It’s only March. Spring has barely begun, but last week, I came across a Facebook post that asked, “Which summer camps do you send your kids to?” ACK! Summer planning already!
Summers are what memories are made of, and that puts a lot of pressure on vacation and camp decisions. But the excessive options for summer are beyond overwhelming! There is a camp for every possible interest in the world, especially if your budget is limitless. After reading through countless camp lists and trying out a variety of them with my first two kids, I’ve definitely learned something…
I will always say ‘yes’ to at least one VBS each summer, and that’s where my research led me after reading that FB post last week. I’m completely amazed by how much planning, time, and faith is put into vacation bible schools, and I am thrilled that my children get to experience that kind of joy. It moves me to tears every time I hear them singing the songs they learn in VBS, and I love it even more when I hear them relating what they learn in the summer to future Bible lessons throughout the year.
And what makes VBS even better? The price tag (well.. the lack of one)!
If you’re searching for a VBS to send your children to this summer, here is a list of some wonderful options in the Austin area and the Texas Hill Country that are currently open for registration:
Bethany Lutheran Church has VBS for preschool-aged children through 5th grade. Theme: Treasured. Cost: $20, includes T-shirt. Dates: June 21-25
Bannockburn Dripping Springs and South Austin for age 3 through 5th grade. Cost: FREE. Dates: June 28 – July 1. Morning and evening options available.
First Baptist of Dripping Springs will have a 2 week “High Voltage” camp. This year’s theme is “Glow” – July 6,7,8: STEM week & July 13, 14, 15: Creative Arts week. 9am-1pm. $10 registration fee. Space is limited.
In our mission to spend 1000 hours outside this year, we’ve decided to revisit some of our favorite hiking spots and seek out new ones as well. We’ll be sharing one with you every week in our series titled “This Week’s Hike”.
✅ Trails for Children
❌ Swimming (seasonal)
❌ Playground and Sports Fields
✅ Free Admission for Park and Trails
❌ Stroller-friendly Trails
❌ Reservations needed
Just a few miles north of Dripping Springs and about 25 minutes west of Austin lies a hidden sculpture park and adjacent trail leading to shops and restaurants in Bee Cave, TX, which is the location of This Week’s Hike! We’re excited to share everything we love about Bee Cave Sculpture Park!
Sharing a parking lot with the Bee Cave Police Department located on Highway 71 is this unique sculpture park with permanent and rotating exhibits. Kids will love trying to identify the sculptures and taking funny pictures with them. The trail meandering through the exhibits is stroller and kid-friendly. There’s also a beautiful pond to picnic next to and hunt for frogs.
Easy (but rocky)Trails
Adjacent to the sculpture park is a wide rocky trail going eastward. It takes you a short distance to an open green space with another pond. This trail is not stroller-friendly, but it leads you to the Shops at the Galleria. The distance is approximately 1/2 mile. After reaching the back of the Shops, there is a trail loop that can be walked to add more distance.
One of the best perks about moving to Dripping Springs is all of the family-friendly restaurants and breweries with open green space, playgrounds, kids’ menus, and very patient staff members and owners. As an added bonus, many of these eateries offer discounts throughout the week, and a few even offer those elusive kids eat free deals!
The following restaurants are not only casual family favorites, but they also offer great deals that might even be cheaper than cooking at home. They’re listed in order of days of the week on which the specials are available.
Tuesdays from 5 pm- 9 pm in the drive-thru: Kids eat FREE. Make sure to let the order takers know you are there for kid’s night to receive a 4-count kid’s meal free for every adult meal purchased. (Limit 2 meals per car.)
This morning, my floor was covered in multi-colored pom poms, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, crayons, glue sticks, googly eyes, straws, and empty plastic baggies. Our sweet preschool teachers have been sending home adorable art project ideas and random crafts items. The kids and I have a blast making frog masks, hungry caterpillars, watercolored paper chickens, and sunny scenes with stickers…. but, what am I supposed to do with all of these beloved projects when they’re done? My children are home all the time as we continue to shelter in place, and they are very aware of every single art project they’ve created and where it last hung or which window it was sitting in.
