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Monday Q&A | Kids in the kitchen, Credit Card Rewards, and “We can’t afford it.”

How much help do you require of the kids in the kitchen? I know you have them help you with cookies, but that is more of a kids activity on purpose. I was wondering if you can give your kids any small assignments like dicing vegetables or kneading bread dough?


I actually feel like this is a weak area for me. Because it’s faster (at least it is now!) for me to do things, I struggle with not wanting to let the kids help.

But, I know it’s good for them to learn, and that if I get through the teaching phase, they will actually be helpful in the kitchen. So, I’m trying to be better about this!

Girls shaping meatballs.

Lisey is a born domestic. She loves to sew and craft and bake and cook, so she’s thrilled to pieces whenever I let her help me in the kitchen. She peels carrots and cucumbers, grates cheese, peels shrimp, cracks eggs, and stirs anything I ask her to. She doesn’t knead bread dough yet, but she does help me to shape rolls.

I could definitely stand improvement when it comes to including my kids in the kitchen, though.

I think part of my problem is that while it’s manageable to have one kid help, having 4 kids help is, well, not helpful. So, I’m thinking about working cooking into our homeschool year, maybe by letting each kid help me cook one night per week. Each person would get to help once a month, and I’d be more inclined to stick with it if I only had one helper at at time.

I’ll let you know how this idea works out for us!

I’ve read about the rewards you’ve earned from your credit cards and I’m curious to know exactly what card(s) you have. I’ve tried looking at different ones, but there are so many options and I have no idea what to go for! Any credit card advice?


There are a couple of credit cards that I use on a regular basis…my main credit card is a rewards card from Chase that gives me 5% back on gas, groceries, and I think drug store purchases. I redeem my rewards from this card for $50 statement credits.

I also have a Discover card that gives us 5% back on gas, and we have an L.L. Bean credit card that gives us free shipping on our purchases.

I use our Discover rewards to get $25 L.L. Bean gift cards, which we use to buy work clothes for my husband. Since we’re L.L. Bean credit card holders, we get free shipping on those purchases, which is awesome.

My best advice is to look carefully at the rewards information and to not settle for a card that gives you less than 1% back. Our Discover card gives us 5% cashback on gas, but for other purchases, the reward is something like a tenth of a percent. So, we only use that card for gas. My Chase card gives extra rewards for groceries and gas, but it gives 1% for other purchases, so I use that one for non grocery/gas purchase instead of my Discover card.

Also, make sure your card has no annual fee. There are multiple no-fee cards available, so don’t get stuck with one that charges a fee.

And of course, I have to add that I would never, ever, ever recommend using a credit card unless you are 100% sure that you have the self-control and organization necessary to purchase only what you can pay off each month, and to remember to pay it off on time. A single late fee can eat up months and months worth of rewards, and interest charges can easily do the same.

I have a question (for you and your frugal readership) regarding declining invitations without always saying “we can’t afford it”. For instance – our extended family has an annual get-together. We’re the only single-income family and live the farthest away. While we could afford to attend if we dipped into savings, that isn’t always in line with our financial goals and present situation. We don’t want to say “we can’t afford to come” – and that isn’t exactly true, but also can’t decline with “seeing all of you isn’t important enough to warrant sacrificing other financial goals”. 🙂 For now we settle for attending every other time, but find it awkward to explain our absence when we see these relatives at other times.
Any thoughts???


Hmm…though I’m a stickler for being as honest as possible, I really truly would not have a problem with using the “We can’t afford it.” line.

I’ll explain why, using a hypothetical situation and our family as an example. Suppose that our family was invited to attend a destination wedding on a tropical island, and such a trip required a $5000 cash outlay (I know that’s probably low, but this is all hypothetical).

Do we have $5000 that we could spend on such a trip? Yes, we do…but that money is our emergency fund, and a trip isn’t usually an emergency.

Could we save up $5000 for such a trip? Yes, we could, but it would be to the detriment of our other savings goals, most of which are not optional. We need to save up for replacement cars, we need to save for retirement, we need to save up for Christmas, we need to save for our children’s futures, and so on.

I think it’s important to look at savings goals the same way we look at other monthly bills. I wouldn’t consider not paying my car insurance bill so that I could take an unnecessary trip, and so I wouldn’t consider skipping my monthly car savings contribution so that I could take a trip.

I know that might seem a little bit hard-nosed, but if you don’t look at savings goals the same way you look at bills, you’ll likely end up being in a position where you can’t afford to pay the bills (multitudes of people do this at Christmastime….they don’t save up for it all year long, and end up not being able to foot the bill that arrives in January). And who cares if the extended family doesn’t view savings goals this way? You do, and that’s all that matters. The extended family doesn’t need to know that the “bills” that leave you without travel money are actually savings goals.

