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Things to Do Dripping Springs vacation

The Essential Summer Kit for the Car

A violent storm in the middle of tennis practice that we walked to…

A vomiting episode while on the way to a birthday party…

A car seat covered in urine…

A random invitation to a friend’s pool while out running errands (with no swimsuits on hand)…

An extended play date at a shade-less playground in 95 degree heat…

A swarm of mosquitos on a hiking trail…

After years of summer surprises hitting me like a ton of bricks, I finally smarted up and decided that my car needs to be well-stocked for summer! I always keep a duffel bag in the back of my mommy-van full of these essentials for the entirety of summer, which in Texas lasts from March through October.

Essential Summer Kit for the Car
  • Swimsuits & towels
  • Extra change of clothes, hats, & sandals
  • Picnic blanket
  • Sunscreen & aloe
  • Bug spray
  • Sand toys (pails, shovels, trucks) & Bubbles
  • Soccer ball or kickball
  • Playing/flash cards & books
  • A little cash
  • Wipes, paper towels, & tissues
  • Baby powder (for cleaning off wet sand)
  • A couple plastic bags for wet clothes or trash
  • First aid kit
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Umbrella

This kit has saved me more times than I can count and allowed us to have uninterrupted summer fun. We’ve been able to linger longer at an activity or park. I’ve been able to say ‘yes’ to random splash pad stops. We’ve added on state park visits to an otherwise boring morning. I’ve been able to clean up disgusting messes while on the go, tame countless snack cravings without resorting to fast food, and wait out unexpected downpours.

This little bit of preparation has helped us truly enjoy summer’s spontaneous moments.

Check out A Mom’s Survival Guide to Summer for more ideas on how to have your best summer yet!

Categories
Frugal Living Motivation

9 Easy Ways to Save Money in 2020

Happy New Year! Have you already made your resolutions? Planning to get skinny (errr… I mean “healthy”)? Hoping to read more? Watch less TV? Exercise daily? Go to church more often? Swear in front of the kids fewer times per day??

Those are all good ones, but so far, the single resolution I’ve been hearing the most is “to save money!” Consumerism has taken over and rendered many of us hopeless and hungover in its wake. The year 2020 is the time for change, right?!

What I’ve also been hearing is that most people aren’t sure how to save money. Where could they possibly cut back? Especially when kids are in the picture. That’s exactly where I stood several months ago when I started a deep-dive into the messes of our finances and our spending. I had previously considered myself pretty darn frugal. I only bought clothes and decor on sale. I made my kids share meals when we went out to eat. I had one fewer drink than I wanted to when out with the girls. And my husband and I took joy in repurposing or building furniture rather than buying new. So, where could I possibly cut back without leading a life of “deprivation”? I was already careful with money… so I thought.

Regardless of the doubts I had on whether it would make a difference at all, I decided to set out on a journey of budgeting and tracking our spending. It was difficult at first, and I did not take it seriously, but after listening to a few personal finance podcasts and talking to several friends, I really started to treat it like a true mission. That’s when everything changed! Just in the process of tracking what we were spending, we started saving. A lot. We started saving so much money that I looked back and didn’t understand where it had all gone before. Our lives didn’t even look different. This propelled me and motivated me in such a way that I now want to help others on the same path to changing their lives without changing their lifestyle, to start saving more money for their families and their future, and to see the benefits of frugality.

This list of 9 easy ways to save money in 2020 are just the first 9 things that came to mind when I thought about little changes that a family can make to achieve big wins. Please let me know if they’re helpful at all, and I’d also LOVE to hear your tips on frugal living and financial gains.

1. Track your spending! Pay attention to where every dollar goes. Write it down, dictate it into your phone, use an app, whatever works for you. Then, ask yourself whether that money is going toward what you consider to be most valuable in your life. (This is the hardest but the most helpful step, by the way. Skip it and come back to it if it seems too daunting.)

2. Unsubscribe to retailer emails! All those emails about upcoming sales, can’t-miss offers, and travel discounts seep into your subconscious and encourage you to spend, spend, spend because ya know, it’s a DEAL! Go a month without seeing them and determine whether you are really missing anything in your life that you HAD TO HAVE. If you are, I’m pretty sure you know how to find that retailer’s website or store location again.

3. Take on a challenge! Engage your family (or friends) in a fun money-saving challenge, such as a “spend-nothing week” or “eat everything in the pantry week” or “free-activities month” where you only partake in family fun that’s totally free. (Check out my post on the best parks in the Dripping Springs area to get started on this one.) You could also try “no eating-out month” or “book a family vacation for less than $1000”. Make saving fun, and you might see even bigger results than you expected.

Enjoying the great outdoors!

4. Ask a friend! When you’re in need of something, ask a friend or offer a swap before reaching for your wallet. You can swap clothing, jewelry, kids’ puzzles/toys, books, and so on. You can swap time also: babysitting hours, carpooling/rides, and home organization hours. Doing home projects with a friend is more fun anyway. Maybe you can help clean out your friend’s fridge this week, and the two of you can tackle your shoe collection next week.

