Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos.

My Pastor has been bringing some really powerful truths to our church. For the past month, he’s been doing this awesome series called, “First Things First.” We are on week two of the series and some of the words he spoke felt like a big slap on the face. Not in a bad way, but in a way that shouts: HEY YOU! FIX THIS AREA OF YOUR LIFE.

As I thought this message over, I felt really convicted and challenged as I wrestled with the question of whether or not I’ve been prioritizing God in my life.

  1. Is the Bible the first thing I read?

  2. Is He the first one I talk to (prayer?)

  3. Is He first in every area of my life?

When I answered these questions truthfully and also somewhat begrudgingly, “Well, mostly…” I didn’t like what I saw.

This morning when I felt like stress was trying to strangle me before I even hopped out of the bed, I thought of Psalm 23. I decided to read it.

 “The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalms 23:1-6

As I read the words, I felt stress release its ugly grip. I felt peace as I reminded myself of some powerful truths from this Psalm:

  1. God’s got me. I have everything I need.

  2. I can rest in Him. He is my peace.

  3. he gives me new strength on the daily.

  4. He shows me where I need to go and what I need to do.

  5. When everything goes to hell and I can’t see the light, fear has no place. He is with me.

  6. God has my back. I can cry to him and He’ll comfort me.

  7. He pours out His blessings over me in the face of people who hate me or don’t want me to do well (hint – these are not always clearly seen enemies).

  8. My life OVERFLOWS with blessing.

  9. His goodness and love literally chase after me and will continue to do so as long as I’m alive.

  10. I have eternity with Him.

If you are going through what feels like a trial or just a really tough spot in life, I encourage you to read Psalm 23. This is a Psalm you have heard a million times. You have probably read it so many times, BUT I challenge you to read it with fresh eyes, a fresh heart. Read it out loud. Feel His peace calm you in the middle of a torrent and remind yourself of the promised rest that comes with knowing Christ.

xo – Until Next Time

 

How To Be a Godly Leader According to Proverbs 16

Godly Leadership according to proverbs

I love learning about leadership and how to be a good leader. More importantly, I love learning about how to be a Godly leader.  As a teacher, a worship leader, and a part of the pastoral staff at our church, I constantly want to learn how I can be a better leader and a more effective leader. I love to talk to other leaders and soak in wisdom and listen to their experiences and mistakes.

Tonight when I was doing my study, I was reading through Proverbs 16. I’m doing a Bible Reading Plan where you go through Proverbs and Psalms multiple times throughout the year. Because I’m in my second round of reading through Proverbs in order, I like to switch through different versions. I decided to read through Proverbs 16 in The Message version and imagine my delight when I came across verse after verse with clear guidelines for leadership. As clear as night and day. I thought I would share. Being a leader is a huge responsibility and healthy leadership is really important. How do you know what healthy leadership and most importantly, BIBLICAL leadership should look like? Look at the word of God. Let’s take a look.

Here are some guidelines of what a Godly Leader Looks like According to proverbs 16:
  1. “A good leader motivates, doesn’t mislead, doesn’t exploit.” Proverbs 16:10

A godly leader will be a person that is constantly motivating you and challenging you. Good leaders will call out the best in you, and will also hold you accountable and be truthful. I love how it says they won’t mislead you or exploit you. In other words, a good leader shouldn’t USE you. If a person is only interested in your talents and abilities but doesn’t care about you as a person – run. You will see this if they drop you like a sack of hot potatoes once you are no longer useful to them.

2. “Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds; sound leadership has a moral foundation.” Proverbs 16:12

Godly leaders should have a solid moral life. This means they should hate evil. They should hate it enough to call it out. Also, if you are a leader you should be living a life of morality on and off the platform. Who cares if you can fool people when you can’t fool God? #moralitymatters

3. “Good leaders cultivate honest speech; they love advisors who tell them the truth.” Proverbs 16:13

Leaders should speak TRUTH and should love to hear TRUTH. Honesty is important as a leader. This means you have to be willing to speak truth, even if it hurts, even if it’s unpopular. On the other side of it, you should be able to listen to advisors and people who will do the same for your life. I’m extremely wary of people who refuse to listen to others and think they have all the answers. The Bible speaks repeatedly in listening to godly counsel from others, so as a leader – take it to heart and if you’re under leadership that won’t listen to others, that’s not biblical or wise.

4. “An intemperate leader wreaks havoc in lives; you’re smart to stay clear of someone like that.” Proverbs 16:14

Intemperate means a person who doesn’t have control. A godly leader should be self-controlled. A person who flies off the handle and lacks restraint is a person who can bring many lives to ruin. I have personally known people who have no control and who literally have ruined relationships, jobs, and anything good that was going for them. This doesn’t mean that a leader has to be 100% perfect. Trust me, it’s quite the opposite. But if a person is consistently living of a life that has zero control – stay clear!

