Getting Your House Ready for Thanksgiving Dinner

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I have this dream of hosting family dinner and it looks like a scene from a movie. The table is set perfectly with lovely place holders, crisp white table clothes and beautiful centerpieces. The food is served out of sterling silver and everything is cooked to perfection.  Then after dinner, everyone moves into the family room where miraculously there is enough seating for everyone. We watch football, but don’t really pay attention and spend the rest of the evening telling stories and catching up.

But that’s not reality, that’s just a dream. So let’s talk about a real Thanksgiving dinner looks like.  Kids running around making memories, everyone showing up at different times because people have to work, the tables are usually a mix of folded card tables, kitchen tables with chairs, bar stools and piano benches laid out everywhere.  There are no centerpieces because no one has time between raising a family, working until the last minute and having to cook a few dishes to bring. The biggest concern is making sure you don’t forget anything you were supposed to cook…. well at least that’s my biggest worry considering I did forget to bring a dish I said I would one year… oops!

Why do we have these picture-perfect standards that only cause our stress levels to go up? Why do we do this to ourselves?! Well this year, I say enough is enough! This year I’m forgetting about the image you see in a movie and am embracing my reality. A reality filled with chaos, laughter and very loud voices. 

Hosting a family dinner or even friends for Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be this stress-induced moment.  All you need is a plan to get your house in order and a time table to make sure the food is done on time.  In this post, we’re going to talk about making sure your house is presentable to the outside world (especially if you have little ones running around) and it not cost you hours of cleaning to get there.

One Week Before Thanksgiving

Clean and organize guest rooms if you have anyone staying the weekend with you. Change sheets on the bed, vacuum the carpet and dust the furniture.

Childproof your home if you have any small children coming. If you don’t have time to childproof everything or don’t want the inconvenience at least try to place outlet caps in the electrical outlets. It makes life so much easier for toddler-aged parents when they are fascinated by everything they shouldn’t touch.

Clear away any clutter. Go through the main rooms in your house and put away any paper clutter, miscellaneous items, and things taking up space.

Wipe down the bottom of the inside of your fridge and clean your microwave.

Make a game plan for when you need to cook each dish you’re providing.  Some dishes can be started 2-3 days before Thanksgiving.  Try to get done what you can so you aren’t spending all day before dinner int he kitchen.  

Three Days Before Thanksgiving

Sweep the kitchen and vacuum rooms where guests will be.

Mop the kitchen and bathroom floors.

Dust the house. Make sure to take care of the main rooms in your house.

Buy any last minute foods or fresh produce.

Day Before Thanksgiving

Clean your bathrooms – this is probably the most important room to clean before guests arrive (besides your kitchen). Hide any bath toys, clean the toilet and sink area. Make sure your toilet paper is stocked and wipe down the mirror. I like to hide everything on the bathroom counters, too. That way your toothbrushes aren’t in the way and the only thing visible is soap and a hand towel.

Run the dishwasher and put away any clean dishes. Now you’re sink will be empty and your dishwasher will be ready for all those dirty dishes.

Add a box of baking soda to your fridge to help reduce any odors.

Setup any extra tables and chairs that will be needed for dinner.

Morning Of Thanksgiving

Light candles in your bathrooms.

Wipe down kitchen counters.

Make sure to adjust your thermostat before everyone arrives.

Don’t stress over the last minute details. Make sure to enjoy your day.



How to Make Gift Bags from Wrapping Paper

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It never fails – we’re running late and should have left the house 20 minutes earlier.  Our son has decided that he doesn’t want to wear shoes, our dogs know something is up and are following me through the house, I have a gift to wrap before we leave and I can’t find a big enough bag.  

Luckily there is a trick you can do to turn wrapping paper into a gift bag that is just the right size.  Plus, it only takes a few minutes, which is perfect for me since I’m almost always running late and never seems to come easy this time of year.  

I created a quick video you can watch online or below to see just how to make gift bags from wrapping paper.

This technique comes in super handy around Christmas time. I don’t know about you, but it seems that gift bags cost so much more than a simple roll of gift paper.  So to save money, just buy a few extra rolls of paper and make a few bags to have on hand for those last minute gifts.  The gifts will be unique and impressive, but at the same time you’ll be saving money!

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5 Frugal Holiday Tips | Help You Save The Most Money This Christmas

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I’m coming at you today with my top five frugal holiday tips to save you the most money this season.  I know this time of year can be hard.  Like, really, really hard. We have our normal, every day lives to manage and now we have to make sure we buy gifts for a lot of people, host dinners and attend parties.  Not to mention if you have school-aged kids the Christmas programs you have to help with.  This time of year can be stressful.  