That means there are no opportunities to discretely sneak them into the recycling bin. This issue has led me to start thinking up and researching simple crafts that serve a purpose beyond a fun few minutes with the kids and walls full of half-colored creations. As we enter into our last month of homeschooling for this year, I am feeling a sense of re-motivation and decided to write out my brain-dumped list of purposeful, easy crafts for kids right here. Please share your kids’ creations in the comments below or tag me on Instagram @dripping_with_kids
1. Simple Homemade Bird Feeder
Pull out those dusty popsicle sticks, a few markers, some twine, and glue. Have kids color the sticks as they choose and then assemble a base by placing two sticks a few inches apart and then building a floor on top of that. From there, create sides by gluing each layer in an alternating pattern. Tie the twine on to all four corners, leaving enough length to tie the top around a tree branch. Then, fill with bird seed and watch the sparrows flock your tree. Don’t keep birdseed around? Your local grocery store likely carries it for pretty cheap. We bought some to make ornaments last Christmas and paid less than $2 for a 4 lb bag at HEB.
2. DIY Costumes
Making costumes for small children to play dress up doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. With your children’s help, you can quickly and easily create simple costumes, such as pirate, superhero, Peter Pan, cowboy, Cookie Monster, and book characters to keep them entertained for hours at home. There are countless no-sew links online or you can pull up a picture of your child’s favorite character, look around the house for a t-shirt color that matches, some construction paper, and other random objects to pull together a costume that reasonably resembles the real deal. For example, if you have a Captain America fan in your house, take a white t-shirt, color it with a marker to look like the character’s shirt, then use red duct tape or markers for accents. You can make a shield by coloring the backside of a paper plate, cutting holes in the sides, and attaching string. Then, check links online for no-sew superhero masks that can be made with construction paper or felt.
3. Cereal Box Mini-Storage
I love this frugal way to repurpose what would normally become trash into little storage containers for craft bits and pieces, pens, office supplies, snacks, and any other small items that need to find their own place in your home. To create these mini-storage containers, cut an emptied cereal box all the way around approximately 2 inches from the bottom. Then, strengthen and decorate the cardboard with duct tape you have lying around. Kids can decorate the tape using markers or label it with what will be stored inside. Voila… you crafted something useful that can fit in your junk drawer and keep you organized.
4. Painted Jars for Organizing Colored Pencils or Small Toys
Do you have dozens of acrylic paint bottles set aside for no specific use? How about a few jars tucked away in your cabinets? If so, you and your kids can paint the jars and then set them up on desks or bookshelves as a way to sort and organize colored pencils, pens, toys, erasers, legos, etc.
5. S’more Love for Neighbors and Friends
Looking for a way to spread love during these unique times? This campfire art project allows your kids to make something beautiful and gives you all an opportunity to share s’more love with others. Materials needed: small twigs from the yard, red and yellow paint, thick paper or cardboard, cotton balls, and a small amount of clay or play-doh (colored paper, cardboard, or just about any craft material can be substituted here). To make your campfire, glue the twigs at the bottom of the paper to look like fire starters. Then pour the red and yellow paint onto paper plates. (Mix some red and yellow to make orange as well.) Let kids paint or dip their palms into the paint and make handprints to resemble flames above the twigs on the paper. Make as many or as few prints as you want until you have your desired campfire image. Then, create a s’more above the fire with a rectangular strip or brown paper or cardboard to represent the graham cracker, a bit of brown or black clay to represent chocolate, and a few cotton balls to make your marshmallows. Write a sweet note at the top of the paper, and deliver the beautiful creation along with a baggie of s’mores ingredients to a friend’s front porch.
6. Easy Art Wall
There are many ways to make an art wall in your home for all of those beautiful creations mentioned in the first paragraph. The easiest way I know how to do this is simply to hang a wire and use clothes pins to hold up those treasured pieces and continually replace the old with the new. To include the kids in this activity, have them decorate the clothespins. They can make tiny faces and glue on felt or paper clothing. They can make butterflies and dragonflies. They can glue on poms to make cute, colorful insects. The options are endless, and your art wall will be even cuter than you imagined.
Bless someone on their quarantined birthday by filling a box full of special decorations and surprises. Think of a theme, create games or activities (pull pages from a themed coloring book, pass down a puzzle, or just include sidewalk chalk and some instructions for a driveway obstacle course), scavenge the house for party supplies or decorations, draw faces on inflated balloons, and make a card. This box will be chock full of love and fun, plus your kids will have a blast doing a crafty and kind act for another person.