5. “Good-tempered leaders invigorate lives; they’re like spring rain and sunshine.” Proverbs 16:15

Probably my favorite verse in this chapter. This goes along with the previous verse: a person that’s good tempered will add to your life. They will strengthen your life, energize it, add to it. A Godly leader will do just that – invigorate, strength, and add to the lives of those around them. Unhealthy leadership is a leader who drains the life from those around them. Instead of spring rain, they are more like clouds and storms. Ask yourself if you are bringing something to the table that adds to the lives of those you have the opportunity to influence and impact.

This is just what Proverbs 16 had to say about leadership. The Bible has a plethora of crystal clear guidelines on what leadership looks like according to a biblical standard. As a leader, we need to adhere to these standards. As a person under leadership, know the word and know what God looks for in leaders. I wanted to share because I loved how The Message wrote so clearly about it. Feel free to comment below with your thoughts!

 

My Top 10 Places in and Around South Jersey to Check Out if You have a Toddler

Top 10 Places to Visit with Toddlers in South Jersey

I’m the momma to two very active three-year-olds who will be four this summer. As a teacher, summer is EVERYTHING! I try to make the most of my time with my boys and since they’ve been born, I’ve gathered some of my favorite things to do with them and my favorite places to go.  Majority of these places work fine in the spring, summer, fall, and even winter. This list is compiled with things that we’ve personally enjoyed in the past and recently. This is not an all inclusive list though, so share what you love to do with your little people! Most places, except for two, are located in South Jersey! All located in the TriState Area. Please comment and let me know what places you enjoy and what activities you like to do over the summer!

My Top 10 South Jersey Places to Visit if you Have toddlers

1. Ocean City, NJ – the shore.

By far, my absolute favorite place to go in the summer is Ocean City. Maybe it’s because as a teenager I vacationed here with my best friend and her family or maybe it’s just the amazing food – Ocean City is a win and when you have kids, it’s a double win. First off, the beach is reasonable and if you buy beach tags for the summer, you’re good to go. Second off, Ocean City is super family friendly and there is a lot out there for toddlers including rides, strolling the boardwalk, surrey rides, parks, and more. We spend out time on the boardwalk and beach and it’s our favorite!

Toddler Fun in Ocean City, NJ

2. The Cape May Zoo.

It’s FREE. FREE. FREE. You can make a donation of your choice if you choose. Cape May is a fantastic zoo for toddlers. It’s very walkable because it’s not insanely big. It’s perfect. On top of that, it has an awesome park for the kiddos! There are plenty of pavilions so you can pack a lunch or you can buy lunch there. It’s not far from the Cape May beach area either, so you can do a combo day where you spend half the day at the zoo and half the day at the shore. Score!

Toddler Fun at the Cape May County Zoo Toddler Fun at the Cape May County Zoo Toddler Fun at the Cape May County Zoo Toddler Fun at the Cape May County Zoo

3. The Philadelphia Zoo.

We are pass holders here because by the time you add the price of the tickets together, it makes sense to buy a season pass and reap the benefits: free parking, 10% off your food purchases and gift shop purchases, and free parking. This zoo was the FIRST real zoo in the US. It’s spacious, has tons of animals and sites to see, and is really easy to walk – though because it’s so big we bring the stroller just in case! You can spend a good portion of your day here!

Toddler Fun at the Philadelphia Zoo

4. The Garden State Discovery Museum or Please Touch Museum.

I LOVE the Please Touch Museum. It’s a bit pricey at $19 per person (unless your child is 1 and under). HOWEVER, they offer $2 admission on the first Wednesday of each month from 4 pm to 7 pm. My husband and I like to arrive as soon as it opens. By the time we’ve gone through the whole museum and are ready to leave, that’s when it’s starting to get busy. The $2 fee on the first Wednesday of each month from 4 pm to 7 pm is unbeatable at that price, so if you’re on a budget that would be a good time to check this place out. The Garden State Discovery Museum is cheaper and discounts on Groupon are frequently offered. If you don’t feel like dealing with Philly traffic or driving into the city, The Garden State Discovery Museum is a fun spot too!

 

Toddler Fun at The Garden State Discovery Museum

5. Storybook Land.

This place is essentially designed for toddlers and for small kiddos. It’s a load of fun, lines were short when we went in the summer, and it’s not hard to access/park. Tickets are around $23 if you buy them online and are a bit more at the door! I would choose Storybook Land over a place like Six Flags any day of the week. It’s not as packed and my boys could pretty much get on anything. Also, it’s themed after different classic children’s stories. FUN!

Storybook Land in Mayslanding, NJStorybook Land in Mayslanding, NJ

6. Sesame Place.

In my opinion, if you’re going to go, summer is definitely the time to go! They have awesome an awesome water park! We took the boys here for the majority of the day and we were pooped! Check out my post about Sesame Place for more detailed information about our experience here!

7. Parvin’s State Park.

Located only fifteen minutes away from where we live, we love going to Parvin’s State Park. There are plenty of nature trails that we explore as a family and so many outlets where the kids can skip stones, dip their feet into the lake, and even bicycle. One of my favorite places to go and best of all it’s FREE. I think they charge in the summer to swim/go in the beach area, but I wouldn’t know because we never go to that part.

