Monday, May 29, 2017

A Weekend in St. Louis: The Travel Guide

If you're looking for the perfect little Midwest getaway, St. Louis is a fabulous choice. From baseball to museums, theaters, and more, this city has a lot to offer. Here are some places you'll definitely want to visit and some restaurants you should try during your weekend in St. Louis.

City Museum

If you've got kids, this place is incredible. It's so much fun to crawl around and explore all of the different areas of the museum. Be sure to hit the outdoor climbing area, and bring a pair of knee pads if you want to save your knees!

Magic House

Another kid friendly highlight, this magical house offers tons of fun and educational, hands-on experiences for your kids. If your kids are toddlers up to age twelve, you'll pay $11 each and they'll have a blast. Check out The Magic House website for more info.

Forest Park and the Zoo

One more kid friendly option is visiting the St. Louis Zoo, located in beautiful Forest Park. The zoo offers free admission, with optional activities for additional costs. For hours, check out the zoo's website. The park also boasts an art museum, planetarium, and more, so it's also a great option for adults without kids, too. You can find lots of great hotel deals downtown and in the Forest Park area. 

Busch Stadium 

If you're big baseball fans, or if you just enjoy sports history, you'll definitely want to visit Busch Stadium. If the Cardinals are in town, you can go to a game, or you can tour the stadium on days when they aren't. The downtown setting is a lot of fun and offers a gorgeous backdrop for a ball game. 

The Arch

St. Louis's claims to fame is the Arch. Because St. Louis was dubbed the Gateway to the West, the Gateway Arch was constructed in the 1960s and has been greeting guests ever since. If you'd like to go up in the arch, you can purchase tickets online and save time in line. The ride offers a great view of the city and state line. 

Fox Theatre or The Muny

If you're into theater and music, you'll want to plan a visit to either the Fox Theatre or the outdoor Muny. The Muny is actually America's oldest and largest outdoor theater, and it's great for a visit on a cool summer evening.

Anheuser Busch Brewery

Home of Budweiser, this brewery offers free complimentary tours, as well as Beer Museum Tours or the Day Fresh Tour for an additional fee. You can learn all about the famous Clydesdales, and guests 21 and over can sample the beer. Tours can include kids of all ages.

The Loop

The Delamar Loop is an incredible street home to lots of shopping, multi-national dining, and special events. If you're not feeling so adventurous, there are also several chain restaurants. This area is sure to please!

The Hill

If you're in the mood for Italian food, you've got to check out the Hill. This area offers authentic and delicious options that you can't find at a chain Italian restaurant. Be sure to check out one of my favorites, Anthonino's Taverna. You won't leave disappointed. Or, if you're more of a BBQ person, check out one of the many awesome BBQ spots in St. Louis.

All in all, St. Louis is a fabulous destination for your next weekend getaway. It's an easy drive from many neighboring states, and its attractions are sure to please visitors of all kinds!


Monday, May 22, 2017

4 Steps for a Healthier Kid Friendly Home

This post is brought to you by Riley Heating and Air Conditioning. All opinions are my own.

Ever since we brought home baby Eli, I've thought a lot differently about the safety of our home and its not-so-kid-friendly elements. Even though he isn't crawling or walking yet, I know that the days are quickly approaching when our little man will be on the move. Like any parent, I do hope to make our home a safe place for Eli and his parents. That's why I'm taking a few minutes to share four steps for a healthier, kid friendly home.

First of all,  if you haven't already, you can make some easy swaps to keep dangerous BPA out of your house. Be sure to check canned goods, plastic containers, and even teething rings. Once you've done that, take a look at your cleaning products, as well as how securely you store them. They can contain lots of toxic, harmful chemicals. Consider making your own cleaning products instead, and save some money while you're at it! 

Next, be sure to check the quality of your air. Schedule annual HVAC maintenance, change your filter every one to three months, and be careful when choosing air fresheners. Lastly, consider swapping out your soaps for something fragrance-free and allergy-friendly. Try to avoid anti-bacterials, which can actually do more harm than good. I'll be sure to make these changes in my home this summer, and you should too. 

Check out the infographic below for an easy, pinnable reminder to keep your home kid-friendly! Our kiddos are so worth it.


Monday, May 15, 2017

5 Things Your Mechanic Won't Tell You

If you're anything like me, every time you visit a mechanic you feel totally confused and taken advantage of. I spent time rehearsing the line "I'll have my dad take a look; I don't want anything extra right now." over and over as I would pull into the shop. And yet, I still walked away feeling pressured, uncomfortable, and clueless, especially as a woman. Now that I'm married to the best guy in the world, I don't have to worry about this. He not only takes care of the cars, he works on them on the side as a certified mechanic. He's shared his insight with me for this post, and is helping me shed the light on five things your mechanic won't tell you.

