Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Free legos for the kiddos

The LEGO Store is every kid's favorite place to go, and every penny-pinching mom's nightmare. Those LEGOs are so darn expensive! However, you can get free LEGOs for your kid at their monthly mini model build event. The first Tuesday of the month, a mini LEGO model kit will be given out to every child ages 6-14, starting at 5pm. That is, until they run out. This free LEGO event is super popular so expect to get there about an hour early to make sure your kiddo gets his LEGOs! My kid's gonna love it!

Take the family out for FREE breakfast at IKEA

I'm cheap and I have Swedish ancestry, so you know I hang out at IKEA all the time. On Mondays we sometimes go out to breakfast at IKEA, since it's free for everybody in the family from 9:30 to 11am (drinks not included). You get a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and potatoes (the smaller size one).  If you can't go on Monday, the breakfast is 99 cents any other day. After breakfast, I put my big kiddo in the Smaland play area and my husband, little one, and I explore IKEA. It's a fun and cheap excursion (if you can exercise self-control in IKEA, that is).

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer reading programs that get your kid free books

His free book from Pottery Barn Kids
So I signed Piglet up for several summer reading deals; we love to read together anyway (he can't read yet), but with these programs he can get free prizes.  The first two we're doing are Barnes and Noble and Pottery Barn Kids. For each of those the kiddo will get a free book when he's done. The Barnes and Noble one allows you to read any 8 books, but the Pottery Barn one requires you to read all the books on their list. So Pottery Barn is a little trickier to complete, but the books are nicer--you get a hardcover book. Only 4 of Pottery Barn Kids' chosen books were at my local library branch, so I have been getting them from my library by placing holds on the ones I want. The are reserved for me and delivered to my local library in a few days. And so far we've really liked the books Pottery Barn has chosen. I don't have much extra money for buying books; we usually just get them at the library, but this is a great way for my kiddo to get a couple of free books.

At our library, and nearly all libraries, there's a summer reading program. He gets a small toy for each 5 books read, and a free ticket for a AZ Diamondbacks game. Our library also has a summer reading program for teens with prizes and a chance to win a netbook computer.

So get out there and get reading before these summer reading programs end. They are a great way to  build a love of reading, and hey, what kid doesn't love free stuff?

Friday, July 6, 2012

The fabulous Culture Pass (in AZ) and how to score one

We live in Phoenix, AZ and we have a great program here called the Culture Pass. If you are a mom on a budget like me, but you don't want your kids to sit at home all day letting their brains rot, you need a Culture Pass. It's is a partnership between the local museums and the local libraries. If you get one, you get two people in to a museum (or the zoo, or the botanical garden) for free! I'm so excited! However, some of them can be tricky to get, so read on, because I'm going to tell you how to score one.

How to Score a Culture Pass

The passes are available at your local library. You have to be a member of the library, and if you aren't (gasp!), you should be, so sign up and get your library card (personally, I'm a member of three different library systems in my area, and they all have the passes). In the library somewhere is a rack containing the available Culture Pass cards (they look like giant bookmarks). You grab one, take it to the librarian desk, and they will check it out for you. They keep the card thingy but give you a little check-out receipt (it looks like any old receipt, so don't lose track of it!). That is your pass to arts and culture! And you can get up to 2 Culture Passes per month. Yay! Here are some of the cool places you can get a Culture Pass for:

The Children's Museum of Phoenix
Phoenix Art Museum
Deer Valley Rock Art Center
The Phoenix Zoo
Pueblo Grande Museum
Desert Botanical Garden
Arizona Science Center
Arizona Museum of Natural History (a.k.a. the Dinosaur Museum)

There are a few more, but these are the best ones. But before you rush off to grab a Culture Pass, you need to know that, although most of the passes are easy to find, unfortunately, three of the passes are waaaay popular. You could prowl the library for a month of Sundays and never see these elusive passes. The hard-to-get Culture Passes are the Zoo, the Science Center, and the Children's Museum. And you know those are the places your kids most want to go. So what's a frugal Phoenix mom to do? Never fear, I am here to tell you the secret of scoring a hard-to-get culture pass. Follow these steps and you are (almost) guaranteed to get it.

