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 gailvazoxlade.com



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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.
Decorate!






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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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Monday, 17 November 2014

Give the Gift of Reading!

Christmas is coming and it's time to start thinking about holiday gift-giving. What better gift to give a child than the gift of reading? One of our family's favourite gifts are books - my boys are voracious little readers and we love to encourage reading as much as we can.

A fun idea to make a gift of a book even more special is to personalize it. At I See Me you can create a unique, personalized children's book with your child as the hero or heroine in a story perfect just for them - pirates or princesses, dinosaurs or fairies, sports or animals or even holiday-themed. Can you imagine the look on your little soccer star's face when he sees his own name and image looking back at him from the pages of an all-star sports book or your little ballerina when she opens a colouring and activity book all about dance - featuring her?

At this time of year, when so many of us are trying to use the spirit of the holiday season to teach our children about giving and helping those less fortunate, donating to food and toy drives and volunteering our time, I can't think of a better book to give as a gift than one with a message of spreading kindness and doing nice things for others. Inspired by Mahatma Ghandi's inspriational missive, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," Jennifer Dewing and Marie Cardouat's I Can Change The World delivers that message of kindness in a fun, cheerful, child-friendly way. What a perfect time of year to teach children that no matter how small you are, doing good things can change the world for the better.
I See Me!

This Christmas give your children the gift of reading with a personalized book about caring and giving and watch their faces light up when they realize they are the star of this very special story.



*The author of this article has been compensated for reviewing this product. All opinions in this review are the author's own.*

Friday, 14 November 2014

Christmas Crafting Inspiration

I'm so excited that Christmas season is almost here! Halloween is over, the stores are filled with Christmas cheer, the leaves have all but left the trees, and there has even been a day or two when the cold fall raindrops have looked suspiciously thick and white. Winter is on it's way, which would be depressing beyond words if that didn't also mean the holiday season was upon us. What better way to kick off the long warm-up to the most wonderful time of the year than with some cheerful Christmas crafting?

Here are some of my favourite finds for family-friendly holiday crafts this year:
wine cork reindeer craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
Wine Cork Reindeer
Photo & Instructions: makethebestofthings.blogspot.co.uk
lightbulb Christmas ornament craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
Lightbulb Christmas Ornaments
Photo & Instructions: mermaidscreations.wordpress.com
paper Christmas ornament craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
Paper Christmas Ornament
Photo & Instructions: micador.com.au
mistletoes footprint Christmas craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
"Mistletoes"
Photo & Instructions: pinkieforpink.com
thumbprint Christmas lights craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
Thumbprint Christmas Lights
Photo & Instructions: meetthedubiens.com
fingerprint Christmas tree craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
Fingerprint Christmas Tree
Photo & Instructions: craftymorning.com
popsicle stick Christmas tree craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
Popsicle Stick Christmas Tree Ornament
Photo & Instructions: rhymetime4kids.blogspot.ca
yarn wreath Christmas ornament craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
Yarn Wreaths
Photo & Instructions: christopherandtia.blogspot.ca
plastic cup Christmas ornament craft, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
Plastic Cup Ornament
Photo & Instructions: domesticcharm.blogspot.jp

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Thumbprint Christmas Ornaments

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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Keeping Christmas Cost-Effective

Now that Halloween is over it's time to start thinking about Christmas! Christmas is a magical time of year for children, and as moms who would do anything to see that Christmas morning joy on our little ones' faces it's hard not to go overboard buying gifts and goodies to put under the tree.

But, believe it or not, it is possible to have a special family Christmas and make wonderful memories without breaking the bank.

As much as children may seem to be all about presents and Santa and getting new toys, they really are just as excited by giving and the spirit and warmth and love of the Christmas season.

There are so many ways to celebrate the holidays without having to spend a fortune.

Hanging lights and decorating the house and tree and yard. We buy a few new ornaments every year to add to our collection - a new strand of lights for the front yard, another box of gold balls to hang, another kitschy snow globe or little sparkly something - so that over the years we've stockpiled an enormous collection without ever having felt like we've spent a lot on holiday decorating.

Counting down the days in December with a homemade construction paper chain and chocolate calendar. Writing a letter to Santa and eagerly checking the mailbox every morning for his reply. Bundling up and heading out as a family to watch the Santa Claus parade and the town tree lighting ceremony. Visiting Santa at the mall.

Baking batch after batch of Christmas cookies. Building and decorating a gingerbread house. Making cards for family and friends. Spending hour after hour creating Christmas crafts and homemade ornaments. Curling up with great big mugs of steaming hot chocolate and overflowing platters of shortbread every evening to watch Christmas specials. Reading Christmas stories together every night before bed.

There are a lot of special Christmas moments that have nothing to do with gifts - but gifts are a big part of Christmas for little ones. With a little bit of time and planning, it is possible to give them the magic of an over-the-top Christmas morning without spending more than your budget.

My kids are very extravagant with their wish lists. We go to a couple of toy stores a month or two before Christmas and explore to our hearts' content. The boys point out every item they'd like and I snap pictures of everything so I can keep track. When we get home and it's fresh in their heads they write their letters to Santa with their Christmas gift requests.

Very lengthy lists.

But they know and understand that their wish lists are just that - wishes. They know they won't get all or even necessarily any of the items off those lists.

