Wednesday, December 14, 2011

African-American (and Asian) Boy Baby Dolls at Ikea for Under $10!

I was so excited when I learned from my mom that Ikea is now carrying a Black / African-American baby doll... and it's a boy, to boot! Our two year old foster son just loves baby dolls, and we don't discourage him. Some people, especially birth family members, express discomfort at our little boy playing with dolls but I firmly believe that boys need to play at being daddies, and it helps encourage them to grow up to be involved dads.  Doll play encourages the values of nurturing and caring for children in both boys and girls, which we see as a very positive thing. We try to make sure that he has lots of multicultural (especially Black) dolls, toys and books... but sadly, he's no longer deeply in love with his Peter doll from Ezra Jack Keats' timeless storybook A Snowy Day which was his favorite for a long time. We figured it's time for him to have a new baby who is brown-skinned and a boy like him. I personally prefer cloth dolls, rather than plastic ones, for a variety of reasons - So I was thrilled when I found out that for under $10 I could get a brown-skinned boy baby doll at Ikea.

Here's LEKKAMRAT (what? It's Ikea! Did you expect he be named Joey?). The doll costs only $9.99 (!) and is also available in a blond-haired peach-skinned version or a version with black hair and light skin that I imagine is intended to be of Asian descent.

You can see more details here. They are available in Ikea stores only.

The doll has limbs that can be rotated due to plastic joints, but is otherwise made of fabric and totally soft. The skin seems to be made of microsuede that is very soft to the touch. The yarn hair has a lovely texture. The face is not so baby-like, but instead gives the impression of a toddler or older child. Regardless, I think our little guy will love him.

Confession: As I wrote this post, I looked at the outfits available for these dolls and noticed that one of the dolls comes in a pink outfit. So I think they're actually intended to be gender neutral... Which is kind of fabulous. Maybe it's best to leave the doll's gender up to the child who receives the doll as a gift!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Morning Routine

I loved a recent post by the new foster parents who are blogging at FosterWee, which showed the collage chart they made with their foster daughter to illustrate her morning routine. What a great way to get a kid engaged in creating visual cues for their routines and responsibilities. In our house, this would have to be a little more structured and linear, accompanied by check boxes and a way to earn points. But I love the idea of adding pictures to our current points charts.

Although we haven't yet used it, my other half created a laminated checklist of morning responsibilities and then poked a hole in it with a hole punch and tied a wipe-off marker to it. The idea is that as our older foster son, who has a lot of organization and distraction and opposition/resistance issues, can be responsible for his own morning routine by checking each thing off as it's completed.

How do you help your kids with their morning routine?

Deal Alert: ONE DAY ONLY! Deep Discounts on Carol's Daughter Hair Products

Lots of deeply discounted Carol's Daughter hair products in ideeli today. Hair Milk shampoo and conditioner is $9.99 instead of $16 per bottle, and this 4 piece Macadamia Hair Care Set is $44.99 instead of $72! A bunch of other products for skin and hair care are available as well. Check it out. This line is a favorite of many of the women of color in my life as well as parents of all races whose kids have curly hair, including Black or mixed-race hair.

According to Wikipedia, the founder "began working on the products for her line in the 1980s, when she was working on the set of The Cosby Show. In her free time she made organic beauty products in her kitchen, including pure oils such as sweet almond, jojoba, and soy. Her experimentation eventually led to a mail-order and online business" that has now grown to include a number of stores. Investors include Jada Pinkett, Will Smith, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Tommy Mottola and more.

To purchase, click here. LIMITED TIME ONLY!

Deal Alert: Toys & Tools for Kids to "Travel the World" from Your Living Room

SavvySource right now has great deals on toys and projects for kids with the theme of World Travel. From world music to foreign language learning, these are some really great deals that would be perfect for holiday gifts. SavvySource is unique in that it also donates 5% of the cost of your purchase to the preschool of your choice, or to a fund helping provide scholarships for families who cannot afford preschool. Their deals also tend to be for high quality items that are deeply discounted.

Little Pim Language Learning Set for Kids - $60 $36.  Choose from Spanish, French, German, Chinese or Italian. Introduce your child to a foreign language with fun and friendly Little Pim's unique Entertainment Immersion Method ®.

Little Passports: A Global Adventure - $54 $26 for a 3-month subscription. Your child will be sent a monthly package including letters, souvenirs, and secret codes so they can join Sam and Sofia on their global adventures, learning about each country they visit.

National Geographic Kids World Atlas  - $13 $7. An up-to-date, colorful atlas for kids ages 8+.

Putumayo Kids Sesame Street CD/DVD Set - $15 $9. Join Putumayo Kids and Sesame Street as they travel around the world on a musical journey from China to Russia to India and more.

There are many more products, as well - Including overnight bags and travel accessories for kids, more language learning options, and a variety of National Geographic Kids atlases and books to help your child learn more about different countries and the languages, people and animals found in them.

