Operation Christmas Child Ideas

kids holding plastic shoeboxes. This post give the best Operation Christmas Child Ideas!

Every November is collection week for Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes. (We had much younger kids in this post! Man, where does time go?!) Summer and fall is the perfect time to start thinking of Operation Christmas Child ideas.

[Having your child/family participate in child sponsorship through an organization like Compassion or World Vision is also a great way to build an ongoing relationship and come along side a family in another country.]

I love how simple this project is and how involved children can be.

Each child can put together a shoebox for a child their same age and gender and give ideas and input for what is going into the box.

Operation Christmas Child Ideas

Earning Money:

This is a great project to have your children earn extra money for and purchase themselves. If your children are young, you could match what they earn so they will have enough.

Small Jobs:

Find small jobs that don’t normally get done around your house and set a pay for each of them and give your children the list. They learn to work and how earning money works and you get a few extra jobs done.

Bake Sale/Lemonade Stand:

Another idea would be to have a bake sale/lemonade stand on your corner or as part of a garage sale and have the profits go toward the Operation Christmas Child Boxes.

Operation Christmas Child Box Ideas:

After the money is earned, you have to come up with what exactly to put into a small box. Of course Samaritan’s Purse has ideas for you on their website.

Be sure you remember: no liquids, toothpaste, candy/food, war themed toys, or breakable items.

Not knowing where your box will be going to can make a little difficult to buy for. You don’t know the weather or any cultural differences. If you know where you box is heading you’ll know if you can include things like scarves and gloves.

I imagine that kids will be kids throughout the world, though, so what your children are into is probably a good starting point.

The following list of Operation Christmas ideas consists of options for boys and girls and the littles to the older kids. A mixture of fun and practical is a good idea. And I know my kids love receiving “real” grown up things. Tools are a fun idea for any hands on, creative kid.

Fun/Toy Items:
Art/Drawing Supplies
Stuffed Animals
Small, real, musical instrument (some things just aren’t worth getting at the dollar store)
Balls (deflate the ball and include a ball pump with extra needles)
Clothes (fun depending on the age 😉 )
Coloring Books (age appropriate)
Jump Ropes

Personal Items:
Toothbrush (no toothpaste)
Hair Accessories
Soap (packaged in zipped bags to keep the smell contained)
Nail Clipper
Blanket (small, lightweight especially since it may be going to a warm weather location)
Draw String Bag
Coin Purse
Ball Cap

Other Items:
Sewing Kit and Fabric
Solar Powered Lanterns
First Aid Kit (without medicine or liquids)
Screwdrivers (Head to Lowe’s or Home Depot for this and the following items)
Nails (in their package)
Work gloves
Bungee Cords
Duct Tape
Tape Measure

School Supplies:
Watch the back to school sales every July and August. It’s a great time to stock up on most of these things. For example, Crayola crayons are much nice than the dollar store ones and you’d be able to purchase them for the same price during the sales.

Colored Pencils
Pens & Pencils
Pencil Sharpener

I love starting early in the season focusing on others, and this is an easy way to do it.

There are over 55 Operation Christmas Child ideas to help you pack your box this year. Have you done the shoeboxes with your kids before? Any favorite packing ideas to share?

Gifts for Kids Who Have Everything

Do you struggle with coming up with gift ideas for the kids in your life? Do you especially struggle with coming up with gifts for kids who have everything?

wrapped boxes taking about the best gifts for kids who have everything

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You are not alone! So many kids have the latest and greatest gadgets and everything that they could wish for. It definitely makes it a challenge to go shopping.

It’s time to start thinking a little outside of the box!

If presents are a problem at your house during the Christmas season, you might even want to consider de-emphasizing gifts this holiday season!

Gifts for Kids Who Have Everything

Experience Gifts

An experience gift is a great option. You can create memories with the recipient or they can create them alone. This could be anything from a fun adventure to learning a new skill.

This post has some great ideas for experience gifts.


No kid will ever turn down money. Perfect for them to spend or put towards a savings goal. If you are looking for a unique way to gift money, check out these posts!

Gift Cards

If you know restaurants, stores, hobbies, etc that the child likes, you can pick up a gift card or two! Here are some ideas on how you can wrap a gift card to make things a little more interesting.

Shop for Others

Only you know the recipient and if this idea would work for them. But if their personality and the situation is ideal, this is a fun idea if they truly don’t want or need anything. Instead of spending the money on them, you can either donate in their name or, better yet, give them a budget and let them help you shop and donate the items.

Here are some places to look into:

World Vision and shop their online catalog

Angel Tree or another similar organization

Pregnancy Center – donate cash or buy items for their clothing room


Think back to when you were the recipient’s age and what your favorite books were. Purchase the book and include a card saying why you purchased that particular book for them and what you enjoyed about it.

