Friday, 26 December 2014

Holiday Gratefulness

Last week's disaster - a massive electrical emergency only a few days before Christmas, a several thousand dollar repair, hours and days without power in large parts of our house and an entire weekend of feeling like our home and lives were patchworked and pieced together and only half-functional - has shone a sharp light on how much we have and how much we should be grateful for.

Even with half the electricity out in our home, we were still in a home with electricity - lights, heat, a television, a refrigerator full of food. Even with the anxiety we had over the crippling cost of this unplanned home emergency, we knew we could manage the repair somehow. Even with the sadness over our home feeling less than perfect for our kids over the holidays, we still had a cozy, happy home to celebrate Christmas in - even if we had to celebrate it by candlelight.

In how many parts of the world is the lifestyle we take for granted an unreachable dream? Electric lights and cable television and forced-air furnaces are first world luxuries. Even in this part of the world, in the wealthiest city in the country - at this time last year half the city was without heat and electricity and forced out of their homes for the holidays thanks to that winter's devastating ice storm. It's important to have perspective.

Our own little emergency was fixed first thing Monday morning. It cost more than we would have liked, but significantly less than we originally thought. Our home was back up and running well before Christmas and I even had time to bake a final few batches of shortbread in our fully-functioning oven before Christmas Eve.

Everything is back to normal and our family holidays have been spent cozied up in our happy little home with the fireplace blazing and the Christmas lights twinkling, watching Christmas movies and eating Christmas cookies and playing with our new Christmas toys. We are back to a fully functioning first world home and I couldn't be more grateful. But I am also grateful for the perspective this experience has given me.

I wish for all of you a joyful holiday season filled with warmth and happiness and too much to eat and drink. I hope that you are surrounded by people you love. I wish you full bellies and a place to come home to that you can call your own. Be grateful for what you have. Love and family are all that really matter.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Hard Lessons About Saving

Everyone  knows the importance of having an emergency fund - extra savings set aside in case the car breaks down or a water pipe bursts or one of you loses your job - but very few of us actually have one. Until that first big emergency happens and we find ourselves learning a very hard lesson.

I pride myself on being pretty good at money management and budgeting. After years of living beyond my means in my first marriage, relying on credit and juggling house-furniture-clothes-credit cards-keeping up appearances, then years of struggling to make ends meet, provide for my kids and survive as a single mom, then finally getting to a place where I could start over, debt-free (and asset-free, unfortunately) and earning enough to live life and look to the future, I learned a lot of lessons about managing my money, prioritizing and budgeting. I read financial blogs and absorbed all the advice I could. I watched 'Til Debt Do Us Part religiously and felt smug about how much further I'd come in my financial life and education than those people on the show. I planned and re-planned, budgeted and re-budgeted. I was quite sure we had our financial ducks in a row and our family's life planned out in the best possible way within our means.

But one area where we have always managed to fall short is in our emergency savings. We earn enough to cover all aspects of our planned budget. We have a reasonable amount of money going into long-term savings, both for our boys' education and for our retirement. But somehow we've never managed to find as much money in the budget as the experts say we should set aside for emergencies.

Gail's advice is to have six months' worth of expenses set aside. Though we would love the sense of security that would give us, it's simply not practical for us where we are in our lives right now. We have three children. They are active in sports and extra-curricular activities, they outgrow or wear through their coats and shoes and clothes every five minutes, they each eat more in a day than my husband and I combined. We're in an expensive phase of our lives right now. Our incomes are stretched as it is. I know we should be finding a way to set more aside. I know we should have a safety net. I know that even more after this week.

We had a little electrical problem the other day. A couple of circuits blown, a couple of breakers out. A fairly minor inconvenience, we thought. A couple of trips to Home Depot, a couple of failed repairs and a call to an electrician friend and we realized we'd need to hire an expert. We were pretty upset. A week before Christmas is not the time of year anyone wants a several hundred dollar unexpected expense. We sighed - but such is life. A day spent with electricians and techs from the power company in and out of the house and we realized the problem was much more serious than we expected. Four thousand dollars more serious.

