Tag Archives: Cheap

Fifty Thrifty Fun Things: Color on the Table

20 Jan

It sounds like a strange thing to say, but one of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from Anthony and it was about the thrifty and creative ways I’ve found to cheaply entertain Isobel. And it’s true: I pride myself on my ability to entertain her for minutes on end (precious, precious minutes!!–that sometimes add up to hours!) so I can do the dishes, drink a cup of coffee, or take a blissful dump in peace.

Many of you reading at home are parents, or perhaps spend some portion of your time with a young child. I’m willing to bet that readers here probably don’t have endless supplies of cash to spend entertaining your little ones, so this year I’m going to share at least 50 simple, accessible, and–most importantly–cheap ways to entertain your kids. Some of these ideas might give you a few blessed hours to yourself, and some of these activities you can revisit over and over again. If you’d like to share your best ideas for thriftily entertaining kids, I’d love to hear them.

50 thrifty idea, number one: cover your table with butcher paper, hand your kid a bucket of crayons and maybe some stickers and let them have at it.

The paper we used is actually packing material that came inside a package my mother ordered at Christmastime. She knows I collect paper like this to use for shipping items from my Etsy shop. That’s why it’s so crinkled. This time I spread  it on the table for Isobel to use instead of adding it to my shipping cupboard. It might end up there eventually, though.

The paper itself is like a very thin paper lunch sack. I like the way crayon and stickers look against the tan brown color. They really pop. I like it better than white paper, but it’d do just as good a job.

This activity bought me an hour. It probably would have given me longer but we had errands to run so I had to stop her.

When it was time to clean up I just rolled the paper up. It still has plenty of life left in it. I can rotate the side if she wants a clean slate to color on, or I can make it new buy letting her put stickers or water colors over the used areas. I just introduced her to the magic of stamps, so I’m sure this will be covered in ink pad markings and fingerprints before too long.

This is also great to save and pull out when she gets into Epic Coloring Mode. She can get so enthusiastic about coloring that she ends up going off the paper with her artistic zeal and then I have to scrub crayon off the table for the fifteenth billion time. She can color on top of this paper and I don’t have to tell her to slow her coloring roll.

Since the paper was repurposed and we already owned the crayons, this activity was free.

My sanity and a happy toddler? Priceless.

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Little Big Guift Guide: Thriftiest Stocking Stuffers

19 Dec

Today is the last installment of a three-part series I’m doing on inexpensive, yet still fun and creative and useful, Christmas gifts. (Thrifty & Thriftier versions here.) The goal is to give items that would be a welcome gift and not just junk that will likely be tossed out at the end of the day. To be included in this gift guide it must be useful, lovely, and budget-friendly.This “Thriftiest” guide is the longest and most packed with ideas, probably because I’m used to having no budget to work with. I’ve had to get creative and I’m happy to share these ideas with you.

Almonds:  my Mom likes to put toasted almonds in our stockings. I think this is a great idea with or without a spiced, coated seasoning. My aunt once gave us all toasted almonds mixed with M&Ms, and in the days following Christmas I put it in a candy dish and visitors to the house fell upon it like they had never seen almonds or M&Ms before. Sometimes, it’ the little things.

Heirlooms: for my birthday my Dad gave me his Brownie camera that had been collecting dust in my parents’ closet for fifty years. I’ve been looking for a Brownie at yard sales and flea markets for forever, not knowing that my Dad had one in perfect condition all this time. It was his first camera, purchased when he was about thirteen. Receiving this gift was so much better than finding it secondhand: he remembers how it works and can help me open it and load the film.

Handmade: my lovely and talented twitter friend, Erica, crocheted a hat for a cousin and embellished it with buttons from her late Grandpa’s shirt. Such a wonderful, powerful gift.

Custom Spice Mixes:  my Dad loves to cook and he often tucks spice blends and rubs in my stocking. An even thriftier (and quite possibly better, in my opinion) option would be to make your own rubs and spice blends and give those instead.

Dried Herbs: Along the same line as spice rubs above, the last couple years I’ve been harvesting rosemary from my garden, drying it and sealing it in decorated plastic bags and put that in my family’s stockings.

CDs: I like to include burned cds in my family members’ stockings. The thing to remember with this option is to make it appropriate to their tastes. For my aunt I gave her meditative music she could paint to, for my uncle I gave him acoustic guitar-heavy indie music, and for my parents I gave them the nutcracker suite. Decorating the CD is a must.