Themed Gift

Put together a bundle of goodies according to a theme.

It might be craft supplies, coffees, food, game night fun, rock climbing, cooking essentials or one of many other things. Gather the must haves and put them in a basket or bucket to gift.

Mission Trip

What a great idea for a teenager! This can get pricey, so it’s probably not the best option if you are on a budget. There would be a lot of details to this, so it might not work for it to be a complete surprise but how fun. If you aren’t the parent, you could coordinate with the parent before gifting the money for a mission trip and then work out when, where, and with what organization after giving the gift.

Sentimental Gift

Is there something special to your child, something that belonged to a grandparent or another important person in their life? If they are mature enough to appreciate it, this gift might be treasured for the rest of their life!

Have you found any great gift for kids who have everything? Do presents end up being a struggle in your house year after year or have you found a method that works well?

Be sure to check out these other gift guides for more ideas:

Best Experience Gifts for Kids
Educational Gifts Kids Will be Excited About
The Best Craft and Art Gifts for Kids
Gifts for Kids Who Have Everything
Gifts for Teen Girls
Gifts for Teen Boys
Gifts for Preschool Boy
Gifts for a 2 Year Old
Gifts for Preschoolers
Gifts for a Home Cook
Gifts for a Fitness Lover

smiling girl next to tree and gifts for kids who have everything

square picture of wrapped boxes for gifts for kids who have everything
smiling girl next to tree and gifts for kids who have everything

How To Make Oat Flour at Home

Are you wondering how to make oat flour?

jar full of oat flour! Have you ever wondered how to make oat flour? This post will tell you how!

I’m a fan of making things myself. Especially things that are super easy.

Usually it’s significantly cheaper to DIY and a lot of the time it’s better for you too.

Oat flour is one of those things. Don’t spend extra money paying someone else to grind your oats! Do it yourself. It takes seconds. Nope, that’s not exaggerating.

It really is as easy at it seems.

All you need is:

  • a blender
  • old fashioned rolled oats

a blender with oats in it. If you've ever wondered how to make oat flour, this post will tell you how.

Let’s talk blenders for a second. I received a JC Penney brand blender when we got married 12 years ago. Nothing super expensive or fancy but it worked. Until it didn’t. It burned out after a couple of years.

Next, we got a Ninja Prep. Again, nothing super expensive. I think we got it on Black Friday for under $40. That worked okay for a while. Then it spend a year of making me wonder if each use was going to be its last until it finally hit the dust a year ago.

After months of internal debate (I struggle when it comes to spending money), we settled on a refurbished Vitamix. (That’s the one I got – super, super great deal on 2018 Prime Day for just over $200.)

It is a dream.

The homemade oat flour comes out so much finer than it ever did in the Ninja.

How To Make Oat Flour

It’s as easy as measuring your rolled oats, putting them in the blender, and turning it on.

30 seconds. That’s it – and you are done and ready to bake.

If the recipes calls for 1 cup of oat flour, put 1 scant cup of rolled oats in the blender.

measuring cups with homemade oat flour. If you've ever wondered how to make oat flour, this post will tell you how.

2 cups of rolled oats equals about 2 1/3 cups of homemade oat flour!

Again, your blender will make a difference as to how fine the oat flour will be. Not as good of blenders will require a longer period of blending and will still result in a grittier flour – but you can still make it! I did it that way for years. 🙂

Be sure to “fluff” your flour when it comes out of the blender before measure. It can be a little compact.

A couple other easy and cheap things you can try making yourself:

Homemade Yogurt
“Refried” Beans

How To Make Oat Flour
  • Rolled Oats
  1. Put the amount of rolled oats in the blender that you want of oat flour.
  2. Turn the blender on and blend for a minute - the oats will turn into a flour like powder.
  3. Loosely scoop into a measuring cup and use in place of purchased oat flour.


What are you favorite food items to DIY? Give this easy homemade oat flour a try before you go out and buy it again. Learning how to make oat flour is a breeze!

a blender and measuring cups with rolled oats. If you have ever wondered how to make oat flour, this post will tell you how!

Aldi Meal Plan October 12

We are back again with another meal plan that uses the produce and meat sales in this week’s Aldi ad. I love shopping at Aldi – the bulk of my purchases come from there and then a will pick up a few items that are on sale at other stores. So an Aldi meal plan is the best!

If you struggle with coming up with ideas for what to eat this week, I hope this post gives you some inspiration.

I’m a huge fan of using menu planning as a way to keep grocery costs down (my first point in this post on drastically reducing your grocery budget). No matter how many of these recipes you use, I highly recommend you get your downloadable menu plan template and put it to use. It has saved me so much money over the years:

This week, I’m not only going to include the sample Aldi menu, but I will also share what I’m feeding my family for the next week on my $170 a month grocery budget. This means twice as many ideas.