We do not have four thousand dollars saved for random electrical emergencies.

The irony is that my husband and I were just discussing our home repair savings the other night. We laughed at the recommendation that we should be setting aside three to five percent of our home's value. Surely such a suggestion had to be overinflated - surely those numbers had to be based on an average that included rural houses in less expensive markets. Five percent or our little townhome's value is almost twenty-five thousand dollars because we live in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. What on earth could happen to our tiny little home that would cost twenty-five grand a year? We figured we should try to start saving more, but we felt fairly safe.

And then we lost power in half our house and got hit with a four thousand dollar electrical bill.

Happy Holidays.

How much do you set aside for emergency savings? How much do you budget for home repairs? How much is realistic to set aside for things like this - rather than a percentage of the value of your home, shouldn't it be based on the square footage of your home? How do you decide how much is enough?

This is obviously an area where my planning has fallen short and a hard lesson has been learned. How do you handle home and emergency savings?

Originally published as "Hard Lessons About Saving" on my weekly column at

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Friday, 19 December 2014

Fingerprint Snowman Ornament

Fingerprint Snowman Ornament, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas crafts

Salt Dough Christmas Ornament Craft
Salt Dough Christmas Ornament

Each year the boys and I make a special Christmas craft as a gift for my husband.

Last year's was a salt dough ornament craft.

Thumbprint Christmas Ornaments
Thumbprint Christmas Ornaments

The year before each boy made a thumbprint character Christmas ornament - Santa, Rudolph and an elf.

This year's special Christmas craft was a fingerprint snowman ornament for the tree - all three boys on one ornament this time.

To make:
Fingerprint Snowman Ornament, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas crafts
1. Start with a plain Christmas tree ornament.
2. Dip thumb in white acrylic paint and press gently for the base of the snowman.
3. Dip pinky finger in white paint and press just above the thumbprint for the snowman's head.
4. When paint dries, add eyes and button details using a black permanent marker.
5. Cut out shapes from felt for the hat and "carrot" nose and glue on snowman.
6. Add glitter and hang on the tree!

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Foil & Tissue Christmas Ornaments

Foil and tissue Christmas ornament, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas crafts, Christmas tree

With Christmas quickly approaching the kids and I have been busy creating new crafts to decorate our home and tree this holiday season. This kitchen foil and tissue ornament craft is messy but fun!

Foil and tissue Christmas ornament craft

1. Scrunch up a strip of kitchen foil into a tight ball.

2. Wrap a ribbon around the ball leaving a large loop at the end.

3. Tear strips of kitchen foil and wrap tightly around the ball one at a time until the ball is the desired size.

4. Brush the foil ball with glitter glue. Tear strips of tissue paper and glue in layers. Continue to layer tissue and glitter glue until the foil is completely covered and the ornament's colour is saturated enough. Hang to dry.

Foil and tissue Christmas ornament, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas crafts, Christmas tree5. When dry, decorate with glitter, sequins, ribbon and any other Christmassy bling you have in the craft drawer and hang on the tree for the holidays!

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Monday, 15 December 2014

Wrapping Paper Christmas Tree Craft

This is an easy holiday craft for little hands to make to decorate the home for the holidays!

Wrapping paper Christmas tree craft, crafts, kids crafts, paper crafts1. Trace three different-sized circles onto wrapping paper and cut out.

2. Cut 1/4 of each circle out; fold the large remaining pieces into two cones and glue together.

3. Cut all around the bottom edge of the cones. Roll each strip around the pencil to make it curl.

4. Stack the curled paper cones with the smallest on top and decorate.

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Friday, 12 December 2014

Handmade Christmas Gift Tags

One of the best parts of the Christmas season is giving gifts to the people we love. There's no better feeling than making or buying something for someone else that we can't wait for them to open because we just know they'll love it. 

