Toys on a Budget

Christmas is coming and we are days away from the biggest shopping day of the year. I sat down with the children to make a list of what they would want for Christmas and am trying now to remember where I put it. 

As I plan what I will get as gifts for my children, several trains of thought chug through my mind. One prominent conflict about what toys I will purchase for my children is the endless time which seems to get spent picking up and organizing those same toys. 

They seemed like a great idea in the store and they brought a lot of excitement when they were opened but within a short time, they are shoved under a bed or left out in the yard. 

Toys, no matter how much they cost, rarely retain their value to your children. While there may be some exceptions, a special doll or stuffed animal would be a perfect example, many of the toys we buy, lose their sparkle rapidly.

Another problem that I have with too many toys is the way they stifle creativity. My children seem to have more fun making toys or playing imaginative games than they do sitting down and playing with store-bought toys. Again, there are some exceptions, the toy kitchen that we made from an Ikea cabinet 15 years ago is still played with, as are the Legos which the boys have collected throughout the years. 

As I process these thoughts, they bring to mind some of the fun we have recently had which did not involve store bought toys.

Playing "Where Oh Where Is The Big Black Bear"-This scary game involves turning off all the lights while the bear goes and hides. The rest of us then tread carefully through the house until the bear jumps out and scares the living daylights out of us. Play at your own risk, I almost broke my nose in a dark hallway collision.

Making Homemade Superhero Gear-If your children are given the freedom to create, they will not care if it looks exactly real, their imaginations are bright enough to make up the difference between fact and fiction.

Reading Books and Acting Out Stories-This goes the same for movies, where else would they have gotten the idea for the Captain America gear? Stories are great for sparking imaginative play.

Collecting in Nature- My children will often make flower fairies out of nails and flowers, they don't last long, but then they didn't cost much either so the loss is pretty small. They also make boats out of walnut shells, play food and money out of leaves and weeds, and houses out of trees.

Making Paper Dolls and Other Homemade Toys-Paper dolls are quick and easy to create, but what about sewing a simple cloth doll or cape from scraps of cloth that you have on hand?

We have found some special toys through the years and we are so glad to have them, but when we inundate our children with toys, we often kill creativity instead of inspiring it, as well as potentially causing us as parents more frustration as we struggle to pay for, and clean up after, this over abundance of toys.

This Christmas, see if buying one less toy for your children could be freeing. It may be that it frees up money to help someone in need, time to read with your children, and space in your home to enjoy each other more.
For more ideas on Bountiful Living on a Budget, simply subscribe to get them delivered to your inbox. You can also buy the book, Bountiful Homeschooling on a Budget to get page after page of money saving and life enhancing advice.



Bountiful Recreation on a Budget

Living on a budget often conjures up images of scarcity and lack. You imagine yourself watching the world pass you by while you count pennies in a dark room. However, the thing that you are truly unlikely to be doing is cooking rice over an open fire for your children, or scrounging the garbage heap looking for food for them. If you are reading this post, chances are you have a roof over your head and at least a little food in your pantry, unlike much of the developing world. Your are just looking for ideas on how to make your resources go a little farther.
We have lived frugally for so long that perhaps our taste for fun is a little tainted. However, we really do have fun on a budget, and in so doing free up resources to do meaningful things such as packing up boxes for Operation Christmas Child or sending a loved one to a marriage conference.

Today, Sunday, felt very fun, although it required very little financial outlay. We spent a leisurely morning drinking coffee and reading in bed. After preparing ourselves and a salad offering for the church potluck, we scrambled out the door for the short drive to our local fellowship. We worshipped and listened to the Word for a while, and then ate a yummy soup and bread potluck lunch while visiting with church friends.
Later we headed the short distance home where we split into smaller groups to find our own afternoon leisure. My husband had to run the carpet cleaner we had rented back to the grocery store so I hitched a ride with him so we could have a spontaneous date. When our children were younger, babysitting costs would have made this opportunity a little less feasible but with several older children at home, we can sneak out for a quick break together weekly. After dropping the carpet cleaner off at the grocery store we picked up two for one coffees at our local Starbucks. While sipping our steaming mochas, we strolled the downtown area, admiring front porches and discussing plans for an upcoming marriage retreat that we are hosting.

Shortly after we returned home a few of the younger children and I went on a stroll down our country road, admiring the leaves and savoring the cool autumn air. Upon our return we set up a colorful vignette on our picnic table and spent a few minutes doing crayon rubbings and leaf sketches. 
While we were doing our nature study, my oldest son reminded me that I had promised to read an essay that he was assigned in his English class. I scanned it and then went to find and visit with the other children who I had not yet connected with. One of these was returning from a run, so her and I went on a quick walk in the darkening twilight while she cooled down and talked.