You can find all of these items at SavvySource but all are limited time deals. Most are guaranteed for delivery by Christmas!

Deal Alert: 20% Off Curly Hair Products at is one of our favorite sources for curly hair products. They sell many of the products I've mentioned before. They have products appropriate for all types of curls and folks of all races and ethnicities, and in particular feature a lot of all-natural products which are great for people who are eco-minded or have kids with sensitive skin or asthma. They sell Kinky-Curly, Miss Jessie's, Curly-Q, DevaCare, Jane Carter Solution, Mixed Chicks, Aubrey Organics and more.

They are having a sale right now: 20% OFF your order at by entering the coupon code WINTER20.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Black Friday & Cyber Monday Deals for Natural Black Haircare Products

Leave it to the awesome folks at Happy Girl Hair to put together a wonderful list of coupons / discount codes for natural Black / African-American hair care products for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Go to their post for discounts on everything from Jane Carter Solutions (I always lust after this stuff at Whole Foods!) to Blended Beauty and Oyin Handmade.

Here are two more natural Black hair care sales for you...

Use the code "bethankful" for 25% OFF your order at Curls, the company that makes the wonderful Curly Q's Coconut Dream Moisturizing Conditioner I reviewed in this post. Many of their products use only natural fragrances and they have a whole line of products for kids specializing in mixed-race curly hair. Good only through Thanksgiving (expires 11/24).

Aubrey Organics

One of my favorites for my own straight hair as well as my boys' mixed-race African-diaspora curls. Don't hesitate to check this out even if you're not of color - They have lots of options that are perfect for all hair types and are one of few "natural" companies whose ingredients are truly natural.

November 24-November 27: Get 15% OFF a $50 order or 20% OFF a $75 order. Discounts automatically applied at checkout. Free shipping on orders over $25.

Additional deals on November 28th only:
  • All 2-ounce trial sizes and all lip balms are just $0.99.
  • Buy one conditioner, get a shampoo 90% off (1 per customer)
  • Buy one hand and body lotion, get a second for 50% off (1 per customer)

Deal Alert: $10 Off at + 15% Off = Big Savings!

Mama needs a new pair of shoes. So do the kids, who are growing like weeds. Right now if you use this link and also the promotion code "15OFF" (no quotes) you should be able to get both $10 off your subtotal and a further 15% reduction as well as free shipping if your order is $50 or more! If there's an even bigger discount code released tomorrow for Black Friday, you can also use the link above to get $10 off in addition to using the new discount code. It's like stacking coupons, but for shoes!

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more great deals!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Finding Multiethnic Christmas Decor

For those of us with families of color or multiethnic families, the holidays are another time when many of us seek to reflect our family members' varied apeparances, cultural history and ethnic origins in our celebrations. In that vein, I thought some of you might be interested in a new post by the blogger The Krazy Koupon Lady on Where to Find Ethnic Christmas Decor. She links to Christmas stockings with brown-skinned children on them, African-American santas, Black angel Christmas tree toppers and other Christmas items depicting people of color.

There are also many sources for inexpensive Mexican Christmas ornaments and Feliz Navidad decorations.  You might have seen this Doorways Around the World: Mexico ornament from Hallmark's Doorways Around the World series.

We don't celebrate Christmas in our home, but if I had a Christmas tree I think you'd find it would mostly be decorated with homemade ornaments and artisan-made hand-crafted ornaments rather than mass-produced ornaments. Homemade decorations are a great opportunity to really reflect your family members' interests and identities. I also  remember as a child seeing beautiful, inexpensive Mexican nativity scenes in the shops in the Southwest when I visited my family. They were beautiful handmade ceramic creches and were both inexpensive and plentiful. A great place to find cultural crafts is in the grocery stores and gift shops of immigrant communities near you, whether it's the local Korean market or the gift shop at the Ethiopian church in your area.

If you know of any resources for cultural Christmas crafts, decorations or recipes, please leave them in the comments!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Toy Hacks: Give a Cheap African American Doll a Natural 'Do!

Now, this is what Fostering Thrifty Families is all about. Are you are as tired as I am of passing by Black dolls because you just can't handle giving your child a doll that looks like a white doll dipped in brown paint? Do you roll your eyes at how the "African American" dolls nearly always have pin-straight or slightly waved/ringleted hair with no texture, and want something better to help your kids appreciate the gorgeous texture of natural Black or biracial hair? You don't need to buy the few, hard-to-find dolls that have more realistic hair (and are nearly always more expensive). All you need a straight-haired doll, a pot of boiling water and a package of pipe cleaners! As the awesome natural African American / biracial hair care blog Beads, Braids and Beyond writes in their Natural Hair for Dolls Tutorial:
The search is over. No more buying expensive dolls just because they have curly or natural hair. Parents and caregivers, I have discovered the hottest thing since sliced bread..... This tutorial details the steps for giving a straight-haired doll a curly style that approximates the tiny twirls of hair that are associated with African-diasporan people all over the world. The curly of African hair is said to the be "the only perfect circle in nature."
This is so exciting that I'm getting ready to go out to our local discount store to buy a $10 Black babydoll I passed up the other day because its hair was so darn straight. What a great, inexpensive holiday gift this could make!

