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That Back to School Spirit!

About a week ago, I finished our back to school shopping.  Please don’t tell my friends, because most of them work in education (like me), and we are all headed back to full-time work in about 2 weeks.  Seeing school supplies in July generally makes us cringe, because we want to enjoy the last month of summer without thinking about work (for many of us July is the first true part of our vacation because we are either working summer school or curriculum writing in June.)  This year, I decided to try a different approach to back to school shopping.  Instead of putting it off or waiting for the BEST sales, I decided to get it done ASAP so it wouldn’t be looming over me like a warning of the school year rapidly approaching.

back to school

With just one kiddo, it honestly doesn’t matter to me if I save 15 cents here and there on items if it means I can get it all done quickly in one stop.  This year we were able to reuse quite a bit of her supplies from last year, so really we were only looking to replenish pencils, glue, crayons, and erasers.  And, I decided to invest in a little higher quality backpack that will hopefully last longer than a year.

To start, I saved all of her stuff that she brought home from her desk/locker from last year that was still usable.  I gathered all of those items and compared what was there to the materials list our school posts on our PTA website.  Like I said, really not too much to add.

As soon as I saw the first sale flyer at Target, I planned our shopping trip.  Our first stop was Michael’s, because all of their Crayola items were B1G1 50% off and an extra 20% off of sale items (plus we needed a frame).  I also knew we needed to add in the obligatory few new pairs of shoes and had a $10 off coupon and a Buy 1 Get 1 50% off sale going at our nearby Famous Footwear.  So, we picked up a pair of tall boots and running shoes both on clearance.  Fairly easy and inexpensive shoe shopping trip–which are the best kind.  I love shopping their sales racks, because the kid’s feet grow so fast!

Next was our Target stop.  We bought the rest of what we needed for the school year.  I checked the Target ad against our needed items, and luckily most were on sale!  We were in and out in record time.

These are the bags we picked out this year.  We actually started out with a different backpack and hadn’t found a lunch bag we liked yet.  But, about a week later, we saw the kittens in space lunchbox and decided the space backpack fit it perfectly!  I called ahead, and both were waiting for me at customer service ready to be switched/bought.

In total, our back to school shopping trip took about three hours (including drive time).  So happy to have that checked off the list.

You may be wondering what will the kid wear to school this year?  Luckily, not too much clothes shopping was needed as many of her items still fit.  She seems to hit her growth spurts around November, so I have learned to hold off on buying new pants until then.  We did replace one pair of jeggings that didn’t survive the last school year (how the knees in her pants always get torn, I have no idea) and added a few pairs of knee high socks to go with her tall boots–bought online from Kohl’s.  There are also some fun summer purchases that she can wear as new to school this fall, so it’s not all same old same old.

Pretty happy with doing our school shopping early this year.  It’s one less thing to worry about as we try to cram in appointments and last minute fun into the end of summer.

Hope all of your back to school shopping is going well!  How do you choose to tackle this chore?

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A Weekend of DIY

Usually when I think of DIY, I think of crafting.  We don’t do huge home renovations or make furniture from scratch around here.  Most of what I do myself is small craft and organizing projects around the home.  Last weekend, we must have been in the mood for a little more robust DIY at our house–or the impending cold snap spurred us on, but we did tackle a few projects around the house that we had been putting off and that we intended to DIY.  For each one of these projects, I did consider hiring someone to do it for us, but they appeared to be fairly simple in nature (or at least that’s what I was told) and we would definitely save money by doing it ourselves.

1)  Fix winter coat.  This one really was fairly minor and something I really thought I could DIY by myself.  My winter coat has snap buttons on it and the top two buttons broke.  One side totally fell off and the other got smooshed (technical term) enough on the inside that the snap would no longer snap.  The time I would need to go buy supplies and then fix the coat let me to seriously consider just buying a new coat, but I really liked this one and it really was just two snaps.  I also considered going to a seamstress to have them done, but that would probably be a little pricey.  But, I also knew that in the long run it probably made more sense for me to just make the time to do the repair myself.  So instead, I headed to a chain fabric store and relied on the expertise of the fabric counter employee to know way more than I did on how to go about replacing my snaps.  She showed me the wall’o’fastners, recommended the heavy duty snaps, and helped me find ones that matched fairly well with the ones on my coat, though not exactly.  She also showed me the “tools” I would need to purchase to attach them to my coat.