8. Homemade Clean-Up Labels
Has your kid ever used the excuse of not knowing where something goes to escape a clean-up chore? This easy craft serves the purpose of giving your child an opportunity to be creative and keep their little hands busy, while also making labels for shelves, bins, and drawers for easy clean up. Print blank pictures of toys or toy categories, such as legos, dolls, trains and cars, costumes, doll clothes, play-doh, or any other favorite toy in your home. Then, let children paint, color, or recreate the printed picture using their own supplies and creative ideas. Glue or tape the new labels in their appropriate location and encourage kids to “sort” their toys to match the labels.
9. Recycled Materials Art
Search the house (or better yet, the garage) for unused, unique items that can be repurposed to make beautiful art. Buttons can be eyes, twine can be a smile, a nail can be a nose, and yarn can be hair. Find an old frame for the artwork, and you have a personal and meaningful piece of art for your wall.
10. Disposable Table Cloth
Cover your table with easel, butcher, or the back side of holiday wrapping paper. Tape it down and let the kids decorate it. This is such an easy and fun way to keep kids busy for a long time! Plus, you can use your disposable table cloth to teach kids how to set the table by drawing plates, silverware, and napkins at one setting or you can practice math skills by measuring the table and using division to separate the table into equal art “squares” for each family member (and then calculate area and perimeter) or kids can simply use the tablecloth as their scratch/note paper while completing their online schoolwork.
11. Painted Rocks as Reward Tokens
Most kids love to paint rocks, but you can use these painted rocks as more than just sidewalk or trail decorations. Think of behaviors you want your children to work on. Then, collect rocks and separate them into piles for each behavior. Maybe you have an “inside voice” pile, a “close the back door without reminders” pile, and a “flush the toilet” pile. For each desired behavior, assign a color. Have your child paint all the rocks in that pile with one specific color. (They can add designs too.) When the rocks have dried, bring them in the house and set them next to bowls or jars labeled with the desired behavior. Each time your child achieves that goal, have him or her place a colored rock in the jar or bowl. When it’s filled, give a reward.
Happy Crafting! Please share your creations below or on Instagram with the tag @dripping_with_kids or #drippingwithkids. I’d love to see your crafts with a purpose!!
Have you ever gone into your drawer and had to search through multiple pairs of black yoga pants to find that ONE pair you really love? I counted recently, and I have 11 pairs of them. ELEVEN! Despite having so many of one type of clothing in my wardrobe, I used to search for deals on black yoga pants every time I went shopping. Until I took a true inventory of what I owned, I just fell back into my regular shopping habits and searched for a deal on what was familiar. I have a feeling you do this too. What items in your closet do you have multiples of? Do you have a dozen pairs of jeans? Several pairs of the same type of running shorts? Twenty t-shirts of the same style?
How about in your pantry or refrigerator? How many bottles of ranch or Italian dressing do you have? How many jars of peanut butter or bags of flour or types of half-eaten cereal? These are items found in most households, and because they’re the “common” items, we often buy more and more of them when we mindlessly shop and fall into routine habits.
Taking inventory is your first line of defense against unintentional spending. Awareness helps you spend less and therefore, save more. After all, even if you find black yoga pants for 50% off or buy another bottle of ranch because there was a $1 off coupon, you’re still spending money on something you don’t currently need.
So, the next time you’re making your grocery list, peek into your pantry and your fridge and take count or better yet, take a picture. Not only will this keep you from adding something to the list that you don’t need, it will prevent you from mindlessly or impulsively buying yet another bottle of ketchup or frozen bag of peas.
Before your best friend and you embark on your next shopping day together, take a count, make a mental note, or snap a picture of your drawer full of jeans, your shelves full of shoes, your rack of dresses and skirts, and your pile of soft graphic tees. Being aware of what you already have will give you that resolve to say “no” when your friend is telling you how stinking cute you look in that #MomLife t-shirt.
A few other categories to take inventory of prior to launching into your weekly errands include:
– Beauty items, such as makeup or hair accessories and products
– Personal care items, including soap, body wash, razors, lotions, and toothpaste
– Towels … oh my gosh, the towels! I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve found amazing deals on soft, luscious, colorful towels at Target and convinced myself that we just did not have enough nice towels in our house. Now that I’m taking inventory, I’m blown away by how many drawers, cabinets, and closets in my house are packed full of every type of towel imaginable.