Unfortunately, the gifts I give are rarely packaged quite as lovely as I'd like them to be. Presents are never purchased as early as I'd like, I'm never quite as close to done shopping as I think, there are always a million last-minute things to pick up, make, bake, box, wrap and mail, and the majority of my wrapping is done after midnight on Christmas Eve. Lots of wrapping paper but no prettily tied and curled ribbons or bows and no thoughtful cards attached - it's store-bought gift tags at best and names scrawled right on the gift wrap with a Sharpie at worst. I love the idea of prettily packaged presents - curling ribbon and red velvet bows and glittery ornaments dangling - but in this house it's always been just a fantasy.

This year, however, for the first time in recorded history, I actually managed to finish my Christmas shopping by December first. All of it. Every last gift. So I thought, just for fun, I'd try doing my Christmas wrapping before Christmas Eve. And since those gifts are being wrapped and placed under the tree a few at a time so long before Christmas they absolutely have to be labelled. So I decided to make these handmade gift tags this year!

handmade Christmas gift tags, crafts, Christmas crafts, paper snowflakes
Handmade Christmas gift tags

handmade Christmas gift tags, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas craftsThe boys and I have been making lots of paper snowflakes lately, so we gathered some small ones to use for our gift tags and collected odds and ends of other Christmassy items we could use - wrapping paper, ribbon, cut-up greeting cards, small ornaments, pinecones, craft glitter and gems.
handmade Christmas gift tags, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas craftsWe used small sticky labels for the "to" and "from" part of the gift tag and used our creativity to make each special paper snowflake Christmas tag unique!

What a great way to personalize and pretty-up a Christmas gift for someone special, and what a fun little Christmas craft to do with the kids on a snowy winter afternoon!

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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Ready for Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and here in Pleasantville we are holiday-ready.

The Christmas season started with the Toronto Santa Claus parade back in mid-November - once an annual tradition of trundling the kids downtown on transit, sitting on a cold concrete curb for hours bundled up in winter gear and huddled under blankets, now turned into a much cozier afternoon of Christmas baking and hot chocolate in front of the fire while we watch the parade on TV.

Santa's village, Christmas, Christmas decoration, Christmas train
We decorated the house - glittering gold ornaments dripping from every mirror and spilling out of every bowl on every surface of the house, our over-the-top tacky Santa's village and train track prominently displayed - and my husband hung the outdoor lights before the snow and ice made climbing two stories on a metal ladder a death-defying stunt.

The next weekend was our local small-town parade which we shivered through cheerfully.

Mrs. Claus, Santa Claus, storytime, Christmas, kids, family

Then the Town tree lighting ceremony - attended by the Mayor, Town Crier, and Santa himself - followed by storytime with Mrs. Claus, Christmas crafts, and a performance of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas at the Town Hall.

We wrote and posted our letters to Santa and visited him at the mall for a shy visit and a photo. 

We put up and decorated our tree - not the beautifully coordinated magazine-worthy tree that lives in my head but the overfilled lopsided one weighed down with homemade macaroni and bead and craft foam ornaments that tells the story of our family and I wouldn't trade for any other in the world.

gingerbread house, Christmas, baking, candyWe've been baking for weeks - shortbread and gingerbread and candy cane cookies and mint bars - and we decorated our gingerbread house with more icing and candy than cookie.

I have even - for the first time in recorded history - finished my Christmas shopping prior to Christmas Eve.

We are ready for Christmas!

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Monday, 8 December 2014

Christmas Giving: Teaching Children Charity

It's that time of year when the spirit of the season reminds us to give some of what we have to those who don't have as much. It should be a year-round thing, but often it's not. At Christmas, though, it's much harder to think of families living in shelters, of mothers unable to feed their children, of teenagers sleeping on the streets and kids who will be lucky to have a meal on Christmas Day, let alone a gift to open.

It puts things in sharp perspective for me when late Christmas Eve my husband and I are sitting on the floor in front of the fire, full from a big Christmas Eve dinner but nibbling at a plate of homemade shortbread and sipping coffee with Baileys (more Baileys than coffee, if I'm being perfectly honest), lit by the warm glow of the twinkly lights on the Christmas tree, surrounded by piles and piles of gifts and colourful paper and foil and ribbon and gift tags, wrapping dozens and dozens of presents to put under the tree for our kids and nieces and nephews after a frenzy of last-minute shopping when we cheerfully drop a sum of money that could keep a less fortunate family living for months.

