Tuesday, 14 August 2012 11:49

Tips For Taking 1st Day of School Pictures

School Lunch BoxesIt’s official, back-to-school season is here! Most of us will have our camera or smartphone ready to caputure the day. This school year try adding a little variety to your First Day Of School pictures with these super easy tips.

Tip #1:  Using a sign as a prop in your child’s picture makes it very easy to remember important details from the school year – like child’s age, grade and teacher. You can keep it very simple by printing the sign with any information that you would like to recall about the school year on your home computer and having your child hold the paper in the picture.

In the pictures below my daughter is holding a homemade speech bubble - the perfect sign to hold up in pictures and it's very simple to make.  First, you will need a piece of cardboard, chalkboard paint (available at craft stores for about $6), a paint brush, scissors and chalk. Trace your speech bubble onto a piece of cardboard and then cut it out.  Next, paint one side of the cardboard with the chalkboard paint, using 2 coats (make sure to protect your surface).  Once the cardboard is dry (in about an hour), use your chalk to write your child's grade and school year.  You can be really creative - try making a large sign and adding your child's school name, teacher's name, a few of his/her favorite things, etc. Take a few pictures using the sign - they make a really adorable picture collage. Make your speech bubble before the 1st day of school.

Word BubbleSpeech Bubble 1st Day of School speech bubble 1st day of school

Tip #2:  Using cutouts as a prop is super easy too! In these examples my two daughters are holding up cut outs of the grade that they are entering that year. Super cute! We made the cut outs from cardboard paper the night before to save time that morning. Any kind of sturdy paper works well, like construction paper, or even felt.  You can be really creative here! At most craft stores you can buy numbers made from cardboard in the wood making section that you can then have your child paint for a personal touch to use in his/her pictures.

1st Day of School Sign Picture1st Day of school picture Idea1st Day of School Picture Idea

Tip #3: Take a group shoot. If you have multiple children take a group picture of them. You may have to allow for some extra time in the morning to take this picture, since taking a good group shot can be a monumental task for many of us. It’s a great way to see comparative growth between the kids too!

Tip #4:  Walk away. I love taking the classic “walking off to school” picture – of the child's back to the camera.  It's one of the easiest pictures to take of my kids, since it doesn't matter if they are smiling or not!

Back to school picture idea

Tip #5: Name their favorite things. Take a single picture of your child and add details to the pictures of their current favorite things, like food, drink, TV show, movie or book.  These little bits of information are great for very forgetful moms like me!  I enjoy journaling, so I made a scrapbook page for my daughter about her "big day." It's also fun too to take a picture on the last day of school with the same concept to see how they have changed during the school year.

1st day of school scrapbook page

Tip #6:  Be candid & relax!

Some of my favorite pictures from the 1st day of school are those that aren't posed. Maybe you can even snap away a few pictures BEFORE school starts - when the kids are shopping for back to school supplies and clothes. This may be the best tip for those with teens - they may not be up to capturing every "big" moment in their life as much as we would like too :)  It's always ok to take a few pictures AFTER the big day.  Some kids may just not want to take pictures on the 1st day and you may have too many other things to worry about, like being on time and packing a lunch!

1st day of school picture tips1st day of school picture tips

School Supplies

It's starting to feel like the school year is just around the corner and it's only July!  Are you beginning to get ready?

 

With a troubled economy and the cost of many family necessities on the rise, most of us are looking for practical and easy ways to cut our spending this fall with our back-to-school shopping list.

Did you know that the back-to-school season is the 2nd largest consumer event behind the holidays? According to the National Retail Federation, an average family will spend about $450.76 on back-to-school items. Families with children going to college will spend much more!  Saving money is not easy, especially when our kids seem to be wired to want the latest and most fashionable things out there! Check out the following tips, they can help you avoid emptying your wallet this back-to-school season while still getting everyone what they need.

Tips for Saving on Back-to-School Shopping:

1. Take Inventory

Look at what your children have from the previous school year and determine what can be reused for this year. Not only will you save money if you reuse, but it’s also eco-friendly. Rulers, pencil cases, backpacks, lunch boxes, sharpeners, and calculators don’t typically need to be replaced each new school year. Once you have located all the school supplies in your home, place them in a central bin so you can take a good look at what you already own before you head out to shop for new supplies.