– Laundry and dishwasher detergents … there are almost always coupons available at the grocery store for these items, convincing you that you should buy more, but remember what I just said. There are ALMOST ALWAYS coupons available when you do actually need to replenish those products.
– Toys! Take a picture of your playroom or your child’s bedroom at its worst and have it handy for when you’re tempted to buy that “must-have” toy that was just marked down.
With all of this being said, I don’t want to discourage you from taking advantage of a great sale or huge discount. As a self-proclaimed frugal shopper, I understand that there are some deals that just cannot be passed up. I completely agree that occasionally, it makes perfect sense to stock up on something if you find an incredible deal and know you’ll be using that item often or that it will get eaten within the next month or two. For example, recently my grocery store was running a 20% discount on organic food items. This included the 24 pack of organic applesauce that my kids love. I already had a stash in my pantry, but because my younger kids each go through 2-3 applesauce pouches per day, I bought all the boxes left on the grocery store shelf. Those boxes full of addictive pouches of puréed fruit are taking up a lot of space on my pantry floor, but when I’m ready to go to the grocery store again, I’ll have a mental image of them being in stock at my house, saving me $12 of mindless grab-and-go shopping next time around.
I hope taking inventory of what’s on your shelves keeps you on the right path of your savings journey. You will likely recognize that you have far more than you truly need, and this awareness will prevent you not only from throwing away extra cash but also save you from being nominated for the next episode of “Hoarders”. Happy Saving!
My kids are picky. Even my typically non- picky eaters are picky in their own right. I’ve been dodging complaints all week about certain snacks not being in the pantry or about what I chose to make for dinner, even though, in my opinion, we’ve been pretty well-stocked. I don’t think it matters how much we actually have… my children still think, “there’s nothing here to eat!” (Enter eye roll.)
With that in mind, I decided to start a new tradition at our house, called “Sunday Surprise”. We’ll make a meal out of whatever randomness we’ve got in our pantry or fridge for our Sunday dinner. No special trips to the grocery store to fulfill a recipe, no Chinese food runs, and no resorting to frozen pizza. It’s our new family challenge, similar to the ones I mentioned in step 3 of New Year, New FRUGAL You(9 Easy Ways to Save Money in 2020).
One of my favorite aspects of frugal living is making the most of what we already have and really using up what’s in our house, especially the food. As I mentioned before, we’re relatively well-stocked this week, especially with vegetables, after hosting friends last weekend for gumbo night and a family slumber party. But the items I used tonight are likely in your fridge and pantry too.
With canned corn, potatoes, carrots, celery, a simple meat, milk, and a few common pantry items, you can totally pull off this potato and corn chowder! I had several gold potatoes that were about to go bad and some celery stalks that were on the verge of bending like rubber. I also had some leftover ham slices, which by the way, I recommend adding to your regular grocery list if they’re not a part of the rotation already. (Ham slices are a quick plan B option when dinner plans don’t work out.)
I love to make soups in the winter, and I found a yummy recipe on Pinterest. I just tweaked it a bit by adding about 1/2 cup of water and additional milk to get the texture I wanted. Plus, I also added some of my favorite seasonings and about 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese because, well, cheese makes everything better. https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/leftover-ham-recipes/
The chowder turned out to be delicious, and I had enough to bring to a friend for her family’s dinner tonight as well. The first Sunday Surprise actually worked out, aside from the fact that my picky kids still turned their noses up at it. Ah well, such is parenting. Luckily, I keep plenty of marginally unhealthy kid faves in the house as well.
Unrelated to the soup, I also realized today that we were out of coffee creamer, and I definitely did not want to go to the store just to replace that, knowing that I’d end up buying several other items once I stepped inside. So, I used an empty jar we had previously saved and mixed up half and half, a tablespoon (or maybe a tad bit more) of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. I gave it a good shake and ended up with creamy perfection without having to run to the store.
I would absolutely love to hear how you make the most of what you’ve got in your fridge or pantry, especially if it’s become a great way for you to save money. I am by no means a chef, so there’s no reinventing the wheel in this house. Please share away!
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.
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.
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.
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! 😉
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.
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.
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!