Aldi Produce and Meat Sales to Check Out (10/10-10/17):

These prices are in my local ad – your prices might vary.

  • Gala apples (1.49 for 3 pounds)
  • Oranges (1.99 for 3 pounds)
  • Red grapes (.85 a pound)
  • Pineapple (1.29 each)
  • Grassfed ground beef (4.49 a pound)
  • Bone in chicken thighs (.79 a pound)

Each week will include one or two vegetarian meals. This is a great way to keep your grocery budget down. Another tip for a lower grocery budget is to select just 4-5 of the listed suppers and eat leftovers the other nights. (This is also a time saver!)

Aldi Meal Plan


Potato Sausage Soup (use potatoes and kale leftover from last week)
Crispy Chicken Thighs (make extra to use in the chicken rice casserole)
Taco Salad with salsa and chips. (Use ground beef and/or beans)
Pasta Pomodoro
Chicken Rice Casserole (use the leftover meat from the chicken thighs)
Vegetarian 15 Bean Soup

Snack and Side Ideas:

Apples, oranges, grapes
Carrot and celery sticks
Roasted veggies (carrots, celery, potatoes, green beans, etc)
Homemade biscuits

Frugal Lunch Ideas:

Rice Cakes (with peanut butter or meat)
Beans and Rice
Roasted Vegetables

Frugal Breakfast Ideas:

Hard boiled eggs
Pumpkin muffins

$170 per month Menu Plan for this Week:

Okay, and now for my family’s menu for the week. I plan using the method I outline in my menu planning template:

Pancakes for lunch
Chicken and Veggie Noodle Soup for supper

Eggs and hashbrowns for lunch
Small groups for supper

Monday: Leftover soup

Tuesday: New spaghetti squash recipe (bought the squash when it was on sale last week)

Wednesday: Kids eat at church

Thursday: Leftover spaghetti squash

Friday: Pizza night

Breakfasts: Oatmeal, leftover pancakes, eggs

Lunches: PB sandwiches on homemade sourdough, veggies, fruit, salad, deli meat

Snacks: Grapes and pretzels

What’s on your menu this week?

Thanksgiving Tradition Ideas Your Family Will Love

Thanksgiving. What comes to mind when you think of the holiday? For me I think of family, food, being grateful, travel, cool weather, beautiful leaves, cranberry salad. What Thanksgiving tradition ideas do you have?
dinner plate setting and the ultimate list of Thanksgiving tradition ideas

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If I’m honest, I am a bit torn when it comes to traditions. On one side, you know what to expect, the kids love it and look forward to them, it’s easy to plan. On the other side I don’t like always having to do the same thing.

I guess my balance is traditions that are held lightly. Traditions that we can take a year off of or tweak if needed.

Traditions that work for our family.

If you are looking to tweak your Thanksgiving traditions or add some new ones, I have a great list of Thanksgiving tradition ideas for your inspiration!

pile of pumpkins and the best Thanksgiving tradition ideas

Thanksgiving Tradition Ideas

Writable Tablecloth

Whether you get a cloth table cloth you reuse each year or simply cover your tables with butcher paper, have sharpies, pencils, or crayons available for everyone to write down one thing they were thankful for the past year. If you use the cloth cloth, have everyone initial and put the year next to their item.

Thanksgiving Tree

Gather some sticks and arrange them in a vase to make your Th. Set out a basket with leaves cut out of paper and some yarn. Again have everyone record what they were thankful for the last 12 months and hang on the tree. At some point during the evening someone can read them aloud.

Write Cards

Take a moment on Thanksgiving to have everyone write a card (or draw a picture) to let someone know how much you appreciate them.

Say What You are Thankful For

Go around the dinner table and have each person say 1-3 things they are grateful for from the last year.

Activity Sheets for the Kids

Set out different activity sheets for your kids to work on through out the day. It will help the times of waiting go a little more smoothly. Perfect quiet, not messy activity for when the kids are getting a little rambunctious. Here are some ideas.

Games for the Kids

Take sometime for fun and giggles. Plan a few special games for the kids (and adults even) to enjoy. You can find lots of ideas online!

New Dish Every Year

This would be so much fun! Something new and probably nontraditional making an appearance each November. If your Thanksgiving involves multiple families, I think it would be fun to rotate who brings the “surprise” dish each year.


Spend a part of your day volunteering. Look around your town for organization that serve Thanksgiving meals and see if they need help. Growing up we volunteered at a local church that served a meal in their facility and delivered meals to people that were working or home bound. We loved it!

Take a Walk

Spend 30 minutes or even an hour an a stroll around your neighborhood sometime after your meal is eaten and the kitchen is cleaned. As simple as it is, I can remember this happening in my home growing up.