To help you out, I’m sharing these top frugal holiday tips so that you don’t have to stress about money.  

You can watch the 5 Frugal Holiday Tips video online or down below:

The first tip is to create a Christmas Budget.  You can read this post from earlier in the week where I shared just how we create our budget, what we track and where we get an idea of how much to spend on every person in our lives.

Your second tip to saving money is DIY. I know this one might seem a little hard, especially if your pressed for time but you can easily find a simple project that takes hardly any time and costs hardly anything.  For me, I love the idea of making something for someone I love over buying a gift.  It seems so much more personal and shows just how much I care.

Here are a few DIY ideas:

  • ornaments
  • wreath
  • oven mitts
  • framed photo

A third frugal holiday tip is to host a potluck instead of exchanging gifts.  Let’s be honest, gift buying can get overwhelming and expensive. So get together with friends or neighbors and suggest a potluck instead of a gift exchange.  Have everyone bring a dish and then just spend time together.  I’m sure having a few hours laughing over a meal would mean more than a gift that will end up collecting dust.

The fourth tips is all about shopping smart.  You can find amazing deals online by using coupon codes and promotional discounts.  Always search on Google for a coupon code before checking out to make sure you’re getting the lowest price.  Another great way to shop smart is by going to the Dollar Tree, Big Lots and other discount stores.  If you’re willing to go earlier in the holiday season you can find some great items for a fraction of the cost as other retailers.

My final tip for racking up those holiday savings is host a cookie party. Invite a few friends over and each of you bake 1-2 cookie recipes, but make sure your batches are big enough to share.  Then at the end of the day you have about 6 different recipes you can split between you to pass out as gifts. 

How To Setup Your Christmas Budget

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The holiday season is upon us.  The moment Halloween is over, it seems that Christmas is in full swing.  I need time to slow down just a little, it’s going by way too fast.  I can’t believe it’s going to be our little guy’s second Christmas this year.  In a recent Budget Q&A I shared the concept of our Christmas Budget – what we include, how it works and what all I track.  Well in that post I promised I would bring a more in-depth tutorial on how you can setup your Christmas Budget to help you tame the chaos this year.  

You can watch the video online or below:

You need to create a simple spreadsheet in either your journal, Excel or you can even use Google Sheets to create one.  You need 7 columns to get you started:

  1. Who
  2. What
  3. Budget
  4. Spent
  5. Bought
  6. Received
  7. Wrapped


This one is pretty self explanatory, who do you need to buy a gift for.  Make sure to include all of your family members, friends, co-workers, any hostess gifts for dinner parties, mailman, trash pick-up guys, etc.


The what category always takes you a little longer to complete.  This is where you will brainstorm a gift idea for everyone on your list.


Fill in how much you plan on spending for each person.  You can use this guide to help with gift limits.  


Once you buy a gift, fill in this section.  As I said in the video if you go over by a few dollars on one person’s gift – that’s okay.  Just make up for somewhere else. For instance, if I spend $5 more for my sister’s gift than I had budgeted, then I need to spend $5 less somewhere else.  It could be on one other gift or I could save a $1 or so on several different people to make up the difference.  

Bought, Received, Wrapped

Use the last three columns as a checklist.  Now you can look at your budget at any moment to know who you need to buy for still, what gifts you’re waiting on to get in and which ones still need to be wrapped.  These three additions to your budget are a game changer. I promise! No more waiting until the last minute to get a gift for someone because you forgot.  Now you will know exactly who you have left and about how much you still need to spend.  

For more tips and budget help, check out these great posts:

How We Use Our Credit Card Rewards

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Our Favorite Money Saving Apps

money savings apps

How To Make Money Shopping Online and walmart savings catcher, making money shopping


Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  Are you prepared? This year we’re staying in town and having dinner with my family.  It’s going to be great getting together with my sister (and brother-in-law), my cousins and their kids.  My cousins and I are about the same age and even are kids are close in age.  So it’s great when we all get to be together.  We usually laugh until we get headaches, we tell stories of our past and just enjoy ourselves.  

You may remember from October’s Budget Q&A from not too long ago.  We mentioned taking the time to plan out your holiday budget.  I do have a post all about preparing your Christmas Budget, which includes Thanksgiving dinner coming this week (so stay tuned!). Your holiday budget not only includes gifts you have to buy for everyone, but also anything you have to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, road trips to see families and much more.  

The first think you need to do is to go through your holiday budget and make sure you know exactly what you planned on making or buying for Thanksgiving.  It’s important to remind yourself so you don’t overspend.