When I returned to the house, I was ready for a few minutes to myself, so I instructed another child to heat up leftover soup on the stove and I stole away to my closet to check Instagram, eat chocolate and put away clean clothes, not exactly simultaneously. A few of the middle kids were wanting to watch an action movie that was available on Amazon and were very motivated to tidy up the house so we could watch it together. 
While I had my strange mix of relaxation in the closet, they tidied up the house and got the movie going. As it started I popped popcorn, put on a g-rated movie for the youngest two in my bedroom, and then finally joined them.We sat on the edge of our seats through the movie, spent some time praying afterwards, and then headed off to bed for the night.
Total cost for a fun filled day of investing in relationships?
Leftovers, popcorn, and gas >$5
And the return on the investment is impossible to put a price on.
Family fun is completely within reach on a budget. It might take a little more work or preparation, but the returns are great as we teach our children to love simple pleasures, and demonstrate to them the principle of storing up treasure in heaven instead of squandering it here on earth.


Simplified Room Cleaning for Kids

How does it happen? Every few weeks I am forced to go into my youngest boys' bedroom, after finding it increasingly messy when I tuck them in at night, and do a thorough cleaning. While I clean, I utter encouraging words such as, "How did this happen?", "Why do you have ten pairs of socks under your bed" and "You are not the two little pigs!". 

As I exclaim in shock and awe, I scrape the underbed contents and begin sorting. I invariably find an odd assortment of dusty stuffed animals, mismatched socks, dog-eared books and scattered bits of that bane of my existence,

To give my young boys a little credit, I must say that their room is quite small and it is rather hard to tell which of the two who share it is the worst perpetrator. Making beds and closing drawers are two basic daily duties that should be routine at this point, but as my son pointed out to me when I took the photos, "This is going to look bad for you", and the truth is that if it isn't a routine, it means that I haven't been following through. 

If I daily check their room to make sure those things are done and then give appropriate consequences when they are left undone, it will eventually become a habit for them. However, if I go in there once a month when it has become unbearable, rant and rave over the mess and then ignore it again until next month, I will have taught them nothing, except perhaps that I am inconsistent with my expectations.

As with any task which we expect our children to do, there are a few basic ideas for making it doable.
1. Keep it simple. Easy to pull up blankets, or a bottom sheet with duvet cover will make bed making do-able for the youngest of children.
2. Keep it organized. We try really hard to only have a few categories of toys in our home, and especially in the rooms. This particular room has a bin for stuffed animals, a bin for dress up, a book-shelf with special books, a small toy bin for toy animals, and hooks for back packs. There is also an under-bed drawer for Legos, those evil little offenders of room cleanliness.
3. Keep a minimum of stuff. This room does not have a closet. When we remodeled, we had to take the closet out for use as a hallway and so it is a little awkward for clothes storage. We keep the boys better clothes hanging up in our closet and they are just responsible for a few drawers of everyday clothes. Keeping these everyday clothes, jammies and underthings weeded through regularly makes it much easier for the boys to put their clothes away in the proper drawers. A few categories of toys are kept in their own individual bins.
This is no designer bedroom. With seven children at home, we are just one step away from having utilitarian dorm rooms, but helping these young men develop good habits that will carry them into adulthood is our responsibility as parents. 

Another post on cleaning kids rooms
And one with a great cleaning checklist here
And this one on our responsibility as parents


Bountiful Homeschooling On a Budget

I am doing an online book study with the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker right now and it is a fresh reminder of why I wrote the book, Bountiful Homeschooling on a Budget. So often, our decisions about money are based solely on what we want or can afford, and we often neglect to consider how our financial choices glorify God, or how they don't, whatever the truth may be.

So, over the next several weeks and just in time to help you save for the holidays, I am going to be highlighting some key ideas from the book.


One of my favorite ideas for saving money on homeschooling is to form a learning community with local friends. Homeschooling is so much more fun in community, but if you are trying to do it on a budget then many organized co-ops such as Classical Conversations may be out of reach. 

As well, there may be a particular learning focus that is important to you, and so a one size fits all approach is not going to be in the best interest of your family.

We have had a homeschool co-op in some form for over ten years, we started one when we lived in the Northern California foothills, grouped up with some homeschoolers while in Mexico, and have one in our current little town as well. 

