Category Archives: Family Finance

Fun & Frugal Toddler Valentines

Such cute and easy ideas! Plus, it won't cost me a lot of money to make these Valentines with my toddler.

Arts & crafts are more developmentally appropriate for children when you let them lead the activity.  For holidays, I choose to offer light guidance or set up and then let my little ones go crazy.

In that spirit, we sat down and made some great Valentines for our family members. The best part?

They were 100% free as we used items we already had around the house!

Glitter Valentines

Glitter heart valentine

Glitter is the bane of my existence. But my kids love it so freaking much. Therefore, we glittered.

I drew a heart in glue stick on some pink card stock and then let them go crazy with the glitter. After we finished up, I let them go crazy with the glue and glitter. Because sometimes I’m a fun mom.

Sticker Valentines

Easy heart sticker valentines for toddlers

It’s amazing to me what a big hit stickers are around here.  We cut out some card stock to standard Valentine size, and then I let them decorate their cards with heart stickers we’ve had around for a while.

These were the easiest and the ones my kids probably had the most fun with.

Inkpad Valentines

Use an inkpad to make these valentines!

The prep for this one was a little more involved.

I used Scotch tape to write out the word “LOVE” with a badly-shaped heart for the “O.” I did it on paper, but in retrospect I’d use cardstock for these, too. The tape pulls up the paper a bit.

Then I inked up their hands and let them decorate.

When you take the tape off, it leaves the letters untouched! We’ve done this before with feet, too, and just let them run all over the paper. That’s super fun, but the floors need immediate scrubbing afterwards.


Looking for more inspiration? Check out these DIY American Sign Language Valentines! They’re great to take to school Valentine’s Day parties, too.

Full Olympic-Themed Creative Curriculum

Definitely using this to get my children engaged with the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea!

I used to work in early childhood education.  I used to write lesson plans each week on a theme using the creative curriculum model.  It was sort of fun, but sort of brain-wracking.  I wrote them in the days before Pinterest, and I’d often find myself googling little projects in my off-hours.

Now that I’m not in ECC in that capacity, but do have little ones of my own, I try to work all of the elements of the curriculum into our week, as it’s constructed in a way that hits on a lot of areas of development.

Here’s a lesson plan that incorporates all creative curriculum areas. We were able to do it without spending a penny–we just used things around our house for each project.

Feel free to mix and match according to what you have lying around your home. For example, maybe you don’t have model magic, but you do have Play-Doh. Or maybe you’re like me and hate glitter, but you’re lucky enough to have some gold paint lying around the house.


We made snowboards out of model magic.  Before they dried, I twisted up some pipecleaners to make snowboarders and stuck their feet into the boards so they’d dry standing up.

Snowboarding is the favorite event for my kids, but you could easily make skis out of either popsicle sticks or model magic.

We also made gold medals by gluing a ton of gold glitter to a piece of card stock. Wait to dry.  Cut out a hole with a hole punch. Use some yarn to make it into a necklace.  Done.


Great ideas to engage toddlers with the Olympic spirit.

I cut out the side of an old diaper box, glued some white paper on it, put some glue on the paper, and let my kids go crazy ripping up cotton balls and placing them on the box to make 3D snow.

It made more sense on my Pinspiration where she made skiiers–the cotton balls were moguls.  Regardless, we had fun.


We had made our own manipulatives with our snowboarders! The day everything was finally dry we took our little dudes down the diaperbox mountain.  And pulled the snow back off the mountain.  And made them crash into each other.  And then sent them down the naked mountain again.

Dramatic Play

After our snowboarders made their runs on the diaper box course, we got out the stool we use to wash hands and used it as a podium. Everyone got a gold medal. Not because I think “everyone should be a winner,” but because we’re way too little around here to handle the concept of losing to a sibling and still have fun.


What did we sing on the podium? The Star-Spangled Banner, of course. When that got old we sang France’s national anthem, because that’s the only other one I know all the words to.


We found this little number:

The Olympics (National Geographic Window on Literacy)


By National Geographic AND focuses on literacy-which is awesome. You can also head to your library and see what they have for free.


GO PLAY IN THE SNOW! Luge with a sled, pretend to cross-country ski, or simply talk about how that white stuff they’re throwing around is the same stuff under the snowboarder’s feet on TV.


I’m not going to lie, we haven’t done this one yet. These Olympic Ring Fruit Pizzas look simple and delicious, though. Or, you could make a Korean dish like kimchi. We’ve got a couple weeks left, so I’m keeping this in mind for our next grocery shopping trip.


How will you celebrate the Olympics?

How to Make Sign Language Valentines

Pinning so I can help my kids make these sign language Valentines in February!

Studying other languages shows us the similarities and differences between the ways we all communicate as human beings, opening up such great beauty.

For example, German and Welsh among other languages seem to have an endless supply of compound words for complex concepts. As I study Japanese, I’m recognizing loan words not just from English, but also Russian. My previous studies also help in the noun declension–a practice that is foreign to American English grammar.

