Pumpkin Dinner Rolls

These tender rolls are light, delicious and child approved.  Mildly sweet, these rolls are the perfect compliment to a Thanksgiving feast (or an autumn after school snack.)pumpkin dinner rolls 2

pumpkin dinner rolls pumpkin butter and whey

Melting the butter and pumpkin together.

pumpkin dinner rolls eggs and brown sugar

Beating eggs and brown sugar together.

pumpkin dinner rolls stir in yeast

Adding the yeast

pumpkin dinner rolls pulling away from the sides

Beating in flour until the dough pulls away from the sizes and holds some shape.  I like to keep it really soft.  You might not need all the flour.  Just add it 1 cup at a time and stop when the dough looks like this.

pumpkin dinner rolls ready to rise

Ready for the first rise.  I like to coat my dough in olive oil to keep it from drying out.  Then cover the bowl with a tea towel.

pumpkin dinner rolls first rise

Ready to form into rolls.  This dough is super forgiving.  I started it at 11 am and it should have been ready to form at 12, but I didn’t have time to get to it until 4pm.  It was still ok.

pumpkin dinner rolls divide into 2 balls

Divide into 2 ballspumpkin dinner rolls cut into wedges

Roll each ball into a circle and cut into triangles.  I did 12 for big rolls.  16 works too.

pumpkin dinner rolls formed

Roll them up like canned crescent rolls.  (Kids like this part.)pumpkin dinner rolls second rise What they look like after rising for 30 minutes.

Pumpkin Dinner Rolls

Pumpkin Dinner Rolls


  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 Tablespoons yeast
  • 5 cups whole wheat flour (I used hard white wheat)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour


  1. In a microwave safe bowl combine pumpkin, milk and butter. Cook on high for 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Beat mixture with a whisk until smooth, then beat in eggs and brown sugar. Set aside.
  2. In your mixer bowl, combine both flours, spices, yeast and salt. With the dough hook running, slowly pour in pumpkin mixture, beating until a soft dough forms. (Add additional flour or water if needed.) Allow the machine to knead the dough for 6-8 minutes. Lightly oil the dough and let rest for 1 hour or until doubled.
  3. Punch down dough and divide into 2 balls. Roll each27 ball into a large circle about 1/4 inch thick. Use a table knife to cut the circle into 16 wedges. Starting at the fat end roll each wedge into a crescent. Place on greased baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Let rest uncovered until doubled, about an hour. Bake rolls at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden on the top. Serve with pumpkin butter if desired.
  4. Each roll has 145 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, 27 grams of carbs and 2.6 grams of fiber.



5 Favorite Chicken Marinades

bacon wrapped chicken

We eat a lot of chicken because it’s so affordable.  Bone in is nice for all the health benefits of bone especially if you are boiling it for broth or soup.  I like a boneless breast for fast cooking convenience.  It’s hard to admit this but I don’t like bones very much….it’s much harder for me to eat bone in chicken emotionally…..it’s weird.  Just being real.

5 favorite chicken marinade recipes for your freezer

Recently I’ve been struggling with weight gain. Our busy schedule tempts me to grab something that’s unsupportive to my goals and it shows in my waistline.

chicken breast 3 marinades

Last week, I decided to spend 15 minutes and prep ahead marinated chicken for the freezer.  It’s easy to thaw in the microwave then throw on the table top grill.  The breasts cook in just 7 minutes that way! (Since it cooks from both sides at the same time.)   It takes less time to cook these than to go get take out.

Not all chicken breasts are created equal.  My favorite for marinating and grilling are from Costco.  They are the least expensive brand there, but are nice and thin for uniform cookingchicken breast costco thin

Costco isn’t as close to our house as Aldi, so I ran in and grabbed a bag of frozen chicken for a slow cooker meal.  Aldi’s chicken is a few cents more expensive per pound and it’s wonky.  This type of chicken is okay to dice for casseroles, or to cook and shred into soup, but not so good for marinating and grilling.

chicken breast aldi wonky Chicken breast too thick

Marinating for the freezer is the easiest prep ahead meal type. I start by placing 8 breasts (about 2 lbs) of chicken in each freezer bag.  ChickenBreasts marinade

Then mix up the marinades and pour them in.  If you want to grill chicken in the next 3 days you can seal the bags and stick them in the fridge.  If it’s for later than that, throw them in the freezer.  They will still marinate frozen.