There is something to be said for financially supporting companies that make culturally appropriate, self-image-affirming dolls for kids of all races. I'm not saying that it's not worth supporting some of the awesome companies that make dolls with textured hair. When I can afford it I love to buy handcrafted toys or toys created by truly multicultural companies that use environmentally friendly materials to make diverse and beautiful toys. We do not love having lots of what I call "plastic crap toys" around. But when money is tight, this is a budget-friendly alternative for helping provide dolls that will help our kids appreciate the beautiful and unique textures and hair-dos of Black and biracial hair.

 What the blogger calls "fusilli-style" - Very cute. [Photo from Braids, Beyonds & Beyond]

No more permed-looking dolly hair! [Photo from Braids, Beyonds & Beyond]

Click here for the tutorial. 

To purchase the doll used in the demonstration photos, click below.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Combatting the Holiday "Gimme Gimmes" with Foster & Adopted Kids - Part I

Do the holidays transform your foster or adopted child into Veruca Salt?

Those of us who parent adopted or fostered younguns have all probably been exposed to this commonly held idea that somehow our children should be "grateful" to us for "saving" them from a life of [insert something awful here - poverty, addiction, homelessness, abuse, neglect, etc.]  Most of us who have taken the time to learn more about foster care and adoption roll our eyes at people who tell us how lucky our kids are. We either tell them "No, we're the lucky ones", or we regale them with a lecture about how even though adoption or foster care can be positive things they are also rife with grief and loss. Or we grit our teeth and just move on. We certainly do not expect our kids to be grateful towards us for "saving" them, we don't expect them not to feel grief or resentment about their being with us instead of their birth family, and we try not to expect them to be any more grateful than a non-adopted child would be. But what about when our foster or adopted children actually act the exact opposite of this myth of the grateful adoptee? What about when they act downright spoiled and entitled?

I have noticed with my older foster son that the holidays bring up all kinds of issues. One challenge for us is that he starts to get the "gimme gimmes" (also known as the "I wants") and seems more than a little like Veruca Salt from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory:

No matter what we buy him, it isn't enough. It's not the right thing. It's not as much or as good as what he should have gotten.  In fact, a full two months before Christmas and Chanukah, he was telling us that he already knew we weren't going to get him anything and that the holidays were going to suck. He even tried to tell us we didn't get him anything last year (um, yeah, right!)

It's early November and I can see the selfishness rising, rising, rising like a tide that is about to attempt to flood our family life emotionally. But is it really selfishness? Sure, it's bratty, spoiled, and entitled behavior... but I have some suspicions about why this is the case with so many foster and adopted kids:

  • Kids who really did not have enough when they were with their birth families, whether they were short on food or were not able to celebrate the holidays due to poverty, have anxiety about scarcity. Even though part of them knows things are different now, they are trying to prepare themselves ahead of time for the massive disappointment of going without. The holidays were always a let-down, so it's better to prepare themselves for another let-down than to let themselves be hopeful. Therefore, they start to focus on all the things they want but that their parents won't get them.
  • Foster children or children adopted at an older age may worry that they are not going to get treated equally to biological family members when it comes time for the holidays.
  • Kids who had scarcity in their previous lives may have a really obsessive relationship with the few things their birth family did provide (such as presents at holidays, or having nice clothes even if they went without meals). Kids who had scarcity before but in their adoptive or foster homes have since gotten used to having lots of "things" may have developed an unhealthy level of investment in material things, combined with lack of confidence that they will always have their needs met. Their self-esteem may be greatly based on what they own.
  • Foster kids and kids who live in group homes or orphanages rarely get to own much of anything that belongs exclusively to them and that they can trust will remain with them. If this is part of your kid's history it may cause them to seem over-attached or under-attached to belongings.
  • Children may miss what they remember of their birth family's holiday traditions, even those that have nothing to do with gifts. Perhaps a child who's acting like an entitled brat about what they expect to get as gifts at the holidays is actually a child who is simply mourning the loss of the smells, sights, tastes, and feelings of holiday celebrations with their birth family and hoping to get some solace through extra attention from you or from material comforts like toys or candy.
  • I've been told many times that kids who have been through a lot of loss and trauma often get what is dismissively referred to as a "victim complex." As they enter puberty and beyond they start to feel like the world owes them something - Maybe a lot of somethings. They may feel like having money or material things they want can help provide restitution for the ways in which they have suffered in their life.
  • Those of us whose foster or adopted kids have behavioral and emotional issues may be more than a little tempted to help quell the child's outbursts with material rewards (toys, treats, etc). This may lead them to expect that an outburst or causing a scene at the store will result in them getting what they want. Also, some kids may have had birth parents who were unable to set limits with them, resulting in kids experiencing that the way to get their desires met is to act demanding.
  • Foster kids, in particular, may be very aware of the ways in which their lives are different than the lives of their peers. Having the toys and clothing their peers have, or even more and better things, may help them feel like they'll fit in better or be able to override any stigma that comes from being a foster child.
  • Let's face it, we may bring some of this "gimme gimme" awfulness on ourselves by overdoing holidays and buying too many toys when our kids first arrive, as a way of making up for not having a lot in the house for them yet, or as a way of helping them not feel as sad about not being without their birth families for the holidays. We may unconsciously buy them more than they need in order to make them like us, inadvertently teaching them that the holidays are all about their every want being fulfille.
And let's not forget, foster and adopted kids are children first and foremost. Most kids just get crazy around holiday times, just ask any parent you know. Selfishness is a trait all parents have to teach their children to overcome because children are inherently ego-driven creatures and most of us are raising them in a very consumerist culture. This is not exclusive to children from trauma backgrounds or who are fostered or adopted. But there are many ways to teach children to question consumerism, to feel empathy for others, and to engage in acts of charity.

