Upgrading The Everyday: a simple, frugal way to make life more fun!

posted by Andrea | 09/29/2016
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upgrade the everyday

As someone who enjoys staying home, having a regular routine, sticking to a strict schedule, and living a relatively frugal lifestyle, it is not likely that I will do anything very extravagant on a daily basis — for myself, for my home, for my family, or for my friends.

I’m not going to wake up and suddenly decide to take all the kids to a local indoor waterpark for the day (all by myself). I’m not going to take them out to eat during the week, we almost never go on any family vacations right now, we don’t spontaneously go out with friends on a regular basis, and even any changes to our home are very thought-out and planned ahead of time.

Dave and I both thrive on routine and structure — and for the most part, our children do too. However, there is just something about a special surprise or a fun change in plans that can instantly cheer up even the gloomiest, saddest, kids-not-listening, nothing-is-going-right kind of day.

These special surprises and change in plans are usually very simple, very easy to pull off on my own, and they are almost always free (or extremely frugal).

I call it “Upgrading the Everyday”… and I try to do it at least once every day.

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I have a whole stash of “upgrades” I can pull out at any given moment — when the day is feeling long, when the kids are getting crabby, when we’ve run out of things to do, and sometimes just because I feel like doing something different.

Here are some of my kids’ favorites: 

Special Snacks: string cheese, gogurts, squeezable fruit/veggie pouches, and fruit snacks are all snack items they don’t get regularly… but I always keep them in the house for special snacks throughout the week. I’ll take a special snack along if we’re going somewhere I know they aren’t excited about (like the doctor’s office), if we’ll be at the park, or if we have a longer car drive somewhere mid-week. I’m not sure how long I can keep using these simple snacks as awesome surprises for my kids… but so far, a special snack is one of the simplest and easiest ways to upgrade our everyday!

Special Desserts: we almost always have dessert after dinner… and sometimes after lunch. Usually this just means whatever cookies or brownies I’ve already made. But every once in awhile, we’ll break out the ice-cream cones, make ice-cream sundaes with ALL the toppings, or let the kids pick a fun-size candy bar for an extra special dessert. By their reaction, you’d think it was Christmas or their birthday!

Themed Meals: I think I’ve shared this before, but at least once a week we’ll have some sort of a themed meal when we eat all foods of one color, all foods that start with a certain letter, a rainbow color meal, or just something a little extra special (using M&M’s to make faces on their pancakes or using a cookie cutter to cut a fun shape into their sandwich bread). So simple… but so fun for them!

Thrift Store Finds: we have some amazing thrift stores near our house and we we usually go 2-3 times a month. The kids know that we don’t always buy something… but there are so many times when we find something fun for the kids. Last week, we found a large jar of craft beads for $1 (Nora is very into all sorts of beading crafts right now) and a little blue bird toy for Simon (out of the free bin). They were both overjoyed and it only cost me $1. I’m sure Simon will get tired of the bird eventually and we’ll donate it back — but in the meantime, Nora will be easily entertained for a LONG time with all these beads.

Resurrecting Old Toys: I have personally chosen not to “rotate toys” because I just don’t want to have boatloads of toys in storage. However, we do have a few larger toy items that we put away for a period of time… and then bring out every once in a while when we’re cooped up inside for a long time and running out of things to do. We have a large whiteboard easel, a couple bouncy balls (the type with a handle that the kids can bounce on), and a horse they can ride on. These toys are “special toys” that aren’t always available to them; it’s always an “upgrade” to their every day toys when we pull them out.

Fun Projects: Nora is obsessed with craft projects of any type, and even Simon is getting more interested in crafts. I often check out kids craft books from the library and take a picture of the instructions for the ones I want to do. Then, when we have time in our schedule for a craft — or when Simon wakes up early from a nap and James is still sleeping, we’ll break out one of my “new” craft ideas and the kids think I’m the best mom ever. I try to stick with non-messy crafts and projects so I don’t have to do a bunch of clean up — and when all else fails, I just bring up a cardboard box for them to color on or decorate with stickers (I always keep a few extra boxes in the basement for this purpose!)

