Saturday, September 17, 2016

#KrispyKreme #FreeDozen #TalkLikeAPirateDay 2016 -- September 19th, Monday

Picture me jumping up and down for joy, seriously. Picture me and my kids holding SIX DOZEN DONUTS that we got FOR FREE. Just for dressing up like pirates and speaking like pirates. We have done it every year for the last few years and it is AMAZING. Check out the details here and then get to making your pirate costumes PRONTO!

Here are some fab pix from last year, when I only had four kids with me because one was on a campout and the Talk Like a Pirate Day was on a Saturday. With it being on a MONDAY this year, it means HOMESCHOOLER'S HEAVEN! Won't be too busy at all!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Planning and Saving for a Frugal Family Vacation in 9 Months (Ending August with $428.03)

This is a graphic I created to print out and put in front of my "work binder" to keep me focused on what I'm working for when I don't feel like working and want to watch TV instead
My family loves to travel. I am well-matched with my husband, who travels a lot for work and is fine with that because it provides for his family. I've always loved to travel and so has he ... we've been to California, Arizona, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, St. Louis and more with our kids and loved every second (okay, maybe not EVERY second). We have been blessed to be able to travel with my husband for work sometimes so we can see a town while also being able to (sometimes) have dinner together and sometimes even weekends.

When we travel with him for work ... well, those are the most ideal times because it's super frugal. We don't spend any more on groceries than we normally would because we do a lot of cooking in our hotel room with a kitchen, which is paid for by the company. We do pay extra out of our budget for sight-seeing but can sometimes even save money there as well, with a little planning. Bottom line it's never as expensive as it would be if we just picked up and drove to that specific place and had to pay for lodging and EVERYTHING.

In 2015 we had a great time going to Houston in the spring with my husband for work for a few weeks and then in the fall we paid for a full-on vacation to Omaha, Nebraska and stayed in a large cabin for a week and did all sorts of fun things. This year, though, money seems tighter than ever so we probably aren't able to go anywhere.

Wait, I take that back. My husband and oldest son got to go to South Dakota for Scout Camp so that counts for them. And my oldest got to go to another camp as well. So THAT is where all of our money went!

So when our 15-year-old son Joel brought up something we've wanted to do for years — a trip to Florida — I started scheming. Problem is I have done that before and then the money saved disappeared and was used to pay other things.

How are we going to get to Florida in 2017?

First step: Set up a specific vacation account
First step was to open an EXCLUSIVE savings account just for vacation money. When magazine article money checks come in, I take them to the bank and put them into this account. Any BlogHer income goes directly into this account (I made sure of it by changing my account settings). Any print or ebook income from Amazon goes directly into this account. I have to keep proofreading for our personal budget still at this point in time but hope to sometime start moving some of that to this account as well.

Second step: Decide to drive
Second step was deciding that, of course, airplane travel would be FASTER and would be FUN, but we can't afford it. So we are driving the big bus.

Third step: Find some deals on activities
Third step will be to do what I did in Houston and check out which days are free or discounted for the activities we want to do. No sense in paying full-price of $40 per person at a museum when Wednesdays are half price. Why not go Wednesday instead?! Plan the week and you plan to save money!

Fourth step: Find deals on lodging
So we need a place to stay with a kitchen so we'll be checking out lots of different options. When we went to Wyoming I managed to talk the owners down on price and got a HUGE discount on a large house on a ranch because it was off-season. Maybe we'll rent a house versus staying in a hotel.

Fifth step: Stop spending so much flipping money
I'll go for a long time doing not much with my kids that costs money. We have a farmstead that's free to get into certain days/times but then I spend money on ice cream there instead of getting $1 McDonald's cones or nothing. But then I get on a kick of nostalgia and do stuff like Moon Marble in Bonner Springs, Kansas, where I drop $40 like nothing and IKEA, where we sample buy the Swedish food and buy a few tiny things.

Free fun
Potentially costly fun
This is not as easy as it sounds. I only have so many hours in a day to write articles that may or may not sell to magazines. And I have practically zero time to work on books to put on Amazon which may or may not also sell.  Blogging income is sporadic. Proofreading has dried up a bit and has to go to our personal budget. I have to figure out a way to use my morning working time super wisely.

So in the style of the TV show 2 Broke Girls, I'll update this monthly to let you know how we're doing and how much we have. There will be no going backwards on this fund, though ... only soaring higher while keeping up with our other bills (the van pay-off project will have to wait).

So how do YOU plan a frugal vacation? Got any ideas for me you want to leave in the comments for me?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Kauffman Center Tuba Christmas #Free #Homeschool #SchoolKids

I remember seeing a picture of my friend Liz and her beautifully dressed children at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts at Christmastime 2014 and I was so envious of the fact that she got them all together to do something so cool and expensive. We had never been to Kauffman Center, let alone for anything CULTURAL and cool. I was afraid it would all cost too much money anyway.
Well, last summer at the pool she told me about Tuba Christmas. It's FREE. She got 10 tickets (general admission) and I was able to secure enough for my family for one of the Friday noon performances for 2015. Here are some pics from the under-an-hour performance! Then keep scrolling for the link to get your tickets for 2016. I was only able to get 6 for my household but I can sign up probably under my mom's address and details and get one more :-)

Here's how to place your order!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

I Tried to Cut My Grocery Budget in Half for a Family of 7

My grocery bill every month is usually more than our mortgage.