Today, I wanted to share with you a few tips for hosting Thanksgiving dinner on a budget:

Have a Potluck

Don’t put the stress and responsibility of preparing every dish on just one person.  Ask for help.  Ask each couple or person to bring a dish or two.  It really helps on the food costs and the time it takes to prepare.  My family does this every year.  That way everyone is contributing some dish to dinner and is helping out.

Prioritize Your Dishes

Make a list of every dish you would like to have at dinner.  From there you can see what people are bringing and then anything left over needs to be prioritized.  Let’s be honest, there’s usually too many dishes and foods at Thanksgiving dinner.  So, don’t be afraid if something doesn’t make the cut.  

Do Without Store Bought Decorations

If you have any decorations or centerpieces from previous years then use those.  If not, then get creative.  You can find a ton of fall decor ideas on Pinterest.  Another option is to head outside and use leaves or pinecones you find in your backyard.  Use a little spray paint or imagination and you can make your own perfect pieces.

Make It Yourself

Obviously hiring a caterer sounds like a genius idea, but they can be costly.  Another way your budget can jump is having a bakery prepare your cakes, pies or other bakery goods.  Do without hiring someone to make dishes and do it yourself, from scratch.  Buying goods from bakeries and stores can be costly, but so can buying pre-made or pre-mixed foods too.  

There you have it! Simple tips to help you stay within your budget and still enjoy time with your family.  It’s too easy to get wrapped up in this idea of the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.  The food has to be perfect, the decorations have to be spot-on and the house has to be spotless.  But that’s not what Thanksgiving is about.  It’s about time with family, being thankful for what’s most important and enjoying the moment.


What We Did For Halloween

Since this was Dent’s first year getting to trick-or-treat we wanted to make sure he enjoyed it.  We started the night off with heading to my parents house so my Mom could actually get a trick-or-treater for the first time since I was a little girl.  You see, my folks live a little ways out of town and we never had any come visit us for Halloween.  Every year my Mom would hope, but they never came.  

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So I wanted to make sure she had a least one trick-or-treater at her door.  He loved it.  He walked up to the front door and then strutted straight inside to get his goodies.  Afterwards we headed back to our house to trick-or-treat our street.  We knew he wouldn’t make it all night, so we just stayed close to home.

I know I haven’t been a kid in a very long time, but I don’t remember Halloween being such a madhouse.  Parents just rolling up to a house, kids running out of the cars and straight to the candy bowls then hitting a few more houses before sprinting back to the car for Mom to roll down the street a little more.  It didn’t seem fun, it seemed about it was all for the candy.  I remember being a little girl and walking the street as a group, which I spent most of my childhood Halloweens with my Grandma handing out candy, but the few years I did go – it was about having fun with friends.

Our little NASCAR driver loved walking up to someone’s house and being handed candy. He wasn’t quite sure what to think of it, but he loved it! He even started waving bye-bye to people as we walked away.    

Tips for Traveling With a Toddler

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With the holiday season fast approaching, we are planning for some road trips to see family.  Now that our little man is almost 17 months old (cue tears!) we travel a little differently than when he was first born.  Long gone are the days of him sleeping most of the car ride and we’ve replaced those peaceful days with fighting the car seat, boredom and counting down the seconds until we reach our destination.

I make it sound just horrible traveling with a toddler, don’t I? It’s really not that bad.  Sure some trips are better than others.  Some days he’s a peach in the car and entertains himself with a small toy and a few snacks.  Other days he can’t stand his car seat and is sure to let us know how unpleased he is.

But as I’ve told him over and over, Mommy and Daddy have to use the car seat because it’s the safest place for him to be.  He usually fights me, but I at least try to reason with him (HA!).

With J’s family living a few hours away, we tend to travel on a regular basis.  I wanted to share with you my tried-and-true travel hacks with you.  I want you to be prepared for those long car rides you’ll be facing and nights away from home.  Plus this time of year usually means the roads aren’t always the best, especially with temperatures dropping below freezing at night.  So I like to make sure we have our little guy nice and calm during road trips so that it makes driving a little easier on us.

Not too long ago I shared some of my go-to tips when traveling with a baby.  Now as he’s gotten older and a little more independent some of my tips have changed.  But if you have a younger baby then these tips could really help you.

Let’s get into today’s post – tips for traveling with a toddler.  Now don’t worry I am going to cover everything from the car ride to staying the night.  So let’s do it.

What to bring in the car:


Few Favorite Toys – I typically bring one (or two) that makes noise and the rest are silent. I either bring a few balls, books or stuffed animals.

