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Free entertainment for a 2 year old.

Free entertainment for a 2 year old.

Sometimes it can be challenging to keep a two year old entertained, especially mine.  James needs a lot of variety in his life to keep him from getting bored.  He likes to see different people, go different places, play with different toys, and eat different foods.  I hear about so many kids who just want to eat chicken nuggets every night.  Not mine.  He’ll eat them twice and then he’s done.  He tells me, “I’m sick for ticken wuggets!”  I’m like, “Great, you ate 6 of the 30 pack we just bought!”  These days, for the most part, he just eats what we eat, and if he doesn’t like it, he can have some graham crackers before bed.  But, I’m way off track already.  Point being he doesn’t want to walk to the same three parks in our neighborhood over and over again.  So, we try to plan outings for him pretty much every day.  These are a few of the things he enjoys…

  1. Libraries.  I barely even knew what the inside of a library looked like before I had a kid.  Now I go there at least once a week.  There’s generally a play area with lots of toddler toys and a few other kids to play with.  The toys may not be anything spectacular but they are different from his toys at home and that’s all that really matters.  Plus, we don’t buy him books anymore.  He only wants to read a book a few times and then he’s “sick for it”, so we take out 10 or 12 books and trade them in every week or so.  I swear we’ve read half of the children’s collection at the Cherry Creek Library!  We’ve read every single book about construction sites and trains.  And, they have paper books for adults.  Who even knew they still made those?  And it’s all free!
  2. Free museums.  There’s a free museum in Littleton, CO that has an 1860s farm, like a working farm with all the animals.  It’s like a free zoo, and no one ever goes there.  I’ve never seen it crowded.  In the winter, we’re often the only ones there.
  3. National parks.  In Colorado, we’re lucky enough to have great open space parks.  One we really like is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.  They have buffalo!  You can drive through and check out the buffalo through the window (you’re not allowed to get out of the car and hangout with them.)  But they also have a couple nice lakes with trails around them where you can walk around, and a little sandy beach.  Bring some food and a pail and shovel, and you’ve got yourself a nice little morning.  The best part is that it’s close by, at least for us.  It’s in Denver.  There’s big ‘ol buffalo open space park right in the middle of the city.
  4. Visiting family.  We are lucky  enough to have my mom just a few blocks away.  If James is bored at home, I often just head to my mom’s.  She has a different set of toys for him over there, and James LOVES his “mimi” so that in itself is a treat.  I can make myself a cup  of tea and relax for a few minutes while James’ grandma spoils him rotten.  I also have a sister who lives about an hour from us, right outside of Evergreen.  Elk Meadow Park is another national park that’s right off the highway, about half way to my sister’s house, so we can stop and take a short hike on the way up.  Last time we even saw a whole heard of elk!
  5. Play dates.  Every mom knows this, but kids are often easier in groups.  Bring your own kid to the playground, and he wants you to go down the slide behind him, EVERY SINGLE TIME.  But, bring him to the park with three little friends and you can sit back and watch them play for an hour.  Plus, I normally can’t my kid to sit still for three minutes to eat a meal, but stick  him at a table with two other toddlers and he sits politely and chats while he eats his sandwich.  It’s amazing!
  6. Rivers.  Our son loves to throw rocks in the river.  He’ll do it for hours.  Especially in the summer when he can take his shoes off and wade into the water.  Kids just love nature.  They love throwing rocks, banging big sticks together, running, climbing, jumping, whatever.  It’s just so much easier to entertain a kid out in the wilderness.  Try  it.  You don’t have to strap on a pack and hike 6 miles carrying your kid on your back.  Just let him take his time and spend an hour walking a half mile.
  7. Night hikes.  My lovely and creative sister came up with this idea.  In the winter when it gets dark early, it can be tough to entertain your kid in the house for four hours after it gets dark.  So don’t!  Get bundled up, bring a flashlight and go on an exciting night hike.  My son says there are dinosaurs chasing us and we have to hide.  I’m still not sure if he has a really great imagination or if he really sees dinosaurs.  Either way, it’s pretty fun.
    Not sure why, but he insisted on wearing the necklace.
  8. The Strider Bike.  Okay, so the bike itself wasn’t free but your kid can ride it from age 18 months until 3 or 4 years so the $80 seems pretty reasonable.  Plus, they’re tiny so you can take them anywhere.  My son likes to ride his in the skate park, which is terrifying for me but he loves it!  Just get a good helmet, and maybe full dirt bike armor if you can find it small enough.
  9. Water parks.  Lots of parks are starting to put in water features so the kids can run around and get sprayed by the fountains.  And its free.  Just head to the park and bring an extra set of clothes.
  10. Baking.  Okay, so this isn’t an outing.  But I wanted an even 10 and sometimes you just want to stay home for an afternoon!  My son loves to help make banana bread, cookies, pumpkin bread, cupcakes, etc…  He’ll sit on the counter and happily stir while I add all the ingredients.  He especially likes to “test” the batter.  “I’m just going to have one more teeny bite, mommy.  Just a teeny tiny bite.”