5 Things Your Mechanic Won't Tell You

1. How Much the Part Actually Cost Them 

It's plain and simple: you will always pay more for the part than what the shop bought it for. The percentage can range anywhere from a 20% mark up to a 70% mark up. This is the main reason why most shops won’t let you bring your own parts. And if they do, they will often charge you a higher labor rate. It is roughly 35% of earnings for the shop as a whole. That’s a lot. 

2. How Long It Actually Took to Fix the Problem

When a job is quoted, the quote is for a fixed rate of time that has been predetermined by labor guides. If the labor guide says it should take two hours to change the alternator on your vehicle then you will be charged for two hours of labor, whether it took them one hour or three. Some mechanics work a forty hour work week but get paid for 100 hours of labor. Some mechanics work forty hours and only get paid for twenty hours of labor. The system is there to protect you from mechanics charging you whatever they want. It also rewards good mechanics who can work faster than the average mechanic.

3. How Simple the Job Really Is

There are jobs mechanics don’t want you to know that you can do yourself. These kind of jobs might include changing out air filters, light bulbs, batteries, some belts, and brakes. While this isn’t true in all cases, you might be surprised what you can walk through on your own with a simple tool set and the internet. You might pay the shop $100 in labor for something that takes them 20 minutes to do, or it might take you an hour to do yourself if you just take the time to search and learn. Aaron will never understand paying $20 to install a lightbulb that takes less than three minutes to install. Do your research, people!

5 Things Your Mechanic Won't Tell You

4. The Fine Print

When you drop off your car in most shops, they have you sign a document. Do you ever read what you are signing? You might not let your car stay if you actually read the fine print. Aaron has seen these documents cover wide ranges of things. A few years ago, he read the small print in a shop that isn’t in business anymore. He came across one line that read, “We are not responsible for any damages that occur to your vehicle while on our premises.” Yikes! Understand what you are signing, and ask if you have questions.

5. The Warranty Your Part Actually Has

Quite a few parts that are purchased include a lifetime warranty. However, the mechanic doesn’t want you to know this because they make money on parts. For instance, you can go buy the same exact alternator the mechanic will install in your car and it comes with a lifetime warranty. But the shop will give you a three month warranty in hopes that if it breaks in five years you will simply buy the part again. Aaron has changed the alternator on his father’s F150 about three times, after only paying for the alternator once. It also has about 400 thousand miles on it. You should know that most sets of brake pads have lifetime warranties as well.

There you have it folks, five things your mechanic won’t tell you that you should probably know. You can really save yourself some money and some headaches if you're aware of these things. Have any more mechanic questions? Let me know and I'll pass them on to Aaron and get them answered! (And if you're in the KC area, he can even work on your car!) We don't have to be taken advantage of, y'all, so let's stop.


Monday, May 8, 2017

The Secret to Thrifty Travel

If you are anything like Aaron and me, you may love to travel but may not be willing to spend a ton of money to do it. Everyone loves to go on adventures around the world, but we often question if they're worth the drop in savings. This can be especially worrisome if you're going on a longer trip to a destination where you need affordable travel protection options, like those from Medjet Horizon. Fortunately, there are ways to travel, even if you don’t have much in the bank account. Check out our secrets to thrifty travel.

The Secret to Thrifty Travel

Hotel Points

If you’re in a good place with your credit, travel credit card bonuses offer an excellent way to travel cheaply. When you sign up for most of these credit cards, you’ll receive points that you can redeem for free nights. Sometimes you’ll earn free nights just by getting the card and spending any amount of money on it, including buying a pack of gum. In some cases, you'll receive more free nights as a cardholder anniversary gift. For more on staying in hotels for free on points, check out these posts.

Best Rate Guarantees

If you’re not looking to open a credit card, you still have other good options to help you travel for free or nearly free. Best Rate Guarantees are some of our other favorite ways to save on hotel stays. They work by rewarding you when you find hotels at a cheaper rate on one website over another. You report this lower rate to the original booking company, which matches the cheaper rate and gives you money towards paying that rate. We used this a lot in Europe and ended up staying in some pretty decent hotels for $50 or less!

Other Hotel Secrets

Secret hotel rates are also a good option for those who may be willing to take a bit of a risk. They show you an area of a city where the hotel is located, but you can't see the exact hotel where you would be staying. If you’re willing to take the gamble, you can get a heavily discounted rate.

One of my other new favorites for cheap travel is Roomer. This website lets people list the hotel rooms that they had once reserved but no longer need. You can book your hotel through this site, just like you would using any other website. We used this when we stayed in Orlando and it made our stay SO reasonable.

Flight Points

With hotels covered, you’ll also want to consider how to get where you're going. We love flying, especially with our Southwest Companion Pass. If you plan to fly, there are other travel cards that operate much the same as the hotel cards. You earn points by opening and spending, and then you redeem the points for travel. All of the major airlines have rewards program options like this. We also earn anniversary points on our travel cards, and we earn all of our points simply by paying our bills! For more on how to fly free, check out this post.