8. Sahara Sam’s or Diggerland.

We have done Sahara Sam’s in the past but haven’t checked out Diggerland yet, though according to my friend’s, it’s a must. In fact, Diggerland has made it into Redbrook and some other magazines as a destination to check out on this side of the coast! I can speak for Sahara Sam’s and say that we had a fun experience here over the summer. It is an indoor and outdoor waterpark. It’s best to get here early because it gets really packed with different groups and camps coming through. I felt like there was enough for my boys to do at their age and the pool was fun because we could swim with them.

9. Smithville

Smithville is a really cute little historic town located in Atlantic County. When we go here with the boys, we spend maybe about two to three hours here tops. It’s not geared towards toddlers but we still have fun here! It’s quaint, cute, decorative, and a good place to hang for a few hours and do breakfast/lunch/dinner. My kids get a kick out of the ducks that walk around. There’s also a carousel and train rides. They also have different activities and events, so check out their calendar. Price wise: free. Can’t beat that.

10. Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ

This is a new one for us! We literally have JUST had the chance to check this place out. You can spend a good portion of your day here and your little ones will have a blast. This aquarium has plenty for the boys to see and do and they absolutely loved it. Price wise, it’s pricey! $28 per adult and $21 per child. As a teacher, we get discounts through ticketsatwork.com which saved us $30 from the total bill. Definitely worth a visit!

Toddler Fun at Adventure Aquarium Toddler Fun at Adventure Aquarium Toddler Fun at Adventure Aquarium

This summer I’m looking forward to creating new memories with my family and also discovering new places and things to do while revisiting some of the things we’ve done in the past! What about you? What’s your favorite summer activity or place to visit? We love to travel and I’m always looking for new places to check out!

7 Ways to Make Date Night Happen – No Excuses

Some of my favorite nights ever are the date nights that I have with my husband. As insane as life gets, whether the budget is fantastic or terrible, whether we “have the time” or not, Jose and I try to make it a priority to go on a date and have that time together without the kiddos. I wanted to share 7 ways to make date night happen regardless of your budget or busyness. For my husband and I, it’s really important!

Why?

Because before there were kids, there was US.

When the kids go to college, it will be US.

I’ve watched so many people have children and literally put their love lives completely on pause. Not for seconds or minutes or even days or weeks, but for YEARS. Then the kids go to college and there are two adults who barely know each other. I strongly believe that if mom and dad are happy and the marriage is healthy, the kiddos will feel the ripple effects of that. I know many who idolize their children to the point where their children consume every aspect of their lives above all things and anything else (even God). There is no room for anything or anyone else. Friendships dissolve and more. I don’t want to be that way! So I’ve decided I won’t.

I’ve faced judgment and even criticism sometimes, because God forbid if you are having fun without your kids, what kind of person even are you? Um, a human being who likes to have fun without her kids at times so she can pee in peace and have dinner without sharing.

Plus, it’ s SO FUN to continue to go on dates and do things together one on one. It keeps the romance alive and reminds me of our early years all over again. Stolen kisses, inside jokes, laughing together at something when we’re supposed to be serious. This is the stuff that my kind of love is made of!

How do you make this possible, especially if you have kids?

  1. Put it on the calendar. Once it’s on the calendar, it’s a priority! Make it one.

Put it in your calendar like you would put an actual appointment. Treat it like you would treat an appointment with a client – except your spouse is even more important! Time with your husband or wife is a worthy investment in your marriage and should be prioritized.2.

2. Have a group of reliable sitters at the ready.

Vary your sitters so you have options. We don’t like to put all of our eggs in one basket. That being said, we don’t just let anyone watch our boys. Typically it’s my mom, my mother-in-law and two reliable college age girls from church who work in the Sunday School program at our church. My boys love their sitters and are familiar with them. In the same way,

3. Don’t use your budget as an excuse.

It’s really easy to write off date night because it’s not in the budget. Trust me, been there before! However, date night can still be fun and free. There are a ton of resources and ideas available on Pinterest. Some of my favorite things to do:

  • Watch a movie: rent one through iTunes, watch for free on Netflix, TV. I have even borrowed movies from friends – talk about budget friendly!
  • During warm weather, lay a blanket in the backyard, put on the firepit: talk, listen to music, stargaze, ask silly questions.
  • Read together: call us dorks, we love to read books together. We pick out a book we both want to read and go through it chapter by chapter.
  • Game night: we don’t do this as often, but back in the day we would play board games and get really competitive. Scrabble and Bananagrams were favorites.
  • Park: Going to a park, walking the trails or riding bikes while having a conversation is relaxing and easy to do.
  • Free Events: Look up what’s free in your area and you would be surprised!

4. If you can’t go out, date night in.

I’ve already listed a few ideas/suggestions that have worked for us. Feel free to borrow one or suggest one in the comment section!