It's usually around $1,200, which is insane. This includes any alcohol, eating out, quick trips to Sonic for Happy Hour, toilet paper, toothpaste, bug spray, sunscreen, ANYTHING pertaining to us, our 5 kids, their friends, or the household. Keep in mind it's summer, which means extra kids at my house who I feed and snack (snack as a verb!).

As I went over the EveryDollar budget I have set up, I was seeing a trend of using too much gas (Ford E350 12-passenger van, anyone?) and spending too much on groceries. We never had anything left over at the end of the month and I also contribute quite a bit! I knew I only had control over cutting those two areas for the time being.

I had heard people on the Dave Ramsey show/podcast say they fed their family of 4 (with babies, though, NOT teens) on $200 per month. I've seen the meal plans on Pinterest. With extra kids here all the time, I call us a family of 8 food-wise, so I figured $400 per month could possibly work.

Then I laughed. Again, those people have small kids and I have TEENAGERS eating at my house ... 2 of them plus 3 more kids plus it's summer and their friends are over all the time. So I upped it to $600. That would be $300 per paycheck for two weeks of meals. Challenge accepted.

So, just for one month, July 2016, I gave it a shot. I cheated a little, so I'm going to be perfectly honest with you here! In months to come this is going to be a lot harder to pull off, especially since my husband is a foodie and I can't pull beans/rice and Ramen over on him all the time :-)

Here's how I tried to cut my $1,200 per month food bill in half to $600. SPOILER ALERT: I failed.

  • CHEAT: My husband and oldest son, age 15, were gone for 24 meals out of the 93 monthly meals. They were at a high-adventure Scout camp, so of course we paid for that in advance and that covered meals. 
Pizza at the pool
  • CHEAT: In our area, we have something called Free School Lunch. You can read about it here and find out if maybe your area has one also. I figure we homeschool and don't use any school or government services so why not? They need to keep their numbers up and are always so happy when they see my big family so they can make their quota for the day! And my kids eat free! We tried to do that as much as possible in July.
  • CHEAT: My friend Michelle came to town and brought the most healthy, awesome lunch for my family!
  • CHEAT: We were invited to eat at a family member's house one night.
  • CHEAT: We celebrated 4th of July with my aunt and she had tons of food to cover 2 meals ... yes, we brought some drinks and chips that cost money, but my kids inhaled a lot more than I spent to bring!
  • CHEAT: My aunt sent home a lot of leftovers and even a cake, so we took those things to a get-together the NEXT day, where a friend fed us smoked pork shoulder and we brought all the sides and things from the night before :-)
  • EATING OUT CHEAT: Chick-fil-A had their annual Cow Appreciation Day and we each got a free chicken sandwich or strips. I only spent $8.27 to feed 10 people there.
Otherwise, I just had my $300 in my grocery envelope. My husband wanted some beer and I had him take some cash like the good Money Warden I am. I went to Aldi for $124.51 in groceries and a full cart and paid cash. Everywhere I went for something small I paid cash. By the THIRD DAY into our paycheck I only had like $32 left. I didn't know if I could make it stretch the rest of the time ... for another 11 days!

IT WAS NOT EASY! I know this is a lot of money to some people. I totally appreciate that I am able to play around with our budget like this! I "splurged" on things like two boxes of ice cream bars for $4 and hummus for $4 and frozen meatballs for $5 and glosticks for $6 for the 4th of July, but I also got a 12-pack of Ramen my kids LOVE for $2 and I can even chop up some of the chicken I got a great deal on and some veggies and add those to the Ramen to make it into a more hearty and healthy meal.

BOTTOM LINE: When I took out things that are not necessary to our existence and put them in a category on our EveryDollar budget that was NOT groceries, we got away with spending under $800 in groceries this month (for a family of 7 with extra kids always around, but yes, we did school lunch a lot for FREE and my husband/son were gone several days). This means I did not factor in alcohol, eating out, vitamins and the expensive charcoal my husband buys.

Do you know what this really means?

That we did not do any better this month than usual (sad face).

Factor BACK into the budget the eating out, alcohol, peaches I bought in bulk, and let's not forget Petco for all the pet stuff and bearded dragon food ... yep, close to $1,200 still. I gave up the cash envelope system on the 2nd paycheck and just swiped that debit card like there was no tomorrow.

Now that I know better, I can do better.

Please come back to see how August goes! There is NO SCHOOL LUNCH in August and my entire family is thankfully together that month, so it should be interesting! I have factored in two cheap eating out nights (IKEA kids eat free Tuesday and Taco Bueno 59-cent party taco Thursday).