I honestly wish I had taken pictures of this process, but I did it after we did project #2 listed below (and once you read about it, you will understand why I just didn’t have it in me).  The person at the fabric store warned me that the hardest part of this whole process would be getting the original snaps off–because if you tear the fabric–game over.  I grabbed a pair of needle nose like jewelry pliers and set to work.  It wasn’t as hard as advertised, but the smaller side of one snap set was a total booger and ended up coming through the hole after being smashed instead of actually separating into two pieces.  Thankfully, the fabric wasn’t damaged.  The actual hardest part was figuring out the directions–of which there was one small picture on the back of the tool kit.  The trouble is there are 4 pieces to the snap set–two for each side which look remarkably similar to each other.  The picture doesn’t give you very detailed instructions on which goes with which side or even how to insert the items into the little tool!  Youtube even failed me!  The video I watched didn’t give a close up enough shot of the pieces for me to tell them apart.  I finally found something remotely helpful on a random website and attempted to attach the parts.  Before I realized I had one of the items flipped upside down, I ruined about 2 sets of snaps.

This above picture of the parts would have been incredibly helpful when I was wrestling with the coat, but of course I just find it now. Hopefully, this will benefit someone else. Note, the cap also has a post on the other side. This post goes through the fabric. Then, you place the socket onto the post so the fabric is in between and the socket looks more like a bowl (as pictured)  Then, you use the tool to smoosh down the post to hold the socket in place. I did the same thing with the stud on the other side as I wanted the cap look on the outside portion of both sides of the coat.  One tip here, use the tool on a solid surface like concrete as you have to hammer on them and you wouldn’t want to mark up a table or counter.

2)  Replace pulleys and belt in dryer.  Our dryer was making a horrible squeaking noise when it was running, and the guy at the appliance repair store said it sounded like our belts and pulleys needed replacing.  Since our dryer still functioned ok otherwise, we didn’t see the need to actually replace the entire dryer.  So, I grabbed a bag of the parts and brought them home–in July.  We finally got around to getting them installed (because life is just life sometimes) last weekend.  The appliance repair store guy assured me we could do it on our own just by simply watching a YouTube video–we just needed to search for belt replacement for our type of dryer.  Who knew they had so many home appliance repair videos!  I tackled this DIY with the hubby, and I am so glad I did.  There is no way I could have done this one on my own.

New Dryer Repair Kit ER4392065 for Whirlpool 4392065 80046 8106 8237 8238

This is what came in our kit. I think the hardest part to reattach were the tiny little plastic triangles–breaking them would be very easy to do and very, very bad.

Here’s a few things I learned.  First, it was definitely less expensive for us to replace the parts ourselves than to have a service call or to buy a new machine.  Second, if you are going to watch a YouTube video on how to do something, you may want to watch some of it before you begin.  Third, if your dryer is older (ours is about 12 years old), then chances are it needs cleaned in a big way.  We basically had to take the thing apart to get the new parts installed, and we were AMAZED by all of the lint that was lurking everywhere in the dryer and loose change under the drum (no lost socks surprisingly).  We vacuumed and cleaned everything out and even removed the back panel and the dryer lint chute to clean things up.  I am so thankful we did this, because it was a definite hazard.  We are hoping that the new parts and thorough cleaning will equal better dry times and more efficiency.  We already have lost the squeaky noise!  Note:  This process took us a few hours, because we had to take several areas apart a few times as we found even more places that needed vacuumed or in one instance a screw fell down and under a part we had already reattached.