5. Call your credit card! Find out what they’re willing to offer you as a loyal customer. Ask and you will likely receive. Do you need a lower interest rate? Do you want your annual fee waived? Are you looking for opportunities to earn more travel rewards?

I no longer wanted to pay the annual fee on the credit card that we’ve had for 10 years and had been paying off every single month, so I called Chase, and after a 6 minute call, my annual fee was credited back to me.

If your ccard company doesn’t have anything to offer you, there are MANY more out there who are happy to give you bonuses and lower rates.

6. Pay attention to your TV habits! Are you watching ALL the channels? Are you regularly taking advantage of ALL the subscriptions? If not, what can you cut? Choose one and cut the cord or call the cable company and ask for a better plan.

Kids today hardly even watch traditional TV… so what are we paying for?

7. Take inventory! Before you shop, be sure to know what you already have. Really take note of what you have in your pantry or in the back of your fridge. Go to your closet and count how many pairs of black yoga pants you have and the # of gray t-shirts and the collection of sneakers, etc. Intentionally taking stock of what you own might keep you from buying yet another.

After No-spend Week: a half-empty pantry!

8. Get the app! Do you always shop at the same grocery store? Download the app, check out the coupons, and take advantage of the featured offers. Do you often stop at your kids’ fave fast food joint? Try out the app, collect the points, and snag some freebies. Do you like getting cash back for what you already buy? Check out the Ibotta app or Rakuten.

9. Watch YouTube! I know, I know… “YouTube” is equivalent to a 4-letter word in my house due to my kids’ obsession with it, but it can truly be a useful tool when something in the house breaks and you want to save money on handyman fees. Or when you want to teach your child something new, like beginning guitar lessons. You can find a DIY video on just about anything on YouTube, so save money while simultaneously winning cool points with your kids.

Thank you for reading about the 9 easy ways to save money in 2020! I plan to blog about this journey often, and I really hope you’ll join me in the challenge to become a new FRUGAL you. I really hope we can all achieve small, and eventually big, wins together. I’m looking for a tribe who can help keep me motivated (and vice versa), who can share these wins, and who will join me for carefree vacations in my future home in the Rockies! 😉

Free family fun in the mountains: sledding!

Categories
Frugal Living

Why You Want a Zoo Membership

A few years ago, I was invited to write an article for the Houston Zoo website and newsletter as the Member of the Month. I’ve never been more excited to work for free. Maybe this could be considered my first blog post! Here is an excerpt from it:

My family has had a membership at the zoo for about 7 years. In the first couple years, I pushed a single stroller with my eager and curious daughter, planning each visit around her favorite animals: the elephants, sea lions, and big cats. Soon enough, I was cruising around the zoo with a double jogger, making sure that each visit included a carousel ride, a trip to the playground, many animal sightings, a crawl (or two or three or thirty) through the tunnel in the Natural Encounters house, and a stroll past the monkeeeeeys for my son. Now, we go as a family of five with two big kids leading the way and another eager and curious daughter in the single stroller. We never miss the African Forest, which houses my favorite animals, the majestic giraffes, and my husband insists on going through the bug house, despite the terrifying cockroaches, because he was one of the engineers for that exhibit. We all challenge ourselves to see if we can make it to every corner of the zoo. We don’t want to miss anything!

After submitting this article, it hit me that the zoo truly was one of our family’s happy places, and we vowed to visit zoos all over the country whenever we travel together. However, zoo admissions continue to increase, and many of them have added pricey experiences you can feel tempted to take advantage of when you book online. This is where a zoo membership can make a huge difference!

I am still a proud card-carrying member of the Houston Zoo despite moving away 3 years ago, and I’ll tell you why.

Reciprocal Membership

Paying for one zoo membership not only gets you in for free at that zoo for an entire year, but it also gets you in free or 50% off admission to dozens of other zoos and aquariums across the country. Check out this site to see which zoos and aquariums are included. https://www.aza.org/reciprocity

In the last two years, my family has visited the Cameron Park Zoo three times, the Fort Worth Zoo, the Houston Zoo at least three times, the Oakland Zoo, the Dallas Zoo, and the San Antonio Zoo. Because of the membership benefits, we’ve saved over $400 on zoo visits while traveling, and that amount does not include the savings we’ve been able to pass along to friends through free day passes and inviting them as our guests. I also saved precious summer cash when I used to enroll my kids in camps at the zoo.

Special Events

Most zoos have special events for Halloween (Zoo Boo), the holidays (Zoo lights), and in the spring or summer (Zoobilee) to which members get free or reduced admission. Many zoos also have free yoga classes, education events for children, opportunities for overnight campouts, and toddler/infant socialization times. Additionally, most zoos offer a member morning each month that allows you to get in one hour earlier than the normal opening time and feature specific animal talks. Members also get discounts on carousel or train rides and gift shop purchases.

Animal Conservation and Taxes

100% of your zoo membership is considered a tax-deductible charitable donation going toward animal and habitat conservation. Saving money on family experiences and taxes too… win-win!

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