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DIY: Spooky Halloween Projects on a Budget

October 16, 2014

By Nikki Cecala

For kids, Halloween isn’t just one day of the year; it’s a month-long celebration! And who can blame them when there are so many fun and exciting things to do daily? Sure, you can take them to the pumpkin patches or apple picking, but money can get stretched thin fast, especially if you have a costume to purchase for one or more kids. There are plenty of low-cost or free Halloween crafts that you can do in your own home. It’s also a great opportunity to bond and create holiday traditions!

Decorations

DIY: Spooky Halloween Projects on a Budget | milk jugs decorated like ghosts

Ghost Jugs
Need: 3-4 clean gallon milk or water jugs, black markers, holiday lights or battery-operated candle

Remove any stickers from the jugs and make sure they’re clean and dry. Using the black marker, draw a face on the opposite side of the handle. Keep the cap on so the jug doesn’t dent while drawing on it. If you have clear holiday lights or a battery-operated candle, cut a hole in the bottom of the jug (about the size of a half dollar) and insert either type of lighting inside to make the jugs glow. Put them around the house or in the windows for ghoulish decor.

DIY: Spooky Halloween Projects on a Budget | paper towel rolls with eye-like cutouts glow from the bushes thanks to glowsticks inside the tubes

Spooky Eyes
Need: 4-5 clean toilet paper rolls, kid-friendly scissors, tape, colored glow sticks

Cut pairs of small holes in the middle of the toilet paper roll. Put a glow stick in the toilet paper roll and tape the ends so it doesn’t fall out. Scatter the rolls around the front or back yard in the bushes. Don’t put them too deep—keep them near the surface of the bushes so they’re seen.

DIY: Spooky Halloween Projects on a Budget | black bat cutouts line an orange wall

Paper Cats, Bats, or Mice
Need: Black construction paper, pencil, kid-friendly scissors, masking tape, traceable template for the animal of choice (we found some good options here)

First, print the templates and cut out each animal you will be using. Using that animal as a guide, trace the shapes onto black construction paper and cut them out. Then mount as desired throughout the house, using the masking tape. If you have a staircase, put them at the bottom of each step to spook people walking up.

Food and Liquid Fun

DIY: Spooky Halloween Projects on a Budget | Orange and black plastic spiders sit inside ice cubes.

Spider Ice Cubes
Need: ice cube trays, water, plastic spiders

Put plastic spiders in the ice cube trays and fill them with water. Freeze overnight. If you have other tiny plastic critters that are clean and safe, you can use those, too. Once frozen, put the ice cubes in your favorite cold beverage. It will look like you are drinking critters!
Caution: only do this activity if your children are old enough to understand they shouldn’t swallow the plastic critters. To be safe, remind them that they should remove the critter once the ice melts.

DIY: Spooky Halloween Projects on a Budget | Halloween cookie and candy white chocolate bark

Halloween Bark (Easy No-Bake Treat)
Need: 1 lb white chocolate (melted in the microwave or on the stove), 1 tbsp Halloween food sprinkles, 1 cup of pretzels, 12 orange and black sandwich cookies, 1.5 cups candy corn, 20 candy eyeballs

Break apart the pretzels and cookies. Mix together the sprinkles, broken pretzels and cookies, candy corn, and candy eyeballs. Spread the mixture onto a cookie tray. Pour the melted white chocolate over the mixture, spreading it evenly with a spatula. Then place in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours to harden. Once hardened, take out and break into small pieces. Enjoy!

For more creative Halloween ideas, check out our Pinterest page. Please share some of your Halloween traditions or creativity in the comments below!

Tags :  DIYholidayactivitiesbudgetfamily fun
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Student Budgeting: Inexpensive College Textbooks

August 13, 2014

By Nikki Cecala

Student Budgeting: Inexpensive College Textbooks | A student stares at her stack of college textbooks.

