Finance Can Be Fun

…or at least it can be FUNNY!

Bridget at Money After Graduation says this is how she feels when she stops buying Starbucks in an effort to be more frugal. (For me, it’s Dr. Pepper.)


Or, how about when you have to say “No” to going shopping or out to eat with friends because you have no money?

Check out Money After Graduation and see some more personal finance funnies.

Scary Savings on Halloween Costumes

These guys are the reason this blog exists, the reason we struggle with debt, the purpose of our priorities and hard work.


In the scheme of our financial plan, Halloween costumes are on the bottom of the list. In the bigger picture of our kids’ happiness and enjoyment of their childhood, though, it plays an important part. So how do we reconcile these different priorities?

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to my kids over the last few weeks as they planned what they wanted to be. I’ve heard a lot of interesting ideas. Sunday was our church’s Fall Festival, and I got to see other families’ creativity on display as well. It’s so much fun to see all the different ideas that people have, and the way they express themselves.

I wanted to share an example of the costumes I saw last night, and the ones my children chose. Maybe you can get some ideas, but most of all I hope it will remind you that a little bit of creativity can go a long way in ANY situation!

 Lesson 1: Accessorize

This little beauty was at our Fall Festival on Sunday. Her mom said they bought her dress on Etsy, added a lei and Stitch, and – viola – it’s Lilo! It’s the perfect example of creativity – and it worked out so beautifully!

There are several things I love about this one: the dress can be worn for much more than just a Halloween costume, and all it took to make it effective was adding a prop.

Another example of this is my son’s “Spiderman” costume. We already had the mask lying around the house, but didn’t have an actual Spiderman costume. I added sweatpants and a t-shirt, but he still wasn’t impressed – until I handed him a bottle of silly string for Spiderman’s web! Once he had that, he felt like Spiderman, and was completely content.

What do you have lying around the house that you can upcycle into a costume?

Lesson 2: Reuse

My little miss 2yo

My mom bought this costume 3 years ago for $4. My older son wore it two years in a row, and now my daughter is wearing it. They’ve also used it for dress-up in the time between. A dab of face paint (that we already had) on her nose was all she needed.

Total cost: $4 (3 years ago…but for our purposes today, we’ll count it)

Lesson 3: Be What You Are

Our older (much-too-old-looking) daughter

My daughter’s costume is always easy: she wants to be a ballerina. Since she IS a ballerina, we already have everything we need. This was a recital costume from two years ago. She was so excited to get to wear makeup with her costume; that was all the “extra” she needed to make it special.

Total cost: $0.00

Do you wear a uniform to work? Can you take what you already ARE and make it fun?

Lesson 4: Craft it

My middle son’s idea for a costume was simple: he wanted to be an Indian. He even said, “I know how to make a headband and feathers for it!” He’s not a “crafty” kind of kid, so I was excited about the chance to sit down with him and be creative. We used face paint to accessorize. I also had an old brown t-shirt I didn’t need anymore, so I fringed the bottom of the shirt and he wore it over blue jeans. The feathers didn’t turn out exactly like he pictured it “in his mind” (his words), but he was happy with it and we had fun together.

Lesson 5: Paint it

Kids (and adults, for that matter) love face paint. Take normal clothes, add a little (or a LOT) of paint, and you’ve got something eye-catching.  My oldest son has decided he wants to be a tree. (I know, I know…a TREE?) We decided on brown clothes, and we’ll cover his arms and face with brown face paint. We borrowed a green wig from grandma, and he plans to carry around some sort of stick or acorns to complete the effect.


Takeaway: Being creative and thinking outside the box can leave you with a unique and special result. Everyone can have a great time, and your kids will definitely not look like anyone else!

What ideas do you have for creative and unique costumes? Share in the comments or on Facebook!



Halloween Reading

Here are a few interesting links for this “holiday.”

(My kids, by the way, don’t understand why it’s a “holiday” if you don’t get out of school for it.)

Why You Should Do Things You’re Bad At
Despite the horrible grammar in the title, it’s an interesting article on why we should continually challenge ourselves in areas where we’re not as strong.  One result: It makes the days seem longer. Even if it doesn’t add years to your life (which is might), it at least makes the time SEEM like years longer!

Things You’re Wasting Your Money On
Not a whole lot new here, but it might be worth a look if you need to be reminded not to spend money on more cable channels than you really need.

