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Motor Works by Discovery Toys

16 Oct

I find it incredibly challenging to shop for kids, especially in the 3- to 5-year age bracket. I like to strike a balance between something that is fun for the kids (that they can get excited about) and something that won’t drive the parents insane. This is why whenever we are invited to a birthday party I find myself standing in front of a row of toys in the store completely unable to make a decision. I often leave empty-handed.

Enter Discovery Toys. I purchased a few several years back when my daughter was a baby, and I am impressed with how well they have stood up to her destructive creative play. No broken pieces, no fading. So when my friend’s son turned 4 this year we bought him Motor Works, a versatile toy for the budding mechanic.

Motor Works by Discovery Toys

Motor Works includes a sturdy toolbox, manual and electric screwdrivers, and the parts to build a motorcycle, plane, and race car. The bright colors are pleasing to kids without being garish, and it only requires two AA batteries (not included). My friend said Motor Works was an instant hit with her son!

I love the idea of parents sitting down with their children to build something. It seems like the longest lasting toys (in terms of years of active use) are the ones that inspire kids to create and build.

My friend Karen is a Discovery Toys consultant. If you’re interested in purchasing Discovery Toys, please visit her website at www.discoverytoyslink.com/karenchao. For a limited time Karen is offering a 10 percent discount to my readers! Be sure to place your order by e-mailing Karen at DiscoveryToysKaren@gmail.com and mentioning Domesticated Mama. Orders placed through the Discovery Toys website directly will not qualify for the discount.

I did not receive any compensation to write this post. I just think Discovery Toys (and especially Motor Works) are pretty awesome.

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Saving Money by Not Spending It

19 May

Looking for tips on how to save money? I’ve got a great one:

Don’t spend it.

This is also probably one of the hardest money-saving tips to put into action. I know I suffer from want-itis often. Our 3-year-old daughter? Yeah, she’s got it too. You just try to make it out of Target without a meltdown in the toy aisle. I dare you!

In the coming weeks I’ll write more about the methods I have used to manage our household finances so we could be a single-income family in Southern California. But for now, let’s keep it simple: Don’t buy stuff. Extraneous stuff. Stuff you don’t need. Stuff that will fill up your house with clutter. Stuff you will step on six times a day while walking from your living room to your kitchen. Stuff that replaces other stuff that still works perfectly well. Stuff like beautiful purses and a fourth pair of flip-flops and vintage-looking seagrass baskets with quaint little chalkboard labels on them that are just so adorable and would perfectly store all of those Little Tikes train tracks you picked up at a garage sale a few weeks ago… Yeah, that kind of stuff.

Like most families, we are not saving as much money as we should be. One way that I am going to begin combating that is by depositing money into our savings account whenever I am seriously considering buying something that is not necessary. Example: My 4-month-old baby loves this toy by Lamaze, Jacques the Peacock. At least, I think he does. As much as a 4-month-old can love a toy. He drools on it. And his eyes get bigger when he sees it. I hear it crinkling in his car seat when we are driving somewhere. That’s good enough for me! Anyway, Lamaze makes other toys, like this Mortimer the Moose. I think it’s adorable. And look at those reviews! I am a sucker for good reviews, let me tell you. I don’t buy anything that doesn’t have more than four stars on Amazon.

I realized that as cute (and well-reviewed) as I think Mortimer is, he isn’t necessary. So instead of buying him, I turned around and transferred that amount of money into our savings account.

Actually, I rounded up. Mortimer is $12.69, and I took $15 from our checking and moved it into savings.

It’s not much. But once money is in our savings, we tend to leave it alone and let it grow. I’m hoping I can turn this into a new habit. Maybe you would like to give it a try?

If there is something you want to buy, resist. Take the amount of money you would have spent on a frivolous item and deposit it into your savings account instead. Whatever method you choose to track your finances, leave a little memo there for the record. Mine will say, “In honor of Mortimer.”

What will you resist buying this month?