Some years, the focus has been on science and other years we study history. We are currently working our way through Early American History and having a blast with a small group of local friends.

For myself, the areas of learning that are really hard for me to cover are art and science experiments so when we have a co-op we make sure to have those areas covered. This has also saved me lots of money on art and science classes as we have been able to learn from other moms in our community those skills which we might lack.


Interested in forming a co-op but not sure where to start? 
Here are a few easy tips to get you going.

1. Find a few friends who are interested in getting together to learn. Usually 3-4 families is optimum for an in-home co-op.

2. Set up a meeting to discuss the schedule and expectations. I usually plan a year's worth of topics at the beginning of the school year. For instance, we might meet once a month and cover a chapter in a science book at each meeting or we might cover a different time in history at each meeting. 

3. Plan who is responsible for teaching. In our co-op, we usually have rotating duties which include; hosting, art instruction, geography and snack. In our science group we would assign a different mom to each science book group (some children were in high school textbooks, others were in elementary Apologia books).

4. Give each mom a calendar and then form a Facebook or other group to keep the moms in the loop about where you are meeting and what they are responsible for.

Having our own homeschool co-op has saved me thousands of dollars and hours of time. I did check into Classical Conversations one year, but with a family of my size and even with working as a tutor it would have been very expensive and even more time consuming. For now, forming our own co-op has been a wonderful and creative option for learning in community and gaining new skills. 

If however, Classical Conversations is the best option for you, I know some excellent tutors and directors. Comment for more info.

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Chores For Young Children

I was looking through the binder that I use for school planning and checking out the chore lists for my children to make sure that everyone was getting their stuff done. I then did a double take when I noticed that the chore list had nothing written for my two youngest children who are 7 and 5 years old.

I am pretty sure that my oldest child by seven years old was running the house, or at least able to cook lunch, change a diaper and clean the bathroom, but these youngest two have had so many older kids to pick up the slack that they have been able to act like a couple of slackers. Not really. Just super- creative, making messes all over the place, and seldom remembering to clean up all that they played with, sweethearts.


I did a lot of Montessori From The Start stuff with them when they were younger; washing dishes, folding laundry, preparing snacks and polishing furniture, but now with more pressure to do real school with them, my one on one time has been spent instructing them on school subjects, or reading aloud, which has left the chore teaching, sadly lacking.

The New Chore List

To her credit, my seven year old does help out whenever asked. She collects eggs, vacuums, clears the table and unloads the dishwasher, but without a chart, it is more haphazard and there is often some resistance to the more tedious of those chores.

Just when I was looking at my sad chore organizing system this morning, I happened upon a link to Riddle Love's latest post on chore planning. She shares some good resources and information about how they are doing chores which I am excited to research. She also talks about one of the most important aspects of any successful chore system. Training your workers. This is why for really important chores like cleaning the kitchen, I make a detailed list of what that entails, and post it somewhere prominent.

I am hoping that with the new chore charts that I just created for the younger two, I can get them helping out with a bit more consistency and excitement.


I am going to be starting a new series on Bountiful Homeschooling on a Budget, just in time to save you money over the holidays. To get this series in your inbox, simply subscribe.

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A Few Thoughts on President Obama's Remarks About Moms Leaving the Workforce

"Sometimes, someone, usually Mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result," he said. That's not a choice we want Americans to make." 

What possible reason could he have for such a statement? 
Would he want to force the millions of mothers who love being home and taking care of their children into the workforce? 

Might it be that the government wants to help moms realize their "full" potential? Or is it that they want more influence over the minds of tomorrow?

I think that what the majority of American families want is just to be left alone to make their own decisions about what is best for their own families. I think that is the point of these statements;
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.-That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
The Declaration of Independence  
July 4, 1776

I am so thankful to have the freedom to stay at home with my family. Living on one income has necessitated many financial sacrifices. Our two, dented, barn-smelling, cars have well over 200,000 miles on them, each. Our vacations mainly entail camping in a state park or nature preserve, and our wardrobe is frequently sourced from thrift stores or generous friends.

However, no amount of money could replace the joy and fulfillment that I have found in taking care of my seven children. Days spent reading aloud together, traipsing through fallen leaves and singing at the top of our lungs, have been so much more fun and rewarding than any occupation I could have dreamed of.
My husband and I have made a choice to invest our time into teaching our children about the wonderful world we live in and the wonderful God who made it. We made a choice to put our resources into raising a new generation of hopeful people.

And that is a choice that this American has been very glad to make.

Some other writers on the subject;
This one

and this awesome post-

and another great one here