As someone who enjoys staying home, having a regular routine, sticking to a schedule, and living a relatively frugal lifestyle, it is not likely that I will do anything overly extravagant on a daily basis — for myself, for my home, for my family, or for my friends.
- I won’t wake up and suddenly decide to take all the kids to a local waterpark for the day.
- We’re not going to meet friends at a restaurant for lunch at the spur of the moment.
- 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’s 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.
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, when the weather isn’t cooperating, when our current plans change for whatever reason, and sometimes just because I feel like doing something different.
Here are some of my kids’ favorites:
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!
I’ll talk more about this in a future post… but our family has stopped eating dessert after every single meal (gasp… can you believe it!)
It was rough for the kids at first, but they don’t even ask for dessert anymore… which means I can use an OCCASIONAL dessert as a very special way to “upgrade the everyday”.
Sometimes we’ll make homemade ice cream and I’ll let them use whatever topping they want. Other times, we’ll enjoy seasonal goodies like fruit pies, truffles, or fudge purchased from a local bakery. Whatever the case, it’s a special treat for the kids when we get dessert!
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 (especially when I throw a few surprises in their school lunches!)
Thrift Store Finds:
We have several amazing thrift stores near our house, and 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 beads for Nora ($1.00), a race car Simon wanted ($0.50), a tiny action figure for James ($0.25), and little doll for Clara (from the free bin).
You would have thought it was Christmas around our house with how excited they all were — definitely a great use of $1.75, in my opinion!
Resurrecting Old Toys:
Up until about 3 years ago, I never felt the need to rotate toys because we had plenty of storage space, and we honestly didn’t have all that many toys, books, games, etc.
However, as we add more children to the mix and as our children get older, it has become very helpful for me to keep one large tote of toys, books, and games in the basement… ready for the next rainy day (or snow day)!
I continually keep an eye out for toys the kids aren’t using all that often, and any time we resurrect an old toy from the box, I stash a few more un-used toys in the box for later.
It’s not a perfect system, but it seems to be working well.
Of course, we still purge and trash and donate TONS of our stuff, but keeping one bin in the basement has been very helpful in my attempts to “upgrade the everyday”!
Our kids LOVE any type of craft or project — and although I don’t always get as excited about them doing various crafts, projects, or experiments in the house, I try to make time and space for them each week.
We’ve gotten some craft kits for birthdays and Christmas gifts, and those are always a bit hit.
And I always keep a healthy supply of Elmer’s Glue in the house for an impromptu Gak-making party (here’s the simple recipe for our gak)! NOTE: Elmer’s really does make better gak!
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 ride bikes 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 one thing to buy), 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’s something we can do almost every day — often times I try to work these outings around more specific errands I need to run that day anyway, so I feel good about the fact that I’m accomplishing something while the kids are having fun.
We regularly invite people over to our home for meals, pool parties, play dates, etc. — and although it does take extra effort on my part, these special visitors are a great way to break up our days and have something to look forward to.
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 (my kids especially love wearing pajamas out in public every once in a while!)
- 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.
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.
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 usually keep a stash of brownies or blondies in the freezer, and sometimes we’ll each have a warm hot-fudge brownie sundae as a special treat while watching a Netflix show.
I’ll rearrange the furniture or swap some decorative items for a new look (I do this with the kids’ bedrooms all the time too!)
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.
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 these free (and frugal) ideas to upgrade your everyday.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll 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?