Thursday, May 31, 2012

22 Great Graduation Gifts from Etsy

I love all things homemade and handmade, so etsy really is a weakness for me. So much so that I try to stay away from it so I don't things unnecessarily.

But now that graduations are happening all across the country, I thought that etsy would be a great place to go to get something for a grad that was unique and meaningful.  So I thought I'd share a few of my finds with you.  Keep in mind that there are LOTS of things at these shops similar to what I've featured...just click through to check out their shop! 

Cute pillows for the dorm bed - modest pillows

Unique recycled zipper bracelets! Love them - Rezipit

Custom state necklace for those moving away from home - also cufflinks, keychains and others - from sudlow

Some inspirational wall hangings - from Cottage Sign Shoppe

Art inspire mug - from Brookish

Customizable state pillow - all states available - from love, california

mustache mug - lots of fun choices here - from LennyMud

Rock, paper, scissors pillows - there were so many fun choices here it was hard to choose which one to feature. =) - Yellow Bug Boutique

Vintage Map Keychain - so many maps available - Daisy Mae Designs

Mardi Gras bead mosaic - you pick the school! - Bayouland Beads

Silk dyed ribbon bracelet - customizable - D2E Gallery

Awesome glasses pillow - from Pillow Throw Decor

Dr Seuss keychain is just part of a larger graduation collection- from White Lilie Designs

Personalized state map - from Cedar House Keepsakes

Personalized all purpose bag - from The Palm Gifts

Personalized Laundry Bag - great for him or her! - from Cre8iv Gifts

Personalized Cosmetics Bag - from Connie Stitches

Great compass money clip - from Quaint and Curious

Compass map necklace - customizable - from Sora

Science/Geek Magnet Set - from Art Altered

Spine Keychain - perfect for aspirations in medicine - from Anatomology

Custom-made college sign - you choose the school! - from MannMade Designs

What unique gifts would you recommend?  Have you found anything on etsy lately that you want to share?

As a side note, none of the shops I  mentioned have not sponsored this post in any way - I just like their stuff.  =)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How to Be Productive When You Are Sick

I have been sick for the last four days. Between a slightly heavy workload at work and just not feeling well, I haven't been able to post here very much.

There are certainly varying degrees of being sick and if you are sick with something like the flu or strep throat or some horribly contagious flesh-eating disease, please stay home and get better before dragging into the office, not doing anyting production (including getting better), and risking getting others sick.

However, if you have a cold that you don't feel justifies staying home or are just stuck in the middle of allergy season, you probably feel obligated to go into work (or get regular tasks done around the house if you stay at home) without letting your compromised immune system defeat you.

But usually - you just aren't at the top of your game.

Here is a list of things you can do to be productive even when you aren't feeling top-notch:
  • Clean off your desk.  Do you have a corner that keeps collecting things and you just never seem to reach the bottom of that pile?  Are you always looking for things and need a better system of organization?  Have you been wanting to go through that junk drawer at home (or work) but always seem to busy to do it?   These small tasks can be tackled, accomplished in a relatively short time, and if you don't "do your best work" you don't have the same consequences as really messing up an important report you might have otherwise worked on.
  • Clean out your email. Is your inbox (at work or home) excessively full?  Unless you regularly visit and purge your messages, you probably have a lot of messages that you don't need. How to get started?  Find a chain of replies back and forth and delete all but the newest one (as long as no one broke the chain).  Find those about projects or events that are past and hold no information that will need to be revisited.  Delete those personal emails out of your work inbox. Your server, IT people, or just your home computer, will love it if you will go through and delete some of them.
  • Learning. Read up on something pertaining to your job. Whether it is a newsletter pertaining to your profession, a financial report for your business that you haven't had a chance to look at, a motivational book to help you be a better leader/mother/wife/friend, or some information on an area where you need to expand your knowledge, reading is a great task that you never feel you have time for but would be great while you aren't feeling super productive.
  • Complete those administrative tasks.  You know, the simple paperwork you have neglected to do because bigger things always come up.  Right now while you don't feel like doing those bigger things, work on the small ones. File some paperwork, update the charts/graphs on the bulletin board, send out those emails you've been meaning to. Scan documents, make file copies, shred those confidential papers you have piled up. If you're at home, organize your photo files - I know you've been meaning to do that forever.
  • Make new plans.  If you need time to sit and brainstorm, that time is sitting in front of you right now.  Now if you are heavily medicated, you may not have the clearest train of thought at the moment, so this wouldn't be for you. But if you are just tired and need to slow down to feel better, start planning. Think of how to improve your tasks, your department, your home.  Think about your child's next birthday party plans. Pull out your checkbook, a pen, and some paper and re-evaluate the family budget. Make a shopping list of things you always forget when faced with making a shopping list. Once you are feeling better, get moving on these new schemes!
  • Do get some rest. The best way to feel productive tomorrow is get some rest today.  So although you might feel you can really knock everything out, take it easy until you are back to full strength. 
What about you?  What do you do to feel productive when you are not feeling at the top of your game? 

