December 30, 2014

52-Week Money Savings Challenge (with printable)

Yay, me!  I made a New Years' Resolution last year and actually stuck with it!  I didn't start working out, lose weight, or finally get my whole house organized.  I did, however, manage to save nearly $1,400 with a 52-Week Money Savings Plan.  It wasn't that hard at all and the money I put aside was able to completely pay for Christmas this year - all the gifts for kids, our family, and their teachers, a new tree, some decorations, and even dinners out during the busy December season.

Since it worked so well for me, I thought I'd share it.  It's the perfect way to save for the holidays, but it would also be great for vacation saving or any other big-ticket item.

First, here's the week-by-week plan... (Printable HERE)

52 week money savings challenge - awesome plan!!
Here's how I made it work for me...

1.  Save in reverse!

When I first saw this kind of plan last December, it started with $1 the first week, $2 the second week and so on until $52 was deposited on the last week.  A commenter mentioned that she was doing it in reverse and I adopted that version instead.  It worked out great doing it backwards for a few reasons... 

1. You start out with the bigger amounts in the beginning when you're all gung-ho and more eager to save.

 2.  Your money grows faster.  By the end of the first month you have $200 and after 25 weeks you've put aside $1000!! 

3.  If you put it in a savings account, you gain a little bit of interest over the course of a year.  (I ended up with about $6 in interest).

2.  Schedule your deposits for a savings account!

The original version I saw had you putting your cash in a jar every week.  I knew this wouldn't work for me because I'd never have the right amount of cash on hand and I'd be too tempted to dip into the jar when the kids needed money for something.  I do my banking with Capital One 360 (which I love)  so I just set up a savings account for this challenge.

Then I just sat down and scheduled transfers from my checking account to my new 52 Week Savings account for every Friday, starting with $52 on the first week, $51 the second, and so on.  It did take a little bit of time since each transfer was for a different amount and had to be entered separately, but it was totally worth it because then the money went in every week automatically.  If you use the printable above, just check it off as you set up the transfer.

That's it!  I really liked watching the amount grow and it was nice to only have to add a few dollars a week there towards the end.  Plus, let me tell you, it was a HUGE relief to know that I had more than enough set aside for everything I needed for the holidays this year - by the end, I had saved $1384.09 (including interest!)

Now, like I said, I have Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct) and I really liked it for this challenge.  The transfers were easy to set up and I could quickly open a new savings account just for this purpose (they let you open up to 25 separate savings accounts!).  This isn't a sponsored post, it just really worked out great for me.  See if your bank has something similar or look into setting up your own account at Capital One 360.  (DISCLOSURE:  If you set up a new account through this link, I do get a bonus but so do you!)

November 19, 2014

Mockingjay the Movie

“I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Lions Gate. I received a book, products, and a promotional item to thank me for participating.”

Is anyone else as anxiously awaiting the Mockingjay Part 1 Movie as we are?  My two oldest and I have been counting down ever since we saw Catching Fire last fall!

I first read the Hunger Games trilogy myself a few years ago.  My kids were just in the early elementary grades and I was volunteering at the book fair at their school.  As we were working, another mom mentioned how much she'd loved the series.  At first I was hesitant... young adult fiction?  teens in a dystopian society battling to survive in a televised game?  I wasn't quite sure about the whole premise.  However, the other mom and I had similar tastes in other books we'd read so I picked up the Hunger Games and started reading.  I loved it, quickly read all three books, and started recommending the series to my friends (with a "no, really, trust me, you'll like it" when they had the same hesitation I did).  

As we chatted in the carpool lines about Katniss, Peeta and Gale, we all tended to agree that even though the series was initially marketed to teens, it appealed to us adults too.  The characters were strong, the storyline was really interesting, and as odd as the plot was, it kept us hooked.  I felt that it was more like regular adult fiction, but was appropriate for younger audiences too.

