12/17/14

Bountiful Vacations on a Budget



Vacations with a large family can take some serious logistics, especially when you are trying to have fun on a budget. Many of our vacations involve camping, which is not as rustic as it sounds because we have a small travel trailer that we haul along with us, but there are a few months of the year when camping is not so comfortable.

Living on a small farm with a couple of little dogs has caused us to be strategic about getaways. It seems to work best for us to be gone for just a couple of days at a time, this also seems to work best with the varying work schedules in our home. 


With kids in college, we also are having to think about school schedules when planning vacations, something that was not an issue when all our children were homeschooled. With three of our students freshly finished with a semester of college, we took an opportunity for a short getaway. It always feels like it might be our last vacation as a family because our oldest is getting so close to being out of the home, so we are trying to make the most of these moments, and still stay on a budget.

Our recent getaway was planned a few months ago when the dates became available for Home School Days at the Monterey Aquarium. This is a fabulous program where the normally twenty-seven dollar tickets are free for the adults and students in our party. This makes a location that would normally be out of reach for us, suddenly affordable.

We also wanted to stay an extra day or so, so that we could explore our favorite tide pools in Pacific Grove, so we booked two nights at The Sea Breeze Inn.  This is an older hotel, but the linens have been upgraded and they have a family cottage that works fairly well for us, at a very affordable price. With our family size, we would normally have to rent two rooms and spend upwards of $200 a night, but this particular room was less than $150, and we were all able to squeeze into the available beds, I know some big families let kids sleep on hotel floors, but I can barely stand to see my children sit on a hotel floor, much less sleep on one.

We arrived at our hotel in the afternoon and then went straight to the beach. Unfortunately we had missed low tide, but the rocks were still beautiful for climbing on, and the salty waves and cool breezes were refreshing after the several hour car ride. 


After rock hopping along the shoreline, we went out for a pizza dinner. We had packed a few snacks for lunch, and I do mean just a few, so by the time our pizza arrived, we were like a pack of ravenous wolves. We ate at Gianni's, which was just okay. It is a cute little restaurant but we are used to ordering Mountain Mikes with a coupon or Little Caesars so the $27 dollar pizzas were a bit steep, if I was going to be spending that much, I would much rather have been eating at my sister's fabulous wood fired pizza restaurant. We ordered two extra large pizzas and had some leftovers which were promptly eaten for breakfast.

Back at the hotel, we discovered that our heater was not working. We didn't feel like moving or having a workman in the room with our big crowd, so we cranked the heat up in the adjoining room and cuddled up to stay warm. Having this inconvenience somewhat dimmed our enjoyment of the hotel however, and with the added blessing of pouring rain, we decided to check out in the morning and head home the next night after our aquarium visit. Our vacation was supposed to have involved two nights in a hotel, but our beds at home are so comfortable, and our home feels so sanitary, compared to the hotel that we decided to switch gears and just spend one night away.



After a night of rest, albeit in a chilly room, we checked out of the hotel, with the manager trying very sweetly to get us to stay one more night. We headed to the aquarium and enjoyed a few hours of wandering through the exhibits. The older three children decided to skip the aquarium and walk around town, so we had the fun of exploring with just 6 of us. Although I missed my big kids, it was nice to be able to focus on enjoying the younger four. 


After exploring the watery exhibits we ate our packed lunch and then met the big kids at Starbucks for coffee and cocoa. It was cozy to hang our there while the rain poured down outside but finally we braved the elements to get back in our big van. My husband gave us a sweet tour of the lovely old homes in Pacific Grove, while each of us pointed out our favorites. Then after an hour or so of exploring we met up with friends at Phil's Fish House for some delicious fish and chips. 


With our tummies full, we headed home into the night and crawled into our own cozy beds, determined to treat the next day like a vacation as well. Although our trip was short, it was a sweet little time of reconnecting with each other, and exploring one of our favorite created places, the beautiful, rocky shoreline. Although, we have taken cheaper vacations involving our travel trailer, and our own trailer cooked food, when compared to a weekend at Disneyland, this vacation was very budget friendly.
For more tips on bountiful living on a budget, check out my book!

What are your best tips for vacations on a budget?




12/9/14

Hand Made Christmas


One way to save money at Christmas is to make gifts and decorations, especially if you make them with things you have on hand. We have not traditionally been big decorators in our home, but because we are hosting a few parties, we are going to be decking the halls a bit. In order to save money on decorations, we gleaned a bunch of greenery from the tree farm where we purchased our tree and then made wreaths

We made ours with a grapevine base and hot-glued floral tape, but the above tutorial uses wire and a wire base. Both would be a little more invisible, I just used what I had.