Other Flight Secrets 

If you don't have points for your flights, there are other ways to save money. Consider traveling during the off-season for your destination. This can save you a considerable amount of money, especially if you are planning to travel overseas. If you have a flexible travel schedule, you can also search for the cheapest days of the month to fly from place to place, and then you can book the cheapest flight options they offer.

All in all, travel doesn't have to be expensive. Using these tips, we have gone to dozens of places and saved thousands of dollars on amazing trips around the world. I truly believe that travel is one of the best investments we can make, and I treasure the memories that we have made on all of our adventures. I hope they are helpful for you, too!


Monday, May 1, 2017

Shower Gifts New Moms Really Want (and Need)

Now that I've been a mama for a little over two months, I have definitely developed a routine. It's been interesting to see what items from my baby showers are being used on a daily basis, and what items I really wish I'd gone without. I know that as a baby shower attendee BEFORE having my own little one, I didn't really know what to get for my friends. But now that I'm a mom, I can speak to things that us new moms really want and need. Whether you aren't sure what new products are on the market today, you've never been a mom and are clueless when it comes to shower gifts, or you're a new mom looking for the best items to register for, this post is for you!

Shower Gifts New Moms Really Want and Need

Swaddles and Sleep Items

From the first night you bring a newborn home, getting them to sleep at night is one of your biggest priorities. New moms will need a good supply of swaddle items to help their little one sleep without waking up in the middle of the night. I'm a huge fan of Halo Sleepsack Swaddles, and we also have some Sleepsacks for when our little man starts rolling over and doesn't need to be swaddled anymore. The Swaddle Me velcro wraps from Target are great too, and you can never have too many when baby spits up or has a blow out in the middle of the night! Other great sleep items to purchase are sound machines, footy pajamas with an inverted zipper (great for midnight diaper changes), and a night light or lamp.

Diapers and Wipes

I know it sounds super lame, but us moms go through SO many diapers and wipes over the course of a baby's life. Having a stash built up before the baby is born is so nice and even helps to avoid stress for a new mom. We put a ton of them on our registry and I'm grateful that we really haven't had to buy anything other than a few newborn diapers (because our baby Eli was smaller at birth than many babies are). Buy diapers in a variety of sizes- not just size one - so that your new mom friend has a stash for a long time. Also, most places with registries will let people return gifts for up to a year, so if the baby moves out of one size of diapers, the parents can exchange or return and get another size with no trouble! Other great related purchases would be a changing pad and some changing pad liners that can easily be washed and switched out.

Burp Cloths and Bibs

Even though babies are small, they generate a heck of a lot of laundry! We've found that you can never have too many burp cloths, as you'll want some to cover places where the baby is laying, some to burp them with, some to cover them (if they're a boy) during diaper changes, and some to use while breast or bottle feeding. Just think of how many burp cloths new moms will go through in a day, especially if their baby is a spitter or has reflux! Bibs are also a great purchase. Even though the baby won't eat solid foods for a while, bibs are a great way to avoid getting spit up and drool all over cute outfits and car seat straps. I especially love bandana bibs!

Postpartum Care Items

While they may not be much fun to purchase, new moms will be oh so grateful for any postpartum items that you buy them. Although they'll get a few leftovers from their hospital stay, gifting items like Always pads with wings, nursing pads, lanolin cream, Dermoplast, witch hazel "Tucks" pads, and Colace will have new moms thanking you in the first few weeks after birth! If moms are planning to nurse and or pump, they will also appreciate cute nursing friendly tops or dresses and milk storage bags. If you're uncomfortable with these types of purchases, see my next suggestion!

Gift Cards

Again, I know this sounds lame, but having gift cards is every new mom's dream! Gift cards are perfect for those Target runs when moms realize what they actually need but don't want to have to spend money on with all of the hospital bills coming. We keep ours in a Ziploc bag, and pulling them out to take along on a shopping trip has me thanking those gift givers all over again, months and months later!

Group Gifted "Bigger" Items

If you're able to go in on a bigger gift with friends or family members, your new mom friend will be oh so grateful to you! Some of the last things to be purchased on our registry were the bigger ticket items like our Tula carrier, travel system, high chair, and convertible car seat for later on. Having friends and family go in on purchasing these items really saved us from spending a lot before the baby was born, and we also got some items for when he is a little older. Also, we totally love and recommend our travel system (which is a Graco FastAction Fold Jogger Click Connect). Having the car seat, stroller, and base that all come together and click together is amazing, and helps with transferring our little man without waking him. New parents MUST have a car seat and base before they can leave the hospital with their new little love, so this gift will be used right away.

Shower Gifts New Moms Really Want and Need

While I could go on and on about other specific items that we've loved like our Boppy Newborn Lounger and our Motorola video monitor, every new mom's preferences are different. Definitely purchase items off of the registry if you can, as it makes it easier for the new mom to make returns or exchanges as needed. Plus they likely registered for what they really want. That being said, these gift ideas listed above are sure to be put to good use by any new mom, no matter their style! What shower gifts were your favorites and most-used, mamas?


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