An upcoming post will focus on how our families can find meaning in the holidays beyond gift-giving. You can help me build that post by answering these questions and encouraging your friends to do the same!  

How do you battle the "gimme gimmes" around the holidays?  

How do you instill in your children, whether biological or non-biological, a sense of holiday meaning that goes beyond gifts?

How do you teach altruism, charity and sharing to children whose histories have led them to have a fear of scarcity?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Great Deals on Single, Double & Triple Strollers - Limited Time!

Zulily has some fantastic deals on single, double and triple strollers from BebeLove USA today. Those of you with little ones might find these useful. Here are some examples:

Blue Tandem Stroller - $150 $89.99 
40% OFF!

28% OFF!
There are also lightweight umbrella strollers with sun canopies for $49.99, plus potties and various other types of stroller (single jogger strollers, etc).

Fostering For the Money?

Reader Megan recently commented on my Taxing the Kindness of Strangers post regarding the common misperception that most foster parents are "in it for the money." Here's part of what she had to say:
I for one am really tired of feeling shame about asking for what my kids need because of the belief people have that we foster for the money. Please show me where in the holy heck the profit is in this? I spend way more than I am reimbursed, and I do it willingly and expect no one to notice or praise me for it. I only ask that you just spare me the judgmental attitude that there is some type of financial gain for me in fostering - it just ain't so...

I have to say that some of the worst offenders in thinking we do this for the money are the caseworkers. Some of them guard the available extra allowances and special rates my state offers like I am asking them to hand me money out of their own bank account. It's really frustrating and discouraging.

Have any of my other readers who are foster parents who who adopted through the foster care system experienced being treated by caseworkers like you're "in it for the money"? 

Has anyone in the system made you feel guilty for taking advantage of programs that are available for foster parents, such as reimbursement for certain expenses or rate adjustments for special needs children?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Taxing the Kindness of Strangers

Everyone seems to be discussing the Washington Monthly article by Benjamin J. Dueholm, a Lutheran pastor, writer, and foster parent in Chicago. Entitled "Taxing the Kindness of Strangers," this essay talks openly about how frustrating and even humiliating it can be to try to get one's foster child's needs met by the system. Those of us who are foster parents, regardless of our political beliefs or class status, must use programs like Medicaid and WIC and public childcare subsidies to care for our foster children. This means we foster parents are necessarily dependent on social welfare programs such as WIC and Medicaid, and therefore dependent on the whims of an increasingly budget-cutting government and electorate. The article is also one of the first pieces I've ever read that discusses the financial reality of foster parenting in a public and honest way and shoots down the social misperception that "foster parents are doing it for the money."

Some choice quotes:

About the relationship between foster parents and the state:

When Scott Walker in Wisconsin sought to cut the workforce that administers foster care in his state, we went up to Madison to join the protests in solidarity, because we knew how helpless we would be if there were no caseworker on the other end of the phone to answer our own urgent pleas for help and guidance. And the threats have continued, as House Republicans repeatedly propose cutting trillions of dollars in domestic spending to reduce the debt while making room for sustained upper-income tax cuts. The way this hits home for us is simple. A foster parent joins hands with the state in order to take care of a dispossessed child. For the last year, the state has been trying to slip free of our grasp.
About being a middle class person using programs like WIC for the first time:
We adjusted rather quickly to being treated like morons and petty thieves by bureaucrats. The social anxiety that comes with buying welfare food among our fellow citizens was worse. Middle-class people like to think of themselves as self-sufficient. But after a few months of shopping with WIC coupons, and contemplating my own sense of shame at this, I came to realize that we are rather selective in the forms of dependence we disdain. People who would not give a second thought to claiming the child care tax credit or the mortgage interest deduction will blanch at getting a bag of frozen peas on the public dollar. A WIC order grinds the line to a halt and prompts me to feel all kinds of self-consciousness about my deportment, my children, and the purchases I make with my own money. I got to know which cashiers were least given to suspicion or contempt, and I gratuitously mentioned Sophia’s foster status to defuse my own irritation. I don’t relish using the coupons, but they really help.