Monday, May 14, 2012

We Sold Our Son's Old Furniture

We recently bought our son new bedroom furniture.  He had outgrown the nursery stuff and even though it was the convertible furniture that grows with the child, it really wasn't going to do the trick.  We didn't know what we were doing when we bought that stuff for our oldest child so we didn't fully think it through.  Let me take that back - we did think it through and it worked great for his needs when he was little and we lived in a totally different house.

But this house?  That furniture was not going to grow with him in this particular house that we live in now.

So we used money that I thought we had to hold onto for a debt repayment (seems like it's better to let the military take it out of your check rather than sending them a check - we've been told by several people that they misplace it for a while all too often), and bought Patrick new furniture. It's gorgeous, well-made, and really and truly will be with him for the rest of his life. I mean - he can take it to college and do whatever he wants to with his furniture and his money after that. We won't be buying anymore though.

I had hoped to get $500 - $800 for the three piece set (crib/toddler bed/full size, dresser, and armoire) that was in super condition.

We listed it on Craigslist for $800, hoping that would leave us room to bargain down to the minimum of $500 if needed. When we got a few bites for each individual piece, we were about to split up the set and sell it piece by piece although we guessed we'd fare better with the set. 

Then I posted a link to the Craigslist ad to our community Facebook page. You know what?  Some people who had moved in just one street over a little over 2 months ago wanted to look at it. 

They came over that evening, purchased it the next day, and Chip helped them load it into their house on the third day.  For $650.  Hooray!

We got rid of it for the upper end of what we wanted for it and they have a beautiful new bedroom suite for their little one.

That $650?  We used it for our YMCA membership.  Chip has been wanting one for several years now.  The military (E6 and below) gets a discount and he will get to use the gym during the day, as they have childcare while you work out.  And since the kids take swim lessons there and do recreational sports throughout the year, we'll save money on those activities by paying member prices rather than non-member prices.

I think we'll get our money's worth in the end.

And now I have no excuse not to go to the gym.

Ugghhhhh.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Inexpensive and Practical Gifts for Graduates

Photo Source: hhsara
It's that time of year again. Time for high school seniors to walk to "Pomp and Circumstance," cross a stage and receive that long-awaited diploma.  Some will go on to college and some will go straight into the work force. All will be making major life-changing moves into the "real world" though.

And so the graduation invitations start pouring in. But you're on a budget. What can you do?

Here are a few inexpensive gift ideas that will suit a new graduate perfectly:

