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How to not go broke this holiday season

A Bankrate survey found that 45% of Americans feel compelled to go beyond their comfort zones when buying holiday gifts.

How to not go broke this holiday season

The holiday season is supposed to be merry and bright, but due to the high cost of the holidays and the interpersonal "politics" of things like gifting, shopping and entertaining, it can also be filled with friction between family, friends and loved ones.

A recent Bankrate survey found that 45% of Americans feel compelled to go beyond their comfort zones when buying holiday gifts, and it turns out women are significantly more likely to feel pressured to overspend—moms especially!

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite tips to help manage the pressure and stress of the holidays so you can actually relax this holiday season without worrying about your finances.

1. Look for the best holiday travel deals—but avoid hidden fees.

Holiday travel can get expensive quickly, especially if you're traveling with kids. Plane tickets add up fast, and it can be hard to keep kids occupied for long periods of time. To get around this, always hunt for holiday travel deals.

Websites like Hipmunk or KAYAK search multiple airline and travel sites at once, making sure you're getting the best deal on all your holiday travel. Remember to be careful of fares that might have hidden fees, though—lots of airlines have "basic economy" tickets now that don't allow you carry-ons or for you to choose your seats, and the last thing you want is to end up having to spread your family out across an airplane.

2. Split the cost of travel whenever you can.

Whenever you can, split the cost of travel with family who live nearby—after all, if you're all going to Grandma's for the holidays you might as well all go together. Renting a minivan or even an RV and playing road trip games on the way is a way to save money and keep your kids occupied at the same time.

Instead of constantly passing money around throughout the trip, let one person pay the cost of gas money or rental car charges and then split the costs. Points junkies will rejoice and the money will be in their bank account before their credit card bill is due. Plus, you'll all save on ATM fees if you're not withdrawing money in towns where your bank doesn't have a branch.

3. Skip the travel, share the party.

If you can, skip the travel entirely and host a party together at someone's home. This year, team up with family to host a higher quality get-together without going broke when you share the responsibilities, and the costs, instead of going out for a big expensive group dinner or trying to cover the costs of everything solo.

Not everyone is an A+ party planner though, so let everyone take on the responsibilities that best suit them. Maybe your aunt makes a mean mulled wine and your cousin would rather just pay for a cleaning service the next day or a babysitter who can keep kids occupied while the adults stay up past their bedtime.

4. Trade competitive gifting for collaborative gifting.

When it comes to gifting, this year is your opportunity to trade competitive gifting for collaborative gifting. When family open gifts together, it can get competitive—who put the most thought into a gift, who gave the most expensive gift, who spent the most time on a gift, or which kid got the most. These competitive moments contribute to so many of the reasons holidays are stressful for lots of moms and families.

Instead of competitive gifting, come together and decide on one higher value gift for each person, then divvy up the cost throughout the family, this way everyone gets equal credit and you can all stick to your budgets. Maybe your mom just wants a day at the spa, and you and your siblings can split the cost of a massage upgrade together. Or you can get your kids a single big gift from the entire family instead of several smaller gifts.

As you're looking at ways to make it through the holiday season with your finances intact, don't forget that the New Year is coming up rapidly. Make sure you come up with a spending plan for the next year before it starts—after all, you can't blow a budget you don't have.

Just like experts recommend an "eating plan" as a more long-term approach to dieting, I recommend a "spending plan" instead of a crash money diet. A sustainable spending plan is broken down into the three E's: Essentials (70% of your overall monthly budget for basic expenses like rent or mortgage, utilities, food, transportation, insurances); Endgame (15% of your monthly budget for things for your future like savings accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts); and Extras (15% of your monthly budget for, well, whatever does it for you). Set this budget before the New Year starts and use whatever tools work for you to track your spending, and then set regular check-ins to make sure you're staying on track throughout the new year.

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Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

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5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

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I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

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