A Few of Our Favorite Toys: 1-Year-Olds

3 Nov

I welcome November with open arms. Even though it was 90 degrees here today in Southern California, I’ve got Christmas on the brain. I’m doing my best to complete my holiday shopping and crafting this month, leaving plenty of time for relaxing and celebrating in December while simultaneously obsessively cleaning, making freezer meals and generally nesting for the new baby.

One thing I have focused on in earnest these last few weeks is a wish list for our daughter, who turns 3 just a few days before Christmas. I’ve made her a flannel board and felt doll set and a diaper bag for her baby doll, and I found a super creative mom on Etsy who upcycles baby clothes into doll clothes. Even though I don’t have much left to buy, researching our options consumes me at times. I hate making purchases we end up regretting – you know, the toys that are ignored, or that break within a week, or make so much noise we end up hiding them on top of the fridge.

With that, I thought this might be a nice time to share some of our favorite toys over the last three years. This list is by no means exhaustive; it’s just a sample of some of the gifts Kaitlyn has received that have been well-loved in our home.

For now, let’s look at some of our favorites from age 1:
Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Fun With Friends Music Table
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B0015KOOHO
This table is noisy, but it’s also irresistible to the little ones. It eventually (after many, many, MANY hours of use) went into the closet for storage, but we’ve held onto it for the next baby and know he’ll enjoy it as much as Kaitlyn did. The legs are removable so they can use it sitting or standing. I recommend this to anyone looking for the perfect gift for baby’s first Christmas – especially if the grandparents are looking for suggestions. Ages 6 months and up.

Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Stroll-Along Walker
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B0015KVXW8
This is a toy that has really stood the test of time. We bought this for Kaitlyn’s first Christmas and at nearly 3 years old, she still plays with it daily. In fact, right now her favorite bunny rabbit is sitting inside, and her playing cards are stored in the back tray. Which is saying something considering this stroller is ages 9 months and up – and she’s the size of your average 4-year-old. We’ve got a new doll stroller on her wish list for this year, one with a bit more growing room, but I’ll be a little sad to see this one go.

Fisher-Price Little People Happy Sounds Home (and other Little People sets)
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B001W09LO8
Little People hold a special place in my heart. My sister and I (and my best friend and I) played for hours and hours with our People growing up, and luckily my parents held on to most of the collection (which was extensive). Now Kaitlyn plays with it when visiting Grandma and Grandpa. She received the Busy Day Home (no longer available) for her first birthday along with a Noah’s Ark set, and both are still “in play” (and probably will still be by the time her baby brother is old enough to join in).

Little Tikes Push and Ride Doll Walker
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B00005850G http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B00005850H
We found one of these on Craigslist for $4. Granted, it had a cracked handle and always swerved to the right… but Kaitlyn still got quite a bit of use out of it. The recommended age range is 9 months and up. This is a nice option for both learning to walk and scooting around (and, if you’ve got a curious kid, eventually they’ll try to stand on it to reach things. But then, what won’t they stand on to try to reach things?).

Little Tikes Cozy Coupe Car
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B001NQHN7S
This one is sort of cheating, because although the age range is 18 months and up, we didn’t buy it for our daughter until her second birthday. But it was a big hit and still is, nearly a year later. Every child who comes to play at our house gets in the car at least once, and usually some negotiating has to be done to take turns. We kept it indoors for most of the year, but recently let it venture out back so I could reclaim some living-room space. Kaitlyn’s preschool has several of these cars for outside play and they are constantly in use. If you see one on sale, snatch it up. I sent my husband to multiple stores last year to try to find the best deal; they seem to be in high demand over the holidays.

Coming soon! A Few of Our Favorite Toys: 2-Year-Olds…

Living Green for Less

21 Sep

When my daughter was born almost three years ago, I began researching ways to make our lives more environmentally friendly, to feed her foods that weren’t full of additives and pesticides, to keep our home clean without worrying about her crawling on a floor coated with cancer-causing chemicals. As usual, I went a little overboard – shopping almost exclusively at Whole Foods and squandering a huge portion of our budget on premium natural cleaning products and groceries.