Here are 5 of my favorite marinades.  Do you have a favorite? Leave it in the comments.  I’d love to try something new.

Honey Lemon Chicken Marinade

1 cup lemon juice (I used from concentrate from Aldi)

1/2 cup Braggs Liquid Aminos

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon dried Rosemary

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 Tablespoon lemon extract or zest

 (I used homemade lemon extract–video at the end.)

Combine all and warm slightly to mix the honey in well.  Pour over chicken and refrigerate overnight.  We grilled ours, but I think slow cooking the chicken in the marinade would be yummy too.

Thyme Chicken Marinade

This one is our favorite!  It’s really good with A1 steak sauce for dipping, but you really don’t need anything to help the flavor.

3/4 cup water or oil

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup vinegar (red wine or rice vinegars are nice)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Fresh Black Pepper

Favorite Fajita Marinade

2 Tablespoons oil

2 Tablespoons lemon or lime juice

1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt

1 1/2 teaspoons oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Teriyaki Chicken Marinade

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup pineapple juice

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp ground ginger

Instead of buying pineapple juice, I drain it off a can of fruit, then serve the fruit :).

BBQ Chicken Marinade

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup BBQ sauce

2 Tbs Brown Sugar or Truvia with a splash of molasses

1 Tbs yellow mustard

1 tsp salt

Crushed Red Pepper

 If you are curious about making your own extracts, here’s how I do it:



Broccoli Cauliflower Salad

broccoli cauliflower salad

This is my favorite salad.  It’s the fancy enough for potlucks or having company over, but it’s easy enough for weeknight dinners.  It keeps for several days and the leftovers pack nicely for lunch.  Add a grilled chicken breast or salmon filet on the side for a complete meal.

Broccoli Cauliflower Salad


  • 2 broccoli crowns, chopped into bite sized florets
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled (or 6 Tbs real bacon crumbles)
  • 6 green onions, sliced (Or 1 cup diced red onion)
  • 1/2 cup raisins (soaked in warm water to plump and then drained)
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds or sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup Olive Oil Mayo (or part plain Greek Yogurt)
  • 2 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
  • 4 packets truvia (or 1/4 cup sugar or honey)
  • Pink Himalayan Salt and Fresh black pepper, to taste


  1. In a large bowl combine broccoli, cauliflower, bacon crumbles, raisins, onion, and almonds or sunflower seeds.
  2. Beat together mayo, vinegar, sweetener and salt and pepper. Stir into salad. Serve right away or chill until serving.
We are having a busy week.  My mom decided to have a garage sale at her home and today was opening day.  It’s been 10 years since she had one there, but she had enough stuff it was be easier than hauling it to another sale location.  I filled my 15 passenger van twice and took it over, and I committed to being there as much as I can to help her.  I still have 2 rooms in my house to declutter, so I’ll be hosting my own sale again in the spring.

I did something crazy yesterday.  I called our drywall guy and hired him for Monday, November 16th to do a job I haven’t prepped yet.  That’s enough to light a fire under me!  I’m hoping to earn enough at this garage sale to pay him.  And to carve out 12 hours to prep the job for him.

Brandon and Grant's Room Gray rugby stripe

If you saw it on Facebook over the summer, I’ve been making plans to redo our shared boy’s room.  The ceiling has water damage and popcorn texture.  I plan to scrape off the popcorn and have it professionally skim coated.  Then paint, hang curtains and fluff.  This is what I’m hoping it will look like.  The opposite side of the room will be an art/lego station with toy storage and display areas.  It feels like an overwhelming project, but the boys are anxious for me to get it done.  With holiday season coming, I’m not going to stress about doing it in a week or anything crazy like that.  We’ll just take it one step at a time.

So that’s a quick update on us.  What are you up to?




Beef Topped Bean Enchiladas

Beef Topped Bean Enchiladas

We had an unexpected death in the family last week. Darren’s Grandma was 92, but still living alone in her own home with her mind, sight and hearing sharp as a tack.  He lived with her during the summers after his family moved to Texas and again when he graduated from High School so he could farm. They were very close. I lived with her part of the time when I was student teaching and she taught me a lot of things about frugality, being a homemaker, wild edibles and frying mountain oysters.