The appliance repair store is the same one that helped us when I replaced the fabric softener cup in our washing machine.

3)  Prior to and right after fixing the dryer, I cleaned the carpets in our two main living areas (one room before and one after).  My mom gave us her carpet cleaner when she moved to an apartment, and we use it quite regularly.  About every six months, I break out the machine and clean the main living areas of our home.  As a young couple without children, when we built our house, we selected light grey carpet.  I’m not sure if I would make the same choice today, but doing regular cleanings certainly helps maintain the light color.  In between, we spot clean with Woolite carpet spray.  The whole process takes about an hour to complete, and my right arm is a little sore afterwards, because the machine is heavy, but I can always see a noticeable difference right away, especially in the heavy traffic areas.

 

If you add up the cost of a new dryer or a service call, carpet cleaning for two main floor areas, and the cost of a new coat, in one day we saved several hundred dollars with a few hours of time and a little DIY elbow grease.  What have you chosen to DIY instead of buy or hire a service for?

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Why I am Even Happier We Gave Up Cable

We gave up cable several years ago, because it seemed incredibly expensive to have our DVR service.  We loved it when we first had it, because there really were not many options out there for accessing shows and movies.  Then Netflix and Hulu Plus came along.  We decided to give it a whirl a few years ago, and we honestly haven’t looked back.

With these two subscription services we pay only about $20 a  month, v.s. over $100 for cable.  That’s a huge savings over time.  We’ve used streaming services for several years, and I am totally sold on the experience for many reasons.

First, here’s the dish on both services.

Netflix is the world’s leading Internet television network with over 50 million members in nearly 50 countries enjoying more than two billion hours of TV shows and movies per month, including original series. For one low monthly price, Netflix members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on nearly any Internet-connected screen. Members can play, pause and resume watching, all without commercials or commitments (Info provided by their website).

What I love:  NO COMMERCIALS!  You can customize profiles.  There’s something for everyone in the family.

What I’m not so hot about:  I wish more new content was added more frequently.  The romantic comedies list is basically been there, done that for me (but we’re talking over my life time, not just since we subscribed to Netflix).

Hulu is an online video service that offers a selection of hit TV shows, clips, movies and more on the subscription service Hulu Plus. Instantly stream any current season episode of primetime TV shows.  Explore a wide array of acclaimed movies and documentaries, including hundreds of titles from The Criterion Collection. Also discover Hulu Original Series.

What I love:  You can watch your favorite t.v. shows the day after broadcast (The day after broadcast watercooler talk is a thing of the past, so I don’t feel deprived by having  to wait a day to watch something.  Besides, we usually waited a couple of days with our DVR too).  You can create a favorites list.

What I’m not so hot about:  They only bank 5 episodes of current shows, so while you don’t have to watch them right away, there is a shelf-life.  No current CBS shows.  The commercials get repetitive.  Beware scrolling through the new content and popular lists, especially in the movies section.  There are many graphic images that you may not want to explain to your kid(s).  (This sounds like a lot of negatives, but the few pros outweigh the cons).

More about what I love:

1)  No or limited commercials.  Netflix does not have commercials and Hulu Plus shows limited commercials.  I cannot even begin to express how awesome it is that my daughter has basically grown up without watching commercials.  We don’t have to contend with the toy and food commercials marketed to kids.  No begging for the current hot toy.  In fact, we were at a birthday party recently and the hottest toy from last Christmas was one of the gifts.  I hadn’t even heard of it.  Also, we recently found out why we are really happy we don’t have to sit through commercials.  When the season premiere of The Flash was aired, the whole family was too excited to wait one day for it to show up on Hulu Plus (kiddo loves her superheroes).  What we encountered at 7:00 on a weeknight were advertisements for erectile dysfunction and a show called Jane the Virgin where she ends up pregnant without ever having sex.  Yep, that’s totally appropriate for a 6 year old.  Thank goodness we were able to distract her through them.  Needless to say we will wait and watch the rest of episodes the next day.  There are limited commercials on Hulu Plus, but I have never encountered one that I would feel uncomfortable about my daughter watching.