2.  Do a closet sweep

Has your child really outgrown last year’s clothes? On average, a family spends about 30% of their back to school budget on clothes, so not buying even a few items can really save you a significant amount of money. After you have assessed what clothing your child can still wear this school year you can buy what they still need.   If your children are older, discuss with them what items you will be purchasing for the new school year and your budget, so they don't expect a brand new wardrobe.

3.  Set your budget

Know how much you have to spend and only spend that much.  This is hard for me to do, I love the feel of a new school year and part of me feels like my children should have new supplies and clothes, but even grownups can learn that it's perfectly fine to reuse and to not always have the latest must-have items.  It’s helpful to bring the cash that you will need on your shopping trip and limit your purchases to just what is in your purse.  I allow our kids one small extra purchase that’s not on the supply list.

Some parents set a limit to the number of character-based supplies they will purchase since they tend to be more expensive than the store brands.  With older kids you may want to determine ahead of time how you will handle their requests for non-essential items. Here are some suggestions:

  • They can pay for anything not only list.

  • They can pay the difference between what you will spend on an item and what they want to spend.

  • Let them spend more on a certain item, as long as they are aware that they must then spend less on another.

  • Back-to-school season is a good opportunity to teach children between needs and wants.

4.  Steer towards Store Brands

Unless your child’s back-to-school supply list asks for a particular brand, buy the store brand when possible. Many store brands work just as well and are typically about 30% cheaper than name brands.

Supplies 25. Buy Quality

While tempting, it’s not always best to buy the cheaper option. Buy quality items where they matter. I don’t care if my kids have name brands markers or crayons, but I will invest in a good backpack that will last more than one school year. Hint: For backpacks it’s a good idea to look for ones with a lifetime warranty and that are non-character based. They will last longer and your child won’t outgrow the characters.  I also like to get the notebooks with the plastic covers because they are very durable and I look for cloth pencil pouches that can be washed.

6. Leave the Kids at Home

I tend to spend more when the kids are with me.   I can't focus on making sure that I am getting the best deals on the items in my shopping cart and somehow “extra” stuff not on the list ends up in our cart. It’s great to involve your kids with back-to-school shopping, just be strategic as to how do this.  It makes sense to bring the children with you when shopping for new clothes but you can leave them behind when shopping for school supplies, especially if they are younger.   If you bring them with you make your children aware that you have a budget and will limit your purchases to it.

7. DIY

I have to admit that I am not drawn towards the plain school supplies, so I don’t expect my kids to ask for them. However, my girls do love stickers. Buy the plain school supplies and let your kids decorate them with stickers, markers, pictures, etc.

8. Shop online

Shopping online is great for back-to-school items because you can instantly compare prices at stores without spending time or gas getting to the stores.  Try sites like www.pricegrabber.com for finding great deals on back-to-school supplies.  Shopping online is especially helpful for bigger ticket items, like calculators.

9.  Think Ahead and Buy in Bulk

Buy products that your children will need during the school year now, when they are on sale, and in bulk. You may even buy some basic supplies in bulk and share the cost with a friend. Consider having a box or shelf where you keep extra school supplies handy for your kids, so when they need crayons in a few months or need a new notebook you are all set. If you can think ahead to the holidays (they will be here before you know it), go back to the store after the school year has started and take advantage of the steep discounts on school supplies – they make great stocking stuffers!  You can also donate some of the school supplies that you buy in bulk to local kids in need.   My children's school does a big back-to-school campaign for a local less fortunate school, so we always buy extra basic supplies to donate.  Local after-school programs, shelters or churches may know of places to donate your extra school supplies.

10.  Shop Early

The more time that you give yourself to shop for school supplies this season, the more time that you will have to keep an eye out for good deals.  If you buy school supplies over the course of a few weeks and stick to your budget, the cost won't seem as bad if you buy everything at once.  Many stores start their back-to-school sales in early July!

Happy back-to-school shopping!