I must also mention that it breaks my heart that foster parents in an incredibly expensive city like Chicago get less than $400 a month of help from the state. This means that unless they take in several foster children, fostering is something that a loving and stable working or lower middle class family simply could not afford because of the amount of money that would come out of their own pocket due to the living expenses in an area like Chicago. Just the difference between rent on a 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom apartment (for example) is more than $400 a month, let alone food, clothing, baby equipment, and excess daycare costs not covered by the state.

Does this article hit home for those of you who are foster parents? Is it similar or different from your own experiences?

Monday, November 7, 2011

FREE Nature's Path Granola Bars

If there's one category of freebie that makes me happiest, it's healthy and nutritious food freebies! And this is a particularly generous one. Thanks to Mara at Kosher on a Budget for cluing me in to the fact that Nature's Path is giving away free boxes of granola bars. You read that right - It's not a free granola bar, it's a whole box! By filling out the form you'll also be entered to win a $500 gift certificate to Whole Foods. That'd be enough to feed a family of four for what, one week? Just kidding.. Us thrifty families know how to get a good deal even at Whole Paychecks Foods!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wonderful Idea for Internationally Adopted Kids & Those With Multiple Geographic Connections

For those of us with children whose roots stretch across the globe or who are strongly identified with more than one area of the country/state find ourselves on an important lifelong quest to find ways to honor and acknowledge their complex histories and geographical origins. I saw these customizable map posters today on Zulily and was so charmed by them because they seem like a lovely way to validate and make visible our childrens' complex identities and their need for a sense of rootedness. They are maps of continents, states, countries or the entire world - And include heart stickers that can be placed in the areas where your child or family's roots lie. On the bottom they read "My Roots Lie Here." I also happen to adore Children Inspire Design, and we already have several of their prints (such as their beautiful Spanish counting cards) up in our toddler's bedroom!

I imagined how these customized posters might take shape for the multiethnic or internationally adopted children in my life. Some examples I was thinking of:

  • Friends of mine have an internationally adopted child from Ethiopia and one from Korea. I imagined they might put the heart stickers on an international map, representing their childrens' countries / cities of origin as well as the states in which the parents were born and perhaps also their whole family's current home in New Jersey. As a Jewish family with deep connections to Israel they might also put a heart on the city of Jerusalem.
  • I have friends whose foster-adopted daughter made several moves throughout Minnesota before joining their family. This child's state poster of Minnesota might have hearts in all of the counties where they spent a significant amount of time and felt connected and loved. Or perhaps the child would choose to put it only on their adoptive home, where they feel like part of a family and are experiencing unconditional love for the first time. 
  • My cousin's father is from New York and his mother is from Nicaragua. They live in California. His "roots" map might show his connections to both the U.S. and Nicaragua.
  • My older foster son is extremely connected to the city he was raised in and where his mother resides. Even if we adopt him, if we were to put up a state map he might choose to put his "heart" on that city.
These map posters are on the Zulily site at 50% off their original prices until November 3. You can view or order them here. I would also love to hear if anyone has made a similar poster as a DIY crafts project!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pay $20 for $50 Worth of Custom Calendars on Picaboo - Great Gift for Birth Family?

Do you give gifts to your foster or adoptive childrens' birth family? We are planning to give photo gifts, such as photo calendars or photo books this year. Something meaningful but not expensive. Today LivingSocial is offering a great deal - Up to 60% off vouchers for custom calendars from Picaboo. This is a sweet gift idea for giving to family and friends, including birth families (who, in my experience, usually really value photographs). I've been thinking of making a calendar like this with photographs of significant people from my foster sons' pre-foster care lives, such as relatives they miss and like to be reminded of. We are lucky enough to have a good number of photographs we can scan to use for a project like that.

The details:

Pay $20 for $50 worth of custom calendars OR pay $35 for $75 worth of custom calendars. Deal good nationwide, redeemable online only.

Follow this link for the deal.

FREE Amy Butler Paper Craft Projects

If you are a papercrafting nut (like me!) or a big Amy Butler fan (also like me!), download these Free Amy Butler Paper Projects. They provide templates and instructions that can be used with any decorative paper, such as scrapbooking paper, not just Amy Butler's designs. These would be great projects to do with kids for holiday home decor, gifts and gift-wrapping. With the right paper, several of these would be perfect for Thanksgiving or other holiday placecards or table decorations.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

From the Reader Mail Bag: "How Does A Foster Family Afford to Keep A Spare Room?"