So, though by that point I've always purchased and dropped off a few toys for various toy drives around town, sorted, laundered, and folded bags and bags of the kids' outgrown clothes to drop off at the local women's shelter, and boxed endless cans of non-perishables for the school donation tree, guilt usually sets in right around Christmas when I realize just how much we have compared to some people. I feel like we should be giving more - but even more, I feel like we should be teaching the children more about giving.
I don't mean to imply that they are selfish little people. They get just as excited about the gift-giving part of Christmas as the gift-getting. But they are a little spoiled. And though I want to give them everything in the world and I want them to grow up with everything they could possibly want or need, I don't want them to grow up feeling entitled or without an understanding of how fortunate they are and how many people in the world are so much less fortunate.

It's hard to know where to begin, to decide what the appropriate amount of reality is to expose the kids to and at what age it's appropriate to begin. My husband and I have discussed the possibility of volunteering as a family at a soup kitchen. I like that idea, but I feel like they might still be too young for that - a little too much reality for my sheltered little boys.

For the last few years we've had the kids go through their toys at the beginning of Christmas vacation and pick out the ones they are willing to give away to those less fortunate. They help me pick out the new toys and cans of non-perishables to drop off for the toy and food drives at their school and our community centre. We take advantage of Boxing Day sales after Christmas to buy a few blankets and drop them off at a shelter. I think they're beginning to understand that part of life is not just working to have what you want, but also working to help those who have not.

Last year we donated baskets of basics to an organization that gifted them to women leaving shelters and beginning a new life with their children. The children were very involved in the process of assembling the baskets, and it was eye-opening for them to realize that for some people even the very basic necessities of home life - blankets, soap, frying pans, forks, pyjamas - are out of reach without some help. It has put into perspective for them that they are very lucky to be able to put Lego sets and xBox games on their wish lists rather than warm coats for winter and a pillow to sleep on.

We love to spoil our kids at Christmas as much as we possibly can - we work hard for what we have and it gives us pleasure to treat our kids on special occasions - but I don't want them to grow up spoiled. I think exposing them to the reality that not everyone has as much as they do and teaching them about giving some of what they have to those less fortunate is helping them grow up to be good and generous little people, and I think that the holiday season, when everything is infused with a little extra warmth and love, is the best time to reinforce that lesson.

This year, on the way to our Town tree lighting and Santa Claus Parade, as I was wrestling with whether to ask them to contribute some of their money to our family charitable efforts or whether to talk to them about various charities and let them decide how they wanted to help, my eight-year-old piped up from the backseat: "Mom, I know what I'm saving up for. I'm going to buy toys to put under the tree at school for the kids that don't get any." My heart melted. My eyes teared up. My boys have learned the importance of giving.

Originally published as "Teaching Children About Giving" on my weekly column at

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Friday, 5 December 2014

Tired Mom

I'm tired. So tired.

I'm tired of never getting to sleep in until I feel rested. I'm tired of trying to be the "perfect" full-time mom while still earning a full-time income. I'm tired of always rushing, always being five minutes late because I have a half-dozen things scheduled more than I should. I'm tired of having a hundred things to do at once from the moment I wake up until hours after most people are long asleep in their beds.

I'm tired of always having to hustle for work, and always feeling like I have to work more. I'm tired of being taken advantage of at job #1, working for a fraction of what I should for the sake of getting to write mindlessly and anonymously. I'm tired of having to watch every word I write for job #2 because of certain creepy stalker-types. I'm tired of job #3 altogether, which is in fact the majority of my bread and butter at this point.

I'm tired of volunteering. I'm tired of being that person who volunteers for everything because no-one else bloody well will. I'm tired of working an extra twenty hours a week for free and very little understanding or appreciation. I'm tired of running three soccer teams and the school council. I'm tired of organizing fundraising raffles and charity drives and planning out practices and tournaments and events.