Monday, 01 April 2013 04:46

Adjusting To A New Baby

Boy with newborn

I remember that when I was due with baby #4 my son, our 3rd child,  would go around the house, with arms crossed, saying “Don’t want a brother.”  Yet, most of the time he lovingly kissed my huge belly and said “I love you baby”  and he couldn't resist wanting to hold other little babies that we met.  I wasn't not too worried about this behavior, mostly because I had seen child #1 and child #2 in our family follow a similar behavior pattern before the next baby arrived.

As a matter of fact, many of the mothers that I have spoken to about this topic agree that most older siblings go through an adjustment period when a newborn sibling arrives. The family spends time preparing for the new baby and once the baby arrives so much time is dedicated to just meeting baby's needs. That’s a lot of change taking place!

I asked some of my friends and other moms what advice seemed to work best when helping older siblings adjust to a new baby in the house.  The suggestions are most helpful for children up to the pre-teen years.

Tip 1:  Discuss Pregnancy In Terms That Makes Sense To Kids

  • Read books about pregnancy, birth and newborns with your child.  Check out your local library or bookstore for age-appropriate books you may enjoy with your child.
  • Take out your child’s ultrasound and newborn pictures – they will love looking at them! Tell them about their birth – how excited you were and how everyone wanted to hold them.
  • Tell your child about the pregnancy when you tell your friends.  You want them to hear the good news from you.
  • Young children may not grasp when the baby will arrive, so it may be useful to explain that baby will arrive in a particular season (when it’s cold outside) or after a major holiday.

Tip 2: Include Children In Baby Preparations

  • Allow your child to help you pack your hospital bag.
  • Visit friends who have infants.
  • You may or not want to take your child for your doctor visits, but consider taking them to hear the baby’s heartbeat and see the ultrasound.
  • Check with your local hospital for sibling preparation classes.
  • Perhaps they can help you pick out a special coming outfit (from two you’ve preselected, of course).
  • You may want to buy your toddler age child a baby doll and have them practice holding and gently touching the doll, just like they would with their newborn sibling.
  • Allow your child to pick out a small toy or other gift that they can give to their newborn sibling when they meet for the first time.

Tip 3:  Make Arrangements To Meet Older Sibling's Needs

Baby Hands

  • Make sure that major changes – weaning, toilet training, a new room – happen well before the baby arrives.
  • For older children, explain to them that the baby will not be able to do much at first, that you may feel tired and the baby will require a lot of your time.
  • Arrange for play dates outside your home for your child with close friends or relatives, if possible, soon after the baby arrives.
  • Try to keep routines as normal as possible in the weeks around baby’s arrival.
  • Try to have your child meet the new baby as soon as possible after the big arrival.  It’s best to do this when only the immediate family is at the hospital.
  • Let your child “help” with age appropriate tasks once the baby arrives – like getting diapers, feeding, helping dress the baby, or pushing the stroller.
  • If possible, arrange for some one-on-one time with your child once baby arrives where you talk about things besides the new baby.
  • It’s ok for your child to need time to take adjust the new baby.   You can encourage older children to talk about their feelings about their new sibling.
  • Younger children who may not be able to articulate their feelings may act up or test the rules, but stand firm – just understand the feelings behind their behavior. Make it clear that you understand their feelings, but that their feelings must be expressed in appropriate ways.
  • You may want to consider having a small present for your young child when they come to meet the baby for the 1st time – a small gift from the baby to the child.

 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011 02:11

Teaching Gratitude

Teaching GratitudeThe Christmas decorations have been put away, the kids are back in school and life is back to normal (almost!).

Did you and your kids remember to say thank you for all of your great presents? It’s important that our children learn gratitude, and what better way after the holiday season to teach them to be thankful than to have them send a simple thank you card to their gift givers?

Christmas Thanks :: VidacCoco.com Agradecimiento de Navidad :: VidacCoco.com

While you may want to send a more formal note or make a phone call for your  (hopefully!) great gifts, try out a fun activity with your children.   They can make their own handmade thank you cards or you can easily download our template, available in Spanish and English.

You may download the PDF version or the Word version, which you can personalize and resize.   All you need to do is print out the template, have your child fill in the blanks and send it to that thoughtful gift giver.   You can be sure that their thank you card will be much appreciated!