5. Swap babysitting services with another couple for date nights.

We are in a bracket where a lot of our friends have babies/toddlers the same age. This is something we haven’t done but would be willing to do! I think it’s a pretty easy way to score a date night and to add a couple to your babysitting catalog.

6. Push guilt aside.

I know a lot of parents suffer from this! I think mom’s especially feel this type of guilt. Parents who feel awful for doing something without their children. I am NOT that parent, but if you happen to be, then realize this: it’s okay to have a night of fun without your kiddos. It doesn’t make you a bad person. A relaxed, happy, set of parents are better parents for their children.

7. Make FUN the priority.

Don’t get worked up over what doesn’t go right: keep in mind the primary goal of date night with your spouse is to have fun and enjoy each other’s company. I remember the days of dating during high school and the college years. I could literally be sitting next to Jose doing nothing, but the fact that we were together was just so NICE. As adults, life has only gotten more hectic as each year passes. It’s a beautiful thing to have fun and be reminded of where it all began.

My husband planned this one. After an obsession with Heartland, he took me horseback riding because I fell in love with horses.

Sunday afternoon date.

This date night we planned in advance. We bought concert tickets as our Christmas gift in December but the actual concert wasn’t until April 1st.

Couples date night out. This was something planned about a month in advance which gave us an opportunity to plan a sitter and budget accordingly.

A day at the beach is fun, cheap, and my favorite!

Even though the pictures you see are pictures of us actually going out – there are plenty of times we stay in! I guess I just don’t take too many pictures of those times! Ha!

These are some of my suggestions but I would love to hear some of yours! What do you and your spouse do for date nights? How often do you try to make date nights happen? Comment below!

 

 

 

Marriage Mondays – If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…

You’ve heard the saying before:

If you don’t have anything nice to say….don’t say it all!

I don’t know about you, but I KNOW what my weakness is. I’ve always known it, even at a young age. It’s my tongue. My mouth. The words I speak.

When I was in middle school, I once got out of a situation where a girl wanted to fight me. She was taller than me, bigger than me, and would undoubtedly beat the tar out of me EXCEPT, I had a secret weapon. My mouth. So I hurled insults her way (not something I’m proud of as an adult!) and when it was time to “fight” she was nowhere to be found because I embarrassed her. I don’t say this as something to be proud of, but to emphasize the fact, that even at a young age I knew I could use words to hurt people.

As an adult, the more I learned about words and the power of the words we speak, the more I realized the words I spoke had weight, power, and could affect a situation or a person positively or negatively.

Now picture a girl whose weakness is her mouth in a relationship with a person who is hot headed and is also known for his mouth. Guys, it wasn’t a good combination. Jose and I spent the first few years of our relationship arguing a lot and using our words to hurt each other. The thing with the words you speak is that once you say them you can’t take them back and hurtful words are so painful and wound so deeply. If I asked you right now to tell me something someone said that hurt you, you could distinctly give me a specific incident and person. We remember these things.

This is why I want to tell you something I’ve had to learn myself in marriage.

When I don’t have anything to say that’s going to produce fruit in my marriage, sometimes the best thing to do is to BE QUIET.

As in literally, zip it and not say anything at all.

Here’s the thing – I know there are times where you will have to have difficult conversations within a marriage. This is a reality that’s inescapable and healthy. What I AM saying is this – if what you are going to say is not going to produce positive fruit in your marriage, don’t say it.

In this post, I’m talking specifically about those low blow moments. You know what I’m talking about. Those moments where you have something you can say that will really hit your spouse where it hurts. Maybe it’s a weakness, a vulnerability that’s been shared. You are so angry or mad and you just want your spouse to know it, so you prep your ammunition and are ready to aim. My plea to you – don’t.

 

Our first year of marriage, in the middle of an argument, Jose used to simply stop speaking and leave the room. At first, I was even more livid, “I’m talking to you! I’m trying to have a conversation with you! What are you doing?!” I would call after him. He would later explain that he just needed to step away from the situation until we could talk calmly about it. Oh, it would make me so irate because I wanted to talk about things RIGHT NOW and resolve it RIGHT AWAY. As time has gone on, I’ve appreciated how much it has saved us from a lot of pain! Eight years in, we don’t walk away from each other in the midst of hard conversations, but we have learned to guard the words that we speak to each other.

I love what James has to say about the words we speak:

“In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” James 3:5-6

I love how it keeps mentioning “fire.” One terrible word or conversation can cause a world of pain and destruction. This can be avoided if we guard our speech and the words that we speak to our spouse.

I’m not telling you that anytime you get into an argument you need to physically run away from each other! When we were newlyweds,  we were learning how to fight fair.  We had to actually give each other some physical space for a few minutes or a half hour or so, then reconvene when we were calm. I’m glad that being married almost 8 years; we’ve come such a long way and don’t have to do this every time there’s a disagreement. We’ve learned that we respect and love each other enough to protect each other from words we might regret.

