Thursday, October 29, 2015

5 Ways to Get Free Money for Christmas

Are you an heiress? Independently wealthy? Yes? Then this article isn't for you. This is for those of us who need to pinch our pennies and make every dollar stretch, especially during the most wonderful time of the year which, incidentally, is also the most wonderfully expensive time of the year. The following are five different ways to get money or gift cards to help stretch your Christmas budget so you can buy presents and surprises for those you love.

Swag Bucks
OVERVIEW: Get rewarded with 'Swag Bucks' by completing activities, quizzes, trying out new products, and searching the Internet. Redeem these 'Swag Bucks' for gift cards to Amazon, Starbucks, Visa, etc.

PROS: You can get Swag Bucks for doing things you'd likely already be doing or for purchases you'd already be making. Planning on buying some clothes from Kohls? Go through the SB website to get to Kohls and you get Swag Bucks. I've also found quite a few amazing trials of products that I would have been interested in purchasing anyway, but with Swag Bucks, I get a bonus gift card along with it. One Swag Buck is the equivalent of one penny when getting a reward.

CONS: This website is confusing. There are so many offers, so many ways to get rewards, it's difficult to manage. If you aren't careful, you can waste time doing projects and offers that give you almost no Swag Bucks- be selective about which offers your complete.

CONCLUSION: Although you can waste time here, if you are careful not to get overwhelmed, you can really get some savings and get lots of good gift cards.

Image result for ibottaOVERVIEW: Ibotta is essentially reverse couponing. Instead of presenting a coupon for a dollar off of a package of diapers, you buy the diapers, come home, scan your receipt, and get a one dollar rebate. Using an app on your phone, you scan the available offers, buy them at the store, then come home and scan your receipt and the product's bar code to get your rebates. The money you save accumulates in your account until you are ready to transfer it to either a PayPal or Venmo account or else a gift card to Amazon, etc.

PROS: You can use a coupon for a product at the store AND get a rebate through Ibotta on it, so it's double the savings. There are rebates for things like milk, eggs, bread, and produce. The offers are always updating and there are hundreds of offers at different stores at any given time.

CONS: It's a bit time consuming. You have to go through the app, select offers and interact with the product information, then scan the bar code AND take a copy of your receipt. It's not a terrible amount of effort, but it does take a bit.

CONCLUSION: I'm a fan. I use Ibotta every week and am able to accumulate a fair amount of money, which I usually use to surprise my husband with, since he doesn't have any idea how much money I have in my Ibotta account. It's my favorite.

OVERVIEW: Bing is a search engine owned by the Mircosoft. Create an account and use Bing to complete your searches. By doing so, you can get 'Bing Rewards' points, which are redeemable for gift cards and prizes.

PROS: It's simple. You just make sure you are logged into your Microsoft account and then all the web searches you do earn you a certain amount of points.

CONS: It takes a little while to actually get a prize.

CONCLUSION: Honestly? You're gonna be searching the web on your phone/computer every day any way, so why not use Bing and get rewarded for it? I have found I prefer Bing to Google in several aspects anyhow, so using Bing feels like a win-win.

Savings Catcher
OVERVIEW: Walmart promises that their prices are the lowest. If they aren't, they will give you back the difference in price in the form of a gift card. You use the Walmart app to scan your receipt after you shop, and if a competitor has advertised a cheaper price somewhere else, you get that money back.

PROS: Simple. Just scan your QR code on your receipt as you walk out the door. Whatever you have overpaid goes onto your account, which you can turn into a Walmart gift card whenever you want. No minimum amounts.

CONS: Doesn't work for produce and some more expensive items.

CONCLUSION: No reason not to use it. It's really easy, and if you just scan your receipt each time you go, before you know it, you'll have a pretty sizable amount in your account that you can easily turn into a Christmas surprise.

Walgreens Balance Rewards
OVERVIEW: Shop at Walgreens. If you buy selected offers, you get points added to your Balance Rewards account (requires card sign up). 5000 points=$5 Walgreens gift card.

PROS: I've found that many of the selected offers that give me Balance Rewards Points are products that are on sale, have a coupon, and I would normally purchase anyhow, so a little extra bonus makes shopping there extra appealing. You also get a small number of points for every purchase, regardless of what you buy.

CONS: Sometimes the offers are on products I don't want? Maybe you don't like shopping at Walgreens? I don't really have cons for this one.

