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I’ll admit it, our family gets bored of the same routine. We love adventures and are always looking for ways to take a family vacation. This can be tough in many ways, including time off work, the spending that occurs on trips, and travel and lodging. Family vacations don’t have to be daunting, though. We do mini-vacations and long weekends whenever we can and that works to break up the monotony of the day-to-day. Here’s how we frugally vacation and spend intentional time together outside of our home:

1. We plan! We look forward to vacations, so we plan them at the beginning of each year (and sometimes years in advance.) My husband and I have a Wish List of places we’d like to visit. On our Wish List are places near and far; some require a passport, some are a car-ride away. We know we can’t do a “Wish List” vacation every year, but we look for ways some of them can be checked off and we work toward those goals. Luckily, our 15th wedding anniversary and 40th birthdays happen next year, so chances are, it will be an opportunity to mark off a “Wish List” vacation.

2. We save! We know vacations will cost more than if we were staying at home and eating meals in. We look at our vacations and estimate what we can spend on each one and we save over time for these trips. Sometimes it works the other way around. There are trips we plan based on what we can save. Either way, we make sure the funds are available to take a trip. There’s no benefit to putting a vacation on credit and resenting the financial burden later.

3. We are sensible! Some people even call it “cheap.” We use every opportunity we can to pack our lunches or buy groceries and cook meals onsite when we travel. Sometimes, the small cost of a room with a kitchen is worth the savings of not dining out each night while vacationing. We don’t buy souvenirs or unnecessary gifts on our trip. Our kids are very familiar with hearing the word “no” from us when we’re in a gift shop or at an amusement park. They bring their own money for any purchases they choose to make, which makes their purchases very minimal. We look for discount coupons, Groupons, passes, or free admissions to parks, zoos, and other attractions. We usually do this in advance so we have an idea of what we’ll spend.

4. We savor the moments! Sometimes our Family Vacations aren’t about where we’re going, it’s about quality family time. We may be in our home state, staying in a hotel for the night just so we can swim in the winter. We may be camping in the rain 5 minutes from our house because it feels like a vacation and we can tell scary ghost stories. We may visit friends or family we don’t often see. Or we may be playing at the beach for 5 days straight because it doesn’t cost a thing. All of these special times together are snapshots we can save and the memories made on family vacations are really important to us.

5. We reconnect! The burden of everyday life can really wear us down, but when we’re on vacation we are able to really live in the moment. We leave our computers at home, we don’t feel compelled to check email on our phones, we let our calls go to voicemail and we… TALK! Just like in the olden times. We play silly games in the car, like “Would You Rather” or License Plate Bingo or we make some up.

6. We go on adventures! We choose activities we don’t do at home and savor our vacation destination. We’ve seen bears in Alaska, we’ve kayaked in estuaries in Florida, we’ve climbed rocks in Kentucky, we’ve hiked rainforests in Washington, we’ve searched for sand dollars in South Carolina. We also try to incorporate this adventurous spirit close to home. We’ve taken geocaching days with the kids near our home. It’s like a treasure hunt and the kids love it. We take nature hikes and see views we’d never see from our car or anywhere else. We go to local festivals, farms, and events. These are the mini-vacations that cost very little, but have a huge impact on our family.

Spending time as a family is incredibly important to me and going on vacations and mini-vacations has become one way we connect and enjoy time together. What are some vacations you’ve taken as a family? I’d love to hear about trips you’ve taken or stay-cations that have strengthened your family bond. Please share your ideas and comments below.

 
 
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I work from home. Let me repeat that: I WORK from home. That comment is usually followed by responses like, “Wow, what a dream job!” or “Must be nice.” It is; except for when it’s not. Let me explain, I love the perks – like getting to wear my pajamas to work or going to the office without makeup. I savor the opportunities to run to the grocery kid-free while my friends are hustling to pick up a rotisserie chicken at 6pm with a starving toddler in tow. At the same time, I have pitfalls, like jumping on the computer at 8pm to finish a 15-minute task that, in reality, takes 3 hours.

Over all, working from home has been a huge blessing for our family. I’m able to attend mid-day school musicals and quietly turn off alarm clocks when we get the Snow Day text at 5:30am, not worried about where my kids will spend their day. Working from home has enabled me to finish my work day when the kids are off the bus so I can feed them a healthy snack, help with homework, and prepare dinner before our evening activities start. I’m also able to cut an hour commute time off my workday.

But like most wonderful things, there are some downfalls, too. I have to be extremely diligent with my time. If not for my iBloom Life & Business Planner, I would be lost. I’d be wasting time doing laundry, housework, and other things that are distractions while working from home. Fortunately, I allot my time similarly to how I would if I were in an office outside the home. My day begins at 8am, after getting the kids off to school and quiet time with God. From 8am until 4pm, I am working on projects, with a midday lunch break. At 4pm, I am usually able to greet my kiddos, feed them a snack, and get them started on homework.