Special Outings: Although I don’t usually go many places with all the kids, we do try to get out of the house at least once every single day. We walk to the library and get new books, walk to the hardware store and look at the flowers and water fountains, walk to the dollar store (and let the kids pick 1 thing), ride bikes to the park, head to a neighbor’s house for an hour in the morning, go to local freebie play groups for kids, etc. etc. With a very minimal amount of effort, I have been able to find SO many free and frugal activities for kids during the day (most of which are walking distance from our house). There is something we can do almost every day to break up our time at home — and the kids are usually very excited for our various outings!

Special Visitors: It is not uncommon for one of our parents or my sister to stop by at various points during the week. Usually it’s only for 20-30 minutes, but if I know they are coming, I’ll get the kids playing outside so they can be really surprised when a “new car” pulls into our driveway.

A few more ideas for younger children:

  • eat a picnic lunch (even just in your own yard) instead of eating at the table
  • open a new pack of crayons, markers, sidewalk chalk, etc.
  • bake cookies and eat them when they are still gooey
  • take a walk to a local venue (park, library, splash pad, etc.)
  • set up an obstacle course in your house or yard and let the kids burn off energy
  • set up a kiddie pool or sprinkler (or let them play in the bath tub for a bit)
  • have friends over
  • let your kids wear an outfit they don’t usually wear (Nora LOVES getting really dressed up during the week!)
  • wear clothes backwards for a day or wear mismatched clothing
  • do their hair in a weird way
  • eat dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner
  • do something or go somewhere you haven’t been/gone before.

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I realize that with young children, I can get away with much smaller “upgrades” (I’m not sure a 16 year old would be so thrilled with string cheese) but I do think the concept can apply to EVERYONE — no matter their age — even adults!

Dave and I “upgrade the everyday” on a very regular basis, and it always amazes me how much I appreciate a small upgrade.

For example: 

I’ll buy or make something extra special (like salmon or a really good steak) and we’ll have a nicer dinner after the kids are in bed. We can eat hot food at our own pace, we don’t need to clean up a huge mess after the meal, and we can actually hear each other talk.

I regularly make brownies after the kids go to bed and then we’ll each have a warm hot-fudge brownie sundae as a special treat while watching Fixer Upper or another Netflix show.

I’ll bring fresh flowers in from the yard and put them in a few vases around the house — I don’t know why, but I feel like the whole house seems cleaner and fresher with the flowers inside.

We had fun rearranging furniture in all our bedrooms this summer. We didn’t spend any money and it was honestly fun for everyone to feel like we upgraded our bedrooms.

We’ll toss our to-do lists for a night and watch a movie on Netflix after the kids are soundly sleeping.

I think I could probably list 50 more ideas to upgrade the everyday — for kids, teens, and adults — but I hope you get the idea!

If you’re looking for a little something extra to liven up your days or as a special treat for your spouse, children, friends, coworkers, etc. consider a few of my free (and frugal) ideas to upgrade your everyday.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be amazed how much faster the day goes and how much more fun the day is!

What are your favorite ways to upgrade the everyday?

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23 comments

  1. Deborah

    09/30/2016

    I love the title of this post and all your fun ideas.

    I like to do fun snacks, write little notes and hide…when my kiddos were little we enjoyed going to the park and library, meeting friends for a walk and going to the kiddie pool in the summer. For older kids, I’ve written out clues for a treasure hunt to find a birthday gift and my son loved it.

    I totally relate about bringing in fresh flowers. It makes everything brighter and cheerier!

    That’s something that is so fun about children too… they’re so delighted about little things. I like their enthusiasm and zest for life.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes — the kids get so excited about something so small. I guess that’s often why people go overboard buying gifts for little kids at holidays and on their birthdays!

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  2. Deana

    09/29/2016

    We learned a long time ago that it’s the little things in life that mean the most. We have coffee after lunch on Saturday and Sunday and the kids aren’t allowed to interrupt us. As a family, we LOVE packing a lunch and going for a long bike ride followed by a picnic. Kids want your time, not fancy stuff.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — sounds great. Someday Dave and I will be able to say “don’t interrupt us for 30 minutes after dinner” and then we will eat our dessert in peace and quiet!