So if I could share anything that has helped me:

  1. If you’re ticked off, don’t try to force a conversation in that moment.
  2. If you have to give each other a few minutes, do it. Don’t force it in that exact moment, BUT…
  3. Refuse to go to bed angry with each other (Ephesians 4:26).
  4. DON’T SAY INSULTING THINGS YOU WILL REGRET.
  5. Talk to your spouse when emotions have calmed down and you can be reasonable.
  6. Your words matter and will be remembered. They also can HURT and create a deep wound so PROTECT each other by refusing to engage in trading insults.

Here’s the thing – all couples have disagreements at one point or another. If you’ve never argued with your spouse, you are a magical unicorn and can I please have your autograph? The point is this – when you know you are on the verge of saying something destructive and life killing, ask yourself if it’s going to produce positive fruit in your relationship in the long run.

“A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.” Proverbs 17:27

xoxo

My Favorite Ways to Save on Groceries

Groceries can be a major expense! If you have a large family, even more so. Even with our family of four, we can spend hundreds on food each month. I thought I would share some of the EASY things that I do to save on groceries each month.

  1. Manufacturer’s coupons.

Before you start panicking, I am NOT talking about Extreme Couponing. I don’t have the patience or time for it, so I stick to cutting coupons each week for items I use. I do keep a coupon binder and I look through it before I go to a grocery store. There are websites you can use if you’re interested in Extreme Couponing. DON’T disregard using coupons! You would be shocked to find there are coupons for items you regularly purchase and need and if you use them you can save so much money. For awhile I stopped couponing, when I started again I was staggered at how much I saved and it reminded me to stick with it. Take advantage of grocery store digital coupons as well!

2. Store coupons/apps – especially the digital ones!

This sounds obvious too, but some people don’t realize the savings that can be found here. My favorite drugstore to shop at is CVS. The reason is because CVS is ALWAYS sending me coupons through my e-mail that I can send directly to my CVS card. If I log on to my CVS account and click on the extra card section, there are always about a billion additional coupons that I can send to my card for everyday items. Pair this with manufacturers coupons or items that are already on sale and you will see the savings. Be sure to read the fine print! Those 30% off coupons don’t always include sale items. I’ll give an example. Let’s say CVS has pull-ups on sale for 10.99. They offer a digital coupon of $2 off all pull-ups. You have a manufacturer’s coupon that is $2 off. You can get the item for as low as $7. I save SO much at CVS because I never shop without a coupon there. Don’t ever shop Target without the Cartwheel App or without your Target or debit card where you’ll save an extra 5% every single time you shop.

3. Ibotta.

Y’all! You have heard me talk about Ibotta before! I write about it because it’s a really easy way to save money on grocery items you are already buying. It’s too easy to not be using. Also, if you refer a friend, you easily earn $5. All you need to do is keep your receipt, verify your eligible purchases, take a picture of the receipt, and voila – free money. After $20 you can have it cashed out in the form of a gift card or sent to you through Paypal or Venmo. The easiest money you’ll make shopping for groceries.

4. Walmart Savings Catcher

I don’t particularly enjoy shopping at Wal-mart (as I’ve written about in the past!) BUT Wal-mart is just so cheap that sometimes, I can’t resist. That being said, I love using Walmarts Savings Catcher. The way it works: you scan your Walmart receipt, Walmart compares prices, Walmart gives you the difference in price through a Walmart eCard and you can use it on any of your purchases. Now imagine combining coupons with sale items AND using this feature on the app. Win-win for your wallet. 5. Meal plan/freezer/cook/leftover life.

5. Favado.

Favado is a really excellent app that you can use to look up items and find out where certain items are the cheapest. If I’m looking to find a deal on Tresemme shampoo, I type that in and it will show me the stores that have Tresemme on sale. If I click on a store and the item, it will even show me what coupons I can stack with this item to make sure I am getting the lowest price.

6. Plan. Never shop without a list!

When I first started adulting and shopping for groceries on my own as a newly married woman, I never brought a list. I would just go to the store, walk through the aisles, and grab what I thought I needed. I ended up with stuff I didn’t need, a budget that had been blown, and essentially a hot mess on my hands. Bringing a list is important because it helps you stay focused on what you need! Also, don’t shop on an empty belly and also MEAL PLAN! So you know exactly what you need for each meal and will get just that. I recommend this grocery list template that will help you get started! They also sell these at select Marshall’s for really cheap!

7. Grocery shop online.

Here’s the thing, you’ll pay $10 for the online grocery shopping fee at some places, BUT you’ll save in buying exactly what you need – nothing more, nothing less. This is really helpful, especially if you’re insanely busy. I HATE grocery shopping , but there are times it’s unavoidable and I have to step foot into the actual store. I find that shopping online saves me money in the long run because I’m not tempted to buy things I don’t need and can look up exactly what I need to buy.

