Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

Pay Your Science Center Admission with Snow

So cool! If you save a snowball until the summer solstice, you can actually use it to pay for admission at the Science Center in June!

For the past several years, the Carnegie Science Center has been hosting this fun event on the summer solstice. On the solstice, you can pay for your admission—in snow!

How to Pay for Your Science Center Admission with Snow

If you bring in a snowball on June 21, 2018, you get to name your own admission. This is a big deal as kids’ tickets are usually $11.95 and adults get in for $19.95. When you’re taking the whole family, those admission prices can really add up.

NOTE: If anyone in your household has an ACCESS card, whether it’s for Medicaid or SNAP benefits or cash benefits, you can get up to four tickets for just $3 each. This discount is available everyday of the year–not just on June 21st! You can check out other regularly occurring discounts here.

Prepping for Name-Your-Own-Price Day

If you’d like to take the family to the Science Center in June for cheap, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Clear out room in your freezer to store the snowball.
  • Make a snowball.  Don’t make it silly big.  Remember you need to store it for at least four months.
  • Put it in your freezer until June.
  • Bring it to the Science Center on June 21, 2018. Be sure to prep a cooler so your snowball doesn’t melt on your way in!
  • Bring at least a tiny bit of money to pay for your admission. I don’t know that this is a requirement, but it is good form.
  • Have a fun day at the Science Center!  You’ll get to use a giant slingshot to propel your snowballs into the Ohio River.

Learn More About the Event and Snow in General

What’s the best name-your-own-price promotion you’ve ever seen? Have you ever used snow as currency? Inquiring minds want to know! Leave your story in the comments.

 

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.

Art

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.

Sensory

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.

Toys/Games

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.

Music

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.

Literacy

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.

Outdoors

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.

Cooking

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?

Get Your Taxes Filed for Free with #MyFreeTaxes

This post is brought to you by MyFreeTaxes and The Motherhood. All opinions are 100% honest and 100% my own.

So happy I'm going to be skipping the tax preparation fee this year by filing my taxes for free!

I’ve always been a little bit of a tax nerd. That trend probably started because I didn’t make a whole lot of money, and getting a big refund can feel like a financial windfall.

But also, I don’t actually mind sifting through the numbers. I almost enjoy going through the tax code to learn more about new deductions I can take and credits I can claim. Maybe I was an accountant in another life.

I’m so into it that when my husband and I first met one Spring many years ago, I filed his return for him. It was one of the first times we hung out. He mentioned he had to go in to get them filed–and pay the fee to do so. He had a very simple return. Only one W-2 from his only source of income as a single person.

I told him that was silly, and that I’d help him file it for free.

Me “helping” turned into me doing the return while he sat there and did something completely different, but he was really appreciative.

Stop Paying to File Your Taxes

I’m weird. I know that most people don’t enjoy tax season. Filing can feel complex, and frankly, sometimes it is.

But last year–just like my husband all those years ago–one-third of millennials paid to have their tax returns filed even though they didn’t have to. In fact, 70% of Americans qualify for free tax filing.

That’s unacceptable to me. Lack of awareness is costing people money.

Today I have an awesome solution to this problem: a way to file your taxes for completely free. Even if you’re self-employed. Even if you have to file a bunch of extra forms that look like alphabet soup.

MyFreeTaxes from the United Way

In the past, I’ve written about the VITA program from the United Way. If you make $54,000 or less, you can schedule an in-person appointment to get your taxes filed for zero dollars.

I’ve used them in the past and they’re amazing, but if you want an appointment, be sure to schedule it this very minute as the slots fill up extremely quickly.

This year, though, I learned about another free program from the United Way that serves even more people. You don’t have to schedule any appointments. In fact, you don’t even have to leave your living room.

MyFreeTaxes is an online tax filing platform that allows you to file your taxes for free. Born of a partnership between the United Way and H&R Block, it’s incredibly easy to use both on your PC and on your phone with their mobile-optimized website. In fact, most filers who use the software file in under an hour.

How do I qualify for MyFreeTaxes?

In order to qualify for MyFreeTaxes, you must have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of under $66,000. That means that you can earn more than $66,000, but if deductions take you below that number, you still qualify.

If you’re freaking out because that’s a lot of math, take a deep breath. The software will figure your AGI out for you, and will tell you if you qualify or not.

Free Customer Support

You qualify?

Great.

Now you’re in the thick of filing your return, and you’re not 100% sure if you need to file an additional form on top of your 1040.

Luckily, MyFreeTaxes provides free customer support from IRS-certified specialists. Available in both English and Spanish, you can get in touch with one of these specialists via email, a telephone helpline, or the chat box.

Free Even for the Self-Employed

I know the pain of filing taxes as a self-employed person. At the very least, you have to file a Schedule C for profit/loss, and do some complex calculations to figure out your self-employment tax. Then you have to figure out how much of that tax is deductible.

There are some programs out there that will allow you to file for free–as long as you are only filing a basic 1040.

MyFreeTaxes is not one of them. No matter how complex your return, if you meet the income/AGI requirement, you will be able to file all the forms for free–even if you’re self-employed. Even if you have investment income.

File Your State Return for Free

One year I had to file three state returns. I had moved to another state halfway through the year, so I had to file in both. My partner at the time was in the military, so he got to file in his home state–which didn’t tax military income.

It was messy, but eventually we figured it out.

I wish MyFreeTaxes had been around back then, because they allow you to file returns for up to three states for free. This is a really big deal. A lot of the “free” programs will not allow you to file even one state return. You just get the federal 1040. But that’s not the case with MyFreeTaxes.