Lest you think she was all sugar and spice, she was a person who told things as she saw them.  Every time she saw me she complained about my long hair, big earrings and tall heels. When I got pregnant with our 4th baby, she offered to teach me about birth control. I learned to smile and roll with it. If she didn’t care about me, she wouldn’t say a word.  It was her way of saying, “I love you.”

She had a deep faith and prayed poetically. When Darren and I had been married 2 years, her son died in a tragic car accent.  It was a serious time of grief for all of us.  She told me death was beautiful and not to be sad.  She had already buried her husband and oldest son.  She KNEW they were in the arms of Jesus.  During her service I kept hearing her voice say those words, “Death is beautiful.”  But I still miss her.

My oldest son was acting up in the car during the funeral procession to the gravesite, poking his siblings and making them scream. I told him, “Your grandmother is in a hearse 10 cars ahead of us.  Remember what we are doing here and what your frame of mind should be.”

My oldest, Heidi, chimed in, “Yeah if grandma were here right now, she’d whack you with her cane.”

He said, “If she were here right now, I wouldn’t dare.”

After the funeral Saturday we went to her house with all her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren (28!) and a few extended family.  The church brought over the funeral meal leftovers and we ate and visited just like we would have on Christmas day.  The only thing missing was her and we all felt it. It was a lovely day until it was time to leave and I realized it was probably the last gathering like that in her home.  The last time there would be fig Newtons in the jar put there by her own hands.  The memories flooded in as tears running down my face.  My first date with Darren was there, a whole day of learning to farm. Not long after she decided Darren was taking too long and offered me her wedding ring set so we could just go get married.  She didn’t see any point of big weddings or long engagements.  If you love each other, go make a life together. What’s so hard about that?

I had plans to finish Kids and Money month strong with some posts about Kids and Christmas spending, but it was just more important to be with family.  I’ll come back and visit the topic again in a few weeks, but first I want to get some recipes out there.  Too many times I’ve searched my own site for a favorite recipe to refresh my memory on some of the details and find it wasn’t there.  Beef Topped Bean Enchiladas 2

This recipe is my go to when life gets really busy.  It throws together in 15 minutes and then just has to heat through in the oven.  Every ingredient is available at Aldi making a very frugal main dish. Add a tossed salad for a complete meal or make it bigger with sides of Spanish rice, corn, and fruit.  If you are gluten free, grab some gluten free tortillas.  Low carb tortillas work great here too, for a THM S Meal (You can have up to 3 Tbs of refried beans in an S setting.)  You can also assemble the whole thing in a slow cooker and cook on low for 3-4 hours.

Beef Topped Bean Enchiladas

Beef Topped Bean Enchiladas


  • 1 jar, 24 oz salsa
  • 1 lb ground beef or turkey
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 10-8" flour tortillas
  • 1 can, 15 oz refried beans
  • 1 can, 15 oz black olives, drained
  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar, Colby, or Monterey Jack


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Brown ground beef with onion and garlic, drain.
  3. Stir salsa into ground beef mixture. (If you have picky kids, puree the salsa in a blender first, and use onion powder instead of chopped onion.)
  4. Chop the olives and reserve 1/3 for topping.
  5. Divide refried beans, olives and 1/2 of the cheese cheese among tortillas and roll up. Place seam side down in a 9x13 casserole dish.
  6. Top with beef mixture and spread to cover the edges.
  7. Top with remaining olives and cheese.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes or until heated through.


Nerf War Party

You know the mom that calls to invite you to the party happening in 2 days because she forgot to send out invitations? That’s me.  This year I decided I was going to plan ahead, and have invitations printed a couple of months in advance.   Then I set a google reminder to mail them a few weeks ahead. It worked!

Dub's Brithday Invitations 10th nerf war redacted

It might have been more frugal to make the invitations by hand, but for $.09 each and a lot less time I had them printed as photographs and then mailed out in photo envelopes.  (I designed them in powerpoint, my go to graphic arts program.  I can picture all real graphic artists cringing.) The only catch….the invitations came with the wrong date and time, and I didn’t notice it.  My son came home from school telling me that kids thought the party was a week early, so I went to the photo site and looked up the picture I uploaded. It was correct.  I was so confused.