I just realized that I made it sound like I was the smart one who came up with all of these outings but I have to give credit where credit is due.  My husband is really good at coming up with places to take our son.  He usually finds them and then I steal his idea and take our son there every week until he’s “sick for it.”  The baking one is all me, though!

Impulse buying.

Impulse buying.

I just read this great post called 10 Frugal Tips for Simple Living and the author made a lot of great suggestions but the one I liked the most was about impulse buying.  For me, controlling impulse buying has been a natural side effect of tracking my spending and creating a budget.  I didn’t really even realize that I made a lot of impulse purchases until I stopped.  Have you ever walked out of Target $200 poorer and wondered to yourself, “What did I just buy?”  If you’re trying to live cheap, don’t ever go to Target, but that’s another rant.

Before I started really tracking our expenses closely, I made purchasing decisions kind of like this…

“Hmm… That looks cool/yummy/pretty/other appropriate adjective.  How much is it?  That sounds somewhat reasonable.  Toss it in the cart!”

After tracking my expenses, setting some goals, and putting some real time and thought into my spending, my purchasing decisions look more like this…

“Hmm…  That looks cool/yummy/pretty/other appropriate adjective.  Do I really need it?  Nope.  Do I even want it?  Not really.  It costs how much?  That’s a whole day’s worth of food for my family!  Who would buy that!?!?”

When you stop to think about it, it’s kind of scary how much stuff we buy that we don’t need at all.  And with so much stuff, we need bigger houses, and houses are expensive so then we have to work more.  It’s a vicious cycle.  But you don’t have to play that game if you don’t want to.  At least I don’t think you do.  I’m only a couple of weeks into my life transformation so I don’t want to get too cocky just yet.  But so far, I really like it!  Knowing that I don’t have to buy anything except the necessities is actually very calming.  Shopping is just one less thing to think about.  One step closer the simple life for which I long.  Wow.  I’m getting really profound.  I’ll just stop there.

A dignified low income class for America.

A dignified low income class for America.

We are beginning our journey to a simpler life.  I’m making some changes.  Look out!

I took a look at my finances to see what we’re spending and this is what January looked like…

Category Amount
Gym Membership $74
Wine $11
Amazon Orders $56.96
Car Insurance $114.78
Child Care $446
Eating Out $111.76
Gas $30.48
Gifts $127.19
Groceries $983.60
Internet $35
Parking $10
Rent & Utilities $1,858
Uber $33.54
Total $3,89

This is what it costs for us to exist in our daily routine.  No special trips, no major meals out.  No date nights.  And we’re on our parent’s cell phone plans (shh… don’t tell anyone.)  Some of you, if anyone ever find my obscure blog and actually reads it, are probably thinking that’s pretty cheap, but is it really?  $4,000 a month just to exist?  Plus, our kid may want to attend college some day, we may want to retire some day, and occasionally we may even want to take a vacation.  Our rent is a ridiculous $1800 a month.  Yes, we live in Denver and it’s expensive but there has to be a better option.  Also, we spend at least $800 and sometimes upwards of $1000 at the grocery store each month, plus we eat a meal out once or twice a week.  Who do we think we are?  The Trump family?  Ha. No!  If they gave me every penny they owned, I wouldn’t take it!  In other countries people feed an entire family for less than $3 a day. We spend nearly $50, and I consider us pretty frugal.

Fortunately, we do have some cash saved and we are looking at buying a house.  Unfortunately the real estate market in Denver in INSANE.  Like, houses stay on the market only for about 11 minutes.  By the time you make an appointment to see a house and actually drive there, it’s under contract because someone else put in an offer site unseen.  Craziness!  Anyway, we could use the money for a down payment on an overpriced house in Denver and work all day and night at jobs we hate to pay the mortgage, or, we could move out of the city a little ways and try to find a place that we can comfortably afford.  Plus, if I succeed at simplifying our life, and I will because I’m persistent to a fault and I won’t give up even if my husband cries, begs, and pleads, we really shouldn’t need much space.  Right?  We do, however, want to live somewhere safe and somewhere where we can find a sense of community.  I think that will be the hard part.

Our country doesn’t really seem to have a class of happy, lower income families.  When we were in Costa Rica, I saw kids in school uniforms happily skipping out of houses with dirt floors and no windows and walking down the street to school arm in arm with their siblings, singing songs and laughing.  They had less money then we can possibly imagine, but they seemed happy.  In countries where the majority of the population is poor, it’s not such a tragedy.  It’s just a way of life.  You make sure everyone is fed and clothed and that’s enough to be happy.  Here, it seems that poverty is almost always associated with crime, hunger, dysfunctional families, and drugs.  Are there people in our country that live without the extras but maintain their dignity, pride, and happiness?