As the months passed and our bank account dwindled, I realized this kind of lifestyle wasn’t compatible with our single-family income, especially not while living in Orange County (and paying Orange County rent). So I started looking for alternatives, and was surprised at what I found: In many ways, greener options can actually cost less, while helping to save the planet. And what budget-conscious parent can pass that up?

Here are just a few easy tips that you can implement today:

Instead of buying disposable items, put your money into things that will last.
Paper towels and napkins can get really expensive. We bought a large pack of white washcloths at Costco and use them as all-purpose kitchen towels and napkins. We end up picking up a roll – one roll – of recycled paper towels every few months for things like bacon grease or pet messes. Bonus – the washcloths wipe down tables and food-covered faces better than any paper product I’ve tried.

These are similar to what we use.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=005CFF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B001J1Y9RO

As a prettier alternative to paper napkins, you could also try something like these flour sack towels – just cut them in half and hem. You could even add some embellishments, a strip of coordinating fabric… OK, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0050FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B002H9XA40

We also regularly use reusable bags when shopping. Many stores offer a per-bag discount on your grocery bill. If you want to use something a little nicer than what the stores sell for $1, try the Cute and Easy Tote Bag Tutorial.

Instead of buying new clothes, toys, gear and household items, buy used (or borrow) whenever possible.
Consignment stores, garage sales, Craigslist, eBay – there are so many options for buying used items and so many people looking to unload their stuff for a little cash! Buying used means less packaging and you’re keeping items from going to the landfill.

We rarely buy new books, instead opting for borrowing from the library, buying them from the library bookstore for $.50 or picking them up at garage sales. (P.S. The library is also a great resource for renting movies and your favorite magazines!)

Most baby gear is used for six or nine months and then stored. Borrow from a friend or buy used.

Find clothing at local consignment shops. Most are picky about selecting items free of stains and in good condition, so you can get excellent brand names for half the price (or less) of new. And with the way kids destroy clothes, this is a great deal.

Look for toys at consignment stores, thrift stores and garage sales. Just be sure to check that it hasn’t been recalled. Some great finds we’ve made are a like-new Memory game for 50 cents and a Push and Ride for $3.

Instead of buying prepared cleaning products, try your hand at some natural solutions.
Although I am a huge fan of certain natural brands, including Biokleen, Dr. Bronner’s and Seventh Generation, I regularly reach for a spray bottle of distilled water and vinegar for cleaning around the house. You can buy a giant jug of vinegar at Costco for just a few dollars. If you’re worried about the smell, it does dissipate after about 10 minutes. Trust me – I even used it when I had morning all-day sickness! You can find some excellent uses for vinegar here. Baking soda is another super inexpensive, natural cleaning product.

Use them in combination with some old washcloths or microfiber towels instead of paper.

Stay tuned for more tips on Living Green for Less!

Free Housing

16 Sep

Costco already has its toy section spread out alongside the Christmas decor (right next to the cheese and fish departments – at least around here), and it takes more willpower than I have to avoid walking down the aisles and thinking “my kid needs that.” I’ve been known to take photos of items with my cell phone so I can remember to add them to the list when we begin our holiday shopping in earnest.

I try to remember that young children truly don’t need rooms full of store-bought toys. In fact, as my daughter and husband reminded me last weekend, with children the best playthings in life are free.

My husband needed to assemble several large displays for his work, each of which came in a big box. When the project first began, Kaitlyn was helping my husband with unpacking the displays. A while later, she had a makeshift fort leaning against the couch. By the end of the day, she had a little home with two windows, a door, a roof and all of her latest artwork decorating the inner walls. Inside was a table (another box turned upside down) with all of her play animals on it, a book, her stickers, a few stuffed animals and a flashlight. I tried to squeeze in but the door was made for a 2-year-old to crawl through – not a woman who is five months pregnant. But still, I could tell it had that same magical quality as the play houses my sister and I built as children.

And it was free. Free! It’s such a rare word these days. And not only was it free, but it also provided hours of entertainment for my little girl and my husband (because what man doesn’t like building something with cardboard and duct tape?). That’s my kind of toy.