After I heard from a few other families who had the wrong date, I started calling everyone to confirm the date—2 days ahead, just like usual.  One of them texted me a photo of the invitation I mailed out—wrong date and time.  Forehead smack.  I’m still not sure how it happened.

They were all very nice about it, but 3 of the boys could no longer come :(.  I still feel badly about that.


My mom is protective of my health and stress levels, so she came over to help out.  We made 4 target practice games for the first half of the party.  All of these ideas came from Frugal Fun 4 Boys.  I LOVE her site.  The one above is made from a tri-fold board (like what you’d get for the science fair.) I used a package of Dollar Tree Star Cut Outs for all the games.  The inner circles are cut down from the cardboard that was cut out of the window. They are taped to Ikea Smoothie Straws (they are fatter straws) which just happened to slide over the leftover balloon sticks.  You can get more details instructions here.


I used 2 packages of Dollar Tree River Rocks to weight down the bottles.  Then my mom wrapped them in orange paper and taped them with Black Duct Tape.  We stuck on more of the Dollar Tree Stars to give them point values.  The goal was to shoot off the ping pong balls off the top.  This game was easier than it looks and the boys really liked it.  Also, the package of stars is so big that we used one package for all the games and still have more.

Nerf Target Practice Games

The PVC pipe is our ballet barre, which we just happened to have already for the girls. I just taped jute twine to the top of the cup and stuck more stars on them with point values.  The fun is when the cups start swinging and to try to hit them anyway.


The 4th game is made out of file folders.  We stuck them down to a foam core board ($.88 a Wal-mart) so it could be put away and used again easily. Our only regret is not making the cuts in the base deeper so they would stand up on their own.


Decorations were super simple.  I just used the leftover balloon sticks from our Lego Party and made colorful balloon bouquets. Then let the cupcakes, gift packages, and targets be the rest of the decorations.

Nerf Gun Decorations DSC_0072

Target cupcakes.  It wouldn’t be hard to do better.  Darren suggested red and white might have looked more authentic. (I was using up leftover frosting from the fridge.)

Nerf Gun Table

Before the guests arrived, we filled each gift bag with 30 extra darts (from ebay, similar here.) I took the time to write each boys initial on the tip of their bullet so we could make sense of things when the bullets started to fly.  I’m glad I did!  Each boy also got a gun and took it home as a party favor.  We let them have the fun of opening the package and then put their names on their guns too.


I invited all the boys to come and sit at the table and get instruction on how to aim their gun.  We talked about front sights and how to line it up, then did a demo and had them try it out. (Not all nerf guns have front sights, I’m so glad these did.) Then, I divided the them  into partners and sent each group to a station.

Nerf party

They took turns doing target practice and spotting each other to help add up points.  (The points meant nothing, but it was fun to keep track.)

nerf party 2

Nerf party 3

We spent about 30 minutes with target practice, then went to cake and ice cream and gifts.

Then we moved the party outside.  At this point I was done in.  One of the guests came an hour before the rest–the correct time, (because of the invitaiton snafu) and I thought no one else was going to come.  Then when the rest of the guests came an hour later (to our relief), there was a bit of chaos since I didn’t have a quiet sit down gathering activity, (like the coloring pages at the lego party.)

So, Darren took over the out door portion of the party and I rested.  We cut plastic table cloths into strips and tied them around on of each boy’s arms to create teams.  There was an orange team and a blue team and each had a matching bandana for their flag($1.29 at Hobby Lobby.)  They took their ammo and their guns out back to the school yard/city park that backs up to our back yard.

Nerf Gun Capture the Flag

We modified the rules to capture the flag to incorporate the Nerf guns.  Here were our rules.

  1. No head shots
  2. If you get shot below the neck you have to go back to your base and sing Happy Birthday to Dub at the top of your lungs before re-entering the game.
  3. If you get tagged with hands, you go to the opposing team’s jail and wait for someone to rescue you (your own team member to tag you back in.)
  4. You can’t shoot from jail.
  5. The goal is to find and capture the other team’s flag and take it back to your base.

A boy we had never met was playing all alone at the school while his mother, one of the kindergarten teachers, worked inside.  I grabbed one of the extra nerf guns and they invited him to play in their game.   They played the game for an hour mixing up teams each time they started a new round.  When the boys finally came inside, they were THIRSTY.  If I had thought ahead about that, I would have had some sport drink ready to go.