Movie Theater

Going to the movies was a rare occurrence in my family. We did this once when I was still home and I’m pretty sure they have done it since I’ve been married. It was special enough that I even what movie we watched! (Treasure Planet, in case you are remembering.)


Okay, it doesn’t have to be pizza but there’s nothing wrong with not having a turkey dinner. Mix it up an do the traditional feast one year and something completely different the next. Pizza and ice cream always seems like a good option though. 🙂 One year it was just my husband and 2 kids for Thanksgiving and we had fajitas.

Visit the Nursing Home

There are people in the nursing home with no family coming to see them for the holiday. Spend a little bit of time wishing the residents of your local nursing home happy thanksgiving. Have the kids draw pictures to give away.

Watch a Thanksgiving Movie

Instead of going to the theater put a BluRay in at home and let the kids relax for a while. There’s always A Charlie Brown Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street. 😉

Read Thanksgiving Books

Books are the best. Read aloud a few picture books – even over breakfast in the morning. I’m a fan of Read Aloud Revival, so be sure to check out this post for some great ideas!


Have a little fun with a trivia game (and probably learn something while you are at it)! While you are preparing the questions for one year I’d go ahead and make them for the next few years. It won’t take much longer and your can separate out the questions into a list for each year. Check out these lists for some ideas.

Turkey Trot

I’ve only actually done this once, but it was so much fun! Cold and exciting. It was nice to start a day that involves so much food and sitting with some physical exertion. If you live (or travel to) an area with a Thanksgiving morning race, I highly recommend you give it a try.

There are just 16 Thanksgiving tradition ideas out of countless options. You can get as creative as you want.

I’m curious, what fun Thanksgiving traditions do you have in your family? Are you going to try any of these Thanksgiving tradition ideas this year?

fall tree and the ultimate list of Thanksgiving tradition ideas! pile of pumpkins and the best Thanksgiving tradition ideas

Fresh Cranberry Recipes You Want to Try

Collage of the best fresh cranberry recipes out there!

Fresh cranberries are so tart and delicious. That means that fresh cranberry recipes are the best. Obviously there is a place for dried cranberries, but man, fresh is just unbeatable.

Frozen cranberries are a perfect substitute for fresh, so when you find a great deal on cranberries after Thanksgiving (I’ve gotten bags for 49 cents before) stock up on enough to last you the year and just store them in the freezer.

Maybe you find yourself wondering what exactly you should do with fresh cranberries. Perhaps the only way you’ve ever seen them used is in cranberry sauce that’s set out with the turkey (even though almost no one eats it).

Wonder no more.

This post is the ultimate list of fresh cranberry recipes. You can experiment and cook and bake to your heart’s content. There are things from muffins to appetizers to chicken to desserts.

Everything you could possibly want or need.

Fresh Cranberry Recipes

Fresh Cranberry Muffins and Quick Breads

Delicious and healthy oat flour pumpkin muffins with cranberries and chocolate chips! So good and wheat free and refined sugar free. Great way to start your morning.

Oat Flour Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins
Chocolate Chip Cranberry Cream Cheese Muffins
Fresh Cranberry Muffins

Photo from abcs and garden peas White Chocolate Orange Cranberry Bread

Cranberry Orange Bread Loaf Cake
Gluten Free Cranberry Chocolate Bread
Cranberry Orange Bread
Cranberry Banana Bread
Cranberry Orange Chocolate Chip Bread
Gluten Free Cranberry Orange Bread
Homemade Cranberry Orange Bread Recipe
Cranberry Pumpkin Bread
White Chocolate Orange Cranberry Bread
Cranberry Applesauce Bread
Cranberry Nut Bread

Fresh Cranberry Breakfasts

Photo by Recipes from a Pantry: Baked Sweet Potato Pancake

Bake Sweet Potato Pancakes with Orange Cranberry Compote
Ricotta Orange Pancakes with Ricotta Sauce
Cinnamon Cranberry Overnight French Toast Bake
Pistachio, Oat, and Cranberry Breakfast Pancakes
Slow Cooker Cranberry Eggnog Oatmeal
Cranberry Almond Donuts
Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake
Orange Cranberry Coffee Cake
Cranberry Orange Drop Biscuits
Chocolate Cranberry Scones

Fresh Cranberry Pies

Photo by House of Nash Eats: Cranberry Apple Pie

Nantucket Cranberry Pie
Pear, Apple, Cranberry Crumble Pie
Cranberry Apple Pie
Cranberry Pear Lattice Pie
Cranberry Pie

Fresh Cranberry Cakes

Photo by Mom Foodie: Sour Cream Bundt Cake

Cranberry Swirl Semolina Cake
Cranberry Orange Pound Cake
Cranberry Apple Muffin Cake
Cranberry Sour Cream Bundt Cake
Cranberry Orange Cake
Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Fresh Cranberry Cookies