Diapers and wet wipes for any changes – I like to leave a few of these outside the diaper bag so I don’t have to dig around for an emergency stop.

Towel – in case there is a mess that needs to be cleaned up or we have to do a diaper change in the back seat.

iPad to watch movies

What to bring for overnight stays:

Pack-n-play – that way when it’s bedtime your little one has a place to sleep that’s all their own.  

Blanket – it’s nice to have something that smells like home and can be a comfort to them

Extra Clothes

Favorite Bottle or Sippy Cup – my little guy still loves a bottle in the morning.  We’ve been able to replace everything else with a sippy cup, but not his morning one.  Since he takes medicine I prefer not to fight him just yet.  

Favorite Foods – you pack snacks or non-perishable foods you know your little one likes.  This works great if you’re eating out a lot or not sure what meals will be prepared.

Bedtime Routine – it can be hard to stick to a similar routine that you have at home, but try.  Your little one loves having a routine and it makes it a lot easier on them if they are being put down about the same time each night and follow the same steps they would at home.  For us, it’s bath, brush teeth, have some water, snuggle for a bit then be laid down.

Morning Routine – again, try to stick to the similar routine you have each morning.  I know it can be hard, but just do your best.

If you plan on flying with your little one, then check out my tips here to make it so much easier on yourself and your child.

How To Prepare For A New Month

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It’s that time of the month again – I swear as I get older time just seems to keep going by faster and faster.  I do wish it would slow down so I could enjoy my little boy a bit longer.  Everyday he’s learning something new and becoming so much of a little boy as opposed to a baby.  When we went to the pumpkin patch a few weeks ago watching his determination and excitement was just awesome.  He was willing to try just about anything (he didn’t care for the slide in pitch black though) and he absolutely loved the big boy slide.  He just kept wanting to go down it over and over again.  When it was time to leave, a full on meltdown followed.  

Anyways… this post is about how to prepare for a new month, not the challenges I’m having watching my little boy grow up.  

Let’s get back on track.  Focus Meredith, focus.

There are a few things I do at the end of each month to help us kick off the next on a high note.  I highly recommend coming up with a monthly routine for you and your family to follow.  It helps to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

The first thing we do is take a look at our 3-month plan.  Awhile back I talked about how we plan our life 3 months at a time.  This is how we approach just about everything.  We sit down once a quarter to really get a big picture view of what we have going on, what we need to be planning for and budgeting for.  Then we like to break it down by a month-to-month basis. 

After we make sure we’re on track for our big 3 month plan then we go forward with preparing for the new month. 

Here’s what our 3 months looks like:

January, February and March are planned end of December/beginning of January

April, May and June are planned end of March/beginning of April

July, August, and September are planned end of June/beginning of July

October, November, and December are planned end of September/beginning of October

Here we are getting ready for November, so our 3 month plan is already set.  However, if this was the end of the quarter then we would be going through our steps to get ready for the next 3 months.  

Here’s the rest our monthly plan:

Money Date 

You should end each month with a money date.  Now you typically should have a money date at least once a week (or every other week), but make sure to have one at the end of each month.  This helps you know what each person has coming up and what they would like to do for the next month.

Review Your Budget 

Next you need to take a look at your budget.  Make sure you finalize any calculations or figuring to know exactly how you did the month before.  This is the time to review any receipts, bank charges, expense tracking, etc. to make sure everything is accounted for and your numbers are correct.  When you spend a little bit of time each week then this doesn’t become too overwhelming.  

But it’s a good idea to review your budget before the start of a new month so if there were any overspending or surprises then you can be better prepared.

Plan Any Events

You should know a few weeks in advance of any dinners you need to attend or birthday parties.  This is the time to make sure they are in your calendar and you have prepared your budget in case you need to bring a gift or spend money at a restaurant.  Hopefully you’ve had more than a month’s notice, but sometimes that isn’t the case.  Especially when it comes to children’s birthday parties.  

Also, this is the time to make sure you have a date night scheduled at least every other week (or once a week).  You can swap out babysitting with a friend or see if the grandparents wouldn’t mind keeping your little ones for an evening so that you can relax. 

Before having kids I never understood the importance of date night, I mean we had date night but it didn’t feel special.  Now that we have our son, I get it.  Date night is a chance for you to reconnect with your spouse, have adult conversations and just be together.  The other week J and I had a date night at home.  Grandma and Grandpa kept little man and we did nothing.  We sat outside in our backyard, had the fire pit going and enjoyed a glass of wine.  We then came in to heat up some leftovers and were in bed by 8:30.  It was perfect.