P.S.  Those little nerf guns go up and down in price all the time.  They were $5.50 each when I ordered mine and at the time of the article are $2 more.  You can watch the prices at camelcamelcamel and have them email you when the price reaches your target.

This is day 29 of our series 31 Days of Kids and Money

Lego Birthday Party


2 weeks ago my 5th child turned 8.  That’s a significant birthday in our family and calls for a big party.  The point of this post isn’t to show off gorgeous photos. (I’m terrible at photography.)  It’s just to show that a lot of fun can be had with a budget.  The guests talked about this party for days even though it’s not Pinterest worthy.

Brandon couldn’t decide what kind of cake he wanted so I used 2 boxes of cake mix, 1 each of chocolate and white for the cupcakes.  I dropped both kinds of batter into each cup and swirled it a bit with a tongue depressor.  The leftover batter went into a loaf pan.  DSC_0021

I used Dollar Tree cupcake liners and flags.  We decorated them with chocolate melts (from Hobby Lobby) done in these lego molds.  I still have plenty of melts leftover for Christmas baking.

Regular sized marshmallows cut in half with scissors were the perfect size for lego bumps on top of the loaf pan cake.  Then I microwaved canned red frosting and poured it over the top for a smooth looking frosting.  It didn’t turn out as pretty as the tutorial, but it was really tasty. My Mom had the lego shaped birthday candles in her stash.


We bought a food coloring pen from Hobby Lobby (with a 40% off coupon) to draw the faces on these lego head marshmallow pops. I used this video for instructions:

Lego Head Marshmallow Popsicles

The pen kept getting junky and didn’t want to write smoothly.   We were going to use the same pens on the cake plates (yellow square plates from dollar tree) to turn them into lego faces.   It just beaded up and wiped off.  Then we noticed that our Sharpies were labeled non-toxic.  We used them on the plates instead of the food coloring.  It looked really good.  I was afraid some of it would come off on the ice cream after it melted into the plate.  It didn’t.

Lego party table

We decorated with a package of yellow balloons and a Dollar Tree Balloon marker–those work really well and don’t smear. Dollar Tree sells packages of single color balloons 15 for $1.  Wal-mart has much better quality balloons 12 for $.97.  The boys made vases out of legos to hide the floral foam we stuck the balloon picks into.  I purchased these balloon picks to save a bundle on helium.  They are reusable and can be cut into scissors to whatever length you need. We now have a lifetime supply.

Printable lego man art

I set up the table with yellow (Dollar Tree) cups decorated with lego faces and filled with crayons, and printable mini-fig pages.  The box in the middle holds a pile of legos waiting for the next game.


As the kids came in they decorated their page while they waited for the other guests to arrive.  Then we hung them on the wall with painter’s tape.

lego man Art on the wall

To set up our next game, we had bowls full of random lego pieces.  We dumped the crayons out of the yellow cups back into our crayon box and gave each guest a straw.  They had 30 seconds to see how many lego pieces they could move from their bowl to their cup with just their straw and breath.  We played several rounds.

Brandon's 8th birthday 1

Time to get the partiers up and moving.  I passed out a blank sheet of paper and had them number it from 1-13.  Earlier that day, Mom and I hid 13 paper lego men around the house.  (We used this template)

DSC_0035 hidden lego man

Each man had a word or two written on him. The kids had to find the men, write down the word and leave him there for someone else to find.

Finding the lego man

When they were done they unscrambled the words to find the scripture:  “This is the Day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.”  It was harder for them than we thought it would be.  Next time we’d number the men so they didn’t have to unscramble.

After that we played “Create That.”  We unzipped the big box of legos in the center of the table and then gave them a couple of minutes to build their interpretation of:  a duck, a car, a plane, a spaceship, a robot, and a boat.  At the end of each time limit we showed each person’s creation, said something encouraging and took a picture of him with it (on my mom’s camera.)

Then it was time for cake and ice cream.

Brandon 8th birthday blowing out candles

And then presents

Brandon Opens presents

Then we handed each guest his own gift, wrapped in a Dollar Tree gift bag (3 for $1) with cardstock circles glued on to make it look like a lego.  DSC_0010

I printed the circles on the computer so I didn’t have to trace a template hundreds of time.  It went pretty quickly.