Recipe from Hearth and Vine: Shortbread Cookies

Fresh Cranberry Shortbread Cookies
Cranberry Orange Creamsicle Cookies

Other Fresh Cranberry Dessert Recipes

Photo by Salt and Lavender: Rustic Cranberry Galette

Fresh Cranberry Shortbread Bars
Eggnog Cranberry Popsicles 
No Churn Cranberry Ice Cream
Cranberry Mini Vegan Cheesecakes
Low Carb Cranberry Swirl Cheesecakes
Rustic Cranberry Galette 
Apple Cranberry Tart Recipe
Slow Cooker Strawberry Cranberry Crumble Dessert
Cranberry Cream Tart
Gluten Free Cranberry Shortbread Bars

Fresh Cranberry Smoothies

Photo by All Nutribullet Recipes: Cranberry Oatmeal Smoothie

Low Carb Keto Cranberry Smoothie
Cranberry Oatmeal Smoothie Recipe
Cranberry Smoothie
Cranberry and Orange Smoothie
Cranberry Mango Layered Smoothie
Pomegranate Cranberry Smoothie

Fresh Cranberry Appetizers

Ruby Red Cherry Cranberry Salsa
Cranberry Brie Pastries
Cranberry Pomegranate Baked Brie

Fresh Cranberry Side Dishes

Photo by Kudos Kitchen by Renee: Holiday Vegetable Saute

Cranberry Clementine Brussel Sprouts 
Holiday Vegetable Saute
Apple Cranberry Acorn Squash 
Cranberry Apple Walnut Stuffing

Fresh Cranberry Main Dishes

Slow Cooker Cranberry Chicken
Slow Cooker Pork Loin with Cranberry Walnut Relish
Stuffed Delicata Squash with Beef and Cranberries
Spicy Cranberry Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches
Cranberry Chicken Thighs
Cranberry Orange Chicken

Homemade Cranberry SaucePhoto from Eat the Love: Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Best Cranberry Sauce Recipe Ever
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Pineapple Cardamom Cranberry Sauce
One Minute Instant Pot Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Beverages

Photo from I Heart Naptime: Wassail

Orange Cranberry Holiday Punch
Cranberry Pineapple Mocktail
Homemade Fresh Cranberry Juice

Cranberry Butter

Photo from Cincy Shopper: Cranberry Butter

Fresh Cranberry Butter Recipe with Orange and Vanilla
Cranberry Butter

Non Food Uses:

Photo from Confessions of An Overworked Mom

Cranberry Stove Top Potpourri 
Cranberry Candle Centerpiece

Do you enjoy cranberry season as much as I do? What are your favorite fresh cranberry recipes?

Baking with cranberries is on my list to do as soon as possible. Both the tart sweet and tart savory combinations  are perfection.

Collage of the best fresh cranberry recipes!

How to Pay Off Mortgage Faster

Do you want to pay off your house! Check out these great tips on how to pay off mortgage faster! Picture of beautiful home.

One of the biggest purchases any of us will make in our lifetime is a house. If you are anything like me, signing that dotted line is a little scary and you want to know how to pay off mortgage faster! Nothing like multiple tens of thousands of dollars you owe to someone else to make you want to hustle.

When we purchased our house I was excited and hyperventilating at the same time! To go from debt free to having mortgage is a big change. We wanted to put an end to those payments asap!

[Do I need a spoiler alert if I tell you how long it took us? Consider yourself warned!]

Getting keys for your house! How to pay off mortgage faster.

We closed on our house in December of 2009 and made the final payment in February of 2016.

6 years and 2 months.

It was an emotional day when we made that last payment and again when the letter came in the mail from the mortgage company.


This time there was the good kind-of hyperventilating. 🙂 (I’m sure being 9 months pregnant helped increase the emotional aspect and I’m positive the 2 1/2 and 5 year old thought their mom was losing it!)

Before we get into how to pay off mortgage faster, I want to tell you that I am not wealthy (by western world standards). We are a normal middle class family. My husband works in Christian radio (good health benefits, but not exactly the highest paying gig around) and I work part time for my church.

If we can do it, you can too! Yes, it takes work and energy and sacrifice but it is possible!

I also want to take a moment to say that there is NOTHING wrong with renting. We rented a small duplex over the first 3 years of our marriage. My sister and her husband rented an even smaller duplex the first 7 years of their marriage.

Don’t think you need to buy a house. Don’t think that renting is throwing away money. Sometimes it is the best possible thing you can do.