CONCLUSION: Walgreens is already my pharmacy of choice. I get points for each prescription, plus random purchases I make on diapers and shampoo. Once I get enough for a reward, I find there are more than enough fun things to use them on, as their seasonal selections are surprisingly diverse. Candy, stockings, toys, nail polish.... And all at rather reasonable prices, especially for a drug store.

Bottom line: I use Swab Bucks sometimes, but the rest I use regularly. I'm mostly buying and doing the things I would normally be doing and buying without any incentive, but by following these programs all year, once Christmas rolls around, I have MORE than enough money for gifts, surprises, expensive dinners, and crazy amounts of Amazon shopping. (I'm all about shopping online during my kids' nap time. ) So, it takes a little effort, but when you're on a budget, taking that little bit of effort is entirely worth it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What if Breastfeeding

I am a run-ragged mother of two toddlers and one tiny, precious nursing baby. She is a very content, happy baby- except when it comes to nursing. She doesn't want to nurse in public. Or in front of her siblings. Or while I hold her. In fact, she won't eat at all, unless I am lying down to feed her. She won't eat if she can tell I'm reading or holding my phone. She won't eat unless I lie there, doing nothing.

Which got me to thinking,

"Man! This is relaxing! I LOVE laying down while I nurse. It's like a mini break or tiny vacation. Like, I can almost take a nap and not even feel guilty!"

Which led to a simple hyptothesis.

What if... we were made to nurse that way? What if..... God knew what an exhausting ordeal childbirth would be. What if He knew mothers would be up all night feeding, swaddling, rocking, and changing their babies, all the while expected to do our normal duties during the day?

Could He, perhaps, have engineered us so that being a mother of an infant comes with built-in breaks? Time so that we could nap and relax in the midst of all of our duties?

Because, like many women I know, I have a hard time taking care of me. My kids? No problem. Husband? Of course! Neighbors? Friends? Acquaintenaces? Random people at the grocery store?? You'd better believe I'm sharing meals, baked goods, babysitting, and being friendly and helping out every person I possibly can. It's easy to make time to help another person.

But myself? Permananet back burner.

And could it be that God, knowing the proclivities of women, knowing our desire to nurture and love, made a way for us to take a break without guilt? Because it's difficult to feel guilty about taking care of your baby.

So what if.... What if those nursing breaks were created to help us, too? Allow us to rest and recharge. Because if I'm nursing laying down, you'd better believe it's not too tough to get a moment or two of shut-eye.

And yes, I know the battle cry that comes from this. "TIME? I don't have time to just lay down every time my baby's hungry! What about my other kids? Other duties? Internet? E-mail? I CAN'T just LAY DOWN and REST while feeding my baby?!"  And perhaps it takes a bit, just a bit, of planning to give yourself a break while feeding your baby.

But maybe, just maybe, God wants us to have  a moment of rest when we feed those little ones. To recharge. To breathe. Nursing or bottle feeding, perhaps He is OK with me napping.

And maybe I should be OK with that, too.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What Do YOU Know about Meso?

If you are like me, mesothelioma is a long word that brings up a very vague memory of a commercial looking for people who have been affected by it. And that is about where my knowledge ends. Well, where it used to end.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer. Cancer of the lungs, to be specific. And cancer, one of the scariest words that you can get from a doctor, is ever pervasive in our society. I'm sure you all know someone who has been hurt by, affected by, diagnosed with, or even passed away because of cancer. Many types of cancer form with no specific cause; they are merely discovered. Mesothelioma, on the other hand, has been found in people exposed to asbestos. So if you have ever wondered why asbestos is such a dirty word, that is why. It's a killer. Literally.

Mesothelioma kills around 3,000 per year in the United States alone.  Once exposed to asbestos fibers, it could be anywhere from 25 to 40 years.  Once the disease is found, it is often already in a late stage, which severely limits the available treatment options.  Asbestos is still widely used in the United States, with more than 30 million pounds being used each year.