Downloadable "Christmas Thanks" Templates:

English - Word | English - PDF | Spanish - Word | Spanish PDF

Wednesday, 15 December 2010 22:39

Top Christmas Budget Tips

Top Christmas Budget Tips

We would all love to buy gifts for our family and friends without considering (and sticking to) a budget, but alas, budgeting is a must, otherwise the joys of the Christmas season can be hard to enjoy.

After all, you don’t want to be paying for your Christmas indulgences well into the following year, but you don’t have to be a scrooge either.   Here some easy tips to help you get something special for everyone on your “been good” list this year without going broke!

1Establish an Overall Budget

It is very important that you have an overall budget in place prior to beginning your Christmas shopping. This way, you are less likely to end up overspending and regretting any shopping debt.  When considering your budget, keep these things in mind:

  • How much did I spend last year?   How did I feel about that amount?
  • Consider what you already have that can be reused.  Do you really need new decorations or can you simply update a few key items?
  • Make a complete list of everything you need to buy this season.
  • Factor in the “extras” – the ribbon, gift tags, stocking stuffers, tape, greeting cards, and party supplies all add up!
  • Make sure to leave a small safety net for unexpected expenses.
  • Consider saving for your shopping with anticipation.
  • Try saving throughout the year so you don’t feel the financial burden of the season in a few short weeks or get tempted to use credit cards.  Many people like to shop throughout the year too, buying gifts when they find a great deal.
  • The smart folks over at Practicalmoneyskills.com suggest that you spend only 1.5% of you annual income on your Christmas budget.  That means that if your family income is $40,000 year you can allocate $600 for your budget; with a  $50,000 income, $750; with a $75,000 income, $1,125.
  • Remember that the hard part is not in making your budget, but sticking to it!

2Make a Gift List, and Check It Twice

Decide whom you want or need to buy gifts for and how much you will spend on each person on your list, keeping your overall bottom line in mind.  Without a gift list, we end up spending money on people we really don’t need to buy for or want to buy for – it’s ok to not buy everyone a gift.

  • When deciding how much to spend on each person, use personal judgment, but stick to your pre-determined amount once out shopping.
  • It’s ok to discuss gift expectations with family members and close friends.  If you can’t or don’t want to spend as much as you have in past years on gifts, let those close to you know that you would like to scale back.
  • This way you won’t find yourself giving a small gift to someone and feeling awkward that they gifted you something expensive.
  • Instead of buying each child in your extended family a gift, consider buying the family one gift they can all enjoy, like a yearly membership to their local zoo or children’s museum.  If the children are close in age, they may enjoy one larger gift to share, like a movie theater gift card.
  • Keep non-family and friend gifts to a minimum. For your co-workers and some groups of friends, consider organizing a gift exchange with a price limit.  Then you only have to get one gift instead of a few.  If your co-workers are simply acquaintances, then make or pick up your favorite edible holiday treat to share with the group.

3Shop On Your Time

While some of us may enjoy the thrill of getting all our Christmas shopping done in one big mall trip, it’s wiser to spread your shopping over a period time.

  • Consider that retail stores tend to hold sales on product categories.  So, electronics may be cheaper one week versus home goods the following week.   By spreading your shopping over time you can keep an eye put for great sales!
  • Giving yourself more time to shop will allow you to take advantage of any layaway plans at many popular stores.  You can skip using your credit card and make smaller cash or debit card payments for an item until it’s paid off and you can take it home.
  • But don’t procrastinate!  You will more stressed out, anxious and overspend it you do.
  • It’s better to shop alone than with a group of people.  There is no pressure to outdo each other on gifts purchased, you are on your own schedule and won’t be pressured to buy unnecessary gifts.
  • It’s ok to shop AFTER Christmas.  Are you going to see relatives or friends after Christmas?  Then why not wait to hit the great after Christmas sales for their gifts?  The Christmas season doesn’t necessarily end on the 25th; after all, in the Latino community it’s a common tradition to celebrate the season until The Feast of the Three Kings on January 6th!

4Leave The Plastic At Home

Make it your motto to not go into debt this Christmas season.  It’s safe to say that the majority of us have been watching how much we spend more closely the past few years, but the Christmas season is an easy temptation to blow off budgets and say “just charge it.”