As you get the kids ready for Valentines Day, I wanted to share a project I worked on some years back that brought together the beauty of love and foreign language. It was way more frugal than buying boxed Valentines. I used American Sign Language’s visual modality to create cards in the language’s one, singular sign that takes three English words to express:

“I love you.”


When I made these, I completely lucked out.  I found these foam heart cut-outs at the store that just happened to be the exact right size to fit into the palm of a hand. They also came with a little stand.

The teachers loved this because they could stick them on top of their computers, desks, you name it.  You were supposed to put a photo in them, but I just used the hole to address mine. They were $1 and I think I got 25.

No need to fear, though.  You can simply use hearts cut out of construction paper.  That’s what I had the students I worked with do the next year when we made these.

You’ll need:

  • skin tone colored construction paper or cardstock (you can gets packs of this at somewhere like Staples or Office Max for a ton cheaper than  at crafting or scrapbook stores.)
  • pink/red construction paper or card stock (or purple.  Or really whatever colors you want to make your hearts.)
  • scissors
  • a pen or pencil for tracing
  • a pen or sharpie for addressing

How to Make Your Valentines

  1. Trace your or your child’s hand onto one of the pieces of paper.  Do it as many times as you can fit without overlapping.  When I did this, I traced my hand every….single….time.  In a day of 3-in-1 printers, that probably isn’t necessary.  Just do one, and use the copy feature on your printer to copy the hands onto the skin toned paper.
  2. Cut out the hands.
  3. Cut out hearts. Mess around with the first one  until you get it the right size to fit in the hands. Then use it as a pattern to cut out all the rest of them.
  4. Glue the hearts onto the palms of the hands.
  5. Bend the ring and the middle fingers down so they are holding the heart, but not covering it. Glue the two fingers down.
  6. Write your “To/From” info in the middle of your heart and you’re done!

Insure Your Future Self with Separate Finances

Must-read for every bride who is getting married. It's awesome that you're in love right now, but the numbers don't lie: you might end up divorced someday. Take action now to protect your future finances.

Very few people walk down the aisle with the expectation of pending divorce. Yet only 52% of women will see their first marriage reach its 20th anniversary.

The odds of experiencing this life catastrophe are high. But unless you’ve got money coming into a marriage and drafted a pre-nup, we do almost nothing about it. Most of us do nothing to financially protect ourselves.

To give you some perspective on the numbers, here are some things we do tend to financially insurance against–along with the odds that they will actually happen.

  • The odds that your household will experience a fire bad enough to report is 25%. Yet we insure against this risk with homeowner’s or renters insurance.
  • The average State Farm auto policy holder gets into an accident once every nineteen years, making the odds admittedly higher than divorce in a first marriage. You’re about half as likely to get divorced in the first 20 years of that marriage than you are to get in a car accident in 19. Still, we insure against auto crashes.
  • If you’re an American woman, your current odds of dying between ages 15 and 60 are 7.4%. Yet how many of us carry life insurance?

We insure against all of these instances of tragedy or inconvenience, yet only one of them is more likely to happen than divorce.

Insure Your Money Against Divorce with Separate Finances

Sure, you can get a prenup to guard against future financial disadvantage, but for most people that’s not reasonable or necessary.

Instead, you can just keep all of or a portion of your finances separate throughout your marriage. This allows you to maintain your own savings, and prevents the other person from absconding with money out of a joint account should the worst happen someday.

There’s many different ways this can work. Here are just two of them.

Completely Separate

Keep everything in your name only. Bank accounts. Car loans. Etc. And have your partner do the same.

If you’re going to have a marriage with separate finances, it doesn’t have to be contentious or self-guarding. You can still work together towards financial goals, budget together, and talk about money transparently and openly while keeping everything legally separate.

In community property states some of your accounts may be up for litigation anyways. But the barrier of litigation is still better than someone legally just up and leaving with all the cash.

Separate Savings

Some couples opt to have their own accounts for things like personal savings, personal spending and birthday/anniversary surprises. Their paychecks are deposited here.

But then they send some of that money to a joint account every paycheck. This joint account covers things like the mortgage/rent, groceries, kids’ activities, etc.

You can split these costs 50/50 or work out  a different ratio that makes more sense for each spouse’s respective income.

Separate Finances Do Not Demonstrate a Lack of Trust

Some argue that if you can’t trust each other with money, you shouldn’t be married. I agree with this. You should be able to talk about money matters and work together towards financial goals.

But some take the argument even further to say that having separate finances is a protectionist move that demonstrates an inherent lack of trust. To this point I argue.

First of all, taking a rational look at the statistics, it’s not about not trusting your partner; it’s about a rational mistrust of long-term relationships in our culture. You have to trust the data rather than your current feelings in the moment.

Second of all, just because you have separate finances doesn’t mean you don’t trust each other. In fact, I view it to be just the opposite.