Now, there are occasions where my work isn’t complete by 4pm or we have a work project that requires additional time. Those occasions are balanced by days when I choose to run midday errands, help at my kids’ schools, or have lunch with my husband or a friend. I value the flexibility of working from home, for precisely those reasons.

Obviously, the positives FAR outweigh the negatives to working from home, but it takes steadfast time management, family support, and diligence to maintain a healthy work/life balance. What are some ways you’re able to balance your work and personal life, whether you work from home or elsewhere? Share in the comments section below some of your favorite strategies or ways you could improve your time management skills.

 
 
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It’s almost Valentine’s Day and through the years, our Valentine’s Day celebrations have gotten smaller and smaller. So small now, in fact, that I try to keep my monumental display of affection for my husband under twenty bucks. I know, that’s pretty cheap, but the season of life we’re in right now doesn’t lend itself to extravagant date nights and exotic gift-giving. 

We know spending time together is important. It strengthens our bond, reminds us what we love about each other, and builds intimacy. But like a lot of other couples, it becomes discouraging when you spend $50 just on a babysitter. That doesn’t leave a lot extra for dinner and a movie, or gas to get there. That’s where the Dollar Date Jar comes in handy. It’s the ideal Valentine’s Day gift idea. 

Last year, I gave my husband a Dollar Date Jar. It was filled with ten Dollar Dates. Each date consisted of 2 rolled up dollar bills and a little date note. He picks a “date” out of the jar and we do whatever the paper says. Sometimes it’s just a milkshake and two straws, other times, we go to the Dollar Store to pick out something “special” for each other. Either way, it’s a time for us to celebrate together, it’s inexpensive, and sometimes, we can even complete them at home.

Of course, we do still have regular date nights, where I do my best at wearing heels, we get a sitter for the kids, and we stay out past 10pm, but the Dollar Date Jar has become something we both look forward to. 

You can start your own Dollar Date Jar using the PDF below. Print it, roll a couple dollar bills up with the “dates” wrapped around them, tie them up with a little ribbon and you have 10 or 20 activities to share with your partner. 

Download the PDF now to start your own Valentine’s Day tradition. Do you have ideas for other Dollar Dates? Please share them in the comment section.

 
 
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It’s the beginning of the year and time to look at your goals and priorities for your business. For some, this is extremely exciting and something to look forward to. For others, this part is excruciating! The task of marketing your business can be overwhelming and the constant feeling of being overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout. Here are ten ways that you can prevent burnout or rekindle your passion for your business.

1. Walk in Their Shoes. Take some time to look at your business and marketing from your consumers’ perspective. Think about what matters most to them. Try to inspire.

2. Get out There. Walk away from your desk, your computer and interview your ideal customers. Ask them what they see as benefits to your business, what their goals are, what values they hold most important, and what changes they’d like to see.

3. Connect with your Newest Employees. Feed off their excitement, why they are looking forward to working for you, and being your brand ambassadors. Rekindle that feeling of love for your business and what you do.

4. Ask for Feedback. When you receive positive feedback, it will remind you what works, what makes your consumers happy. When you receive negative feedback, it will show you what changes you need to make, what obstacles you need to overcome, and what things can be optimized.

5. Write it Down. Plan! Take time to set goals, prioritize your projects and work backwards to make those projects successful by marketing them and making them happen.

6. Retreat. Take time to refresh. Get away and spend time looking seriously at your brand, your business and the goals you’ve set for yourself, both personally and professionally.

7. Train and Conference. Take time to re-energize yourself by attending trainings and conferences that will not only make you a better business owner, but will inspire you to WANT to be better.

8. Schedule. Set an ideal schedule for every aspect of your business; Social Media, Internet Marketing, PR, Speaking Events, Conferences, Industry Association opportunities, etc. and stick to it. Create an ideal schedule for your week, incorporating ways to make these things happen.

9. Educate Yourself. Devote time to learning. Watch tutorials, speak to experts, and sign up for business groups that offer educational opportunities.

10. Take a Break. Disconnect. This will allow you time to take time for yourself so you can come back more energized and focused on your plan.

Owning a business is more than just doing what you love or filling a customer’s need. Marketing yourself and your business enables you to reach more of your ideal customers, show them why your business is the best fit for their need, and allows you to be more successful. Follow these tips to prevent marketing burnout! 

How do you conquer marketing in your business? Please share your ideas in the comment section below.


 
 
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“I just don’t think we have IT and I’m not sure we ever did” are NOT the words every woman longs to hear on her anniversary. I know from experience.