It would be so great if you'd sign up for an email subscription on the side of the blog for updates in your email inbox as I get posts done. It's feast or famine but I'm working on getting out a weekly newsletter with BRIEF updates from all my blogs so you can pick and choose what you'd like to read.

And, as always, I love your comments and suggestions! How do you save on your grocery bill?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Dave Ramsey's Website and App ROCK MY WORLD

Okay, so I listen to Dave Ramsey's podcasts every time I walk and also at the pool. I am soaking in the info, friends. So when he talks about the EveryDollar app, I got it right away. But I don't love it on the phone because the phone is so ... teeny tiny.

Last month I went to and used my sign-in info and BAM ... huge screen full of wonderful information and percentage breakdowns of how much we are spending on what. I knew that the bulk of our money was not going to Prada bags and Jimmy Choo shoes, and instead to THE BIG THREE of a big family:


I have budgeted in Excel for many years and before that on paper. This takes it to a whole new place. Starting July 1 I logged every expense we have in our household. The first month was a learning month and it went pretty well. But it is an amazing ACCOUNTABILITY TOOL.

I like that it's customizable. I didn't want our car insurance on the INSURANCE category so I put it on transportation instead so it would give us a more accurate picture of our transportation category.

Debt pay-down ... I put in the total amount of our van payoff. After I talk to Children's Mercy Hospital about financial aid I will be able to put in the amount due for medical debt. I could not figure out how to put the $16,000 we owe on our van into DEBT and also keep it as a TRANSPORTATION cost. Also, I couldn't figure out how to add the total owed on our van at all but it would be neat to watch it go down every month. Still, it's not that imperative. I have a spreadsheet with all the interest rates and stuff and I'm sure the programmers of EveryDollar will be making improvements and additions based on feedback from people like us! There is a paid version but I'm not sure what it can do exactly yet.

Check out the percentages on this fake budget I set up:

Also crazy cool is that you can click on BABY STEPS and it shows you the steps to financial freedom. The first step is making sure you have $1,000 in an emergency fund. Okay, we have that much in a savings account but it is really earmarked for our kitchen remodel so I wouldn't count it for that.

*Programmers, please find a way to get due dates in there. Just because I can see how much I will make in a month and how much I owe in a month doesn't mean all that money comes at once. You know that, because you put Paycheck 1 and 2. But I need due dates on my bills to help figure out what expenses are paid out of which check ... maybe make it so I can click and drag items below a certain paycheck to see what I am able to pay and when? I need to know what to pay WHEN.

I 99% us this on my laptop and LOVE IT. It does so much more than my simple Excel spreadsheet could ever do to open my eyes to what we are making, what we are spending it on, and how we can pay off debt and save up for things like vacations.

Highly recommended to get your head out of the sand!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

July 11, 2016 7-11 #FreeSlurpeeDay 2016

It's finally here! The annual event my family waits for! It's 7-11 day! FREE SMALL SLURPEES ALL DAY LONG! Go back as many times as you want for free Slurpees in many different flavors! It's insane but it's worth it, especially if you are Slurpee-ing a slew of kids!
Comment here with your Slurpee fun for the day and please share this post with your friends on your Facebook page!
Here are some photos of friends and family who made it last year!

The Law Family!
The Law Family!
The Hethcoat Family!
The Hethcoat Family!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

#KrispyKreme #79Birthday $0.79 Dozen Donuts When You Buy Another!

I couldn't find anything on Krispy Kreme's 79th Birthday that was coming up FAST (July 13) so I wrote the company. This is the awesome email I got back ... did you know there is a Friends of Krispy Kreme? I would like to be their friend ... we could all use a friend who makes donuts. Except our ex-neighbor with Celiac disease, of course. Yikes! Moving on ... (see what I did there ... ex-neighbor?) ... here's the email!

Dear Ms. McLoughlin,
Thank you for your email regarding Krispy Kreme's 79th Birthday this year and the promotion that we have planned to commemorate this memorable event. We always value the opinion of our consumers and appreciate the opportunity to assist you!

On July 13th of this year, Krispy Kreme will offer a one-day-only promotion where you can purchase any one dozen of doughnuts and receive a second dozen of Original Glazed doughnuts for $0.79! You will not be required to show a coupon to receive this offer. Please check the Krispy Kreme website ( for a list of stores not participating; you may also contact your local store manager for any additional information regarding this promotional offer. We hope that you will be able to come out and celebrate this very special occasion with us!

Just in case you are not already a member, we would like to invite you to join the Friends of Krispy Kreme program. Our friends receive updates on new store openings, special promotions, information about new products and other activities. Sign up is easy, simply visit our website at select, the "Friends of Krispy Kreme" link and complete the enrollment form. If you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
You can reach us at 1-800-4KRISPY (1-800-457-4779), Monday - Friday from 8 am to 6pm EST. Or, you can email us again!
Best regards,

Krispy Kreme Customer Experience

Here's a fun post by me from the 76th Birthday of Krispy Kreme!

Please consider signing up for an email subscription for fun deals and to find out how our financial journey is coming along ... I always love to hear from readers!
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