Where are the asterisks?

There are none. I know it’s hard to believe that anyone offers anything that’s truly free anymore, but MyFreeTaxes comes with no asterisks. It really is one hundred percent free.

It’s also the only tax filing software offered by a nonprofit. United Way fights for the financial stability of every person in every community.

I know this personally as I’ve used some of their programs before. They’re really invested in helping, and as a a nonprofit, they’re not interested in making any money off of you. Because of this, I find myself referring individual readers to them often.

I’m so glad to learn about an additional United Way program as it casts a wider net for free tax filing; you can earn a bit more money, be middle-class and still qualify. Because United Way is so dedicated in to their mission, I’m not surprised that since they launched, they’ve secured over $1 billion in refunds for almost one million tax filers.

Whether you’ll be deducting travel expenses for your sole proprietorships or you’re interested in maximizing credits like the EIC or Child Tax Credit, MyFreeTaxes will help you get it done without charging you a cent.

File Your Return Early to Avoid ID Theft

One more note: it’s important to file your taxes early to avoid tax identity theft. Essentially, the IRS awards the refund to whoever files your return first–you or the criminal. It’s a mess you’ll be lucky to sort out. This is especially true with all the data breaches in the past year.

So hop on it. Get started on your tax return today.

Acadia National Park: Affordable Travel Destination

This is such a great affordable vacation idea. Scrolling through all the ideas and getting ready to take my kids to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor this summer!

Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine is so incredibly beautiful. With temperate summers and gorgeous, deciduous-lined beaches that change colors in the fall, it’s a perfect natural get-away for people who love to passively enjoy the beauty of nature or like to tackle it through extreme sports.

Best Times to Travel to Acadia National Park

To keep the trip frugal we’ll start with our cardinal rule:

Travel before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.

Prices on lodging and essentially everything touristy will be seriously reduced. That includes airfare–ticket prices double for those who must travel in the summer.

That being said, it’s absolutely beautiful in the summer and every possible thing you could imagine to do there is open.

If you’re traveling in the off-season, be sure to pack warm clothing.  Spring and fall are bearable and beautiful, but undoubtedly colder than what you’d expect.

Getting into the Park

Acadia National Park Fall

The only sandy beach on Mount Deseret Island.

Acadia is one of the national parks which requires an admission fee. The good news is that for one car it’s only $20 for a week. It’s not bad, but to eliminate the cost completely you can go during one of the National Parks’ free days.

You can also berid of the entrance fee if someone in your car is:

  • Disabled.
  • A fourth grader.
  • A member of the military or a military dependent.

Frugal Fun Inside Acadia National Park

Precipice Mount Desert Island

The Precipice in Fall.

Aside from the entrance fee, going to the park a pretty frugal thing to enjoy the outdoors. Pack your own food and do any of the following:

  • Bike or hike any of the carriage roadsThese roads were built by Rockefeller with the restriction that no cars could ever drive on them. You can even ride down them in a horse-drawn carriage at certain times of year. In the winter, some of these trails are open to cross-country skiing.
  • Visit Cadillac Mountain, where at certain times of the year you’ll be able to see the sun rise before anywhere else in the United States.
  • Visit the Abbe Museum in the woods or in the town of Bar Harbor to explore Native American history/culture.
  • Visit Thunder Hole, where the waves crash in on a narrow cove creating a thunderous effect. You may just get drenched. There are tons of tide pools off to the side, but you’re not really supposed to climb over to see them as doing so can be extremely dangerous.
  • Visit the only sandy beach on the entire island.  The water’s not all that warm, but the view is stunning with pines and other trees lining the coast.
  • Rock climbers can tackle the Precipice, which will be worth writing home about.
  • Anyone can climb the Precipice Trail. It’s intense and can be dangerous. It’s not for people who are children, afraid of heights, or have any health problems. But if you get a thrill out of this sort of thing, you’ll enjoy the challenge.
  • Kayak.  The ocean is at your disposal.
  • Ranger-led programs are also available and may be a great option if you have kids in tow.
  • Swim in your choice of ponds.

Affordable Things to do Near Acadia National Park

the ovens mount desert island maine

Cavernous rock formations at The Ovens.

There’s lots of other fun things to do and explore on other parts of Mount Desert Island, too Here are some ideas to get you started.
  • Go geocaching!  Free activity that will help you explore other parts of the island that you wouldn’t have ventured to before.
  • Take a boat tour of the surrounding islands and learn about lobstering.
  • Visit the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.
  • Go whale watching. Admittedly, this one isn’t super frugal, but can be really cool. I’ve seen humpbacks on an excursion out of Bar Harbor before.
  • Go shopping in the quaint town of Bar Harbor.  The tchotchke shops have a lot of stuff made in China, but it will be cheap.
    The shops where stuff is a little more expensive usually carry products and artwork made by Maine locals–supporting the local economy and artists.  The town butts up against the ocean providing a great view lined with an array of restaurants.
  • Visit the Ovens–but only at low tide!

 National Parks Make For Frugal and Memorable Vacations

Tide pools in Acadia National Park

Tide pools outside of Thunder Hole.

My list is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to demonstrate that if you enjoy nature, national parks can be a great way for you to vacation on a budget.

Acadia has a nice balance of small town civilization and isolated wilderness so you can have a great time whatever your preferences may be. I’ve been lucky enough to visit several times, and it’s always a new adventure!