Bookmarks & Artwork: If you are lucky enough to have some skill with a pencil or a paintbrush, you can make individual cards or bookmarks for gift-giving. I’m friends with a couple who did this and I still treasure and use them.

Your Own Recording:  aside from giving a mix CD, if you have musical talent you can give a CD of your own songs. A friend of mine is making one for this year and I can’t wait to get it.

Cuttings & Seeds: do you have a plant that everyone admires? I’ve had friends request cuttings of my Jade plants and other succulents for birthdays and holidays. My friend Jake has a ton of marigolds that produce seeds like crazy, and in addition to produce from his garden he gave me a cupful of seeds so that I can grow my own golden ruffled beauties.

Your Talent: Coupons are the standard for the thrifty gift and for a reason: they are awesome. Can you offer to baby sit? Do you give good massages? Skill with photoshop? You could offer to paint someone’s portrait, bring them lunch at work, make them a custom headband, run errands for them, bake them bread. Illustrate your coupon beautifully, and you have a winner.

Photos & Thrifted Frames: Christmas is the time of year my parents traditionally gave photos of us kids to the relatives (usually school or family church portraits). Since I’m handy with a camera, I like to print out some of my favorite shots of the kid and give those. Our thrift stores are always bursting with frames, so for under $2.00 I can give a lovely framed photo.

Oranges: Christmas is the time of year when citrus is in season. On her way into the Valley my aunt stops off at a local grower and buys sacks mandarins so sweet they are like candy. Sometimes they end up in the stockings but more often than not we dump all the mandarins out for Christmas snacking and then divide up the leftovers.

Thrifted Goodness: When I go thrifting I always keep my eyes peeled for things someone on my Christmas list might like. This requires you to have a pretty good feel for another’s taste, and the knowledge that they are cool with receiving vintage items. I never pass off something secondhand as new (though I know people who do). I have no shame in giving something that’s secondhand as long as it is awesome. For example, I gave my friend Stef, who adores both vintage and Yosemite, this ceramic souvenir leaf dish from the 1950s.

Homegrown Harvest: I touched on Jake giving me the fruits of his garden for my birthday, and this extends to stocking stuffers, too. Citrus plants are bountiful this time of year, as are apples and pomegranates. I know Californians like me have an advantage, but some things can be harvested in summer and saved for gift-giving now. Dried chilies, sunflower seeds, small pumpkins make great gifts.

Local Gifts: every area has something special to offer, and if you have relatives coming from out of town they might appreciate something you take for granted. Maybe you leave near the beach and you have seashells. My aunt, who lives near the ocean, gave us all seashells one year. I have a friend who lives in the city who has access to usual foreign grocery store items and I asked him for some packages of ramen. Each area has something special that could translate as something to give.

Kid-Made Crafts: when we give cards we like to let Isobel have at the envelope with a crayon first and people love it. When she’s old enough to make crafts you better believe I’m going to spread the crafty love.

Tea Sampler: If you have a few cartons of fancy tea you can easily put together a tea sampler for several people by including a couple bags from each. I do this just about every year for my family. It’s a great way to try new flavors without being committed to a whole box if you don’t like it.

Well, there you have it. Three posts’ worth of fun, creative, and thrifty ideas for stocking stuffers. If you have your own great ideas to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Little Big Gift Guide: Thriftier Stocking Stuffers

15 Dec

Today is the second installment of a three-part series I’m doing on inexpensive, yet still fun and creative and useful, Christmas gifts. The goal is to give items that would be a welcome gift and not just junk that will likely be tossed out at the end of the day. To be included in this gift guide it must be useful, lovely, and budget-friendly. Previously, I posted about Thrifty Stocking Stuffers, today we have Thriftier Stocking Stuffers, and last but not least, later I’ll feature Thriftiest Stocking Stuffers.

      Chocolate: I put a king-sized Snickers bar in Anthony’s stocking every year, and every year he looks forward to it. I tried branching out and giving him fancy-pants chocolate, but that turned out to be a bad idea. A Snickers bar is what he wants so a Snickers bar is what he gets. For myself I’d rather get some of these Belgian thins or dark chocolate-covered pomegranates, but hell, I’d be glad to get some plain-old dark chocolate chips as well.

     Craft Patterns: If you have a crafter in your life, you can support their habit by giving patterns in their stockings: sewing patterns, embroidery patterns, knitting patterns.

     ‘Designer’ Gifts: Give the designer in you life a font or a fancy vector. Write your gift on a piece of paper and tuck it in their stocking. I really think even a small gift, as long as it would be used and enjoyed by the recipient, is better than a more expensive gift bought with no real clue if the recipient will enjoy it.