Meal Plan

Finally, you should spend some time meal planning.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you can take stock of what you already have on hand so that when it’s time to grocery shop you aren’t buying something you don’t need.  We like to meal plan for two weeks at a time so we aren’t wasting food and can rearrange meals if needed. Typically if we eat leftovers an extra night or go to my parents’ for dinner then I can take a meal and push it back to later in the month.  It makes grocery shopping easier and we aren’t wasting food.

You can find more about meal planning and eating out back in September’s Budget Q&A.  We found that by meal planning for two weeks we can save a lot more money.  

What do you do to help prepare for a new month? Leave a comment letting me know!

DIY NASCAR Costume for a Toddler

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This family loves NASCAR (well actually J loves it and I’ve learned to like it over the past 5 years). When it came time to decide on a Halloween costume for Dent, we agreed on a race car driver outfit.  Of course he had to be our favorite driver, too – Tony Stewart.  

I started searching online and the prices were ridiculous! $30 for a Halloween costume?!?! … No thanks…

The ones at Walmart weren’t NASCAR themed and had way too many fake muscles for my liking. Why do we have to put fake muscles on everything for little boys… what kind of message is that sending?? I don’t know, but I didn’t care for it.

Then I decided to just make a DIY NASCAR costume for our son.

I even gave myself a budget of keeping it under $15.

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I headed to Walmart where I had hopes of finding a solid black sleeper, but wasn’t in luck. Then I found a long sleeve shirt and sweat pants that were under $4.00 each, so I spent less than $8 for the outfit.

Next we headed to Hobby Lobby to try to find some ribbon with a checkered flag. They had one kind and it was $4.00, but with a 40% off coupon it came out to be $2.40 for the spool. Perfect.

I knew I had some fabric glue at home, so I decided to just use it. I washed the clothes once we got home and then got to work. I took the ribbon down the sleeves, sides of the shirt and pants, which didn’t take long at all.  I let it dry overnight just to be sure the glue held.

It needed just a little bit more so I bought some iron-on transfer paper for less than $8.00. I googled Tony Stewart to see what type of sponsors he had on his uniform and went from there.  Once I decided on a few brands, I googled their logo and then uploaded them into canva.  I saved the sheets as a PDF and then printed them on an inkjet printer. 

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I had never used iron-on transfer paper before so I was a little unsure of how good it would turn out, but I followed the directions to make sure I was doing it right. It does say to wash it after 24 hours and turn it inside out, but honestly I didn’t.  I figured since I already washed the clothes when I bought it that it would be fine.  Now after he’s done wearing it then I will wash it, but I don’t want to take the chance of the transfer coming off in the washer.

Overall I spent right at $18.40 for the whole outfit.  I wasn’t under my $15.00 goal, but I only used two of the sheets of transfer paper so now I have it for next year’s costume or some other craft project down the road.  So I still consider it a win!

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We headed to a trunk-or-treat earlier this week and had a blast.  Dent loved getting candy from everyone and showing off his outfit.  We’re planning on walking around the neighborhood on Halloween. I can’t wait!

How To Get Started With Cash Budgeting

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Recently I shared a video about how to get started with cash budgeting and I realized that I never shared it over on the blog. Shame on me! 

Cash budgeting is a great tool to use when you’re learning how to budget your money properly or if you need a little kick in the pants to stop overspending.  J and I go back to cash budgeting time after time because it’s just so easy.

If you hate budgeting and really don’t want to keep up with spreadsheets to track your money then cash budgeting is the way to go.

You can watch the video online or down below.


I can’t recommend cash budgeting enough!  It really is the perfect way to budget your money when you hate budgets.  The first step you need before getting started is decide what exactly you can pay cash for and what you can’t.  For instance – mortgage, utilities, credit card payments, loan payments, and so on – it’s probably easier to setup online bill pay or mail a check in each month.  However, I would highly recommend paying cash for groceries, eating out and any other category you find yourself going over each month in.  I’ve been asked before about gas for our cars, do we use cash or card.  Well, w\e tend to use a card for any gas that we need for our cars.  I used to pay cash, but after having a kid I realized it wasn’t really feasible to get an infant (now stubborn toddler_ out of the car seat just to walk inside to hand over cash then try to strap him back in.  So not worth it! But you have to find what works best for you.

For some more tips on how to get started with cash budgeting check out these other posts. 

Creating your budget in under 10 minutes

how to create a budget in 10 minutes

Getting started with cash envelopes

how to use the cash envelope system

What is the debt snowball

tips on doing the debt snowball, how to do the debt snowball

Why we have so many bank accounts

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Why your bills should be on auto pay 

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