8. Shop at Aldi’s.

Aldi’s is insanely cheap and has some really solid items you can purchase at a fraction of the cost of what you would pay at a big box store. I don’t shop here all of the time, or even super regularly at that, BUT if I am really looking to slash spending I come here. The items I buy: rice, cereal, peanut butter, cooking items, etc. I don’t buy meat or produce from here, but I know so many people who do! It’s just my personal preference, I usually buy those items at Shoprite or BJ’s. Don’t count Aldi’s out as they’ve added many gluten free items and organic items at very reasonable prices.

9. Meal Plan.

This goes along with planning. I use a Google Calender to plan our meals every two weeks. This week I’ve slacked, but I meal plan and then make my grocery list around that. This way I have exactly what I need to cook and also don’t have to worry about spending money eating out on the week. Meal planning will help you stick to a grocery budget!

These are some simple things I do to save money on groceries. Nothing here is groundbreaking, but I wanted to share what I like to do personally! I always love hearing about new ways to save, so if you have some strategies that work for you please leave a comment and share!

 

Marriage Mondays – I Always Will

“I don’t love you/I always will.”

This line is part of a chorus of a song that has been our JAM lately. “Poison and Wine” by The Civil Wars [this song came out years ago, but we’ve been listening to it a lot lately!]

We love this song because of that particular line.

I don’t love you/I always will

Say, WHAT?  The more we listened to the song and talked about what it meant, the more we said YES! Let’s do a cover to this song.

This song is so cool because it really addresses the reality that is marriage. When you make a commitment to marry someone, you are saying some very serious vows to each other.

I will…

Hold you..

Stand with you through better or worse…

Through richer or poorer…

In sickness and health…

I will love and cherish you…

until the only thing that separates us is DEATH itself.

Those are POWERFUL words! When you are married, those vows WILL be tested. I have been married for eight years and have walked through some of those things with my spouse. We have made a conscious decision to make sure that these trials and struggles [infertility, job loss, job change, parenting twins, life issues…the list goes on] didn’t push us APART but that they would be a catalyst to draw us closer together. Y’all, that takes actual effort. Because the hard things of life will draw you away from each other if you let it. The hard things of life will push you to isolate yourself from one another…but you can make a choice and a decision which will require effort on both parts, to do the opposite and run towards each other. Hold each other. Through the good, the bad. The failures and victories.

Yet, I digress. Back to the song.

The lyric – “I don’t love you/I always will” so captures the essence of marriage (in our opinion) because GUESS WHAT! There are times where you will not feel the magical rainbow butterflies floating in your belly. Particularly when your spouse does something to TICK you off. You will not “feel” love in that moment. Yet, you made a vow.

I always will.

I always will…

Love you.

Hold you.

Cherish you.

Stand by you.

Support you.

Encourage you.

Walk through the desert with you.

Climb the mountains with you.

Celebrate the victories with you.

Cry with you over the failures.

I always will.

I believe this is a decision that you make daily. The world and society would have you to think the opposite. The world tells us that when things are hard and the going gets tough, its okay to go. Commitment can even be seen as laughable nowadays. “Marriage isn’t a big deal…” people say. Yet, it is. You are making a lifelong commitment, a promise, a vow before God and before man that boils down to – when crap hits the fan, I’m not going to leave because “I always will.” When we are singing those lines, we are not actually saying “I don’t love you!!!” we are saying,

“You drive me crazy at times, but I will always choose you, I will always run to you, I will always love you. I ALWAYS WILL.”

There’s something so beautiful in that kind of commitment nowadays. This is why we decided to do a cover to this song. It so clearly covers how marriage feels at times, the ups and the downs, the mountains and valleys, coming down to the powerful commitment of, “I always will.” 

I hope you enjoy our cover to this song. Xo

Thred Up Review – The Good and Bad

I’d heard about Thred Up from a friend at work. She raved about it. I kept seeing it everywhere and decided to give it a try – especially because I have been trying to stick to a tight budget! I am a Plato’s Closet gal but haven’t been for quite awhile. I LOVE shopping at good thrift stores because there are so many choices and at such a reasonable price. Thred Up is like an online version without having to dig through the racks.

I went on a few times and was overwhelmed with all of the options and possibilities, I would browse and then feel like there was too much to look at. Finally, I started to sort through and ended up finding a few pieces I liked. I decided to order because it was 40% off of everything, which I thought was a good deal.

I ordered a total of eight items, which came out to a total of 87.99 which included $5.99 shipping. With the 40% off it came out to $58.74. This means for eight pieces I paid $7.34 for each item.

Not bad considering a few of the items were dresses! After a few days, my order came in!

Super cute!

This top was $6.

This top was $5.95 from Xhiliration [Target brand].

This dress came out to $7.20 from Old Navy.

This dress came out to $7.20 from Old Navy.

Another dress from Old Navy $7.20.

This top came out to $4.80.

Another dress from Old Navy for $7.20.

Brand new dress from Forever 21 with tags, $7.20.

So, out of all of the items I ordered, I kept five and returned three.