How to Get a Hard-to-Get Culture Pass (Zoo, Science Center, Children's Museum)

Step 1: Check Culture Pass availability online

Culture Passes last a week, and you usually need to start looking at least a day in advance of when you plan to go, so make your plans (and don't tell the kids about it in case you miss out on the pass). Go to your library's website and check Culture Pass availability. First check the closest library to you. Find the pass you want and see when it is due, because that's when you can grab it. Culture Passes are digital returns, so they automatically return when they are due. If the pass isn't coming up soon at the closest library, check others in the area until you find the one you want due on the day you want to get it.

Step 2: Find out when the library opens on the day the Culture Pass is due

That hard-to-get Culture Pass is going to fly out of there the second the library opens. So you are going to have to be the early bird to get the worm! Check out the website and find out when that particular library opens on the due day. The libraries have weird hours so check and make sure of the opening time on the day you're going to go.

Step 3: Get to the library early

On the due day make sure you are there at least 30 minutes before the library opens. Bring your smartphone, the newspaper, a book, a coffee, etc. because you are going to be waiting around awhile. If you bring the kiddos, have a video game, toy, or some other distraction for them. Don't sit on a bench nearby; stand directly in front of the library door. A line may form in front of the door of all the mommies wanting that Culture Pass. You want to be the first in line.

Step 4: Get ready to run; you might need to

Different libraries (at least this is my experience with libraries within the Phoenix Public Library system) have different policies regarding Culture Pass competition. If you are lucky, when the librarian opens the door, she will be holding all the available Culture Passes, and whoever is first in line gets first choice. This is all very civilized. If you are unclucky, the Culture Passes will be stuck in the rack somewhere in the library and you are going to have to charge in there, find it, and grab it before the other mommies. So be ready when the library is about to open. Watch for the librarian. If you don't see culture passes in her hand when she comes to open the door, get ready to run (actually, I mean walk really fast without actually running, because that would be rather uncouth). I have done this pushing a full-size stroller, in an unfamiliar library, and still made it there first, because I was ready and first at the door. When you get to the rack, scan it quickly and grab the one you want. When you have the culture pass in your hot little hand, pay no attention to the other mommies giving you a sob story and trying to wheedle it out of you. They can try again tomorrow. Just say sorry, and head for the checkout. Yes! You got the Culture Pass for your kids! You are a triumphant super-parent! At least, that's how I feel when I score a hard-to-get Culture Pass. So go get your Culture Pass, my dear cheap Phoenix parents, and get your kids out there enjoying arts and culture!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Free museums on Bank of America's dime

UPDATE July 2013: It appears MIM is no longer participating in this program. Boo.

Bank of America ought to be good for something--and with their Museums on Us program, it seems they finally are. If you are a B of A cardholder, the first full weekend of the month you can get a free admission to participating museums. It works for debit cards or credit cards--you show your card to get in free. In Phoenix the museums participating in this deal are the Children's Museum of Phoenix, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)--all great museums. My husband and I both have cards, so last month we went to the MIM.

Kids under 6 are free at the MIM, so we didn't have to pay anything. This museum sounds like it would be totally boring but it's great. They have guitars and memorabilia from famous musicians like Elvis and John Lennon, neato wi-fi headphones you wear throughout the museum which play the appropriate music as you walk up to each exhibit, and a room where the kiddos can bang away on amazing instruments (like the giant gong above!). Well worth the money I didn't pay.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I love my thrift stores

I love shopping at thrift stores! Since everything is so cheap, it makes me feel like I'm rich. I can buy so much stuff with the few meager dollars I managed to hide from the rest of the family. So sometimes I have a hard time controlling myself, but who cares? It's so cheap and it's the only place I get to splurge. There are lots of different kinds of thrift stores, but some are better than others. Here's a run-down of my thrift store experience:

Big chain-store thrifts are pricey and have a lot of junk.

In my experience, the big places like Savers and Goodwill charge more money and have a lot of garbage. It depends on which store you go to though, stores in classier neighborhoods will have nicer stuff, but you'll still pay more for it. Of course, compare that to a regular store--it's still a deal.

Second-hand baby/kid stores charge a lot more than regular thrift stores.