We used additional greenery over the tops of many of our surfaces including the piano, bookshelves and the mantel, as well as placing greenery stems in vases. We then interspersed it all with lights we had on hand.

Our history co-op is celebrating Colonial History this month and as part of that celebration, we will be having a White Elephant gift exchange with gifts that we have made. This colonial spirit motivated me to also make a few little gifts, both for the exchange and for friends. 



We started off with some lavender bath salts. I have lavender flowers which my gardener mother gave me and which I have been saving for this purpose. My daughter mixed a box of epsom salt with a teaspoon of lavender oil and 1/4 lavender flowers. This will make a lovely, relaxing soak. 



The next handmade gift we created was our Altoid tin dolls. These were made with scraps of fabric and stuffing. I first made a little pattern with a peaked hat and cut two pieces of fabric from that pattern.


























Then I cut a little round hole for a face and on a small piece of white fabric, stitched on a simple mouth and eyes. I stitched the face into the hole to look like a baby in a bunting and then sewed right sides together. After turning and stuffing, I sewed the opening up and made a little blanket and mattress.






I made one as a gift for our Colonial Day, but my children were so delighted by them, that they asked for one as well. I also have a little ninja cut out and waiting to be sewn together in my basket. These can be purchased from the Milk and Violets shop on Etsy.

Making gifts with and for your children is not just a way to save money. It is also a lovely way to enjoy the quiet, cool days leading up to Christmas.

For more ideas on Bountiful Living on a Budget, check out my book.

For many more lovely ideas on having a wonderful Christmas with your children, check out the Wonder Bundle from Wild and Free, a beautiful homeschool community. An article featuring our Prairie Christmas Party, as well as many other tutorials, gift ideas and handmade craft and food recipes are included.

12/2/14

Christmas Shopping on a Budget


"Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read."

                              


I love Christmas. We actually went through several years where we questioned whether Christmas was even okay for us as Christians to celebrate, and even in those quiet years, I still managed to sneak in some kind of gift giving and stocking filling for my children.

What I don't love however, is getting into debt, buying stuff we don't need, and neglecting the poor. 

The desire to live within our means so that we can be free to give defines our Christmas gift giving.



I want Christmas to feel extravagant for our children, but I don't want to spend extravagantly. With this goal in mind, there are a few strategies that I use each Christmas.

1. Keep Expectations Low- Every year I tell the children that it will be a small Christmas and they won't receive many gifts. I do spend a morning asking them what they would like for Christmas and writing it down, I love hearing what they are dreaming of, but I make it clear that they will not get everything on their list.



2. Use A Formula- I love the phrase, "Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read".  It has been attributed to Ann Voskamp and is a very good guideline for me on gift purchasing. With seven children, I need a framework to keep the gift purchasing simple.

3. Start Early- Throughout the year, I am constantly on the lookout for good books at thrift stores. These are stored in my closet where I will then divide them up between the children for their Christmas gifts. There is nothing quite like a new book with a holiday to enjoy reading it. This is a good principle for all gift giving, while being careful not to overbuy or overspend.



4. Wrap Everything- I use Christmas as an opportunity to give my children things that they already need. Socks, underwear, toothbrushes and toothpaste. I may spend a little extra to get day of the week undies, or a character toothbrush, but even necessities should not be taken for granted, and giving them as gifts helps my children recognize that fact. I also wrap small things like crayons and drawing pads which were purchased for a few dollars back in August.

                             


5. Keep Relationship as the Priority- Throughout the holiday season we try to keep relationships at the forefront. Making time to read through an advent devotional, sing songs, build a puzzle, and reach out to the needy are what the holiday should be defined by. If all my time is spent shopping, the memories will be bitter for everyone.



Christmas can be a wonderful time, free of debt and stress, it just might take a little more thought and planning.


For more ideas on a simple, thoughtful Christmas, check out www.bewildandfree.org. The December subscription, Wonder, is full of beautiful ideas for Christmas celebrations that keep Jesus as the center while making special memories with your children. Our recent Little House on the Prairie Christmas Party, along with recipes and a craft is one of many lovely resources included.

If you need some help to define a budget, and create a more simple Christmas, check out the course, Bountiful Homeschooling on a Budget. The price is only $18 when you use the code "Budget" and all proceeds fund ministry to children and families in Tanzania, Africa. But hurry, enrollment for the class ends December 20th. 



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