Fast forward to 2012.  My kids were a little bit older and there was a lot of buzz about the Hunger Games movie.   My two oldest were begging me to go see the movie everyone was talking about.  Since they were strong readers, I told them we could go see the movie IF they read the book first.  They eagerly read the Hunger Games book and then, just like mom, devoured the rest of the trilogy as well.  It was so cool to have a series that I liked and they liked.  We were able to talk about how strong Katniss was, how smart thinking could be even better than strength, how some choices could be both wrong and right at the same time.  Once we saw the movie, we were able to compare the similarities and differences between text and screen.

Last fall, when we left the theater after seeing Catching Fire, we were bummed that we had to wait a whole year to see the continuation when Mockingjay was coming to the big screen.  Now, that year is almost over and we're eagerly planning our return.  We've all seen the trailer ...

and the kids and I have been busy rereading Mockingjay to refresh our memories and getting a sneak peak at some of the characters on the Mockingjay website.  My oldest will be heading to the theaters with some of her middle school friends this Friday for the premier, and my son and I will be heading out to see it ourselves in the next week or two.

How about you?  Are you heading to the theaters?  Just yourselves or with your kids too?

March 18, 2014

Saltine Challenge: Can you eat 6 saltines in a minute?

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  We've had an overabundance of snow days this winter and the kids are actually getting tired of all the days off school.  When they don't want to play outside anymore and cabin fever is setting in, I've had to reach deep into my bag of tricks to keep us all sane and entertained.

Here was a little trick that brought lots of laughs (along with a few crumbs)...

This trick was from way back in my college days.  My friends and I learned about it somehow, then challenged people every chance we got.  In all the times we presented the challenge, we never had anyone who was able to do it (and we won tons of free meals and free drinks in the process!).

You most likely have the supplies on hand, a box of saltine crackers (salted, not unsalted), a timer, and some willing participants.

The challenge is simple... all you have to do is eat (and swallow) the six saltines before the minute timer goes off without getting a drink of water.  You can eat them one at a time, two at a time, or even all six at once.  It sounds easy and you might be feeling pretty confident after the first one or two.  However, you'll soon find that the salt produces extra saliva but then the dry crackers quickly absorb any and all moisture in your mouth.  By the time you get to the last cracker or two, you'll be laughing and crumbs will be flying everywhere.

Check out the fun the girls had with their friend...

We did have to run the vacuum to sweep up some crumbs, but it was a fun little break and brought lots of laughter and giggles.

March 12, 2014

Creamy Shrimp Alfredo

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Giant Eagle for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

I love seeing my kids grow and become more independent in the kitchen.  It's my hope that by the time they move out of my house, they're able to follow a simple recipe and be confident enough to make a decent variety of basic meals.  Over the past few years,  my girls especially have had a lot of fun using the stove and oven with some supervision and are now pretty adept at making their own cupcakes or simple pasta side dish.  (Now I just have to keep working on my son!).  

This Creamy Shrimp Alfredo dish was a great way to get them to expand their skills a little bit and make a yummy main dish for our dinner the other night.  The recipe starts with a packaged pasta side dish that they're used to making, but adds shrimp, tomatoes and spinach to make it a full meal.

Check it out...

Looks really delicious, doesn't it?  The girls kept commenting about how much it looked like "restaurant food."  They were so proud of how it turned out, but it was really quite easy and simple to make (even on a Monday night after homework.)

Here's all you need...
  • 1 package Knorr® Pasta Sides™ - Alfredo (plus milk, water and butter to make)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

The prep was really simple, just peel the raw shrimp and half the cherry tomatoes.

Next, they headed to the stove.  Simply cook the Alfredo pasta according to the package directions and stir in the tomatoes and spinach during the last five minutes of cooking time.  Meanwhile, in another pan, heat the oil and cook the shrimp for about 5 minutes until pink, stirring occasionally.

That's it, once the pasta is tender and the shrimp are cooked, simply stir the shrimp into the pasta mixture, add a little parmesan cheese and serve.  