     Rifftrax: Have you heard of Rifftrax? Some of the guys from MST3K get together and riff current box office disasters which you buy in audio format and then play along with the movie. This way they can keep the jokes coming without having to afford the rights to each movie they riff. It’s brilliant. It’s hilarious. It’s the most fun you can have while watching the Twilight series. I want to convert the world to that magic that is Rifftrax.

      Kitchen Gadgets: Spatulas wear out, pastry brushes become gross, and mandolins dull. Some kitchen gadgets are always useful. Also consider slightly more usual gadgets, such as potato ricers, melon ballers, or apple-slicers.

      Ornaments: Many lovely and inexpensive options are easy to find. I’d advise against giving ornaments unless you know the person you’re buying for has room for them. It seems like people are on one end of the ornament spectrum or the other – too many or too few. My aunt and mother started a tradition of buying each of us cousins an ornament each Christmas so by the time we left home we’d have plenty of ornaments for our own tree. If you have a friend or a relative with a new baby, an ornament a year could be a great tradition to start.

      Colorful Duct Tape: Duct tape in general is a wonderful gift item, useful for everything from making wallets, repairing household items, and taping ducks together (that’s why it’s called “duck tape,” right? I mean, I assume so.) Now it comes in various colors and patterns—even better! This is the kind of thing I’d want but wouldn’t buy for myself. While at my local craft store I found this adorable monogrammed tape and picked up a roll for my cousins.

       Hobbies: if you have a relative with a particular hobby you can almost always find something small to give them that would be both useful and welcome. Do they play D&D? Give them some minis. Do they garden? Another pair of gloves or a kneeling pad is always useful. Do they like crafts? Buy them another rubber stamp. Get a comic book for your favorite reader. You don’t have to get them something big to add something meaningful to their hobby.

       Napkins & Washcloths: I have friends who knit who make small things like a stack of washcloths. It makes me all sorts of jealous. They just crank them out like it ain’t no thang and they are just gorgeous. If you knit, share the love. Cloth napkins are another wonderful thing to put in a stocking. If you can’t find any while thrifting but are handy with a sewing machine, consider whipping some up.

       Boxers: I like to put a pair or two of fun patterned boxers in Anthony’s stocking every year. I don’t know what I enjoy more: shopping for them or watching him open them to find yet another ridiculous pair of underwear inside. Because they are funny it’s not weird to give with family. This is kind of a one-way gift, as opening panties of any sort in public would be weird for me. Boxers avoid that sexy connotation so they are a go.

Today’s installment was for those of you lucky enough to have a budget, but what if your budget was too strict for these ideas? Never fear, later this week I’ll be coming out with one more gift guide for really-low and even no budget gifts that still meet the lovely and useful criteria. Stay tuned!

Thrifty Living: Box Tunnel

13 Sep

I know I’m  not alone when I say that I have fond memories of playing with cardboard boxes. Hours of fun, actually. Before WalMart came to our small town my Uncle owned a small Magnavox store, and every so often my Dad would come home with a giant television box after a visiting the store. You would have thought my Dad brought us home a pony with how enthusiastically we greeted him.

If you remember we got new wonderful carpet a few months ago, and while I was at home packing and watching Isobel  we had a little fun by constructing a tunnel out of extra boxes.

"Hi, Mom!"

These boxes were a really thrifty find for us because we got them free from Borders. My husband worked there for years so we had a hookup. Ugh. This was before we got our wonderful carpet. I forgot how non-wonderful the old carpet was. Isobel didn’t care, though. She was too busy pretending our wireless mouse was a car and driving it through the tunnel.

All we did was unfold the boxes and wedge them in between the couch and the coffee table–no tape necessary. Later when my friend’s family moved her son learned that boxes on the floor make a great surface for dancing, proving that they are as multipurpose as they are thrifty.

Thrifty Living: The Jellyfish Tent

8 Sep

At 7 a.m. my friends Angela and Melynda were putting the last items on the lawn of the yard sale. I rolled up, coffee in hand, and told them I wasn’t to take anything home. I was there to help. And then, of course, I saw this: a hoop of netting meant to drape gracefully at the head of a bed or even a cradle. Netting fine enough to see through but still keep the mosquitoes out. I knew I had to have it.

Anthony wasn’t so sure when I bought it home. He wasn’t as confident as I was that Isobel would like it and he was sure Poppy or Jupiter would tear it to shreds. He hung it up in the Pencil Room (soon to be Isobel’s big girl room) anyway.