I'm tired of weekdays meaning up before dawn, showering and getting myself and three kids ready, making beds and tidying the house and making breakfasts and signing notes and agendas and packing lunches and backpacks, then welcoming other kids into my home and running a circus for an hour; then getting five kids bundled in snowpants-coats-hats-mitts-scarves-boots and walking them to school; then at home keeping preschoolers entertained and fed and cared for all day while trying to do the laundry and dishes and housecleaning, write an article or two and deal with team budgets and club schedules and soccer parent drama; then packing up the little kids and walking back to school to pick up the big kids, unpacking backpacks and lunches and signing notes and agendas and helping with homework; then starting dinner while running a daycare circus and tidying the house again; then the race to eat dinner and get out the door on time for soccer practices or swimming lessons, chauffeuring the children around and taking care of whatever team stuff has to be taken care of at respective practices; then home and snack and bedtime, reading to everyone and laying with each of the kids in turn until they're asleep; then tidying the house again and writing another article before finally sitting down for an hour of tv with my husband in the middle of the night because it's the first few minutes we've had to spend together all day.

I'm tired of never having a single second to myself, a single second to unwind, a single second to just be half-hour commute to crank up my favourite tunes and sing along like a teenager or sit in quiet, soothing hour at the gym with the earbuds in and the adrenaline coffee with a girlfriend at lunch...not even thirty minutes to soak in a hot bath with a glass of wine and a book.

I'm tired of lying awake at night after a busy eighteen or twenty hour day, mentally making to-do lists of emails to send out to kid #1's soccer team, spreadsheets to create for kid #2's teams, special guests to respond to for school fundraisers and how to juggle the three articles due the next day - in between taking care of my own three kids and the extra two I look after, school runs and homework and soccer practices and swimming lessons.

I'm tired of trying to meet everyone's expectations - I'm tired of trying to meet my own expectations - and always feeling like I'm falling short. I'm tired of everyone telling me I'm good at everything when I'm not that sure I am. I'm tired of being the person everyone I've ever met comes to for advice. I'm tired of trying to be politically correct.  I'm tired of having to watch my words. I'm tired of having to deal with people I don't like. I'm tired of actually caring about what anyone thinks.

I'm tired of being the person who just does everything and is everything to everyone.

I'm tired of feeling like no matter how much I'm doing, I should be doing more.

I'm tired of the guilt I feel over feeling tired and trying to pretend I'm not - I love my kids, my husband, our life and family and home; I cherish every moment with them and weep for when this time is over - but right now, today, I'm tired.

Just so tired.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

De-Clutter Your Home and Life

There are very few things that give you such a sense of control over your life as having a clutter-free home. I hate clutter. If you know me at all, or if you read my blog, you know that I am violently anti-clutter.

I don't just mean the sort of crazy, over-the-top, piles-on-piles of heaped-up-everything clutter you see on those television shows. I mean clutter of any sort. Visual clutter. Stuff.
Our home is very carefully clutter-free - a few favourite family photos on one shelf, a plant and a black-and-white art print on another; an interesting piece of pottery on one, a trio of art glass pieces on another. And great expanses of clean, clear, blissfully clutter-free space in between. Nothing soothes me more than looking at a carefully styled, clutter-free shelf. Visual nirvana.

I have been into so many homes where you can't even see the room for the stuff filling its corners. Dozens and dozens of teeny-tiny photos in teeny-tiny frames filling every available surface. Dried flowers in vases on coffee tables, shelving units, fireplace mantels. Heaps of books and magazines piled high. Candles - what's with the candles? - and little gifts and souvenirs and collectibles. Can you even see and enjoy your stuff when there's so much of it? And, my God, how do these people dust?

I get twitchy sitting in homes like that.
I don't know how anyone lives like that.

And it's not that we don't have stuff - we have kids. We have a lot of stuff, and we use it all regularly. But the kids' toys and games and puzzles are either in their playroom, their bedrooms, or out of sight in plain sight in the main living rooms thanks to one clever storage solution or another from Ikea or Home Sense.  When we're playing it looks like a toy store exploded in our home - but when we're done it takes mere moments to tidy it all away. Nor, when it comes to the adult stuff, does it mean that we don't enjoy our stuff. We just edit very carefully which of our stuff is important to us, and if it doesn't make the cut, it's gone. Or, if it must be kept, packed away in our very handy crawlspace in the basement. The stuff that is out on display is the stuff that gives us pleasure every day.