I’m sure you’ve been told that you can buy a house for the same that you can rent. Most of the time that scenario doesn’t take into account house insurance (much higher than renter’s insurance), property taxes, and all the expenses you are all of the sudden responsible for.  Those expenses can often times be costly – as in thousands of dollars costly. Suddenly buying a house isn’t as cheap as you thought.

I’m not trying to scare you from buying a house – we really do love it! I just don’t want you to regret renting and rush into buying a house too soon.

How to pay of mortgage faster. These tips will set you up for success.

How to Pay Off Mortgage Faster:

Before you even sign on the dotted line there are 5 things you should do as you consider how to pay off a mortgage faster:

Big Down Payment

Don’t even consider a 0% down mortgage or a 10% mortgage. You will spend so much money on interest and be upside down for a long time. Instead commit to saving up a minimum of 20%. I recommend at least 30%. (We put 30% down on our home.)

15 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage

Get a 15 year mortgage instead of a 30 year mortgage. Sure, you might have to have a slightly less expensive home to keep the payments so that they aren’t burdensome, or save up a little longer so you can put down a larger down payment (and thus need a smaller loan), but the amount that you save on interest is worth it!

Don’t buy more house than you can afford

In fact, its better to buy less house than you can afford.

Don’t trust the number the bank says they will lend you. Look at your own budget. Don’t forget about the added bills and repair expenses that will be coming your way in addition to a house payment.

Dave Ramsey says that your mortgage (including taxes and insurance) should be no more than 25% off your take home pay.

If you buy more house than you can afford, life will be a lot more stressful.

Realtor that Respects You

Make sure you have a realtor that listens to you!

You want an individual who will show you houses in your price range and not just ones the bank says you are approved for but you aren’t comfortable making the payments on.

Try asking your friends and colleagues what realtors they used and who they recommend.


Always, always have an inspection done before you purchase your home. There’s nothing that will slow down paying off your mortgage faster than having one large unexpected expense come up after another.

This isn’t to say that things wont go wrong if it didn’t show up on your inspection, but it should help you ward off at least some of them.

The next tips will be how to pay off a mortgage faster after you are a home owner.

Pay Extra Each Month

After we bought our house, we put extra toward our principal each month when we made our payments.

We didn’t have a set amount we’d put toward it, but it was whatever we could do depending on the circumstances and expenses of the month. Some months it might have only been $50-$100 and other months several hundred.

Don’t think that an amount is too little, it will add up each year.

Track Your Progress

Have a visual marker where you can see the amount taken off of your loan amount. When the amount is still large, you might want to do $2,000 or $5,000.

As you get closer to paying it off, track by each thousand dollars.

It is so exciting to see that number lower. It will encourage you and motivate you to keep going even when it’s hard.

Say No

Paying off your mortgage (or any debt) sooner requires sacrifice. If you go into it expecting everything to be easy and all fun, you will be frustrated.

Realize that you will have to say no to things: Big vacations, new cars, expensive clothes, steak dinners, outings with friends that cost money (come up with some frugal alternatives) etc.

There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but for a time you are making a choice to say no!

It can be easy to get into the “poor me” mindset. Don’t. It’s a choice you are making and you are excited about! Attitude really does help.

Use the money you’ve saved to put toward your principal. Here are several ways to save money that we used while paying off our house (and most of them we still use)!

Make Money

Find some ways to earn a little extra money. Again, little amounts add up (just don’t squander it away – make sure it actually goes to the bank)!

See if you can pick up extra hours at your job.

Pick up a part time job.

What hobbies and skills do you have that could be marketed on the side? Maybe you could babysit a friend’s kids after school, offer your baking talents for people that don’t have time to be in the kitchen, look on Fiverr and see if you can do something that’s marketable there, sell the crafts you make that everyone raves about on Etsy.

How to make extra money is going to vary completely depending on each person.

Think outside the box and try something!

I hope these ideas helped you start thinking of how to pay off a mortgage faster.

You can do it! As someone who has been though the process before, I’m here for you: encouraging you when it’s hard and cheering you on when you hit each milestone.

Have you paid off your mortgage? What would you say if someone asked you how to pay off their mortgage faster?

If you start on the exciting journey, keep me posted!

A beautiful home. Now you have payments. These tips will tell you how to pay of mortgage faster and be 100% debt free. Getting the keys to your house! These tips will help you learn how to pay off mortgage faster!


Educational Gifts for Kids That They Will Be Excited About

Christmas and birthdays are filled with all sorts of excitement and fun toys and gadgets. Isn’t it nice when you know that those presents will also be stretching their brain? Educational gifts for kids are the perfect solutions.

chalkboard and globe with list of educational toys for kids

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This list of educational gifts for kids is full of ones that they will even be excited about!

So many presents turn into clutter. These will be ones they will use again and again. I love the one time use kits too because they learn and have fun while putting the project together and then shortly after that you can dispose of it, not feeling bad. 😉 (Just don’t tell my kids that.)