I prefer to buy my kid stuff at regular thrift stores, rather than the specialty baby/kid places, because it's just so much cheaper. At regular thrift stores I've found baby outfits for a dollar or fifty cents, a ski jacket for my son for $2.50, a brand new Cootie game for 2 bucks, and a big set of play-dough tools for $1.00. Baby stores will be at least triple those prices, if not more. But, it can be difficult to find specific items in regular thrift stores. They don't have everything. If I need something specific, like a new crib mattress, I'll go to the second-hand baby store because I know they'll have what I need in stock.

Independent church or charity-run thrift stores have the best prices.

 St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army are okay, but I rarely find exciting things there. The best places are the small, independent church or charity-run stores. Their stuff is cheap-cheap-cheap, and they usually have half-price days where categories of items, or even the whole store, will be half-off.

Find out when the sales are.

Thrift stores often have sales and weekly specials, such as: books are 50% off on Monday, housewares 50% off on Tuesday, etc. One of my favorite thrifts has 50% off everything in the store on Saturdays and Sundays. Find out when those days are and you can get fabulous deals.

I keep hearing about people who found homeschool curriculum at thrift stores, but I have NEVER seen anything like that. I buy a lot of kid's books there for a few cents apiece, but never anything more than that. And I live in a big homeschooling state. Have you ever found homeschool supplies or curriculum at a thrift store?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Memberships to kid places make life worth living

It is about a thousand degrees outside, your kids are climbing the walls with nowhere to expend their energies, and you all have cabin fever because you haven't been outside in about a month. You are wishing you lived somewhere with a normal climate so you could just send those bratty kids outside to play. At a time like this I have a solution: I whip out a membership card and drag the kiddos off for a few hours of splashing-wet or air-conditioned fun.

The first membership I have is for the Children's Museum of Phoenix. That membership wasn't cheap. But if you consider that the cost of taking your kids there is $11 per person over the age of one (one? really? That is a bit much Children's Museum!), it starts to sound cheaper. So you're talking $33 for me and the two kiddos. If we go to the museum 5 times in a whole year, the 3-person membership ($160) pays for itself. And we go to the museum way more than 5 times in just the summertime alone. Because we have the membership, the museum is like a park or second backyard, but one that's cool all year round. My kids can run and climb and get their wiggles out. Sometimes we go three times a week! Now, I'm a fan of the museum on facebook, so I got my membership during a one-day discount they advertised only there--I only paid $140. Whew! Still a lot! But that's a big tip. If you are thinking of buying a membership somewhere, like them on facebook or visit their facebook page often, and/or sign up for their email list. With the membership I also get two FREE passes and I can get my husband a member card without paying extra, though we can't go at the same time with the kiddos. But it allows him to take them if I'm busy.

We also have a zoo membership, which I didn't buy for the longest time because I thought, "It is just way too hot, too much of the year!" However, I got really tired of fighting off other moms for a Culture Pass when my kids were in a zoo mood. Now I'm really glad we got it. The zoo's neato Yakulla Caverns splash pad is a big hit with the little ones. And it is not torture for me either--they have benches and shade covers, and it stays cool right by the water. And after we get cooled off we go and watch the orangutans from the comfort of their air-conditioned building. So that membership is worth it even in the summer. And in the cool months we go all over the zoo--it's a great outing and good exercise. Unfortunately, the membership only covers me. My husband can't take the card and go with the kiddos. So that's kind of a drag, but he hardly ever goes anyway. He can join us a couple times a year with the two FREE passes that are included. Our membership was $65 for adult and one kid (under 3 are free), but they just raised the price to $75. I loved this membership at $65 but it is still great at $75!

I've also got a McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park membership. I don't know if that one is such a great deal for most people, but with my train-freak kid we end up at that place enough for it to be worth the money. It was $100 for a two person membership (the little one is free until 3). So any grown up in our family can ride the rides or go in the museum with the two kiddos.

Anyway, having memberships means we can go for just a few hours. I don't have to chase the kids around the place for the whole day, just so we can get our money's worth. And the kids learn stuff, especially since they have the chance to experience it again and again. So that's why I say the memberships are so worth it!