  • Remember to use your credit card as least as possible or not all.  You may regret that credit card bill come January!
  • Use cash if you can to pay for gifts – it helps keep you on budget and reminds you how much you have actually spent.  Spending $50 on a gift versus $100 when you use a credit feels almost the same, but if you pay with cash or your debit card you will notice the price difference immediately
  • Try taking out ONLY the cash that you need for a shopping trip from the ATM.  When it’s gone, you know that you’re done.

5Empower Yourself - Resist Impulse Buying

For many of us, this is one of the hardest things to do!  Have a plan on what you want to buy before you hit the mall or your favorite store and stick to it.  Remember a few rules:

  • As cute as the cheap stocking stuffers at the check out counter may be, those purchases add up!
  • Stores are designed so that you leave your hard earned money at the store, not in your wallet.   Remind yourself that stores want you to buy that one extra and unplanned item that will add to your budget and their profit!
  • Remember your budget for each person or item on our list and stick to it, no matter how much better a more expensive gift or item may seem.

6Give Warmly, Not Opulently

Think about how many Christmas gifts you’ve received that you didn’t use or even like.  We can all benefit from the “less is more” motto when it comes to gift giving.   Try these tips when planning your gift list:

  • Gift Exchanges are great!   If you can, make a no gifts for adults rule and just buy presents for the little believers.   If you want to include adults, then try drawing names from a hat and then every adult can receive just one nice gift. 
    Do you have a talent or skill that you can share?   Maybe you can offer your family member or friend an hour’s worth of your time/trade/talent.
  • Encourage the teenagers in your life to give of their talents and time too – maybe they can mow their grandparents or neighbor’s lawn? Can they babysit for a new mom in the family that lives nearby or offer to run some errands for an older family member?
  • DIY gifts are great.   How about making a DVD with your favorite Christmas music? All you need are the appropriate blank CDs, labels and downloaded music.    Last year, my daughters and I made small gift packages of handmade soaps and stationary.  The total cost for the materials for all 10 gifts, including wrapping supplies, was less than $80.  These types of gifts are great for children’s teachers, car pool friends and even colleagues.

7Keep Décor Simple

While many of us would love for our homes to look like the picture perfect decorated ones in magazines this Christmas season, remember that you can keep your decorations simple and tasteful without spending a fortune. Try a few of our tips:

  • A simple pinecone arrangement spray painted with very inexpensive gold paint from the craft store and arranged on a mantle is perfect or use it as stylish centerpiece.
  • A metallic sash tied around your chairs with simple accent accessories on your dining room table makes for a chic and lovely look.
  • Don’t forget the kids - they tend to love doing arts and crafts and that’s a great and simple way to add seasonal flare to your home.
  • After the Christmas season, store your decorative items for next year in recycled plastic containers over cardboard boxes. They will help your decorations safe and you won’t have to buy more decorations next year.

8Finally, Avoid Easy Money Drainers

  • Just say “no thank you” when the cashier asks you “Would you like to save an extra x% today by signing up for our store credit card?”  Store credit cards usually have higher rates than other credit cards and they all tend to have strict late fees.
  • Remember to be Internet savvy, compare prices and look for coupons on sites like Bizrate and CouponCabin.   A simple Google search for those “promo codes” at checkout time can save you a few dollars.
  • Most online orders will tag on extra shipping charges after a certain date, so place your order accordingly.
  • Before you place your Christmas card order, think about how many you are ordering.  Do you really that many?  Take some time to organize and update your address list this season so you know how many cards to buy, most of us buy too many and they end up getting tossed in the garage.   Choose standard-sized envelopes for your cards, the unique sizes will require extra postage.
  • Business related clients and eco-conscious friends might appreciate an e-card rather than a card in the mail.
  • Always check if a store offers complimentary gift-wrapping, you’ll be surprised how much you can save!
Thursday, 21 October 2010 02:36

School Messages Made Easier

School Message Template by VidaCoco.comAre you looking for a better way to communicate with your child’s teacher/school?