I start with a dollar value in mind for each kid. It's tricky, sometimes, particularly as they get older and their wishes get more expensive. Typically, each boy gets one "big" item off their wish list and several more normal-sized gifts.

I make a chart with all three boys' names on it to determine who's getting what and to make sure everything is even and fair - number of gifts to open, number of larger and smaller boxes, even approximate dollar value - which tends to take weeks of studying their wish lists, scouring toy store websites and fussing and fiddling until I'm satisfied. Once the list is finalized it goes everywhere with me in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Every toy store, department store, electronics store and book store offers sales throughout November and December - it's simply a matter of paying attention. Any time any item on the wish list is on sale for twenty percent off or more, buy it. Keep receipts - if it goes on sale for even less later, you can always return and repurchase. You may end up making little changes to the list here and there - the Duplo toy instead of the Mega Bloks, the Lego spaceship that's on sale instead of the almost identical one that's not, Spiderman action figures for the stockings because the planned Iron Man ones are sold out of every store in the entire city. The trick is not to add to the list for any reason. It doesn't matter if you find a Tonka truck on clearance for less than half its regular price or buy one get one free Transformers - if they're not on the list, don't get them unless you're prepared to use them as a replacement and cross another item off the list. And, of course, always pay with cash, not credit - it doesn't matter how much an item is marked down if you end up paying interest on it for the next couple of months.

I'm not going to lie; we do go overboard for Christmas. We love to spoil our kids at Christmastime. But I have been using this method of planning, budgeting and sale shopping for years and not only have I never gone over budget but I have never paid more than sixty-five percent of regular price for my entire Christmas shopping list - freeing up more money to put toward extra treats and special holiday family experiences. 

Originally published as "Keeping Christmas Cost-Effective" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com



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Monday, 10 November 2014

Saving for those Big Expenses

Though we all know we should be saving for the future - saving for retirement, saving for our kids' education, saving for emergencies and home repairs - sometimes it's hard to budget for those more immediate big expenses.

We figure out how much we can afford to put aside and set up monthly RRSP contributions and RESP payments. Because it's arranged in advance and is withdrawn automatically from our account, we consider it just another monthly expense. But many of us have a harder time saving for larger expenses that loom much closer on the horizon than a far-off university education or retirement dream - repairing a roof, replacing a dishwasher, buying Christmas gifts for a big family, paying annual memberships or sports fees.

Both of my older sons play rep soccer. The cost and time commitment is enormous, but it is their passion and they excel at it so we are committed as a family to making it work. Last week marked the start of the new season, the beginning of another year of indoor training building up to the outdoor competitive season, strength and conditioning and technical training and futsal. It also meant another year's worth of fees were due. Several thousand dollars' worth of fees.

For our part, because we live on a fairly tight budget and don't have a whole lot of money left over after our expenses each month, we save for the kids' sports fees all year round. Each month I pull cash out of my bank account and deposit it onto a prepaid Visa card that I keep in an envelope in the cupboard marked "sports." This way, because it's not in a savings account linked to my chequing account and not accessible just by pulling a debit card out of my wallet, the money won't accidentally be used for another expense during the year.

When the boys' soccer fees were due last week I had what I needed saved and paid the fees in full. No scrambling, no figuring out how to stretch this month's budget a little further to cover the extra costs, no throwing it on the credit card and dealing with it later like so many of my soccer mom friends did.
For our family, because we are on a budget without a lot of wiggle room, this is the only way we can afford bigger-ticket items - monthly savings set aside where we won't be tempted to touch them. The next saving challenge: Christmas!

Originally published as "Saving for those Big Expenses" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com



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Friday, 7 November 2014

Thoughts while watching kids' tv

Where in the hell are Max and Ruby's parents?

You cannot tell me that Bob the Builder and Wendy aren't screwing.

Is there anything more awkward than those seven seconds of silence after Dora and Diego ask a question while their big, creepy eyes stare out from the tv - right into your very soul? "How many stars do you see?" Blink... Blink... Blink... Do - do you want me to actually answer? Blink... Blink... Blink... ummm...four. Four stars.

What in the hell is Uniqua supposed to be? Pablo's a penguin, Tyrone's a moose, Tasha's a hippo and Austin's a kangaroo. All the other Backyardigans are accounted for. But what in the hell is Uniqua?

Captain Hook is obviously an idiot, but I don't know Jake - it seems to me like if you stopped rescuing him from the crap he gets himself into you wouldn't really have to worry about him stealing your treasure anymore. Problem solved.

Thomas - you mean to tell me that this tiny island with like twelve people living on it has literally hundreds of trains and tracks criss-crossing all over it? This is the preferred method of travel in Sodor? Seems a little extravagant.

Toopy the flamboyantly gay mouse and his silent sidekick cat Binoo are cool and all, but do they have to make constant references to dropping the soap and putting hands in sock puppet friends? It's really hard to explain to the kids why there are tears streaming down my face.

Maybe if Mike the Knight weren't such a selfish little asshole to begin with he wouldn't have to learn these endless lessons about being a knight and doing it right. And Evie, I really don't think magic is your thing - no offence, but you screw up literally everything you ever do.

Thank-you Lalaloopsy - I literally can't imagine anything more terrifying than rag dolls with enormous unblinking button eyes come to life and moving around. Horror movie terrifying.


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