Educational Gifts for Kids

1. Dinosaur Fossil Dig Kit

This would be a hit with both my son and my daughter. Anything dinosaur is a guaranteed home run.

2. Nature’s Explorer Kit

Perfect for your young kids who like exploring in the back yard. They will spend hours finding everything there is to see.

3. SmartyPants

Your kindergartner will think it’s cool to be called a SmartyPants as they go through the fun activities on these cards.

5. 3D Walking Dinosaur Puzzle

How cool is this? I’m telling you, it will be a winner for the dinosaur and puzzle lover. (Don’t exclude your girls from all things dinosaurs and science! My daughter loves both and wonders why dino’s are only marketed to boys.)

6. Pop Can Robot

My nephew received one of these for his birthday and I got to assist him with putting it together. He was so proud when it went moving across the floor.

7. Snap Circuits

Designed for ages 8+, they will love building burglar alarms and even a radio. Such a fun hands on way to learn about circuits.

8. Brain Builders

This game for ages 7+ will have your brain learning to go from a 2D pattern to 3D!

9. K’nex

K’nex takes building to a whole new level. So fun!

Be sure to check out the rest that K’NEX has. So many super cool looking sets!

10. Microscope

A present that you will also be able to use for school. Your child will have a blast using the included slides and finding numerous things around your house to inspect (maybe even the mold in that container that’s been in the fridge too long).

11. Bananagrams

Have some fun with words!

12. Science Kit

The young scientists in your house will find these kits amazing. My 5 and 7 year old love them.

13. Coding

Coding and a robot – a fun combination. This particular kit doesn’t require a phone or tablet.

14. Magnetic Tiles

A fun building toy that’s different than Legos. I love that it’s okay for ages 3 and up.

15. Gravity Maze

A logic game and marble run for ages 8 and up.

16. Geode Kit

You know it’s going to be a good gift when you get to break something. 🙂

17. Sleuth Kit

Pretend you are a detective and learn some new skills while you are at it.

18. Human Body

This is recommended for ages 8-16. A fun way to learn about the human body.

19. Shape Sorter

The best toddler toys are also educational. Melissa and Doug products are always a favorite.

20. Doctor Kit

Another great idea for the toddlers to elementary age children in your house. There’s always something fun about doctor kits for kids.

21. Brickyard Building Blocks

This comes with building ideas from ages 3 to 7+!

22. Cash Register

Everyone needs to learn about money and every child loves to play cashier.

23. Puzzles

Puzzles are a skill all kids need to learn. My children started with these large Melissa and Doug puzzles. There are so many options, but here are a couple:

This extensive list of educational toys for kids (that they will actually be excited to receive) will make gift giving easier for you this year!

What are the favorite educational toys that you have in your house? I’m always looking for new ideas!


Be sure to check out these other gift guides for more ideas:

Best Experience Gifts for Kids
Educational Gifts Kids Will be Excited About
The Best Craft and Art Gifts for Kids
Gifts for Kids Who Have Everything
Gifts for Teen Girls
Gifts for Teen Boys
Gifts for Preschool Boy
Gifts for a 2 Year Old
Gifts for Preschoolers
Gifts for a Home Cook
Gifts for a Fitness Lover

toy robot and list of educational gifts for kids chalkboard and list of educational gifts for kids square graphic with chalkboard and globe. educational gifts for kids

Aldi Meal Plan October 5

meal plan chalkboard and an aldi meal plan for this week

Do you struggle with coming up with meals to make each week? This Aldi meal plan will give you the inspiration you need to come up with a weekly meal plan for your family.

You can use this meal plan for your week as written or choose just some of the recipes from it to combine them with your family favorites or a recipe you’ve been meaning to try for months.

I’m a huge fan of using menu planning as a way to keep grocery costs down (my first point in this post on drastically reducing your grocery budget). No matter how many of these recipes you use, I highly recommend you get your downloadable menu plan template and put it to use. It has saved me so much money over the years:

Aldi Produce and Meat Sales to Check Out (10/3-10/9):

  • Grape tomatoes
  • Green grapes
  • Acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash
  • Multi colored bell peppers
  • Boneless chicken breast
  • Boneless whole port butt roast

Each week will include one or two vegetarian meals. This is a great way to keep your grocery budget down. Another tip for a lower grocery budget is to select just 4-5 of the listed suppers and eat leftovers the other nights. (This is also a time saver!)