Isobel, of course, loves it, and calls it her jellyfish. As Anthony was hanging it I remarked that it looked a little like a jellyfish trailing netted tentacles and the name stuck.

Mel was going to charge 5 bucks, which is a steal compared to what she paid for it, but in the end Anthony bought her a life-sustaining toasted bagel and mango smoothie and we called it even.

Originally I just shoved some old pillows under there after Anthony hung it in place, and that was fine for awhile. But the pillows were old and gross and I decided cute pillow covers were in order. Then while thrifting I found this felted blanket lined with pom-pom trim. God, am I a sucker for pom-pom trim. It was a dollar.

 

A quick but thorough Etsy search revealed these two pillow covers, and I couldn’t be happier. The gorgeous brown one is from this seller, and you need to check out her shop because this pillow cover is fantastic quality, came beautifully packaged, and the seller is one of the nicest I’ve met. Also, as if that’s not enough, look at this, this, and this. Such gorgeous covers.

I bought the pink floral case from this adorable shop. How can you not love a store called pillow happy?! Impossible. I wanted cases that coordinated without matching, and I think they look perfect together. She also has some really great stuff, like this, this, and the scrabble tile cases.

I couldn’t be happier with out they turned out, especially since those pillows were so old and mangy before.

I suppose I should mention I have not been compensated for those mentions, nor do those sellers even know who I am. I just love these pillow covers, and think that you should, too. Isobel, for her part, adores them.

It’s so calm and serene in the jellyfish tent. It almost makes me forget about the chaos just outside it.

You Are On The Naughty List

18 Dec

We took Isobel down Christmas tree lane this year, seeing as how she’s more sentient and sort of knows who Santa is. Based on her only experience with him it’s possible she thinks he’s a giant fire truck, with people inside, blaring loud Christmas music and handing out candy canes. After such a Santa visited our house before dinner one night she sobbed as we took her back inside. She kept saying, “Santa! Santa! Outside! Santa OUTSIDE!” We eventually had to convince her Santa was sleeping so we could finish making the macaroni and cheese. (From scratch – three cheeses , garlic and bacon. OMFG it was good. Like, Anthony and I made inappropriate noises while we ate it, good.)

Before hitting up the larger Christmas tree lane we investigated the smaller one not far from our house. This one’s unique because the neighbors got together and created a train track and a train that goes back and forth throughout the cul-de-sac.

Isobel admires Christmas lights from the car and when I pick her up from Grandma’s she eagerly points out all the houses that have lights on them as we drive home. If a couple houses go by with no lights she starts saying, “Lights! Where are you, lights?” It’s a-freaking-dorable.

Since the street is small and the night was quite warm (the pictured gloves and hat came off after about five minutes), we took a tour on foot so she could get close to the lights and explore.

The kid was impressed. And it was a welcome diversion considering that we spent our night as a family, wandering around different neighborhoods, entertaining our toddler FOR FREE. That’s a miracle at any time of the year, but doubly so in a cash-strapped month.

Then we headed to the larger Christmas tree lane. It was late and her little legs were tired so we pushed her around in the stroller. I only got one shot of her all bundled up, with a thrifted crocheted blanket in her stroller, but I used flash and she’s covering her eyes and making a pissed off face so I’ll spare you.

This Christmas tree lane had been decorating every year since before I was born. I remember visiting it as a child and looking for certain decorations year after year. This neighborhood had the works, lights timed to music, animatronic figures, a and a Santa, handing out candy canes.

Several families were also on foot and we even passed by our neighbors who live across the street, which was pretty funny. When we approached Santa he gave Isobel a candy cane and she held it out in front of her, stiffly, and crinkled the plastic wrap. I don’t think she’s aware candy canes are edible, which is fine by me. She loved just holding it.

As we were leaving Santa a giant truck drove by and rudely shouted out, “HEY SANTA!” This guy was a total ass. Without missing a beat Santa turned around and shouted, “YOU ARE ON THE NAUGHTY LIST!”

For those of you waiting for Christmas cards from me and wondering if I’ve forgotten, I haven’t. It’s just taken awhile for me to collect everyone’s address. I want to mail them out all at once because if you’re a parent you know that the few trips you endure to the Post Office with your child during the holidays, the better. I’m also trying to plan our yearly Christmas budget, so sending cards all at once will help me gauge that. I hope to get them send off by Monday. Happy weekend.