Jenna from New Jersey writes:

My husband and I were licensed as foster parents 4 months ago. We still haven't had any calls about placements, other than one for a teenager which is outside our age range (we asked for ages 0-4 and are open to medical needs). Everyone told us that the Department of Youth and Family Services was desperate for foster families, so we assumed our phone would be ringing off the hook. Foster parent friends in other states and even other parts of our state have said they were getting calls since before the ink on their foster license was dry. We're disappointed and a little concerned.
Here's the problem: We moved from our small 2 bedroom apartment to a much nicer 3 bedroom apartment right before we got licensed. We did this so we'd have plenty of room for our foster child and eventually maybe a second foster child as well. Now I'm wondering if we made the wrong choice and should  have stayed put. We are financially able to support ourselves but were counting on having the DYFS subsidy to help pay for the cost of having additional rooms to house foster children in, since in our area housing is so expensive. How do other foster families afford to have rooms open and unoccupied for long periods of time? Do you have any ideas of how we can afford to foster despite it potentially taking months or years to have our first placement?

Any ideas or feedback for Jenna, readers? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Don't forget to send in your Reader Mail Bag questions! Anything relating to raising a foster, adoptive, pre-adoptive, special needs or multiracial family on a budget is game. We also welcome questions about living green, finding deals, couponing, planning or saving for becoming foster or adoptive parents, etc. Don't forget to specify if you'd like us to post your question anonymously or using your first name.

FREE Arm & Hammer Simply Saline Neti Pot for Nasal / Sinus Irrigation

As cold and sniffles season sets in, we were happy to learn there's a wonderfully useful and generous freebie available from Arm & Hammer / Simply Saline. You can get a rebate of the full purchase price (up to $14.99) on a neti pot. Just download this form and send it with your original cash register receipt before 7/31/2013. You will get up to $14.99 back by mail as a rebate.

If you haven't yet discovered them, neti pots are simply magical. Check out this article from WebMD called "Neti Pots - Do They Work?"  They use saline and gravity to gently and safely cleanse, without force, the entire nasal passages. They are a godsend for people with sinus infections, chronic sinusitis, rhinitis, allergies, colds and dry noses. They not only loosen and remove mucus but they also wash out pollens and other irritants that are sitting around in the nose waiting to make us sicker. They are safe for children as long as they're old enough to voluntarily blow their nose after using it. Our 10 year old recently let us neti his nose for the first time when he was sick and he loved it. Using a neti pot for the first time is a strange experience (the water goes in one nostril and out the other!) but once you get the hang of it it's easy, comfortable and even kind of fun.

This neti pot freebie comes with some packets of saline mixture that you simply mix up with water in the neti pot. There are instructions online for using just sea salt or a sea salt / baking soda mixture to make your own saline, but we tend to buy the NeilMed's Sinus Rinse Pre-Mixed Packets because the convenience factor makes us more likely to actually use the neti pot regularly.

From a budget-related perspective, neti pots are a fantastic investment (or in this case, a fantastic freebie) because they result in fewer sinus infections and fewer allergies. They can also reduce postnasal drip, thereby reducing chest congestion and sore throats. Ultimately they may result in less antibiotic use and fewer doctor's visits... if that's not budget-friendly, I don't know what is!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Peanut Butter Prices Rising: Time to Stock Up?

 Image from Index Mundi

Looks like this is a good time to put those peanut butter coupons to good use... or maybe even to purchase a few of those massive Costco containers of peanut butter. As The Happy Housewife shares in a recent post, the price of peanut butter has been rising steadily due to a poor crop this year, and in the coming months it looks like we will see that significant price increase passed on to the consumer. Peanut butter is an inexpensive, vegetarian protein source that can be used in hundreds of different inexpensive recipes, from West African groundnut stew (try it!) to Vietnamese Peanut Sauce for spring rolls. If you use a lot of it, it may be a good idea to stock up.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Natural African-American Skincare & Haircare on a Budget - Part I

Part I: Finding the Best Possible Deals on Expensive but Essential Products

This is the first installment of what will be a multi-part series on caring for the hair and skin of Black and mixed-race children naturally and without breaking the bank. My boys are both Black and of mixed racial background. One has significant Native American ancestry as well, and the other is half Latino. They both have super thick, fine, soft, curly hair. Thank heavens for the curly hair typing system which has enabled us to assess which type of curls they have and find appropriate products.

Having boys, our hair issues are different than for girls. However, our boys both wear their hair "long" - As in, not in a fade or other super-short cut. The little one has ringlets. Our big guy has a mop of curls. It ranges from a little curly 'fro (friends have commented that it's more like what we Jews call the "Jew 'fro" than like what most Black folks call a 'fro) to a much longer 'do. He occasionally gets it braided when it gets long, but it doesn't hold braids for long.