Aldi Meal Plan


BBQ Pork Baked Potatoes – if not using for two meals, freeze half the bbq pork for another week or cut the recipe in half. Serve with raw veggies. (Save the rest of the bag of potatoes for a soup next week)
Spaghetti Squash Chow Mein
Chopped Salad Serve with homemade muffins or bread
Pork Tacos topped with lettuce and corn served with homemade salsa and chips (stretch the meat with black beans and freeze half for another week)
Cheesy Lentil Pie Serve with fresh or roasted veggies and fruit. (Lentils can be hit or miss at Aldi, so when you find them stock up! )
Easy Kale Sausage and White Bean Soup (Save the rest of the kale for another soup next week or use in a smoothie for breakfast)
Spaghetti (with ground beef or meatless). Serve with raw vegetables and french bread.

Snack and Side Options:

Fruit: grapes and apples
Raw Vegetables: Carrots, celery, bell pepper strips, grape tomatoes
Roasted Squash and root vegetables
French Bread

Frugal Lunch Ideas:

Rice Cakes (with peanut butter or meat)
Beans and Rice
Roasted Vegetables

Frugal Breakfast Ideas:

Scrambled Eggs
Baked Pancakes

What are you going to make this week? Do you use an Aldi meal plan? Basing your menu off of what’s on sale (or what you picked up on clearance or sale the weeks before and put in the freezer) is a great way to stretch your dollar and feed your family on a budget.


Halloween Alternatives for Families

Halloween alternatives.

Let’s talk for a minute.

I know this subject can be controversial: Is trick or treating okay or not okay? Are substitutes okay?

jack-o-lantern and fun halloween alterntaives

In Christian circles, this topic is touchy with lots of opinions and thoughts.

Today, though, we aren’t going to get into all of that. Instead, I want to share with you some Halloween Alternatives you can do with your kids.

If you do Halloween the traditional way and Trick or Treat, some of these might be a fun addition.

Halloween Alternatives:

jack o lantern and list of fun halloween alternatives

Trunk or Treat

I guarantee that there are numerous churches in you area that put on a truck or treat or some sort of fall carnival. Check out their Facebook pages, community Facebook pages, or your local Christian radio station to find them.

Harvest Party

Again, this is something I’ve seen done by churches and individuals. Host a fall themed party. Have a bonfire or the grill going. Roast hot dogs, grill some burgers, have the ingredients for s’mores and invite your friends for an evening to just hang out. Have everyone help by bringing food.

Family Game Night

My kids love games and would jump at a chance to do this. Let everyone in your family pick a game and rotate through them. Of course, have plenty of yummy snacks instead of a regular supper and this idea will be a home run.

Movie and Popcorn

Another family favorite here. How can you go wrong with popcorn and a movie? Throw in some ice cream and I’d be even happier. 🙂 Growing up we always watched a movie as a family in my parent’s bedroom and indulged in once a year foods. We loved it.

Eat Out

If you never eat out, this can be a fun idea. I can remember one time we met up with friends at a local restaurant for Halloween. Because eating out was a rare occurrence, we thought it was super neat.

Pumpkin Carving Party

Knives, pumpkin guts, creativity. Have a pumpkin carving party with your family or invite some friends to join you. I could see this being something your family looked forward to year after year.

Pumpkin Themed Games

Do these alone or in addition to any of the other ideas. Surprise your kids with just how many fun pumpkin games you can come up with. Younger kids would especially like this idea, but there are some games that would work for older kids. Here are two posts to give you some ideas.

Escape Room

This idea would be perfect to do when you have teens in the house. As much fun for them as it would be for the parents. Full disclosure, I have yet to do one. I’m a little scared of failing the puzzle.

Fall Themed Potluck

Anything done with food and friends is better, right? Send out a bunch of texts, group email, or start a Facebook event. Host a fall themed potluck at your house and everyone brings their fall favorites.

Go Treating

Everyone goes trick or treating on Halloween. Do the opposite. Put together some treat bags and go to peoples’ homes and pass them out. Such a fun idea to do with people you know, neighbors, and strangers.

Fall Crafts

SO many cute ideas out there for kids. My kindergartner and 2nd grader love all things craft. Here are three posts to give you lots of ideas for children.

For teens and adults, check out this list. So much cuteness!

Chili Cook off

We come back to foods and friends once again. This time you get to throw a little competition into the mix. 🙂 Be sure to have slips of paper so everyone can vote. If you can find them locally for a good price, mini styrofoam tasting cups like these are a lot of fun!

Decorate for Thanksgiving

If you haven’t decorated yet, Halloween would be the perfect night to get out your decorations (maybe even make some new ones) and Thanksgiving-fy your house. Of course food should be involved here too. 🙂

So many fun ideas. Try a few out and pick some to be a new tradition for your family. If you don’t trick or treat, I have a feeling your kids won’t miss it much at all.

Do you have any unique and fun Halloween alternatives to share?

pumpkin and fall leaves talking about fun halloween alternatives pumpkin in field and list of halloween alternatives