2)  Customizable.  Both systems allow you to personalize your experience.  My favorite is probably Netflix.  What is great about this is on our one account we can have 3 different profiles–one for each member of our family.  Why this is cool…  We can each select what we want to put on our playlists.  The grownups don’t have to have the kids movies and my husband doesn’t have to put up with my romantic comedies.  Why is this even necessary?  Another cool feature of Netflix is that after watching and adding to your playlist for a while, the service starts giving you suggestions.  Because you watched this, you might like this…  Which is one reason why our own profiles is so handy so you’re not getting tips based on someone else’s preferences.  Also, since the kiddo is a kiddo, she is locked in to only searching through the Kids version of Netflix on her profile and she won’t accidentally stumble upon something not kid-friendly.  Hulu Plus is also customizable to a point.  You can add shows to your “favorites” and they also keep track of your most recently watched.

3)  Our favorites are all in one place.  Both Netflix and Hulu Plus offer access to t.v. shows, movies, and documentaries.  Almost all of our favorite t.v. shows are on Hulu Plus.  The one bummer is that current CBS shows are not available–but it was just announced that CBS is going to be releasing it’s own streaming service.  Since many of our favorite shows are on CBS, this is great news for us.  And this is the BIG reason why I am so very happy we have Netflix this week.  Back when the Winter Olympics were on, we decided we would give cable one more shot–and we wanted to see the Olympics.  We had cable for a month.  The only things we watched were the Olympics, HGTV, and the Food Network (and a little ESPN).  Not really worth the chunk of change needed for the fancier DVR our cable company now requires.  Last night I made an amazing discovery.  Tons of Food Network and HGTV shows that we all love are now available on Netflix!  Are they the brand new episodes?  Probably not, but several season of each are included and that’s mostly what we watched in re-runs anyway.  Are all of the shows included–no, but all of our very favorites are.  My daughter was thrilled when we told her, and so am I.  (She loves Guy and the Property Brothers).  This is unscripted programming that we can get behind and all watch and enjoy as a family.  I am super giddy about this new development.

4)  We can access them pretty much anywhere.  The nice thing about these services is that you can basically get them anywhere you have an internet connection on a supported device.  Since most of our house is run through devices on Wi-Fi, this works really well for us.  We have run them both through an Apple TV, game systems (both Xbox, Wii, and Play Station), and a tablet.  My mom runs hers through a blu-ray player that has these and other streaming services built in.  And that’s just in the house.  If we connect to Wi-Fi somewhere else, we can still access our profiles.

5)  We watch t.v. with purpose.  One of the things I noticed almost immediately when we cut out cable was we didn’t waste time channel surfing anymore.  When we sit down to watch t.v., we do so because we want to be watching a specific show or want to find a movie to enjoy.  You might not think this is a big deal, but it really is.  If you have t.v., think about the amount of time you spend just blindly flipping channels when you really haven’t found anything worth watching.  I know I would be up way later than I should have been just browsing for no real reason and then regretting it later.  And, we never have the t.v. on for background noise.  Even if my husband and I are spending time together (and working at the same time), we choose shows we want to watch and are not locked into what is currently being broadcast or saved in a DVR list.

Is a streaming service right for you?  There are many streaming services out there, and you should consider a few things before jumping in.  Check what will really work in your budget.  While both Netflix and Hulu Plus are less than $10 per month, you also have to consider the cost of the internet service, the machine you are going to stream it on, and your wireless router (we had to upgrade at one point, because as I said before most of our house runs off of our Wi-Fi and we were seriously causing ours strain).  There are also other services out there besides Netflix and Hulu Plus (these are just our personal favorites).  We also have Amazon video through my husband’s Amazon Prime account.  We do use this every once in a while, but it’s definitely not one of our go-to services.  Generally I only use it when I looking for something I am not finding on the other two services–because we can only use it easily through our game system.  I also heard that HBO is going to offer its own streaming service!  But, they do add up over time.  Consider the cost of Netflix, Hulu Plus, CBS and HBO streaming, and an Amazon Prime account.  If you get all of these are you truly saving enough money?  One good thing is that both Netflix and Hulu Plus will let you try their services out for free for a certain length of time (one month, I believe) to make sure it really is for you.