Heading off to college can be both a very exciting and very expensive adventure. Did you know that the average college student spends as much as $1,200 each year on textbooks and supplies alone? That’s a lot of money! Thankfully, there are many great resources outside the school bookstore that can help your student buy or rent books for significantly less money. Pass this list along to your student so he or she can use these sites every term and save some dough.

Chegg 
With Chegg, one can rent, buy, or sell textbooks. Renting is especially cost-friendly, as students can rent textbooks for a semester, quarter, or try a 60-day rental, saving anywhere from 30 to 80 percent off the price of a new textbook. Students can also ship their textbooks back for free with a prepaid UPS label. To put those savings in perspective, that’s about $360 to $960 saved each year!

Amazon
Amazon features a textbook section with an enhanced search for used and new textbooks. They also offer Amazon Student, which provides free two-day shipping and exclusive student deals for the first six months. After that, your student can sign up for an Amazon Prime membership at 50 percent off, gaining access to even more features.

AbeBooks
AbeBooks is an enormous online marketplace for new, used, and rare books that average 50 percent off retail. They also offer a 30-day return policy, which is great if your student decides to drop or switch a class during the first two weeks of a term. Like Chegg, they have a buyback program that includes free shipping.

Half.com
Half.com is like a massive second-hand bookstore. They have inexpensive textbooks, fiction and nonfiction, and are a great resource for movies, games, and much more!

Slugbooks
This website is really neat. Students can type in the book they need and the site will pull prices from all of the above listed websites and more. Then they can simply click on the information that best fits their price range and they will be redirected to the appropriate website to purchase the textbook. Students can also search the name of the college to find deals with student sellers, trade books, or sell them back to Slugbooks. They will provide a sale price from a variety of websites on the spot.

School Library
A simple but overlooked option. The school library may have a copy of the textbook on reserve if the professor provided a few copies. Depending on the library’s rules, students may not be able to check the book out, but may be able to borrow it for several hours at a time and read it inside the library. If the textbook isn't available on reserve, your student can always email the professor and ask if he or she would be willing to place a copy in the school library.

Before your student considers buying a textbook, I highly recommend checking out his or her syllabi and asking the teacher how much the class will use the textbooks. Some teachers list books and have no intention of using them. Some books, such as literature, may be less expensive to purchase than the hassle of renting and returning the book, especially if it’s a classic that your student intends to keep. Help your student use his or her best judgment and research each textbook needed. That effort can save a lot of money!

Tags :  collegeacademicbudget
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5 Quick Back-to-School Tips for Your Family

August 4, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

5 Quick Back-to-School Tips for Your Family | A photo of school supplies scattered across a desk.

It’s August, which means it’s officially back-to-school time! Relieve some of the anticipation and pressure from the first day of school by organizing your thoughts and expenses with this quick list.

Registration Fees. Most schools (even public) charge a fee for registration, books, and other supplies than can only be obtained at the school. Check the school’s website and any documentation you may have received in the mail so that your wallet will not take an unexpected hit.

Electronics. Depending on what grade your son or daughter is in, he or she may need a scientific calculator, a new laptop, or computer program to complete certain assignments. Give yourself time to shop, put items on layaway, or swap with friends.

Clothes and/or Uniforms. Having to wear a uniform will remove some of the pressure to buy expensive, name-brand clothes, as well as buying lots of outfits that coordinate. But if you do have to buy regular clothes for your child, help him or her choose wisely.

This is a great opportunity for your child to show his or her stylistic independence. Emphasize how to choose a look that is all his or her own, and avoid falling into a pattern of wanting to wear what all the “cool” kids are wearing. Remind your child that he or she is cool in his or her own way, and that is something that cannot be replicated.

Shoes. Whether your family lives in a warmer or colder climate, the right shoes can make all the difference. If your child feels comfortable in his or her shoes, he or she can focus better on the task at hand. Whether it’s running around the basketball court or studying poetry in English class, don’t let ill-fitting shoes that cause pain and discomfort prevent your child from doing his or her best.

School Supplies. It’s never too early to start stocking up on the essentials like loose-leaf paper, spiral notebooks, crayons, pens, and pencils. Look for sales throughout the school year so that when school starts, you will only need a few items.