I wanted to share a story from Heather Von St. James about her story- to bring awareness to and spread information about this awful disease. She was given just 15 months to live when diagnosed- and she chose, not to be broken down, but to live life to the fullest. Check her story out her story here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Neglecting Facebook: My Biggest Regret

I stared at my brightly lit smartphone as it made a small halo of light around myself and my nursing infant in the dark surroundings of my 2am feeding. What am I DOING? I thought groggily to myself as I rocked my little one ever so slightly. Enough. Enough is ENOUGH. I was tired of all I had to do, tired of never having time to myself, tired of, well, EVERYTHING. And so I made a decision that I will regret as long as I live:

I turned off my smartphone and turned to look at my baby.

It seemed like an innocent enough decision at first. After all, I already had two rambunctious toddlers running around, a household to keep up, money to make, and a new baby on top of everything else? Surely I could take a break from Facebook and give myself a little more time.

And so my late night feedings consisted of me holding my little one, sometimes stroking her cheek, holding her little fingers, or even just listening to her breathe. She’s only a baby once, I’d tell myself, trying to rationalize skipping Facebook time.  My play time with my toddlers was no longer broken up into chunks of me updating statuses or browsing the fun photos my friends uploaded from their recent trips. Instead, I held my toddlers close, read entire books through, built block towers, and drew my fair share of stick figure families. No one will even miss me on Facebook! I can spare this time for my family! I tried to convince myself, but to no avail.

My world came crashing down one morning as I woke up to my daughter whispering in my ear, “Mama, I lub you. It’s cuz you’re my mama and I lub you,” while my son toddled into bed next to me to ‘snugga a mama’. It was then that I suddenly realized I didn’t remember the last time I had updated my status. Or read a recommended article. Or even liked some else’s status. Not even one single like! UNBELIEVABLE! I wanted to scream at myself. How had I gone from checking my account via smartphone, tablet, or laptop dozens if not scores of times each day, carefully following my more interesting acquaintances while sharing all of my favorite moments of the day to being a mother who spent the bulk of her time with her children actually WITH her children mentally!? How could I have done that to myself? I had missed out on so many funny photos, so many amusing anecdotes, and so many chances to share pictures of my best meals. So much lost time that I could never get back.

But it was too late! I had changed myself so radically, so drastically, that I didn’t even have the desire to log in to my Facebook account, much less spend hours scrolling through numbing posts. I couldn’t go back to where and what I had been.

 I knew, then, that I’d have to endure my loss, accept my fate as ‘The Woman who Checks Facebook Only Intermittently’, and continue to be mentally present when I spent time with my children. It’s been a long and difficult road of meaningful experiences with my children and a greater appreciation and patience for each of them.

I only hope that one day I can forgive myself for making that horrific decision so long ago of putting aside my smartphone and holding my child closer to me. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why I Served a Mission: I Planned to Give but Received Instead

I am a Mormon- LDS- a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. From a very early age, I would often be asked, "Are you planning on serving a mission? You'd be so great! You would make an awesome missionary!" or some variation to that effect. I took these comments as an insult. My personal image of female missionaries was far from positive and I took no pleasure in others grouping me in with them. So, needless to say, I hadn't the slightest desire to serve a mission. Very near to my 21st birthday, my heart and mind seemed to be softened somewhat to the idea. Not entirely- but just enough. As I thought on serving a mission, I heard a talk that resonated with me.  The heart of this talk was good vs. better vs. best. What I walked away with after listening to it was to consider a mission in those terms. I thought to myself, 'what was a good thing a could do? A better thing? The BEST thing?' After debating with myself, I concl
uded that serving a mission would be the best thing I could do for a number of reasons.

-In no way would it prevent me from my other future desires. I could still finish my degree in college, get married, have children, travel, and do anything else I wanted in life. Clearly, it would not be an inconvenience for me.

-I had the means (through generous parents) of serving a mission without worrying about funds.

-I had been given so much- certainly I could give back. I had an understanding of the gospel. I had a strong, outgoing personality. I was friendly. I had no problems sharing my testimony. I understood the scriptures. I could perform hard physical labor. I was easy to live with. I could cook well. I took care of myself. I just knew that I would put a good face on the church. I learned languages quickly.Surely, if the Lord had blessed me with so much, it wouldn't kill me to share some of my blessings back on his behalf for a mere 18 months? My entire thought process was along the lines of 'because I have been given much, I too must give'.

And that was where I ended up being dead wrong.

I was called to serve a mission in Tokyo, Japan. I served my 18 months honorably, excelled at the language and working with the people. I felt I had accomplished what the Lord had sent me to do and that He was well pleased with me. I had done exactly what I had set out to accomplish on my mission. I had blessed the church and the work of the Lord through my talents.