Each bag had a small 3 in 1 lego kit and a small bag of lego shaped candy.  I just put it in snack sized baggies without a fancy label or anything.  The kids loved it anyway. They spread out and built their lego kit while waiting for the parents to come.


There were a few times the kids got crazy, trying to sit on the table or running across the back of the furniture, but for the most part it went really smoothly.   Here’s the breakdown of our budget–the printing costs on the invitations included shipping and invites for his brother’s party two weeks later.  I made up a .jpg and had it printed as a photo at Wal-mart.com.  Then we mailed them in photo envelopes.  It was easy and they were very expensive looking.

The most expensive part of the party was the lego set party favors.  We ordered them directly from lego.com.  At the time they had the best price between Target, Amazon, and Ebay.

•Lego sets for party favors x 10 = $56.85 56.85
•Lego Candy $16.56 16.56
•Lego Molds $4.99 4.99
•Postage for invitations $4.50 4.5
•Printing for Invitations 5
•Yellow Cups: $1 1.08
•Yellow Plates: $1 1.08
•Blue Napkins $1 1.08
•Edible Marker $4.99 4.99
•Balloons: 5 5
•Cake Mix $1 1.04
•Chocolate melting Discs $5 5.2
Ice Cream 3

This is day 28 of our series 31 Days of Kids and Money

Saving Money on Kid Birthday Parties Part 2

Save Money on Birthday Parties Part 2

One of the lowest stress parties our kids were invited to was at the school district pool.  The mama didn’t have to clean her house.  She brought cupcakes for a swimming break and sent home movie boxes of candy for party favors. Genius.

The other low stress party we attended was at the roller rink.  Let the kids skate, throw them a cupcake (some rinks include drinks and a snack with the party package too) then send them home exhausted. No cleaning, no clean up.  That’s my kind of party.

Grant's 4th birthday cake

The highest stress destination party I’ve seen is at Chucky Cheese.  If you like strobe lights, deafening noise, trying to keep eyes on kids going in all directions at once, helping with ticket exchanges with multiple kids simultaneously, and strangers eating your pizza while you try to manage it all…you’d like it.

I’ve been determined to have a low stress destination party the last few times our kids rolled around to a significant age.  I researched locations and prices and when it came time to book it, I just couldn’t spend the money.  Most of the parties I researched were about $300 and I still had to get my own cake and party favors.   In the moment that was more stressful to me than cleaning my house.  If your budget doesn’t sweat over a $300 party you might feel differently.  Either way is ok.  Don’t apologize if you have a destination birthday party, and don’t apologize for having one at home.

Heidi's 15th birthday

The trend for at home birthday parties has been going OVER THE TOP.  I’m all for taking it down a notch or 200.  The kids don’t care if it belongs in a magazine.  They care if you care about them.  If magazine parties are low stress for you, go for it.  For some people it’s a gift and comes naturally.  There’s nothing wrong with using your gifts to create an incredible event.

Caleb's 13th birthday

My gift is not decorating or crafts or anything like that.  My gift is encouraging words.  The best way I can throw a party is to greet each guest at the door by name, be completely overjoyed to see them, and then stay and hang out and play along with the kids.

Caleb's 13th birthday gifts

This month, we found ourselves in the unusual position of having 2 birthday parties within a week of each other.  With our “significant” age party rule, that has never happened before and it won’t again.  It was super fun and exciting and also potentially rough on the budget.  I tried to talk the brothers into having a joint birthday part at the archery shop.  Our friends own it and if I’m going to spend a wad on a party I’d feel great about giving it to them.  The boys would have had to cut their guest list to just 3 friends each (or ban brothers and sisters from coming along.) One brother was all for it, the other was not at all.  He had his heart set on a lego party with friends, cousins and family. The idea of giving that up brought him to tears.

Lego Head Marshmallow Popsicles

So I invited each son to come and cuddle up with Pinterest and help me gather ideas for their parties.  To keep things low stress I limited the parties to 2 hours each, and scheduled them for in between meal times. I set a budget of $150 per party, which was the same if they had shared a party at the archery shop.  We ended up spending much less than that, saving around $90 overall.

