree.

Next to the bibs is another basket that will hold cloth napkins.  We have always covered his lap with his old burp cloths, aka cloth diapers.  We’re going to need those for burps again soon, though.  I’d like to switch the whole family over the cloth napkins anyway and if we stored them in Kent’s basket he could learn to pass them out at mealtimes.  Right now we use washcloths, and occasionally grab paper towels for greasy meals.  The basket came from a garage sale.

His table and two chairs are the $20 set from IKEA.  He uses it mostly for a desk while working on his tot trays but also sits there for snack time and occasionally for meals.  The flashlights and cassette player seem out of place since we moved the table in to the kitchen but that has always been there place and it works for now.

He’s learned to keep his drinks on his table so he always knows where the find them.  The sippy cup is stainless steel and from Klean Kanteen.  You can purchase different tops to fit it.  We moved from a soft sippy top to a hard one and I really should move him up to a spout or something now.  We only ever put water in it, or very occasionally a splash of iced tea with water.  It is available at all times and has been since he turned 6 months old.  He also drinks well from an open glass.  He’s been requesting milk a lot lately and we don’t limit it so that’s what you see in his glass.  It started when he was sick and not eating much, and I think it’s continued because he recently learned to open the fridge and milk is one of the only things he can have from there whenever he wants.  (We’ve never given milk as anything more than an option other than water, which is a totally separate topic, but the point here is that he can have it if he wants.)

Opposite the shelf and table is “the big table”.  IMG_5205

The table itself was refinished by Brian’s Dad and given to us when we moved here.  I love that history behind it.

The paper roll on the table is from IKEA.  Kent’s crayons, colored pencils, and markers are in a small plastic container on the extra chair.  We can easily grab them but they are out of sight when not in use.  The trays on the paper roll weren’t working to hold them because he couldn’t easily reach both sides.  He’s welcome to color whenever he likes.  I supervise, and we’re still working on “we only color on paper”.  If I could go back I would not introduce markers until later.  Crayons and colored pencils take more strength to use (to apply enough pressure to make visible lines).  Now that he has markers he usually chooses those over the others.

His booster seat is on the right.  It was made just for us by Brian’s friend, Travis, of A & S Wood Works.  I stained it and topped it with two coats of acrylic so it is easy to wipe clean.  I thought I would add a strap to hold it to the chair and possibly a lap strap.  However, with the chair pinned between the wall and table it is pretty stable.  Kent climbs in and out of it on his own without any trouble.  We used to try to be there to catch him in case he fell but now he’s a pro at it.

The dust buster is a knock-off brand, Readi-Vac.  I just brought it up from the basement today and mounted it on the wall.  I think it was a Black Friday special one year.  I used it occasionally in the past but thought we should try it for cleaning up under the table after meals.  If the concept works out we’ll probably invest in a better one.  This one is not very powerful and is cumbersome for me to empty so I probably won’t try to teach Kent that part.

Well, that’s it.  I tried to link to or at least name everything because I find it frustrating to see something I like and have to search all over for it.  If I missed anything let me know.

What do you think?  How have you made your kitchen more user-friendly for yourself or little ones?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

This post is linked to:
Montessori Monday
Tot School Gathering Place – Week 20

On Break to Plan!

We’re here and doing well!  Brian has been in the fields a lot for Spring planting and Kent is enjoyed riding along every chance he gets.  I’ve had more time at home alone than normal.  So, I took a break from Tot School to map out plans for the next several months.  We’ll be kicking off a “Summer of Shapes” on Monday.  I have 13 shapes selected and plan to spend a week on each one.  With a short hiatus for the new baby’s arrival we should wrap up shapes in September.  Then we’ll move on to other exciting things!

I’m almost 33 weeks pregnant.  I feel great.  I’ve still been getting in some runs which is very uplifting.  It’s almost time to get all the baby clothes and things out again.  First, I’ve been finishing a lot of home improvement, organization, and decorating projects.  I should post some pictures, our home is slowly becoming more… homey. 

I distinctly remember the first day after Kent was born that I felt like I had a productive day and accomplished the things I wanted to.  He was 8 months old.  So, I’m trying to be better prepared this time (can anybody say meal plans!?) and also be more realistic about what to expect.  I’m okay with going in to maintenance only mode for awhile and cutting down to the bare minimum. 