Any Graduate:
  • A copy of The Tightwad Gazette, The Debt-Free Graduate: How to Survive College Without Going Broke by Murray Baker, or another similar favorite would not necessarily be the sexiest gift they received, but it would keep on giving if they dared to open the cover and learned to live within their means. 
  • A mop bucket filled with cleaning supplies that you score from pharmacies for cheap or free.  Include anything from sponges, glass cleaner, a dustpan, cleaning clothes (think bag o' rags), a toilet brush, all purpose cleaner, some Bar Keeper's Friend, some Magic Erasers (make your own), vinegar and baking soda, scrubbing brushes, cleaning wipes, and whatever else you'd like to include. These will all need to be purchased by the grad but aren't a lot of fun for them to spend their own money on, so this will be a huge help. 
  • A bin, basket, container (whatever you can find for cheap or free) - something that can be used as a shower caddy/tote - and fill with toiletries - also gotten at pharmacies and the like for cheap or free.  Think shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, disposable razors, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, handheld/makeup mirror, shower poof, lotion, sunscreen, nail clippers/file, tweezers, flip flops (for a community or shared shower) and any other item you might can think of. Again, they will need to buy anyway, so this will help offset their living expenses. 
  • First Aid Supplies - whether you buy a prepackaged kit or make it yourself, this is yet another in the category of the last two of things they need anyway.  Include alcohol, peroxide, bandages, gauze, ibuprofen, Tylenol, Pepto, cotton balls, antibacterial cream, sunblock, tweezers, aloe, and anything else that you have in your medicine cabinet. 
  • Tool Kit - This one you can opt for an actual tool box as a package or, for a less expensive route, just a bucket or box.  Include hammer, small panel nails, screw drivers (Phillips and flathead), pliers, screws, hangers like Command hooks, batteries, adjustable wrench, tape measure, utility knife, a small level.  These will be invaluable!
  • Office Supplies - Always a help to college students, but this gift is still perfect for those who will be setting up their new apartment/home away from the nest. Everyone needs pens, highlighters, tape, paperclips, stapler, staples, staple remover, correction fluid, post it notes, scissors, stamps, envelopes, notebook, day planner, rolodex/address book, and maybe something like a flash drive. 
  • Laundry supplies - Grab a laundry basket and fill it with laundry detergent, bleach, fabric softener, a roll of quarters, a mesh laundry bag, AND (most importantly) instruction on how to launder basic items and treat stains.Throw in a word find, Sudoku, or crossword puzzle book too.
  • A case of Raman noodles. Trust me on this one. 
  • A water pitcher with filter, filter refills, and a few reusable water bottles. Throw is some flavor packets if you so choose. 
  • Sewing Kit - this was one of the seemingly most strange gifts I got when I graduated high school and I still use it today, 15 years later.  Get a sewing organizer or just any plastic container with a lid. Include scissors, needles, safety pins, straight pins, a sampler of thread, and anything else you think would be helpful. I love mine still and have fixed so many holes/buttons/seams, etc in a pinch. 
  • A recipe book.  It can be How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman or it can be a binder full of the student's favorites (and some new ones to try). We've all got to start somewhere, right?  And there is nothing like home cooking. 
  • If it is a family member, like a child or sister, give them a day planer or calendar with birthdays, anniversaries or other important dates filled in. Include surprises like, "Dinner with brother"  or "the day sister comes to do my laundry." 
Photo source: aprilbell

Those Going to College: 
  • A basket full of food they can cook in a dorm room.  Think microwave pasta (include a can opener) Mac and Cheese, popcorn, Ramen noodles, PB&J, Nutella, nuts, crackers, oatmeal, soup, pudding, hot chocolate mix, tuna, and the like. Throw in a sponge and dish soap as well as some ziploc bags too. Their choices are limited in what they can cook in their room, but give them a basket of ideas to help!
  • Umbrella. Seriously. They'll be walking all around creation in wind, rain or shine. And unfortunately, many people don't think of one until they need it (too late!).
  • Some small select dishes like small tupperware, cereal bowls, a handful of utensils, a couple of microwavable plates, and a few cups should do. It's not like they'll have a lot of room to store dishes. 
  • Bed raisers (you can find them many places, but I like these adjustable ones) Sounds odd I know, but real estate is at a premium in a dorm room.  These gems will allow you extra storage underneath the bed with little effect on the space available in the room.
  • Baked goodies - wait until they arrive and send them cookies or brownies or whatever else they would love. You can do this anyway even if you've already given a gift for graduation.
  • Test Survival Kit (credit comments section here) - I had to include this because I thought it was adorable and genius at the same time! " How about a “Test Survival Kit” with all of the things that make for a great cram session. You could include notecards (LOTs of them), highlighters, colored pens, page flags, maybe even a few self-laminating sheets for those formulas or principles you will use over and over again. Also, a cram session would not be complete without some form of caffeine – think Starbucks Via packets or Mountain Dew. AND if you really want to make it great, top it off with a baseball cap and body spray – because they will more than likely roll out of bed with just enough time to make it to class the next day."

So what do you have to add?  Do you give any great, inexpensive gift ideas or any that are particularly practical?  Did you receive anything that really blew your socks off?  Leave us comments so we can all have more ideas!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Free Prescriptions at Publix

Publix has been offering a certain selection of free prescriptions for a few years now, but in case you never got the news, didn't live in a Publix area until recently, or just simply forgot, I wanted to remind you.


In efforts to help families manage healthcare costs, Publix offers a selection of some of the most often prescribed medications at NO COST to you.  There is no limit how many times you use this service, who your insurance provider is (or if you have one), or how many you need filled that day.