I mean, what if every outfit isn’t a fashion statement?  What if I wear my clothes until they actually wear out?  When was the last time you actually wore out an article of clothing?  Like, the clothing actually had holes in it.  And I’m not talking about your favorite hoodie that you wear only in your own kitchen.  When I show up at the gym in 2 year old sweatpants and no makeup, people look at me funny.  What is going to happen if I just stop buying new clothes until I need them?

I don’t tend to buy a lot of street clothes, but I feel obligated to own some minimally fashionable clothes just so I can go to dinner with friends or attend the occasional concert.  I will admit, though, that I spend way too much money on workout clothes.  Do I need $80 running tights?  Three pairs?  Do I need six winter coats in varying degrees of warmth?  Probably not.  That’s it.  I don’t care what the world thinks.  No more clothes!  I can survive for a very long time on the closet and dresser full of clothes in my bedroom.  Plus, I’d rather focus on my health and look great in anything than buy expensive clothes to cover up the parts of me I don’t like.

Obviously, there are lots ways we can save money and live simpler but, one thing at a time, right?  First, I am going to change our food budget.  I think we should be able to feed ourselves hearty, healthy meals for $150 a week.  I picked that number sort of arbitrarily, or rather completely arbitrarily, but I’m going to try it.  That’s my goal this month.  Feed the family for $600.  That means no more $3 coffees from Starbucks.  And probably, no more wine.  Oh, man.  I like wine a lot.  Maybe I can squeeze one bottle a month into the budget.  We’ll fast for a day.  It’ll bring us closer to god, right?  Just kidding.  After a week or so, I probably won’t even notice that there’s no wine in the fridge.  It’s mostly just a habit, anyway.  Right?  Hopefully.    We are also looking at smaller houses in small towns north of Denver, but changing our eating habits is something I can do immediately to start saving money and living simpler.  I’ll let you know how it goes…

The beginning of simple.

The beginning of simple.

So, I’m a little crazy.  I know that.  And I’m fine with it.  It keeps life interesting.  I have a tendency to get these crazy ideas and put a lot of work into them, sometimes with little to no return.  But I’m okay with my craziness.  It’s just the way I figure life out.  I say this pretty often, but I think this idea is really good!  I’ve been thinking a lot about life and what’s important and what’s not important.  And here’s what I think…

I think that most of the things we spend time and money on are not important.  I think that most of us are suffering from an overload of stimulation.  We have this crazy drive to make the most of every second of our life but it’s too much.  We get so busy planning and executing our adventures that we don’t have time to enjoy them.  We don’t need to be busy every second of the day.  It’s okay to step to back and enjoy a sunny day or spend two hours talking about dinosaurs with your two year old.  The problem is that there are too many things to do and buy.  We have to have the latest clothes.  The latest sports equipment.  The best gym membership.  We have to go to concerts and take big, exciting vacations.  It used to be that people had one or two “things” or hobbies that they focused on.  Some people played guitar.  Some people liked to travel.  Some people were into fashion.  Some people played soccer.  Now, everyone feels like they have to do everything.  And I’m worse than any of you!  I like to knit, sew baby clothes, play guitar, workout, cook homemade meals, play soccer and hockey, go to self defense class, box, keep the house perfectly organized, take my son to the park and the library and the zoo and the museum, spend time with my sister and my mom.  And make time for concerts and nights out with friends.  That doesn’t even include work.  No wonder I’m exhausted all the time!

I need to simplify my life, decide what’s important to me and let everything else go.  I need to accept the fact that no matter organized and motivated I try to be, I just can’t do everything.  So instead of driving myself crazy trying, I am going to simplify.  I’m exiting the rat race.  I’m done!  Stuff doesn’t make me happy.  Money doesn’t make me happy.  What I need the most are people to love, time spent in nature, and a belief in something bigger than myself.

Recently I’ve been trying to make some career choices and I’ve been having a hard time figuring out what to do for money.  Part of the problem is that, in order to maintain our lifestyle, we have to make quite a bit of money.  And I don’t want to work in any of the jobs that pay that much money.  So instead of trying to earn more and more, why not just need less?  If I can make my life smaller so that I don’t need everything, maybe I can find a job I really enjoy and not be stressed if it doesn’t pay that well.  Maybe I can actually be happier with less.  Can I do that?  Is that allowed?  Yes, I have a degree in accounting and a law degree and I am licensed to practice law in Colorado, but do I have to?  Do I have to abandon my child for 50 hours a week and let him be raised by strangers so I can prove my worth to the rest of the upper-middle class?  Is it okay if I choose to be poor?  Are there other people out there with these same thoughts and ideas?