This new recipe was a delicious meal on our busy weekday night  yet was easy enough that even my 8 and 11-year olds could make it with just a little supervision.

You can find the Knorr Pasta Sides at Giant Eagle and they even have a Free Recipe Book with this recipe and several others to help kids (and adults) make simple yet tasty main dishes.
Visit Sponsor's Site

February 11, 2014

PERK up your car with a great Giveaway

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of PERK for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

If you're anything like me, your car can be like your second home.  With three kids, I feel like I'm always in my van.  I shuttle them back and forth to school, to practices, and to sleepovers.  We go to the library, the movies, the grocery store, the doctor, the dentist - well you get the idea. 
 However, with all that running around and constantly getting in and out of the car heading one place or another, you can imagine how messy things can get.  Actually, I won't even make you imagine it,  I'll show you...

Embarrassing, isn't it?   Water bottles and crumbs all over the place, my son's basketball uniform from when he had to do a quick change in the car, my daughter's robe from her last sleepover, various books and papers - really a little of everything.  And even though I didn't take a picture, my section of the van isn't much better, with empty travel mugs of coffee, receipts, and a pile of books to return to the library.

Now, while we do clean out the van before things really start to smell (usually!), it definitely doesn't smell as nice as I'd like it to, especially considering how much time we spend in there.  That's when I was really excited to have the chance to try out this new kind of vent air freshener.

Now, I've tried other vent air fresheners in the van before, but it was always a pain to correctly open the container of liquid scent and get the clips to attach properly to the vents.  Nine times out of ten, I'd end up spilling it when I was trying to put in on or the whole thing would fall off the vent the first time I'd move the vent to adjust the air flow.

Look how simple this PERK Vent Wrap  is...

Each package comes with four individually wrapped vent wraps.  I chose the Absolute Zero scent (to go with our frigid temperatures we've been having lately) but they also come in New Car,  Clean Laundry, Lush Valley and Golden Vanilla.
All you have to do is open the small package and slide on the PERK Vent Wrap.  Instead of a messy liquid, the wrap is infused with StediScent® technology.  The wrap doesn't block the vent and you can still easily adjust the air flow without having to worry about it falling off.  Each individual PERK Vent Wrap lasts for about 2 weeks, so a package of four will last about 60 days.

Here's a video that gives even more information...

Don't forget to Like PERK on Facebook

Now, even if your car isn't quite as bad as mine, I'm sure you could appreciate some freshening up too.  Enter the giveaway below to win a 6 month supply of PERK Vent Wraps.  (Open to U.S. Residents Only.  Must be 18 or older)
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Visit Sponsor's Site

January 22, 2014

Fun Trick: Poke Pencils through a Plastic Bag of Water

We've had several snow days lately and this was the perfect quick and easy little trick to entertain the kids.  You more than likely have everything you need on hand and the kids can do it multiple times and still be thrilled by 


Check it out...

So fun!  Stick a pencil straight through bag of water without a leak!

 All you need is a ziploc bag, water, and some sharpened pencils (or wooden skewers, etc)

Once your bag is filled with water, simply push the sharpened end of the pencil straight through.  If you do it fairly smoothly, the bag will seal itself around the pencil and no water will leak out.  (However, I do recommend doing it over the sink or have a towel handy just in case.)  We found that if you change direction midway through or start poking through the back and then hesitate, you might spring a leak.  Most of the time, though, the pencil goes in one side and out the other without even a drip of water!!

It's lots of fun and we had a good time seeing just how many pencils we could put through before we got a leak.

So cool!  Stick pencils through a bag of water without any leaks!

There's some science behind this little trick.  We learned about the polymers in the plastic bag stretching without breaking here on Steve Spangler Science, but it was really just about the fun.

You can check out the fun in action in this little video...

You can see we did have a little leak at the end.  As we were rushing to get the bag over the sink, I said we may have done it too fast.  Instead, I think the last pencil came too close to one of the other holes and the plastic in that section just wasn't strong enough to seal around the hole.  Still fun, though!
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