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  3. Debbie

    09/29/2016

    I laughed when you said that a 16 year old would probably not be so excited about a string cheese snack change. As a couple with no kids the one I liked most in your list is the late night brownies with ice cream while watching Netflix. I hope I get the motivation to do this soon now that the weather is starting to get cooler. I would enjoy something like this on a Friday evening.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    we love brownie sundaes!!! In fact, I just made brownies today so we’ll probably have sundaes tonight 🙂

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  4. Lydia Senn

    09/29/2016

    I love this! We don’t have to make everyday magical for our kids, but we can make some moments magical.

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  5. Chris

    09/29/2016

    I do the meal idea too (my son is grown so I don’t do the kid things). I like to buy something a little special, such as crab ravioli at Sam’s Club. I’m a pretty frugal grocery shopper but for Valentine’s Day or something, it’s a nice a treat and it’s still about half price of going out to eat at an Italian restaurant.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    It’s so crazy to me how fun and exciting it feels just to have a special meal (even if it is at home). And yes, it’s SO much less expensive than going to a restaurant (and you can wear your pj’s!)

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  6. Michelle

    09/29/2016

    This post came at a good time for me while I feel like others are on extravagant vacations or remodeling their houses, etc. it reminded me that while I’m not doing those things I am still able to make the everyday special and fun! Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes! And personally, I’d rather have small special things on a regular basis versus one big vacation that I look forward to all year long and then feel bummed when it’s over.

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  7. Rachael

    09/29/2016

    Love this idea! We always get out at least once a day and it is a sanity saver! Question: What pool/slide combo is that in your picture? It looks like the slide fits into the pool? Looking for something similar!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Rachael — and the pool is amazing! It’s the “Step 2 Splash Center” and it’s been discontinued for years. You’ll need to find one used… and they are often fairly expensive because people know they are in demand.
    We have been looking for one for 3 summers now and finally found it this past August!!

    [Reply]

    Rachael Reply:

    Thanks! Do you know how much they originally retailed for? Wondering what kind of price to expect.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I’m not sure — I think a normal “used’ price is around $100 but I’ve seen them used for as much as $250. They are in demand 🙂

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  8. Amy

    09/29/2016

    I love this! I am totally on the same page as you with trying to make everyday have something exciting about it. We do not book extravagant far off family vacations either. The best “vacation” is when my parents come to visit from up North and we visit, play games and go shopping. Just yesterday, I brought my 13 year old daughter home the blueberry muffins she wanted from the grocery store bakery and you would have thought I gave her some exquisite gift! We also like to go to thrift stores. We just got a new one near us that we have not gotten to yet, so that’s in the plans! The most recent super fun thing we did was go to the grand opening of a local grocery store……it was soooooo fun! There was a huge crowd, free samples and community! We stayed for 2 hours! It really is the little things that make the days special.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Good to know that special food treats still work when the kids get a little older!

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    beth Reply:

    we made blue mashed potatoes with green gravy–the kids thought that was the bomb!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — that does sound fun! I’ve thought about making green eggs and ham for breakfast, but I’m fairly confident my kids wouldn’t eat the eggs even if I assured them they would taste like “normal eggs”. Maybe if I prepped them the night before 🙂

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    Karen Reply:

    They absolutely do. Mine are in their 20’s and the “honey tea” or block cheese sticks wrapped in deli ham with grapes and crackers, still get smiles.

    And the honey dissolved in hot water with a bit of lemon juice is really nice for a scratchy sore throat and stuffy nose. Not for under two’s, though, and only hot enough a child has to sip, not burn themselves.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — thanks for the honey tea tip! Simon and Nora have been begging to “drink tea” lately (which is so weird because Dave and I never drink tea). This might be a fun idea for them since they both like honey!

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    susie Reply:

    Yep- older kids like food treats too. We eat a lot of basic meals, my 11 year old was so excited for cinnamon toast crunch cereal and the 15 will do anything if I buy shrimp. Although maybe it’s because we have a lot of kids and they are treats to have. My older ones like things that we do often, we have a membership at a nice rec center by our house that they always enjoy going too, if we buy a year at a time it only comes to $55 a month for the family. I thought it was too expensive till I realized what the monthly fee was and how much we use it.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    hey, I’d be excited for cinnamon toast crunch too! 🙂

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