I’ll probably get some comments saying I’m crazy but I admit… I am wondering if it won’t actually be a bit easier this time around.  Last time my biggest struggle was going from being independent to having someone rely on me 24/7.  You know, that whole not taking an uninterrupted shower by yourself for 6 months kind of wears on a person.  I was very resentful, and I remember thinking that Kent was never going to bond with anyone else.  Now, I know I should cherish those days because the days of “Dad? Dad?  Dad truck?  DAD!!!!!” will come so fast.  Last time I also quit my job and lost my built in social life a week before baby came.  I had to adjust to not working and try to build new friendships while learning to be a mom.  It just seems like there will be far few changes this time.  We’ll see, maybe I’m totally wrong.

Anyway, all is well, and I should be back to share new things soon! 



Tot School: Chick theme

Kent was 21 months old.

I found so many cute chick activities while searching for Easter ideas!  We raise a couple hundred chickens a year here, plus we have some laying hens wandering around.  Our first batch of day-old chicks arrived on April 5th.  We learned all about chicks and chickens that week!

I picked up this cool life cycle of a chicken set at the Chippewa Nature Center.  We used it as the basis for the week’s activities.  I put some white, yellow, and orange feathers in his sensory bin.  At first I added only the nest and eggs figurine.  We talked about eggs and decorated an egg coloring page.

Here he is sitting in the bin of feathers!

Here he is sitting in the bin of feathers!

Each day I added another figurine and talked to him about what it was.  Then we laid out each day’s coloring picture and matched up them up with the figurines.  We colored a hen on the fourth day and a rooster on the fifth day, even though the set only has one adult bird.  He recognized rooster, hen, etc. when we used those words but I explained that the rooster is the daddy, the hen is the mama, and the chick is the baby.  That made a big impression on him: now he always asks if an animal is a mama or daddy!

Who needs paintbrushes when you can just use a nest?

Who needs paintbrushes when you can just use a nest?

The chick walked on his nose...

The chick walked on his nose…

... right after it walked through paint, apparently!

… right after it walked through paint, apparently!

I gave him the chance to stick feathers on the paintings, on the last day, but he only added a few.

I gave him the chance to stick feathers on the paintings, on the last day, but he only added a few.

Our completed life cycle project.  The adult chicken figurine had already jumped in the sink for a bath.

Our completed life cycle project. The adult chicken figurine had already jumped in the sink for a bath.

He really enjoyed this spooning activity:  two terra cotta bowls, corn, and a round spoon.  One bowl did get broken but I had a replacement.

He really enjoyed this spooning activity: two terra cotta bowls, corn, and a round spoon. One bowl did get dropped and broken but I had a replacement.

Color reinforcement: matching pom pom chicks to the correct egg.  I hot glued googly eyes and felt beaks on to the pom poms.

Color reinforcement: matching pom pom chicks to the correct egg. I hot glued googly eyes and felt beaks on to the pom poms.

I made a chicken hand puppet in about 10 minutes with an old sock, felt, scissors, googly eyes, cardboard and hot glue.  I cut a hole in the end of the sock and put cardboard inside of it for the beak shape.  I was inspired by this tutorial.

He's cuter when you're not trying to photograph him on your own hand while holding the camera in the other.

He’s cuter when you’re not trying to photograph him on your own hand while holding the camera in the other.

My intent was for Kent to use the puppet and go around the house picking up pieces of “food”, i.e. balled up brown paper, with the beak.  The puppet was a little awkward for his small hands so instead he picked up the food and Brian or I grabbed it out of his hands with the puppet.  He thought this was hilarious and wanted to feed the chicken all week.  We had fun pecking at him. 😉

Feeeeed me!

Feeeeed me!

We wrapped up with this cute hand print project.  I colored the features on after the paint dried.

We wrapped up with this cute hand print project. I colored the features on after the paint dried.

Additional activities:

  • We used the This Little Chick printable activity to review colors.  We had two copies of the chicks, one cut out and one still together on pages.  I read the poem and asked him to help each bird find it’s friend of the same color.  The poem (in a singsong voice) really caught his interest.  We completed the matching a few times throughout the week – much more than we’ve done with plain matching cards.
  • We did the disappearing egg shell experiment.  I poured the vinegar in the jar and had him drop the egg in.  He wasn’t very happy that he didn’t get to play with it more.  A couple days later I opened the jar and gave it to him to explore in the bathtub right before bath time.

Have you learned about any fun, different animals lately?

This post is linked to:
Tot School Gathering Place ~ Week 17