I am very allergic to synthetic fragrances so our choice of Black hair products is limited. In addition, we prefer natural products for the health of our children and the environment. Here are some of the products we've been using:

We generally use the Kinky-Curly line of products, including the Come Clean Clarifying Shampoo about once every week or two, the Knot Today Leave-In Conditioner & Detangler as the boys' primary styling product, and the Curling Custard when we want their curls to be extra defined and glossy and we have a little extra time. The cheapest source for Kinky-Curly products is Target, though only select Target stores carry them. We were thrilled to find the Knot Today Leave-In for $11.99 at a local Target, whereas it's $14 plus shipping from

We have also occasionally used the deep conditioning and styling products from Alaffia's Beautiful Curls line, which we buy at Whole Foods. I like these products because they help support African women farmers, they're Fair Trade and they're sustainable. They are also more legitimately "natural" than Kinky-Curly and slightly cheaper. However, they don't perform quite as well as styling products so we usually just stick to using them for deep conditioning.

One last product we love is Curly Q's Coconut Dream Moisturizing Conditioner. It's super conditioning and smells great. It's designed for multiracial kids' hair, but I've heard of white folks with really curly, dry hair using it as well as non-multiracial Black folks. If we were stuck on a desert island with only two hair products, we'd make it the Curly Q's Coconut Dream Moisturizing Conditioner and Kinky-Curly's Knot Today.

Don't forget that there is no one entity that is "African American hair" or "biracial hair" - Black folks' hair comes in a million different and beautiful varieties, with different curl patterns, different thickness, different "shrinkage" levels, different levels of dryness. The hair of people from the African diaspora is not all the same and therefore does not all benefit from the same products. The hair grease used in many Black childrens' hairdos leaves my kids' hair looking slick, weighed down, and dirty. Similarly, the products I list above are perfect for our kids, but may not be perfect for yours.

The frustrating thing is that the products we use, even when bought at Target, are so darn pricey. We have decided it is worth it because our boys' hair looking good and being healthy is important to us, so we simply search out the best deals on them.

However, there are a few ways in which we manage to use less of these products and save more money, including alternating them with products that are even less expensive and more natural than these. We will have more posts from myself and guest posters about these super-natural and budget-friendly ideas in Part II and Part III of this series. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Saving for Adoption Costs

What are some of the most ingenious or successful ways you've heard of people raising funds or saving money to pay for adoption costs?

FREE Social & Emotional Awareness Worksheets for Kids

These FREE downloadable, printable worksheets from School Sparks look like they could be useful for Autism spectrum and Asperger's kids, and potentially for social skills development in kids with ADHD.  They focus on identifying emotions through facial expressions. They are aimed at kindergarteners but could be useful for older kids with social/emotional skills delays. For information and to download, go here.

FREE "Tt is for Turkey" Thanksgiving Printables for Little Ones

There's a great new FREE pack of printable Thanksgiving-themed files at A Heart For Home that is perfect for home school or other educational use, or just to keep the kids busy while you cook on turkey day! Coloring pages, academic activities, games, and more. It's made with toddlers through kindergarteners in mind, but some of us with older kids who are a little delayed or who don't find this kind of activity too childish might also find it useful. View and download the "Tt is for Turkey" pack here.

Too Many Cheerios? Here's An Idea...

I got a kick out of this post on one of my favorite blogs, Kosher on a Budget. Blogger Mara is a passionate coupon user. She combines coupons with store sales in order to get Cheerios for free or almost free on a regular basis. Unlike myself, she has built up quite a stockpile of cereal (I mostly only stockpile toiletries). Wondering what to do with all the Cheerios you've stockpiled from your coupon adventures or bought on an ill-advised Costco shopping spree? Mara gave her kids string and Cheerios and set them to work making Cheerio necklaces. This looks like a great project for preschoolers and is not so different from the fine motor work the Early Intervention teacher uses with my 2 year old! Can Cheerios be occupational therapy? Why yes, they sure can! As my mom always says, "How did children develop fine motor skills before there were Cheerios?"

You can also try dying excess penne pasta and letting kids string that, too. We recently made chains of food-coloring-dyed pasta to hang as decoration in our Sukkah. Lots of fun, and very doable for our toddler even if he ran out of interest several noodles in and left Ima to finish the rest of the chain.

The post also suggests adding cereal to trail mix, which with a high-fiber cereal is a great way to sneak some fiber into picky kids' diets. Commenters on the post also suggest ways to use leftover Chex and even how to use cereal in place of bread crumbs!