So next time you are tossing some things in the recycling bin, take a second look and see if they might have some hidden potential. Small cardboard boxes make great doll beds or sand boxes; large ones are perfect for forts. Empty, washed yogurt containers can store toys and art supplies, a drum set, or even a bean counter that uses their fine-motor skills. Kids love containers of all shapes and sizes – use what you have!

And the next time you are browsing the meat department at Costco or picking up a 2-pound block of cheese, do your best to avert your eyes from the toy section. At least for now.

Site Review: Coupon Chief

29 Aug

As a frugal mama, I spend a fair amount of time online comparing prices of potential purchases. With our second baby on the way, I have a feeling I’ll be doing even more online shopping soon enough. There are some amazing deals to be had online, but I hate spending money on shipping or paying full price.

Enter online coupon sites, like http://www.couponchief.com. Coupon Chief invited me to review their site, and after visiting it the first time I quickly bookmarked it.

New to coupon sites? Here’s how they work:
Simply enter a store name, item or category in the search box. Coupon Chief returns with a list of coupon codes that you can enter during checkout at your selected store for a discount – a virtual coupon.

My Experience
The first search I tried was for Babies ‘R Us coupons. A code popped up for 20 percent off a single item, so I traveled to the BRU web site via the “Use It!” link and placed my dream stroller in my cart and applied the coupon code. Rejected. Thinking certain brands might be off-limits, I removed the stroller from my cart and added a diaper bag. No dice. This isn’t completely unheard of in the world of online coupons; there is a fair amount of digging to be done to find the ones that give you the real deals.

Next, I searched for Sephora coupons. I found one for 20 percent off any Bare Escentuals Get Started kit, so I tried it out on the Sephora site. Success!

Coupon Chief does have a circle you can click on to let others know whether a particular code worked for you, which is a handy way to “review” the code’s validity for fellow coupon hunters.

The site also provides a Pays-2-Share program, where you can earn 2 percent of the sales each time someone uses your uploaded coupon, and a Coupons-4-Causes program, where you can select a favorite charity to receive a donation whenever you buy something from a Coupons-4-Causes store.

All in all, I plan to add Coupon Chief to my arsenal of online coupon sites.

Disclosure: Coupon Chief invited me to provide an unbiased review of their site. I received compensation for this review. The opinions expressed in this review are mine. Honesty is the best policy.

Favorite Books about Frugal Living

23 Aug

saving money
I consider myself a voracious reader, and I frequent our local library often to pick up a huge stack of novels, children’s books and nonfiction.

Because we live in Southern California on a single income, the vast majority of nonfiction books I end up bringing home are about saving money. Even though the tips can sometimes overlap, for example shopping the sale ads at grocery stores or buying secondhand whenever possible, I always come away with a renewed enthusiasm for living frugally.

Below is a list of books I’ve read and enjoyed; pick one up at your library or click on the links below to purchase through Amazon:*

Do It Gorgeously: How to Make Less Toxic, Less Expensive, and More Beautiful Products by Sophie Uliano

    This book is just plain fun. Lots of ideas on making your own beauty and cleaning products; some of them can be a big initial investment but will save you in the long run. There are also sewing and other crafty projects that cost far less than buying new. I also enjoyed The Gorgeously Green Diet by the same author, although its focus is more on environmentally friendly ways to feed yourself and your family while not breaking the bank.

America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams by Steve and Annette Economides

    This family of seven is nothing short of inspiring. They take frugal living seriously and plan purchases carefully, buying nothing – including big purchases like cars – unless the money is already set aside for it.

Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy by Jonni McCoy

    “Miserly Moms” gave me a great starting point for reducing our household budget. McCoy gives tips on meal planning, freezer meals, gift ideas and cleaning supplies.

Two books on my “Need to Read” list:

Be CentsAble: How to Cut Your Household Budget in Half

The Complete Tightwad Gazette

*Clicking on these links will take you directly to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Affiliate, I will earn a commission if you choose to purchase the book via the link I have provided.