Lucky number thirteen. That was the anniversary I was “celebrating” when I heard those words. My husband, however was not celebrating. He was escaping. He was looking for a spark, an ember, some sort of storybook romance that just doesn’t seem to burn as hot after thirteen years of marriage, two kids, and a mortgage. Well, not when it’s not fostered. And that’s where we were.

Scott and I were doing life together. We were great friends. We had a good partnership – as in, I cook the dinner, he cleans the dishes. I run the kids around and manage their activities, he works outside the home and pays for everything. Sometimes we spend “alone” time – in front of the TV, or out to dinner and a movie – when we weren’t exhausted from this mechanical routine built on complacency and obligation. NOT how a marriage should work. But still, I wasn’t expecting those words. And especially not on my anniversary.

My immediate reaction was to argue and say “Of course we had IT. We just need to remember what we did with IT and bring IT back.” He was not so convinced. And so began our separation. That night. An awful way to end an anniversary evening. In bed. Alone. With a box of Kleenex. Or three.

There were lots of tears through those next several weeks. There was a lot of anger, resentment, rude words, hurtful confessions and ultimately, blame. I blamed him for everything falling apart. After all, he was the one who brought it all up, right? Wrong. I was equally to blame. An ugly realization.

I had taken him for granted. We were married. Committed. For life. Although, when that mentality sinks in the way it did for me then, I realized that meant that I still had LOTS of work to do. On myself – the only one of us I had control over. I read lots of self-help books: Codependent No More, Boundaries, my Bible. I saw a fantastic counselor. I worked on me. It was eye-opening.

Weeks after spending time apart, which was so hard, especially during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, I had resigned myself to the fact that our marriage was over and I started accepting it. My husband however, did not. He finally saw what a wonderful gift we had and how fragile our relationship was. He understood that we both had work to do and made the commitment to do the work WITH me.

That was over two years ago and we work really hard to never let ourselves get to that place. We have date nights. A lot. Sometimes we go out, without the kids, sometimes we stay in, and have our date night after the kids are in bed. And sometimes we have family date nights. We communicate often. The TV goes off, the conversation begins. Funny how that works. We say “No.” A lot. To friends, family and our kids. We have decided to put our relationship with God and each other above all others. Even our kids. That was tough. Our time together now is sacred and we guard it. We share intentional, relationship-building moments. We have built intimacy through these intentional moments. And that’s where IT comes from. Finally, we have IT back. And IT is better than ever before.

 
 
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I know it may be shocking. Maybe not to you, but to my kids, their school teachers, my neighbors, some friends, and that person on Facebook who always wants to measure my life to hers’, it is. I’m not perfect. I wake up with mascara smeared across my eyelid, much to my daughter’s dismay, since I didn’t notice it before I picked her and a gaggle of girlfriends up from school. I sometimes forget to force my son to do his spelling test every night and he comes to school on Friday, seeing the word “accountable” for the first time. I occasionally leave my garbage cans out an extra day after the trucks have hauled away the stinky trash. And sometimes, God forgive me, I leave a word out of my Facebook status that should have read: “I left my daughter’s coat at Meijer” when instead, it said “I left my daughter at Meijer.” Does this bother me that I mess up, that I can’t balance everything perfectly? Yes. Yes, it does. And many times, the guilt that I feel or the anxiety that comes after a not-so-perfect incident is overwhelming.

But, I’m starting to mellow out. And I’m giving more things to God. He knows that the time I forgot to send my dad his birthday gift, I didn’t love him any less. His grace is given to us, why don’t we allow it for ourselves? I struggle with this daily and at times, I’m able to see that I’m my own worst critic. Other times, it’s clearly pointed out to me. And those are the times I have to remember His grace the most. I know that I’m doing my best and that’s pretty darn good.

Another way that I keep it all in perspective is my Gratitude Journal. When I see all the things I’m grateful for in my life, things that REALLY matter, all the other stuff starts to fade away. It becomes less important and allows me to feel less small. At our Retreat in September, we challenged all of the ladies in attendance to start 100 Days of Gratitude to end their year. Each day or night, they were asked to write down one thing that they were grateful for. My list includes things like warm baths, date nights with my husband, peanut butter, snuggles with my kids, and fingerless gloves. Of course, “God’s grace” and “my relationship with God” are in my journal as well, but the little things are important, too. Those things keep me grounded and allow me to be okay with not being perfect. 

It’s fine. I know my life will not be full of perfect moments. I know that my house won’t always be clean when a friend stops by, that my car won’t always get an oil change when the dealership thinks it’s time, and that my kids’ birthday cakes won’t always be homemade, but those are the things that really don’t matter in the scheme of things. What does matter is that a friend stops by, regardless of the way my house looks; that I have a car that gets me and my family safely where we need to go; that I get to celebrate one more birthday with my kids. And that’s perfect to me.