7 Tips for Storing Children’s Clothes
Mama’s Laundry Talk is one of my favorite blogs – probably since laundry is the one area with which I struggle the most around this household full of 7 people, a dog and a cat. These are some great tips, and I’m going to start storing my kids’ off-season clothes in XL Ziploc Bags in order to save space!

Killer Gas Prices and Six Ways to Fight Back
I’m actually only including this link because it irritates me (the concept, not the article or writer themselves). Don’t warm up your car? Don’t leave the engine running? These are neither new nor effective tips, in my opinion.  We might as well call this category “done” and just label it “Gas Prices Suck and There’s Nothing You Can Do About It.”

iPad Mini Fills the Void

Because it’s funny…

Free Kindle Books 10/25/2012

Check out this list of free Kindle books!

(Remember you can read this on your iDevice – iPhone, iPod, iPad) – with the Kindle app.)

This may not last long, so check them out and comment with which ones you downloaded!

Decisions Make Me Tired

I can now scientifically excuse being cranky when I get home from the grocery store.  I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to cut costs (especially on groceries), and I’ve stumbled onto an interesting area of discussion: decision making and willpower.

Have you heard of decision fatigue?  It means that the quality of the decision decreases with repetition: the more decisions we’re forced to make, the worse those decisions get.  It accounts for the “irrational trade-offs” we often make.  For example, working for several hours gathering coupons to save $10, then spending $8 on 4 sodas in the checkout line.

Turns out there’s a scientific explanation for this: “dwindling supplies of glucose in the brain,” according to Dr. Roy Baumeister. He’s a social psychologist, and he says that we have limited decision-making energy, and once we’ve made a lot of decisions, the quality of those decisions starts to decrease.

Like a muscle that gets tired, fatigue sets in.  When you’ve resisted something once, twice, eight times, it’s going to be harder to resist the ninth time around.

We all know this. Willpower can only take you so far. There’s a spiritual application here that explains why  “self control” is a fruit of the Spirit – and a miracle. Those major decisions that have to be made have to be made with this in mind, and that’s the reason that “In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom.”

For our day-to-day (and specifically financial) decisions, the practical solution lies in our habits.

Automate as many decisions as possible​.

We know we spend less money at the grocery store when we make a list. This is the why. (I think this also accounts for some of the savings that couponers brag about. They’ve spent their time making decisions at home ​before​ being confronted with temptation. By the time they get to the store, they don’t have many decisions left to make.)  In the article cited above, another psychologist, Dr. Shelley Gorman, says that habits “take the workload off our willpower.” We’ve already made the decision; we don’t have to make it again.


​Eliminate decision-making whenever you can​.

In a work context, this could mean turning off your phone (or using the wonderful Do Not Disturb function on the new iPhone), closing web browsers, and disabling notifications while you’re in the middle of a project.  You don’t have to MAKE the decision not to answer the phone when you’re not even aware it was ringing.


Eat something

Since this is a physical phenomenon (lower glucose levels), sometimes a snack can help. (Maybe that’s why I’m so hungry when I’m finished grocery shopping.)


Make your most important decisions in the morning, before you experience “ego depletion.”

This is an incredible tip – the decisions that matter the most should be made with all of our best resources, so make them first.


The last tip I found was a fun one:

Make the wrong choice sometimes.

You know how good you feel when you’ve splurged at the mall after a bad day? Turns out it really can invigorate you and get you ready to make good decisions again. The problems come when you make a “wrong” decision that has long-lasting consequences. (It’s one thing to splurge on a new pair of shoes at the mall when you have some extra money in the bank, but spending the last of your gas money is a bad way to recharge.)


Since I’ve had to make too many decisions today, I’ll leave you to make the decision on how to apply all of this interesting research.  Let us know in the comments or on Facebook what you think!


Who Says Basketball Doesn’t Have Raquets?

Recently on Facebook, I spent an afternoon complaining about the cost of organized sports for my kids.  I got a LOT of responses to that post, and I realized that we’re not the only family dealing with this particular Budget Buster in our culture today.

This particular event was basketball.  After paying $20 towards the team’s registration fee, we also had to pay $6 per person to get into the event.  This may not seem like a lot of money, but when you’re a family of 7, that adds up quickly!  When you’ve budgeted every penny, these costs usually end up coming out of the “food” category – the only flexible category we currently have.  That means we’re eating beans and rice for the last week of the month if we’re not very careful.

(I’m not even going to get started on the “no outside food or drinks” signs that are urging you to buy their snacks – again, with a family of 7, that could be another $30 before we even blink an eye.)