Check out our new School Message template! Simply print out the template in the available Word or PDF format on a 8.5 x 11 piece of paper.  Two templates will print per page.  You may have to adjust your margins in order for the template to properly print.   Sending messages to school will be much easier with these notes, we promise.   Keep them handy in your kitchen for added ease with a few envelopes (for field trip/lunch money, added privacy, etc).   They will save you time on many busy mornings!

PDF format file:

[School Message Template - PDF]

Thursday, 06 May 2010 01:11

Stocking Your Pantry for Quick Meals

PantryI have created a list of food items that I keep on hand in my pantry, refrigerator, freezer, etc.  I did this for a friend of mine about a year ago when she asked me what I eat to stay healthy.  She also asked me how I always seem to have to have the ability to have a dinner ready in a pinch – even if I didn’t just step out of the grocery store.

While these may not be staples in your house, this list can give you a good idea of what you can try to keep on hand so you can make flavorful, homemade recipes ALL the time.  The key here is to stay relatively stocked up, make things you can freeze (like the turkey chili, spaghetti sauce, and even the turkey burger patties – recipes in “Pantry Meals” article), and have plenty of variety to keep things interesting, available and yummy!

Pantry Items

Staples:

Brown Rice
Whole Wheat Pasta - your choice
Low Sodium Chicken Broth
Canned Diced Tomatoes
Canned Tomato Sauce
Canned Tomato Paste
Seasoned Breadcrumbs
Reduced or Low Fat Refried Beans
Kosher Salt
Canellini Beans
Red Kidney Beans
Enchilada Sauce
Fresh Ground Pepper

Oils for cooking:

Olive Oil
Canola Oil
Sesame Oil

Condiments for cooking:

Low Sodium Soy Sauce
Hoisen Sauce
Oyster Sauce
Rice Vinegar
Balsamic Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar
Cooking Spray (Pam)
Chili Powder
Cumin
Garlic Powder
Garlic Salt
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Red Pepper Flakes

Baking Items:

Whole Wheat Flour
All Purpose Flour
White Sugar
Brown Sugar
Splenda
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Table Salt
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Snacks:

Dried Mango
Tortilla Chips – Baked are better, but I get the real tortilla chips
Lightly Salted Dry Roasted Almonds
Reduced Fat Microwave Popcorn

Refrigerator Items

Condiments:

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray
Butter or Spread
Almond Butter
Sugar Free or Low Sugar Strawberry Jam
Jarred Jalapeños
Jarred Roasted Red Peppers
Wheat Germ
Low Fat or Fat Free Dressing
Salsa

Dairy:

Reduced Fat Milk
Sugar Free Coffee Creamer
Medium Cheddar Cheese
Parmesan Cheese
Eggs
Low Fat Yogurt

Carbs:

Corn Tortillas
Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas
Whole Wheat Bread
Sourdough – optional
Whole Wheat Buns

Vegetables:

Green Bell Peppers
Red Bell Peppers
Romaine Lettuce
Broccoli
Jarred Jalapeños
Carrots
Cucumber
Tomatoes
Green Onion
Yellow Onion
Garlic
Cilantro
Potatoes

Fruits:

Bananas
Apples
Lemons
Anything Seasonal

Freezer Items

Fruits:

Bag of FROZEN Mixed Veggies
Bag of FROZEN Berries
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (if you get these at Costco – one breast for 2 people – pound it!)
Halibut – when on sale
Ground Turkey (portioned out in ½ pound increments)
Sirloin – trimmed of excess fat and portioned out

Friday, 12 March 2010 01:01

Using a Menu Planner

Weekly Menu Planner by Vidacoco.com Menu planners: A terrific tool to help you save time and money.

They help you remember which items to buy at the grocery store and which coupons to bring with you.  For many families, groceries are one of the largest monthly expenses.   Creating a weekly menu can help you save on your monthly budget because you are less likely to rely on last minute and more expensive options like eating out or delivery.   You are also less likely to buy on impulse once at the store.

The kind of weekly menu planner that you decide to keep can be as simple as a writing your planned meals on your grocery list, using an online menu planner that will save your grocery lists from week to week, or you can try one of our free templates [Word format - PDF format].   Remember to check back often for new templates!