And remember to buy a sturdy backpack to carry it all. Finding the right one will save you money and time in the long run. When my daughter started middle school, I invested in a Dickie’s backpack with a leather base. She is now a junior in high school, and is just now considering buying a new one!

Throughout my years as a parent, I’ve found that thinking of these things before the back-to-school rush keeps me better prepared for my family. What tips help you? Tell me in the comments below.



Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.
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Back to School Shopping Tips & Ideas

July 30, 2014

By Jose Garcia

Back to School Shopping Tips and Ideas | Back to School graphic with painting palettes, colored pencils, rulers, and basketballs.

All good things must come to an end, and summer break for our kids is no exception. Back to school usually means being bombarded by ads and commercials that feature all of the must-haves for your child, including school supplies, clothes, shoes, and haircuts, just to name a few. The biggest concern for most parents or guardians is how expensive this yearly tradition can be, especially if you have more than one child.

Fortunately, many states across the country offer tax holidays, which can help you save money. Tax holidays are specific days on which consumers are not required to pay sales taxes on certain items. The month of August has proven to be a month where you’ll most likely find a tax holiday for back to school items.

Here is a list of tax holiday states, tax-free items, spending amounts, and dates.

There are other savvy options you can use in those states that do not offer tax holidays. A personal favorite of mine is to shop online. Many times you’ll find much better deals on the same items that would cost you more at a retail store. Additionally, the majority of sites will offer free shipping when you spend a certain amount (usually $50, but it varies per site).

If shopping at a physical store location is an absolute must, take note on what sales are going on where. All stores want your business during this time of year and will lower their prices for the sake of having you walk through their doors. To find out about these sales in advance, sign up for email lists, look through coupons in the mail, research online, and simply ask around. Keep in mind that when making your purchases, generic versions of leading products are usually equal in quality but much less expensive.

Finally, remember to have fun with your children! Bring them along on your shopping trips. You’ll be surprised with the quality time you get to enjoy with your children while teaching them valuable lessons in smart shopping and responsibility. These experiences will remain with your child throughout their lifetime, and they’ll thank you for it.

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Family Outings: Movies in the Park

June 16, 2014

By Nikki Cecala

Two parents and their baby sit on a blanket in the park blowing bubbles.

Summer is one of my favorite seasons for many reasons. Why? The weather is gorgeous and people look a little happier, but mostly because it is the best season for family outings. There are many affordable options to have a fantastic and memorable day or evening with the family.

One of my favorite family outings is watching movies outside. Every summer the Chicago Park District features their Movies in the Parks. Each event is free and you can bring food, snacks, beverages, a cozy blanket, folding chairs, and even your pet (given that he or she is trained and safe to be in public surrounded by people). The movies vary from classics like The Wizard of Oz to recent popular cartoon movies.

Movie times start differently depending on the park but are mostly in the evening around dinnertime. I like to whip up summer dinner classics such as hotdogs and burgers to take with us. I load my picnic basket with plates, water bottles, and healthy on-the-go snacks such as bananas, apples, and crackers.

My family and I arrive at the park hours early. Depending on where the movie is playing, you can get a beautiful location that is great for scenic walks, taking pictures, or simply catching up in your child’s life. About a half hour before the movie is scheduled to start, we set up our blankets and chairs so we get a good view of the screen and eat our dinner. It’s a great experience with your family and still stands as a cherished memory of mine.

This family outing has become a summer tradition for me over the past few years. In a world driven by constant technology updates, it is refreshing and rejuvenating to slow down and enjoy the presence of my family. Pictures are taken, memories are made, and it makes me feel a stronger connection to my family.

The best memories any parent can have with his or her child is time spent with them. I highly recommend researching anything and everything your community or city has to offer for the summer. Even if you don’t live in Chicago, a nearby park district might offer movies in the park or you can always visit a drive-in theatre. Many of them are free or low-cost and geared toward bringing families together.

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