A quick breakdown of the cost of “extra” activities for the kids, for our family:

Sports (usually baseball, sometimes basketball):

  • Registration: $100/person x 3 = $300
  • Equipment/Uniforms: (at least) $75 x 3 = $225
  • Food at games: $20/game x 10 games = $200
  • Pictures: $50 x 3 = $150
  • Entry into games (basketball): $6 x 7 x 3 games (all we’ve gone to this year): $126

Total: $1,001 per season for 3 boys



  • Registration: $45
  • Attire: $45
  • Tuition: $45/month x 9 months = $405
  • Pictures: $50
  • Recital Fees: $50
  • Food (around recital times, eating out a lot): $50

Total: $645 per year for one dancer



  • Instrument: $1,000
  • Books/Equipment: $15

Total: $1,015 – once, $15 per year after that

*We’re only 6th grade, so we don’t yet have the costs of private lessons, trips, contests, etc.


These costs don’t include “extras” like t-shirts, fundraisers, gas money to get us everywhere, and more.


I am researching solutions and frugal tips for managing these expenses. As part of my research, I’d love to hear the ways you have cut costs, or pared down activities to only what your children love to do.  Comment here or on our Facebook Page to let me know! I’d love to be able to include a lot of reader tips in my next post.


Your turn: How do you cut/manage the cost of extra activities your kids are involved in?

Budget Busting Websites – TUAW


One of the things all financial bloggers do a lot of is read.  I personally spend a lot of time reading various websites about my hobbies  and interests: finance (SWFTM, AFM, and Money Under 30 are some of my favorites), but also technology – especially anything Apple.


Once or twice I’ve seriously considered removing the TUAW feed from Google Reader.  The reason? They are always reviewing and talking about excellent products that I am sure I need to have:

  • iPhone 5 (currently on the 4S – I’ve had it for 6 months)
  • MacBook Air (if it’s good enough for JK Rowling, it’s good enough for me, right?)
  • New apps!
  • Cases, cords, etc.

There’s never any shortage of new stuff to buy, so I’ll warn you right now – stay away from TUAW’s website if you’re easily tempted!

Life Lesson: Be content with what you have – but learn to work and save for what you want.

On Track…for What?


My declaration!


Spring and Summer were full of a LOT of adjustments for our family:

  • We made the decision to send our (previously homeschooled) children to public school for the first time
  • I started working a part-time job
  • Our church ministry commitments changed

and a lot more tiny things that have added up to great big change around the Downs House.


I’ve spent the early part of the fall trying to get a handle on the “new life” that we have right now.  I keep expecting to “get back to normal,” but to be honest, I’m not sure what that is!


While these major changes were taking place, a lot of other things fell through the cracks.  Couponing, meal planning, and budgeting were the first to go.  The budget part, at least, wreaked havoc on our finances, so we’re in “recovery” mode right now. As we started making our recovery plans, we kept looking at schedules and hours and monthly income until our eyes started to cross. We finally sat back and asked ourselves:

What are we working for?

We were trying to put a plan in place without actually knowing what we were planning for! So we stopped what we were doing, and started listing our priorities.  I’m going to share some of those with you over the next few weeks, but I want to make sure you know one thing:

These are our family’s priorities – I don’t expect them to be yours.

I’m sharing them with you because there may be one or two things in them that may help challenge or change the way you budget, spend money, or prioritize your time. I don’t expect your budget to look like ours – we are, after all, the Downs Clowns, and no one wants to copy us!  But there may be something you read that can help you with your budget.


So, for today, I’ll leave you with this:

Know what you’re planning for before you make your plan.


Make a quick list of your own priorities for your family.  Do you love eating out? You need to include that in – not try to eliminate it from – your budget.  Would you rather be able to buy a new CD, or a new book, every month?  What are your ultimate priorities for your family:  Would you rather take a couple of small vacations or one large one? Retire at 50 or send your favorite kid to college? (Joke, people.)

There aren’t right or wrong answers to these questions – they’re different for every family.  But you need to know what your answers are before you can start working to get there.

Interesting Reads – August 8: Water Leaks, iOS6, and Chik-fil-A

Make sure you enter the YNAB Giveaway!


Interesting synopsis of whether or not it’s worth it to worry about minor water leaks. (Spoiler: It’s not.)

“It’s Control Your Cash’s sacred duty to tear into other bloggers’ hogwash…”

“Turning the water off while brushing your teeth will save significantly less than a penny.”


Round up of all the new iOS6 info – Can’t wait!


Chik-fil-a Record sales

I wonder how Starbucks appreciation day sales will compare.



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