Here’s how we broke it down for the lego party:

•Lego sets for party favors $5 each x 10 = $56.85 56.85
•Lego Sweet Tart Candy 16.56
•Lego Candy Molds 4.99
•Postage for invitations 4.5
•Printing for Invitations 5
•Yellow Cups: 1.08
•Yellow Plates: 1.08
•Blue Napkins 1.08
•Edible Marker 4.99
•Balloons: Yellow 1.00
•Cake Mix x 2 2.08
•Chocolate melting Discs 5.2
Ice Cream 3
 Frosting  $2

Nerf War Party Target Practice

and the Nerf War Party

•Nerf Gun Party Favors:  $5.49 x 10 = $55 55
•400 extra bullets $18.64 18.64
•Plates, cups, napkins $3.24 3.24
•Postage for invitations $4.50 4.5
•Balloons: 5
•Cake Mix $1 1
•Ice Cream $3 3
Game supplies:  poster board etc $8

I decided instead of buying a bunch of little trinkets and candy for party favors that we would buy the kids a small gift for around $5 each and send something home that they would treasure for awhile.  I purchased the lego sets directly from lego.com (they had the best price and selection after I searched all around.) And I bought the 3 shooter nerf guns from Amazon. We used them for target practice, in the epic capture the flag nerf gun party, and then they took them home. I’ll give details on the lego party tomorrow and the Nerf gun party after that.

This is Day 27 of our series 31 Days of Kids and Money

Saving Money on Kid Birthday Parties Part 1

Saving Money on Birthday Parties Part 1

Birthdays were a big deal when I was growing up.  My mom was frugal but super creative.  I had a friend party every other year with traditional games like pinata and pop the balloon that’s tied to your friend’s ankle.  One year we turned the whole house into a giant spider web with colored yarn.  Each guest had to wind up their own string and at the end was a small prize.  This game not only decorated the house for the party, but it naturally cleaned itself up as we played :).  Mom always baked the cake and decorated it at home.  Since computers weren’t a household item and the guy who invented Pinterest was probably still eating paste, we got our inspiration from library books.


The years I didn’t have a friend party, we invited over grandparents for dinner, cake and presents.  Mom did her best to make those times special too.  One year she put a clue inside each balloon.  I had to pop the balloons, read the clues and use them to find my presents.   As fun as these parties were they were a far cry from the super stylized Pinterest parties of today.  I thought they were pretty special anyway.

Brandon 8th birthday blowing out candles

When I became a mom I wanted my kids to have special birthdays too.  Life for me was a little more overwhelming since I’ve been pregnant, nursing or chasing toddlers (or all of the above) for the last 16 years.  We decided that with the size of our family we would limit friend parties to monumental ages:  5 (starting school), 8 (age for baptism), 10 (double digits!), 13 (now you’re a teenager), and 16 (Driving a car).  We would still celebrate the other years, but as a family in stress free ways.

Tomorrow I’m going to show you how I budget for birthdays and some ways we save on games, decorations and party favors.  Today, I want the takeaway to be:  Plan the party for the kids and don’t worry about impressing adults or making it Pinterest perfect.
DSC_0007Keep it low stress and try to let the kids help with stuff even if it won’t be perfect.  I know letting the kids help and keeping it low stress can be opposites.  Take a deep breath and try to go with it.


It’s all about the memories, building their sense of worth, and showing them that you’re GLAD you get to celebrate with them.  You don’t want to loose the child in all of the preparations and end up making them feel like a burden instead of a blessing.


Here are my less than perfect cupcakes from our Nerf party this past Saturday.  I was embarrased about how ugly they turned out.  Not one child even blinked.  I jokingly said, “What do you think the cupcakes are supposed to be?”  They didn’t laugh or make fun of my poor decorating job, several matter-of-factly said, “Targets.”  Delicious targets that they devoured in 5 seconds and asked for more.  I’m so glad I went with green—they almost look like something else, but no sweet little boy mind even went there.  The funny thing is, I did them myself.  Brandon asked to help and I didn’t let him.  He couldn’t have made them worse; I should have let him help.

Brandon's 8th birthday heather helps

If things turn out badly, everyone will assume you let the kids help.   So let them help–it’s a great reason for things to be wonky. Sometimes it turns out pretty good and the kids feel ownership about the party.

I love Pinterest and use it heavily for inspiration but I no longer try to recreate a magazine spread all by myself for kids who just want to eat sugar and play games.   That means my kids get a calm and happy mama to host their birthday party.  Who doesn’t want that?