Look around your house. Do you have too much stuff? Visual clutter?

Try this: pull everything off every surface. Group all like things together - family photos in one pile, those porcelain figurines in another, candles in another. Then cull from each pile. Be ruthless. Do you love them? Do you love all eleven of them? Do you need to see them all every day?

Maybe just one piece of art glass standing alone on the fireplace mantel will have more of an impact than eight or nine of them crammed into the china cabinet. A cluster of your absolute best-of-the-best favourite photos of the kids, the ones that make you smile every time you see them, will catch your eye more often than dozens of snapshops in random frames all over every tabletop in your home - the rest can go in an album where you can flip through them as often as you like.

Think about what you're displaying on your shelves and coffee tables. Why is it there? Is it because you love it and want to see it every day, or is it because it was a gift from someone, or part of a collection, or that's just where it landed when you brought it home? If it's there for any reason other than that you love it and want it to be something your eyes rest on every single day, it doesn't need to be there.

Once you've pared down, put things back in place one group of items at a time. Like items should stay together - group them in threes (you shouldn't have more than three left of anything) or a single item alone; don't scatter them across three different shelves or tabletops. Leave lots of space between items or goupings to keep the eye from being distracted.

And sit back and enjoy the soothing restfulness of a clutter-free home.
I have been doing a house-wide purge over the last few weeks. Although our house is about as clutter-free as any house can be, after a few years here I started to realize that we were ready for a thorough going-over. There are toys the boys have outgrown. There are clothes to be donated or tossed. There are baby items to be handed down. There are things I've shoved in cupboards moments before guests were expected that were never pulled back out. There are odds and ends that I never intended to keep that have accidentally been kept.
And after weeks of meticulously going through every cupboard and drawer and filing cabinet I'm happy to report that I now have a completely clutter-free home. Visually, there is virtually no difference. But I feel so much better as a result. Calmer. More organized. More in control -  both of my home, and of my life.
How does this home de-clutter help to de-clutter my finances?
There are the obvious finds in a family home - a toy bought on clearance and not gifted years ago that will save one purchase this Christmas season, those kitchen gadgets given to us that we didn't need at the time but were about to go out and buy now, a stack of picture frames that will fit exactly the couple of photos I've been meaning to frame, those items packed away when the kids were younger and more destructive that they can handle having out now.
But there were even finds as I organized my once impeccable filing cabinet - a little bit of money available to transfer into my retirement fund by filling out a simple form I don't remember receiving, receipts I thought I'd lost and been meaning to go in to get copies of, even just the mental peace of knowing that my past tax files, which I was sure were a disaster of disorganization after being shoved in a folder after filing, are actually perfectly in order.
And after sorting through all of our financial paperwork - work, home, car, banking, insurance - I was able to sit down and set out a new plan and a new budget for myself, for my husband and I, and for our family. There aren't any major changes from the plan that existed a month ago - but this one is for sure, based on the papers and numbers I have filed away, without any niggling doubt that I've missed or forgotten something.
If you're feeling at all overwhelmed, set aside a little bit of time over the next few weeks to de-clutter your home - you'll be amazed at how big a difference it will make. You will feel organized. You will feel in control. You will feel relaxed. And your head will feel just as de-cluttered as the space around you.

Originally published as "De-clutter Your House, Your Life, Your Finances" on my weekly column at

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Friday, 28 November 2014

Beware Black Friday

It's that time of year. The holiday season is closing in quickly - children are busily writing out wish lists, Santa's at the mall waiting to hear their heart's desires, and parents are frantically searching out sales and deals and driving all over town to line up for the hottest limited edition new release special feature must-have toy.

Though this weekend has no significance for us in Canada, the infiltration of big box American retailers have brought Black Friday deals across the border in the last few years and the American Thanksgiving weekend has become the official beginning of Christmas shopping season all across North America. For weeks our mailboxes and newspaper deliveries have been stuffed with flyers and catalogues, our email inboxes inundated with online offers, television and radio ads flooding the airwaves and screaming at us to Buy Now! Save!