Save Money on Gluten-Free Pasta

Though traditionally only followed by people with celiac disease, these days gluten-free diets are widely used for digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, autism and other conditions. Gluten-free convenience foods can be extremely expensive, as anyone on a gluten-free diet can tell you. One of the best ways to save money is to not eat gluten-free processed foods but instead stick to naturally gluten-free foods like rice, vegetables, meats, beans, etc. However, there are certain "processed" foods that are staples in even the most health- and budget-conscious family's home. Pasta is one of them.

In our household, where I am the only one who eats gluten-free but I am also the one doing almost all of the cooking, our whole household tends to eat many gluten-free meals just for the convenience of not having to cook multiple meals each night. To avoid dirtying two pots for cooking pasta, on pasta night we all eat gluten-free noodles. This is fine and dandy except that it's pricy. Our favorite brand (Tinkyada) is a whopping $3.69 for a 12 ounce bag at our local grocery store. This comes out to $0.307 per ounce. Fortunately I discoverd recently that Amazon offers a much better deal if you buy Tinkyada penne in bulk. They sell Tinkyada Brown Rice Penne Pasta, 5-Pound Bags (Pack of 2) for $31.29, which is $0.20 per ounce. This 10-pound package of pasta ships for free, and saves a lot of packaging as it comes divided into just two plastic bags. I simply open the bag and pour all of the pasta into an oversized glass jar which sits on top of our pantry cabinet. Ten pounds of pasta might sound like a lot, but at the rate we eat pasta in our home it's a great money-saver for us. Ten pounds of pasta purchased at retail would be $49.12, so buying our gluten-free pasta this way saves us $17.83! Mangia, mangia!

Sad News & Good Deals. Adoption Publisher Goes Out of Business, All Books 50% Off

I was so sad to learn that Perspectives Press is going out of business on December 31, 2011. I don't know what led to this decision but I can only imagine that it's a hard time to be an independent book publisher right now. Perspectives Press is the publisher of some of the best-regarded titles in adoption, foster care and infertility. All of their titles are 50% OFF until they sell out or until December 31st. Some of their most popular works include:
 Many of their titles are also available as eBooks.

Why Do Foster & Adoptive Families Need Their Own Budget Blog?

As an avid reader of frugal living and couponing blogs, I have frequently thought of starting a blog to document my own attempts to live on a tighter budget. However, the thought recently occurred to me that as foster and adoptive families, we often have a set of financial circumstances that are different than your average family - And that regardless of financial circumstances, there are certain topics relating to budget living, green living, finance, household management, entertainment and shopping that are specific to those of us with foster or adoptive families. "Why?" You ask. "Aren't our families just the same as everyone else's except for how our children came to be in our lives?" Well, not exactly. Here are some ways that being a foster and adoptive family might impact one's finances:
  • A large number of us have children with special behavioral, mental health, educational, developmental and physical/medical needs. We may incur many expenses related to these needs, such as educational supplies, medical equipment, therapies not covered by insurance, tutors, special toys (such as sensory toys or adaptive toys), etc. 
  • Due to having young children, or having children with special needs, one parent must often stay home. This puts a financial burden on many families, leading them to seek areas to cut back their expenses and increase their income while staying at home.
  • Many of us have large families, and deal with the financial issues (such as massive food bills!) that any large family must deal with.
  • Those families with many children or who have foster children can benefit from reusing and recycling clothing and toys as much as possible.
  • Learning about inexpensive books about foster or adoptive parenting, free or inexpensive online seminars on parenting children with behavioral or attachment issues, discounts on adoption or special needs parenting conferences... These can all help families access the support and information they need.
  • For foster families, the logistics of home management and budgeting when you have a fluctuating number of children in your household who range in ages and genders and duration of stay can be very overwhelming.
  • Many of our families are multiracial, so we look for good deals on inexpensive, quality toys and books featuring children of color or multiracial families in order to help our children develop a positive self-image.
  • Foster families and families who adopt special needs children through the state may receive monthly stipends. These can be helpful with expenses but also pose budgeting challenges, especially when a family can lose this stipend at any time if their child is reunified with family or moved to a different placement.
  • Private adoptions and international adoptions can be incredibly expensive, leaving families in debt. These families can use saving and earning strategies to help themselves get back out of debt or to avoid debt in the first place.
  • Whether you have a large family or a small family with children of varying ages, foster and adoptive families can always use suggestions for free or cheap activities to do together.
  • Many adoptive and foster families homeschool, whether full-time or as supplemental schooling. Some due so because of personal or religious beliefs, but many do so because of their child's special learning, behavioral or attachment issues. They are often in search of cheap or free ideas for educational enrichment, and it's always a bonus if these ideas work for children with special needs and/or of varying ages.
Obviously there are many more ways that being an adoptive or foster family can increase our need for frugality, but I hope this gives you an idea of why I started this blog and what to expect from it. The issues raised above are topics I hope to address in future posts, and to hear your feedback on.

I welcome your ideas for posts. Feel free to alert me to sales, recipes, blogs or resources to share with my readers. And don't forget to share this blog with your friends!