This is Day 26 of our series 31 Days of Kids and Money



Affordable Cell Phones for Kids

How to Find Affordable cell phones

There are strong feelings on both sides of the issue of whether kids should have cell phones or not.  At this point only our oldest has a true cellphone.  She’s had it since her 13th birthday (almost 3 years ago.)

At the time all the kids were going to school together and were in the musical staying after school for a different length of time each day.  We found ourselves often wishing that they were easier to get ahold of.  For her big birthday gift, we bought her the cheapest phone we could find and added her to our monthly bill for $5 a month.  Life was instantly better for us.   The best part was the texting.  All of a sudden the teenage awkwardness between us was gone and we could communicate.  She texted me from her friend’s house just to say, “I love you.”  And I dropped her notes throughout the day just to say, “God made you special and I’m glad you’re in our family.”

Now that she’s older we realized it would be handy for her to have a smartphone where we could share the family calendar and she could access Facebook messages from her choir and youth group.  A friend told us about Swappa, a reliable website for buying used phones.  The phones are guaranteed to work and to not be stolen. She saved up her money from mowing lawns and babysitting and bought the exact same phone I have for 50% less.  We didn’t activate her 4G network with our cellphone company (we use T-mobile because they are the best value for our area) but she can use those features anywhere there’s wifi: home, school, most restaurants and her friends’ houses.

The other kids have been eyeing Heidi’s phone since the day she got it.  It was easy to tell them no when they were little, but they are getting older and going in different directions.  We decided it would be nice to communicate with all the teens when they are working or at school activities and need rides. (Plus it’s a motivating thing to take away if they’re naughty, lol.)

When Heather and Caleb started their businesses and saved up their money to buy an ipod, we looked into cheap ways to get them phone access.  Turns out there’s a magic jack app for iPods.  iPods are about $100 less than iPhones, but can be turned into phones with wifi access with the Magic Jack app.  The app itself is free, and it only costs $15 a YEAR to get them their own phone number with unlimited calling and texting capabilities.  We went that route for those two kiddoes.

We looked at other options such as prepaid cell phones, but since the kids usually aren’t places where there isn’t wifi the Magic Jack was the best option for us.  There’s one more option, Ting, that I haven’t tried yet. My friend Kristen from Frugal Girl says it’s great.  It’s might be a way for you to turn your entire family phone bill into $21 a month.

What do you think about kids and cellphones?  Do you know of another way to save?

This is Day 22 of our series 31 Days of Kids and Money


Help! My Child is a Clothing Snob

But first, I want you to know that I’m visiting at Stacy Makes Cents today.  Come along and find out the secrets behind my crazy low grocery budget. After you leave a comment on this post of course :).

Help! My child is a clothing snob

A child might be a clothing snob if:

  1. They reject second hand clothing
  2. They determine the quality of an item by it’s name brand
  3. They determine the quality of an item by it’s price
  4. They beg for clothing the family can’t afford
  5. They have a closet full of clothes (that fit) and nothing to wear
  6. They think sales are embarrassing
  7. They think once a style is sold at insert any store here, it’s out dated
  8. They would never shop at insert any store here
  9. They judge another person’s value by what they wear

The thing about clothing snobs is they have low self worth.  They don’t believe they are anyone special apart from their clothing and that’s the main issue to combat.  Making them feel guilty about the naked kids in Africa won’t do it, though that can be a project once self-worth is restored. They might have caught the wrong message of worth from a bully, an advertisement, or a TV show.  However it happened doesn’t matter, the important thing is to make sure they recognize their own value (and also the value of others.)

They are of worth because God made them in His image.  He loved them so much that he gave  them their free will.  Then left his throne to die in their place in hopes that they might use their free will to choose Him.  No piece of clothing can change their worth.

As you are building a proper view of self, there are other things you can do.

  1.  Try giving them their own clothing envelope and let them use it to buy their own clothes.   For this to work, you can NOT bail them out.  If they spend it all, they’ll need to earn the money on their own to meet their clothing needs.
  2. Donate their excess clothing to a good cause.  Such as the dress project or a local ministry.
  3. Sew dresses for little dresses for Africa. Or for babies born sleeping.  Or knit hats and scarves for the homeless and here.

There’s something about volunteering and serving that heals the soul.

This is day 21 of our series 31 Days of Kids and Money