And there are some amazing deals to be had. But the temptation of such enormous savings can be so tantalizing we lose focus on our budget in a frenzy of spending.

A new tablet for yourself at forty percent off isn't saving you anything if you didn't need it in the first place. A "buy one get one half off" video game purchase for your nephew isn't a budget-friendly choice if you weren't planning to buy more than one video game to begin with. That deep-discounted Fisher Price play set so inexpensive you can't not get it, those princess pyjamas for less than half price, the full set of action figures for the same price a single one was just last week - if they weren't on your list in the first place, if they weren't a part of your planned spending, then they just aren't saving you any money.
A good deal doesn't mean savings unless you're actually spending less money, no matter how good the deal may be.

Before heading out to hit those Black Friday sales make sure you have a plan. If it's holiday shopping you're hoping to cross off your list, make a list: Who are you buying for, what are you buying for each of them, and what is your budget for each gift? Research what you're buying ahead of time so you know which deals are actually good deals.

And once you're out there negotiating for parking spots and navigating the hordes to get your hands on the toy your little one's been wishing for since the summer don't lose sight of that list. A plan with a budget will save your bottom line on this crazy Black Friday weekend.

Originally published as "Beware Black Friday" on my weekly column at

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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Christmas Crafts with Twigs

Before the ground gets too snow-covered to collect all those twigs and pinecones scattered under the trees, send the kids out to gather a few armfuls for crafting. These Christmas trees and snowflakes made from twigs are a fun craft for kids to make and can be lovely seasonal decor either indoors or out!

twig snowflake craft, kids crafts, Christmas crafts, winter craftsTwig Snowflake

Gather twigs of different sizes and cut to the desired lengths. 
Lay out twigs in snowflake shapes and tie together. 
Put a dab of craft glue at each joint to make sure they stay in place.
Sprinkle with craft glitter, hang and enjoy!

twig tree craft, kids crafts, Christmas crafts

Twig Tree

Gather twigs of different sizes.
Lay twigs out on a sheet of paper (we used wrapping paper to make our craft even more festive!) smallest to largest. Cut ends as necessary to create a tree shape.
Glue each twig to the paper backing.

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Monday, 24 November 2014

Christmas Crafts with Wool

Now that the cold weather is here and most of our activities have moved indoors the kids and I have started some of our Christmas crafting. These easy, kid-friendly crafts require nothing more than paper, wool, felt and whatever little sparkly somethings you can find in the craft drawer or dollar store craft aisle.

wrapped wool Christmas tree craft, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas crafts Wrapped Wool Christmas Trees

These wrapped wool Christmas trees are super easy to make and lots of fun for kids to decorate. 
Simply roll a piece of paper into a cone and glue in place. Wrap a length of wool from one end of the cone to the other, tucking the ends underneath. 
Decorate with gems or sequins or sparkly ornaments.

wrapped wool Christmas wreath craft, kids crafts

Wrapped Wool Christmas Wreaths

To make these wrapped wool Christmas wreaths, cut out a cardboard circle for the form of the wreath. Wrap a length of wool all the way around until the form is completely covered. Tuck the ends underneath. Decorate with a bow or ornament.

wool pom-pom snowman craft, kids crafts

Wool Pom-Pom Snowman

Make your own pom-poms in the desired sizes (easy wool pom-pom tutorial here). Stack largest to smallest like a snowman and glue together. Cut out felt shapes for the details and add googly eyes for a cheerful little never-melt snowman!

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Friday, 21 November 2014

Ninja Turtle Christmas Ornament Craft

teenage mutant ninja turtle Christmas ornament craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts, Christmas ornaments, RaphaelTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Ornament

Make this Ninja Turtle ornament for the Christmas tree by wrapping a length of red ribbon around a green Christmas ornament. Glue googly eyes on top of the ribbon. Cut out a smiling mouth from a piece of white paper and glue on the ornament. Use a black permanent marker for the details.

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