When you trust each other enough to believe the other partner will follow through on the money moves you have discussed and budgeted for together–even though you don’t have access to their bank account and can’t touch the money yourself–you’re demonstrating the exact definition of trust.

I’m of the opinion that partners that decide on separate finances can have an incredible amount of respect for each other on top of trust. It takes a lot of respect to say to someone, “I know there’s an almost 50% chance I may hurt you someday. I don’t plan on ever joining that group, but I love you and respect you enough to encourage you to protect yourself. I’m not going to take offense.”

But we’re never going to not be in love.

I really hope you’re right.

But so, so many people before you have thought the exact same thing and ended up divorced. Women in particular tend to end up on the short end of the financial stick. They’re more likely to have cut back their careers to support the marriage, have gaps in their resume, and are often thought of as adversarial (even when they’re not) by a judicial system that is dominated by male officials.

If you’re reticent to believe me, I’d highly encourage you to research Terry Hekker’s story.

It’s about numbers–not love.

At the end of the day, we can’t let our feelings cloud our judgement. The numbers show a statistical likelihood of relationship breakdown that can’t be ignored.

We wouldn’t ignore those numbers if we were talking about car accidents.

We wouldn’t ignore those numbers if we were talking about house fires.

We wouldn’t ignore those numbers if we were talking about death.

It’s financial folly to ignore these numbers simply because we’re in love.





This is a part of the Personal Finance Pro/Con Series organized by PeerFinance101. You can read the opposing view here.

Check IIHS Ratings Before Purchasing a Vehicle

This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. The views expressed in the article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. PenFed Credit Union is an Equal Housing Lender and is federally insured by the NCUA.

Talk about buyer's remorse! I didn't even know what IIHS ratings were, but now that I do I'm definitely checking them before I buy my next car.

Two years ago, one of our vehicles broke down out of nowhere. There were no warning signs, which was both a blessing and a curse. We had no idea we were about to enter the used car market on the one hand, but on the other we also didn’t sink a bunch of money into repairs for a vehicle that was going to die anyways.

I hit the used car market as I always do, looking for a great deal. I quickly realized that prices had gone up since the last time I went shopping, which was back before Cash for Clunkers was a thing. I also realized that virtually no dealership in my region was going to negotiate with me.

I browsed and browsed, until I finally test drove a vehicle that seemed just right. It had about 40,000 miles on it, had an automatic transmission, and was under the $10,000 mark. It handled well and drove smoothly despite being seven years old. On top of it all, I was able to get great auto financing at a low interest rate.

Naively, I bought it. I wasn’t going to find another deal like that, and if I thought on it too long someone else was going to scoop it up.

What’s wrong with this story?

Can you see the glaring mistake I made in all my car-purchasing haste?

The deal was too good to be true. I recognize that in retrospect, but in the moment, I just wanted the really good deal.

A few months later, I was researching a piece on auto recalls and came across an organization called the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS.) It’s an agency that assesses the safety of all those vehicles we put on the road.

For kicks, I looked up where our vehicles fell in IIHS’s ratings. The first one fared all right. It wasn’t at the tippy top, but it was well above the median safety level.

That car I had bought for under $10,000? It turns out there was rationale behind the price tag. It was literally the least safe car produced in its model year. I had used this vehicle to drive my kids on our annual trip to Niagara Falls, nonetheless to school, therapy appointments and the like.

Sick to my stomach, I realized that even with all the recall service orders that had been completed prior to my ownership, I was still going to be in a lot of trouble if I ever got into a wreck. I also suddenly understood why, exactly, my auto insurance rates had jumped up with the new purchase.

How to Check IIHS Ratings

IIHS makes it super easy to check out how safe a vehicle is before you purchase it. Simply go to their ratings page armed with the make model and year. You don’t need a VIN or anything of the like.

There are three different aspects of safety rated—four if the vehicle comes with an option to not have side airbags:

  • Moderate Overlap Front– This is essentially a test for how the vehicle performs in a head-on collision. They run the driver’s side of the front of your car into a wall at 40 miles per hour in their testing.
  • Side- What would happen in a side-impact collision? To perform this test, IIHS runs an SUV-sized vehicle into the side of the test car at 31 miles per hour.
  • Head Restraints and Seats- To test if the geometry of the vehicle is going to protect a human driver in an accident, IIHS runs a test that’s the equivalent of hitting a sitting vehicle from behind with another vehicle moving at 20 miles per hour.

While these three tests are the ones you will find immediately, if you dig a little bit deeper you’ll also be able to find ratings for tests on roof strength, crash prevention technologies, headlights, and LATCH systems for children’s car seats.

Check IIHS Ratings Before Purchasing a Vehicle

I still have the unsafe car. We don’t put the kids in it since we made the IIHS discovery, though. I’m always aware of my surroundings, but I ratchet my senses up to Spidey level when I drive this vehicle.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Check the IIHS rating before you purchase a vehicle. Not only will it ensure you’re safe on the road, but it will also help you make sense of increased costs like insurance rate spikes. And you may just find out why that deal actually is too good to be true.