Never, when I left on my mission, did I realized how much I would receive! Never! My thoughts had, pridefully, I'll admit, been only on my own talents and gifts and how I would be able to give back to the church. I was woefully unaware of the huge amount of blessings that I would receive. More than I had room to receive! And so undeservingly!

It can be compared to volunteering abroad with a program where you paid your own way. You used your time, your funds, your talents, and were totally fine with giving on behalf of a good cause. Then, when you returned home from your non-profit project, you found out that several million dollars had been transferred to your bank account, non-refundable, for the work that you had done. And what's more, the cash continued to flow into your account, millions a year, for the rest of your life. Surely the small amount of work you had done over a brief period of time was not worth so much- and yet, you continued to receive.

That was how my mission has been for me.  Want specifics? Here goes.

FISCALLY. Because of my mission, I have been able to be a stay at home mom. I certainly had the desire to stay at home with my children as soon as I became a mother, but my husband didn't make enough money for that to be a possibility. However, on my mission, I learned Japanese and now work as a Japanese translator- work that can be done at home, during nap times, and has always been enough to cover our expenses so that I can stay home.

MENTALLY. I had been a hard-working, high- scoring student for my entire life. Yet somehow, in learning to study the language and the scriptures on my mission, my mental capacities were boosted to a height I didn't realize was even possible. I had the ability to study, learn, and apply principles far more effectively than ever before.

SPIRITUAL MATURITY. Naturally, I grew spiritually to a great degree. But more than that, I learned true charity and what it feels like to work under the influence of the Spirit. Not the infrequent, far-between experiences I had had before I left on my mission. But what it felt to be truly guided by the Lord in my actions. Being able to recognize that as a missionary has allowed me to know when it is missing from my post-mission life and has shown me what I need to do to regain it.

PARENTING. I can recognize on almost a daily basis how serving a mission has allowed me to be a better mother than I would have been had I not served. I have greater patience for my children's antics. I have greater emotional control when they test me. And I have a clearer mindset for what the most important things are for my children to learn, something that is very dear to me. They must know that I love them, that their Savior loves them, and that He is available to them always. Certainly something I knew before I ever served a mission, but something that is indelibly imprinted in my mind now in a way that surely would have taken decades to obtain.

WIFING. I don't know if I could even count the number of times I have recognized a marital issue and then handled it better because of things I learned on my mission. This heading alone would have been reason enough to serve. Being married isn't easy, but oh, my, how much easier and more rewarding is it because of my service.

In all of these topics, I have spoken in generalities, for brevity's sake. Allow me to interject a single example of how one experience specifically blessed me for years and years to follow as a wife.

I had difficulties with one of my companions. They were unkind to me and it was difficult to not show a growing resentment. During this time, however, I read this talk by Elder Holland. In it, I felt extremely impressed to not allow a single word of unkindness come out of my mouth. Again, this was a trying time for me. But miraculously, through prayer and an increased ability from the Lord, I never voiced unkind words for this companion, regardless of their actions towards me. This was an incredibly difficult life skill to master, but I have used it time and time again in my marriage to bite back angry words. Every time, once a day or two has passed, and I re-visit my unkind thoughts. I can only thank the Lord that I did not speak them to my husband because, guess what? When I'm angry, I think mean things that I truly don't mean! What a boon to be able to not speak every word that crosses my mind. This skill alone was worth serving a mission.

HUMILITY. PATIENCE. EMOTIONALLY. I could go on and on and on. The ways in which I have been blessed for my service are almost countless.

And so in that I was wrong- I thought that me serving a mission would be a great boon to all who came in contact with me. Instead, I was blessed, loved, and continue to be blessed in far greater measures than I could ever have imagined.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wall Art

Here's an easy one- go to a thrift store, buy some picture frames, then paint them to match your decor. Next, hang those frames, empty and without glass, on your wall. Next time your child creates a masterpiece, you can temporarily 'frame' it by simply sticking it to the wall with a piece of tape. It's an exciting thing for your kids to see their art 'framed', and it's a bit more stylish than papers on on the fridge. Easy!

If you're interested in wall art that is personalized to your taste but perhaps a bit more chic and couture than just hanging your kids drawings, head over to Shutterfly for personalized  wall art options!