Here is a current (5/7/12) list of prescriptions you can currently get for free at the pharmacy inside your local Publix grocery store:
  • Lisinopril - An ACE inhibitor, lisinopril is used to prevent, treat, or improve symptoms of high blood pressure, certain heart conditions, diabetes, and certain chronic kidney conditions. Get a 30-day supply of this vital prescription FREE* only at your Publix Pharmacy.  * Maximum of 30 days supply (up to 60 tablets). Lisinopril-HCTZ combination products excluded.
  • Metformin - As part of the Publix Pharmacy Diabetes Management System, you can get up to a 30-day supply (90 tablets) of generic immediate-release metformin (500mg, 850 mg, and 1000 mg) FREE.
  • Antibiotics - Get up to a 14-day supply of the following generic oral antibiotics free:
    • Amoxicillin
    • Ampicillin
    • Cephalexin (capsules and suspension only)
    • Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim (SMZ-TMP)
    • Ciprofloxacin (excluding Ciprofloxacin XR)
    • Penicillin VK
    • Doxycycline Hyclate (capsules only)
So if you are prescribed one of these, make sure to go to Publix to get it. Even if you have a low cost insurance plan, this will keep you from paying that low cost AND from filing it on your insurance. =)  Win-win!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Our Financial Status #27 - April 2012

We didn't make as much headway this month on our debts as I had wanted. It seems that "things" just kept coming up.  And we ate out a lot.  That shouldn't be any surprise to those of you who actually read these updates; it's something we really need to work on. That's something I say every month and rarely do things change. What will it take to really motivate us to seriously reduce spending on food?

We did make one big leap in straightening out of finances this month though. I'll talk about it in the notes at the end.  And next month we'll have one of those "extra paycheck" months, so I'm really looking forward to that.

Here it is - the good, the bad, and the really, really ugly:

INCOME:
Our paycheck income was $21 more than expected this month.  The great news is, we got an additional $2041 refund of our mortgage escrow (after refinancing last month). With $1300 of that, we made a huge step in our financial freedom and my sanity - I'll talk about that in the notes. The other $700?  It "disappeared."  At least I thought so until I started typing up this post. I can see where it went in our eating out and in the notes section now.

UNDER BUDGET:
Car Parts/Repairs: $5 under budget for the month, but we had a big month here last month, so I'm waiting for that to roll off our annual budgeted amount by having several smaller months in a row.  That's the plan at least!
Electricity/Water: $61 under budget.  I have a fixed monthly budget here and in the spring and fall I'm usually under while the summers usually propel be way over. My goal is to balance out at the end.  A trick I'm using right now...I'm overpaying (slightly) my water bill so that it will help offset it later when the power bill is more of a strain on the budget. Working so far.
Home Supplies: $5 under budget. Meaning, no spending here. This budget is for small items that don't fit under "grocery" or "toiletry." 
Childcare: No spending this month, but we're way over our rolling budget right now from previous months.
Hair: No spending this month.  Last month I bought some hair-cutting tools to cut Patrick's hair (I've been cutting it but with the wrong tools. Let me tell you, the right tools make ALL the difference!).
Clothing: $12 under for the month, but thanks to some previous spending months, I'm over budget on our annual budget here. And I still need to get the kids some summer shoes for church. Otherwise though, this should taper off for a while. And even if we need anything else for the kids, I have some credit at the consignment shop, so I should be good there. 

ON BUDGET:
Tithe: I've just started including this one on this post: that's because it's really not optional.  We're believers in Christ who believe in giving the first 10% of our income to God's work. Because I knew this would always be on budget, I hadn't been including it, but decided to add it so that you, as readers, would know that we are not leaving out this important part of our financial life. 
Mortgage/HOA/Timeshare: Nailed the new budget. What's beautiful? This budget is down $600/month from where it was 3 years ago thanks to refinancing and lower HOA fees.  Hooray!
Auto Insurance: No surprises here.
Television: As usual.
Term Life Insurance: Done
Mobile Phone: Nothing new here.
Alarm Monitoring/Pest Control: Regular charges here.
Pharmacy: We were on the nose with the pharmacy budget this month.  That means we didn't make any headway in knocking down the rolling "over budget" amount though.
Doctor: On budget this month.  Actually I will be getting reimbursed for this copay (Abigail was sick) but since the reimbursement hasn't come through yet, we'll just call it "on budget."