Why I am even happier?  I kept saying that if cable would just let us choose which channels we wanted and only pay for them, I’d might reconsider.  But, now I don’t have to, because the only two channels that we really watched on cable now provide shows through our streaming service.  I am a very happy camper.

Do you use a streaming service?  What are your favorites?

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Why the Public Library is Not Just for Kids

 

Courtesy of http://www.ala.org

So, why is the public library such a cool place for adults? There are tons of places where you can get free stuff–but do you know of anywhere you can get all of these in ONE place?  And, for many of them, you don’t even have to leave your house!

1)  Books.  I’m talking strictly about books for adults here.  We all know the public library is  a great source of books for kids, but how about for adults?  Our libraries are a great way to get your hands on the latest books (you can even put a hold on it and they email you when your book is in and ready to pick up!).  Don’t have time to sit down and read a book or prefer your e-reader?  Can’t physically make it to a branch?  No problem.  Download an audio book or an ebook!  I love listening to ebooks during my commute and can easily download books to borrow on my Kindle–and I don’t have to worry about late fees because it is automatically returned on time.

2)  Recipes.  I am not a big fan of cluttering up my kitchen with endless cook books, but I love to be able to find new recipes to try with my family.  Borrowing recipe books from the library is the perfect solution.  I can browse through a book, snap pictures of the recipes I like, and return it without adding another book to the pile.  Plus, this saves me money.  So many times there are only a few recipes I like out of a book, but I don’t know that before I get my hands on it.  This way I don’t waste money on something I might not even like.  (Same is true for novels.  If I don’t like it, I can just return it without worrying about the money spent).

3)  Movies.  Our public library has movie and tv series DVDs to rent…for FREE.  We even get to keep them for two weeks!  A much better deal than trying to squeeze a movie into a 24 hour (or less period) before zooming it back to the Redbox.  I totally need to take better advantage of this for our Friday night movie night and check out what great kids movies they have on hand.

4)  Music.  Just in the last year or so, we are now able to download music for free to Android and Apple devices using Freegal.  You can download up to 3 songs per week–that you get to keep FOREVER!  I have not tried this yet, but I want to soon!

5)  Magazines.  Many public libraries keep current issues of popular magazines on hand.  So, if you won’t want to deal with a paper subscription at your house, you can always stop by your local branch and browse.  We can also access over 100 magazines digitally!

6)  Internet.  Public libraries are a wonderful source of free internet for families who do not have access (which is more than you would think).  If you do not have internet at home, you can generally use a computer at the library.

7)  Classes.  Our public library has an agreement with an online class company that if we log in using our library card numbers, then we can take the class FOR FREE!  You just have to make sure you take the assessment at the end or you may have to pay.  Last year I took a photography and cooking class this way.  It was really simple, and I was able to do it on my own time.  The company also offered classes in things like computer applications, hobbies, and personal growth.  They even have online foreign language classes through Mango Languages!

8)  Programs.  Sure, public libraries provide great programming and activities for kids, but what about adults?  Check out what the branches in your city have to offer.  Ours offers computer skills classes, Yoga and Zumba for adults, crafting sessions, writer workshops, book clubs, genealogy workshops, and much more.  Again, all for FREE.

This list is just a brief peek at all the FREE services a public library can provide for you!  Get out there and use this fabulous resource, and don’t forget to let everyone know how much the library does for you and your family.  Just as our budgets shrink, so do local budgets–which fund libraries–speak up and let your city governments know what the public library has done for you lately.

What is your favorite thing about your public library?

 

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