I returned:

  • The Target top – fit very strangely and in a crop top kind of way that wasn’t flattering on me.
  • The Yellow sleeveless – this one was annoying because a button was missing! Someone had replaced it with a safety pin! Thrifted or not, I’m not paying for something that’s missing a button.

I didn’t like the fact that someone obviously tried to pass this off like it was in good condition but was missing a button. I did not order this from the “Basement” section of Thred Up, which is basically a section where clothes have flaws, but the buyer knows about it before hand and decides to purchase. This felt deceptive so I was annoyed!

  • The white cutout.

I LOVED this top! However, on closer inspection there was a slight gray mark. On a white top, it was noticeable. I decided to send it back!

The way Thred Up works, if you want to return items within 14 days you will receive full store credit. If you choose to get your money back, you have to pay $8.99 in shipping and handling. I’m not willing to pay that for thrifted clothes so I opted for the full store credit. You fill out everything online. They want you to tell them why you’re returning it. Next,  you print out two pages, one which has the specific clothes you’re returning in list form and a shipping label. You ship the items in the same box the clothes were sent to you.

So, overall, would I use Thred Up again?

Probably. Why? I think the pros outweigh the cons!

Things I liked:

  • Clothes are cute and reasonably priced
  • Return policy is good
  • You can shop by brand, size, etc. Easier than going through a thrift store.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • Two of the items having issues! They need to check their products better.
  • The 8.99 fee if you want to get your money back on a refund.

Also, Thred Up has an option where you can sell your clothes to them and they will pay you. However, I’ve done extensive research and it sounds like Thred Up doesn’t pay much for even items that are in excellent condition. It sounds like they used to! They have something called a “Clean Out” bag where you can put clothing you don’t want that’s in good condition in, send it to them, and they’ll pay you for anything they choose to keep and donate the rest. The bag used to be free, now it’s $9.99 and the payout isn’t much. Before I did the research, I put in for a bag. I put some items in and am sending it in, so if I’m wrong I’ll let you know! BUT I will stick to Ebay for my valuable items/items in excellent condition.

Bottom line: Thred Up is a solid option if you are into thrifty clothes! However, when you receive your order check your items carefully! If you plan on returning, do so promptly so it falls within the 14 day return policy. This is a good option if you HATE to dig through racks. They also have items that are brand new with tags. I don’t think I’ll buy from them all the time, but once in awhile I will check them out! They just need to go through their items more carefully before putting them up on their site. Make sure they are in the condition you are trying to sell them for Thred Up!

Wore the Old Navy piece to work!

Have you ever used Thred Up? Why or why not? Would love to hear from some others on your experience with them!

 

Marriage Mondays – 20 Fun Facts About the Mr. and Mrs.

So I thought it would be fun to try to do Marriage Monday posts and dedicate a post each week to married life! Hubs and I have been married for almost eight years (in July) and often field a lot of questions from other couples, especially younger couples! We are non-experts and don’t know what we’re doing – but I can say that I honestly love being married and I love my husband. It has taught me so much about him and myself. I learn something new probably EVERY DAY. To start, I thought I would start off with twenty basics about the hubster and I!

  1. We met through a mutual friend when I was 16. The first time I met him, he actually had another girlfriend. I started to really pay attention to him when he started coming to church.
  2. I made the first move by calling him (which I NEVER did before – I was the shy type).
  3. We were high school sweethearts. Kind of – does it count if we didn’t go to the same high school?
  4. We have a lot in common, but pretty much zero in common when it comes to hobbies. He’s into outdoor/active types of situations, I’d rather snuggle up with a book and do something quiet/completely relaxed.
  5. We were 22 when we got married on July 11, 2009.
  6. I didn’t realize how much of a fear of heights my husband had until our first vacation as a married couple to Virginia. He was in complete hysterics at the top of the rollercoaster, I literally thought he was going to have a heart attack. I haven’t made him get on a rollercoaster since.
  7. He thinks I’m really rude because around the house I never say excuse me and typically nudge him out of the way.
  8. We’re both huge homebodies!
  9. When he proposed to me the day after Valentine’s Day in 2008, the ring got stuck in his pocket and he spent a minute trying to get it out.
  10. Before we found out we were having twins, Jose always wanted twins and looked up both of our family histories to see if twins ran in the family and what our chances would be. This was years before we even had babies on the brain.
  11. Parenting has turned us into huge saps, especially my husband. Movies, shows, and even some commercials make him cry.
  12. Our favorite beach is Ocean City.
  13. Our favorite city to visit is Chicago.
  14. The furthest we’ve driven together is Texas (with the twins in tow)!
  15. We always run into the weirdest experiences/people when we’re together. We once had a cashier at Walmart who insisted on sniffing every item we purchased before he rang it up.
  16. The most ridiculous argument we’ve ever had was over the wrong pizza order when we were watching “The Green Lantern.” I was so angry I refused to watch the rest of the movie with him (#earlyYearsofmarriage).
  17. We like to read books together – fave place to read together is during a car ride! We read through The Hunger Games and Divergent series this way.
  18. We didn’t settle on names for the boys until maybe an hour or so before they were born!
  19. I once cried because he put food in the sink.
  20. We are committed to loving each other for a LIFETIME.