OVER BUDGET:
Gasoline: $76 over budget. Since I didn't raise my budget when gas prices increased, I don't feel too bad about this one. Now that they are starting to (slightly) come down, hopefully we'll be back on track soon.
Groceries: $235 over budget.  Now we did feed a family in our neighborhood this month but not for $250. I really can't account for all of this, which bothers me. I know when and where we spent it, but I don't know why so much this one month.  I'm hoping some of it was because we bought groceries on the 2nd and the 29th of the month - instead of those being in other months, but that still should not have been THAT much over!
Eating out: $387 over budget. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I'm just being honest here. We ate out far too much. We really need to curb this back. It's not cheap for a family of 4 to eat out even when you are eating out at less expensive places.
Pharmcy: $10 over budget.  Like I noted under "doctor" above, Abigail was sick this month. We had to buy her some Albuterol for her nebulizer. We did keep these costs at a minimum by using Publix pharmacy and taking advantage of the fact that you can get some drugs, like amoxicillin, there for free.
Toiletries: $35 over for the month, but I had a buffer from previous months where I hadn't spent, so although I was over budget for the month, I'm still under budget for the year.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: 
  • The big news - we sent $1300 to our timeshare company to buy out of our ownership. Yes...we still have the Lending Club loan that we are using to pay the loan for it. But we no longer will have the burden of it and its maintenance fees and our inability to use it hanging on our shoulders. You might call this a loss, but I call it a huge win to my sanity. Love it!  We'll be done with the loan in about 18 months and be free of it forever! Hooray!
  • Sent $200 extra to our church for a capital campaign that is underway.
  • We had to pay $12 for a video game rental that Chip forgot to return to the Redbox (and I didn't know he had, so I didn't remind him). We also had a $2 late fee from the library. I hate these kinds of charges - the careless ones - but we all make them from time to time. We had a good long running record of not having them, so that makes when we do THAT much more frustrating to me. 
  • Gifts must have eaten up some of that escrow refund. We spent money on three birthday gifts, Easter,  and one wedding gift this month. Can't really complain about these though.
  • $32 spent on snacks for Patrick's classroom for one week. No big deal - we only have to do it twice a year and it gives us 6 volunteer hours credit. 
  • Spent $19 to take the kids to a play center one day (priceless fun as a family, that day) and $49 on a Living Social deal that will send Patrick to an awesome summer camp for one week this summer. He'll love it. 
  • $60 spent for dog grooming. Necessary evil. Honestly - she hadn't been fully groomed in about a year and this place was about $25 cheaper than where we'd used previously, so we saved where we could on this one.

Debt Paid off Since February 2012: $540.10
Debt Paid off Since October 14, 2009: $17,731.32
Change in Networth from February 2012: $907.53
Change in Networth from October 14, 2009: $42,405.36

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

School Uniforms - Pro or Con?

Photo source: Sophia's Style
We live in an area where all schools, public and private, wear uniforms. Although some of the private schools force this, the public schools' uniforms are not a strict policy that you have to purchase through the school or have the school name or emblem embroidered or anything. In fact, it is more of a set of guidelines that you have to follow.  Here are the requirements:

  • Shirts must have a collar
  • Shirts must be of a specified color, depending on the school
  • Shirts cannot have any characters or logos on them of any type.
  • Pants/shorts must be of a certain length.
  • Belts are required.
  • Shirts must be tucked in
  • Pants must be of a specified color, depending on the school
  • Girls can wear skirts/jumpers/dresses of coordinating color
  • No light-up or character shoes.
And the school that Patrick current attends, and Abigail will attend next year, requires gray, navy or white shirts and khaki or navy bottoms.

How do I feel about it?  Some days I love it and others I hate it.

PROS:
  • Easy to pick out what to wear the next day
  • No peer pressure (or greatly reduced) based on clothing at school
  • Uniforms can be found easily at consignment shops or swapped among classmates when outgrown.
  • No need to have more than 5 pairs of pants - can wash each week without fear of "wearing the same thing" boredom
  • Don't have to buy as many play clothes
  • Typically don't worry about them not adhering to length/exposure guidelines of the dress code
  • Help identify intruders in the school
  • Helps reduce gang affiliation in school, as gangs are often identified by clothing color.
  • All pieces match, so you get more outfits out of fewer pieces
CONS
  • Still have to buy play clothes because they a.) don't want to wear uniforms after school and b.) they still need clothes for the weekend.
  • Cannot express their individuality in their clothes
  • Must make sure they are cleaned each weekend because they cannot go to school in anything else
I think overall, I'm for them.  It definitely makes things easier as a parent. But I know they don't get the excitement of picking out that "first day of school" outfit.  Then again, they don't have the pressure of having the "right" clothes either.

So what do you think?  Do your kids wear uniforms?  Did you? 
 

Mrs. Nespy's World | Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial License | Dandy Dandilion Designed by Simply Fabulous Blogger Templates