First Valentine’s Day together! Take note of Jose’s awful shirt and the paper flower.

 

Thanks for checking out the first installent – if you have any suggestions, topics, questions, suggestions, let me know!

8 Ways to Save Money and Make Money

There are times in life where you need to stop spending and are in a position where you need to save or even make money right away. Perhaps you’re saving for a vacation or it’s right after Christmas and you’re trying to rebuild your savings. Maybe your family is a position where there is limited income. Maybe you just want to rein in your savings and make some money. Here are some tips/suggestions that have helped me!

  1. Go on a spending freeze.

You heard it straight. STOP SPENDING MONEY. I have been able to do a successful spending freeze for about two weeks. The goal can be up to YOU. A spending freeze means you complete freeze spending on anything. Ideally, you want to try this for about a month, but you can adjust the time as necessary. One of my favorite bloggers writes in detail about this here. I have also shared my experience about what it was like to go on a spending freeze. You can save money REALLY QUICKLY doing this. You would be shocked at what you might spend on a daily basis, though it does take some prep work! A coffee here, a quick snack here, a stop over at this restaurant. Freeze your budget, expand your savings.

2. Download the Ibotta app and start cashing in.

I heard about Ibotta a long time ago and used it awhile ago! A friend recently sent me a link and was telling me about it and I decided to use it. It’s ridiculously easy. You shop at a store of your choice. After you’ve finished shopping, you look to see if any of the items you purchased offer a cashback reward on Ibotta. You scan your receipt, scan the item, and voila – you have money. After you’ve made $20 you can withdraw it and SPEND. This is by far an easy way to make a few bucks. It works even better if you look on Ibotta first and see what items you can receive cash back for!

3. Ebates.

Ebates is THE BEST. I’d heard about Ebates for awhile but didn’t get all of the hype. Finally, around Christmas season, I decided to look into it. Ebates offers a rebate anytime you shop online. This means that I can spend $50 at a store online and if Ebates offers 10% back, I automatically earn $5. You can also make major bucks for referring friends. They issue out two “Big Fat Checks” each year. I have one coming to me for about $50. There are Ebates for almost any store imaginable.

4. Sell your stuff on Ebay.

I started selling things on Ebay when I was pregnant and really started picking it up after the boys were born. Ebay is by far my favorite way to sell and in my opinion, the easiest. I have sold on Facebook group sites but I don’t like meeting up with strangers face to face. I’ve had the most success selling baby/toddler/children’s clothing and women’s clothing. Those jeans that don’t fit from American Eagle or Express? Sell them. That top you bought at Target that you don’t love anymore? Sell it. Those clothes your kids only wore a few times? Sell it. I’ve made a few hundred dollars doing it and it serves two purposes – you clear out your house while making money!

5. Yard Sale.

I recommend selling anything that you couldn’t sell on Ebay at a yard sale. These items will be priced to sell, so when you have a yard sale you should have a lot of items and be willing to haggle. This works best in the spring or summer. For example, our neighbor was having one and advertised well, she encouraged us to have one too to drive more traffic to the neighborhood. We made about $150 and we literally threw it together. I think with more planning and pricing things well, we can make even more. This is an easy way to make money.

6. Cut those coupons. 

It sounds like common sense, but this one will make a big difference in your savings. The average family spends about $380 a month on groceries! Grab your weekly newspaper, look at coupon websites, and get to clipping. Consequently, I saved $65 grocery shopping last week! As I was looking through our budget interested in ways to slash the budget (because who doesn’t like to save); I decided to resurrect my coupon binder. I divide the coupons into categories and when I make my list each week, use the coupons that I can. Combine your coupons with what’s on sale and you will slash your grocery spending greatly. Some websites will even show you how to be an extreme couponer if you’re interested!

7. Stop going to your guilty pleasure stores. 

We all have them. Well, I know I do. The stores that you go to and can’t help but spend money in. “This is on sale…” or “It’s SUCH a good deal.” Anyone who knows me knows what this store is for me – TARGET. I can go to Target for toilet paper and walk out with everything short of the end caps. When I’m trying to save or am in a freeze, I’ll avoid going here unless I have to.  I avoid the temptation.

8. Side Hustle.

Pinterest the term “side hustle.” You will find loads and loads of ways to work a side hustle, a.k.a to make extra money on the side. My suggestion is this – if you are good at something, find a way to cash in on that. My husband is the kind of person that’s good at so many things (piano, photography, Photoshop, and a bunch of other things), work a side hustle. Sell on Etsy, write for money, do online surveys, drive for Uber. I would say my side hustle is probably selling on Ebay!

There are so many other ideas, but these are some of the things I’ve done and have worked for me. What works for you?! Would love to hear some of your tips and suggestions!