So, I would continue to show up every other year, and I’d confidently and honestly explain that though you’d love to see everyone each year, your family simply cannot afford to come each year (and you might follow that up with an invitation for people to come and visit you!).


Readers, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas on these three questions.

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Saturday 31st of July 2010

Wanted to leave some tips on the kids cooking. My son loves to cook. He's only 5 but would even watch the cooking shows on PBS in the afternoon. One of the first things he did was peel veggies. At first not much of the carrot was left but it didn't take long to get the hang of it and my mom-in-law was so impressed. He was 3. They always want to stir. I invested in some stainless steel bowls with a 'rubber' bottom and a handle, that way the bowl would stay in place even when the kids forgot to hang on. Sifting is kind of hard for kids but you can try. I have a chopper where no blades are exposed that they use. I have taught the 9 yr old to use a knife. Always supervised. Knife selection is hard for even adults. One of her friends was over while we were preparing dinner. I asked her to chop something, it was obvious she didn't have a clue. making biscuits and bread is pretty easy to help with and my son will tell you all about the cinnamon rolls he makes by himself. I always put everything in and out of the oven. I measure because he can't yet read that's something my 9 yr old can do. You can teach math while doing this also. They do not help with canning. Even I tend to get boiling water splashed on myself. Plus kids on not the best on washing hands etc :) My philosophy has always been to let them try. I think it's kind of obvious when they don't yet have the skill level and then of course you can teach them how to clean up! Happy cooking with the kids.


Saturday 31st of July 2010

Yep, my son is just 2 still but he LOVES helping mom in the kitchen :) He's not so great at the stirring (he tends to splash anything and everything out of the bowl still! lol...wet or dry). But, I measure ingredients and let him pour, and he'll get things out of the fridge that he can handle, and he'll already name most of the ingredients as I'm pouring them in. Which, I think is pretty good since there is such a lack of baking these days, there are 10 year olds who couldn't name basic baking ingredients like baking powder, etc.

He also does other things in our kitchen and garden. He is awesome at picking veggies and can even tell when they are ripe and ready. He even shucks the corn, and does it well (and has since LAST summer when he wasn't even 2 yet!). Kids are more able than we give them credit for sometimes, you just have to find what they are interested in and/or make it interesting and fun for them.

Although, I TOTALLY get that it's much easier without "help" sometimes! lol.


Tuesday 27th of July 2010

During one of my placements in a daycare centre I did the cooking project with them. Even preschooler's can learn about measurement, weight, length,time, temperature, reading (recipes) etc. Cooking and baking is an excellent place to learn math skills, even toddlers learn to pouring, stirring and counting skills. My girls love to bake and I rarely bake without them. Their favorite is mixing colours for playdough :)


Tuesday 27th of July 2010

I know exactly what you mean about children helping in the kitchen! Mine are 11, 9 and 6 (2 girls and 1 boy) and they have always been VERY keen to help with the cooking/baking/kitchen activities. Which is great. I'm actually extremely keen that they should all be able to cook a range of simple meals, and not think that cooking pasta and heating a jar of tomato sauce constitutes *real* cooking. ( My friend works in the Food Technology department at a local secondary school, and this is what a 13 year old said to her in one lesson. It probably says much about what food the family regularly eats at home.) I work as a teaching assistant in our village primary school, and the majority of children cannot identify basic kitchen equipment (a ladle?) or perform simple tasks. I love cooking, and my children often end up explaining to their teachers how you cook or bake something. :-) However, on an ordinary weekday evening, when tea just needs to get on the table, I have been known to (frequently!) sneak off to get it cooked before a little voice says "can I help you?"


Monday 26th of July 2010

On the "we can't afford it" question...

Our solution was to start using the phrase "it's not in our budget". It's true, in accordance with your financial decisions, and helps encourage those that hear it that may be in the same boat. SOMETIMES people can say "we can't afford it" in a way that implies they are discontent or that God isn't properly providing for them. This phrase avoids all that. Hope you find a solution to this and don't feel guilty for sticking to your financial decisions that you feel are best for your family!


Monday 26th of July 2010

I guess I'm just from a different era... And unabashadly blunt.

If I say...."I"m sorry, I won't be able to attend. I hope you all will have a good time."....that is the end of the conversation. Period.

I'm not saying anything about my budget, my plans or giving a reason.

To me, anything more is inviting someone into your personal business and your budget is NOT their business. I understand wanting to be polite, and wholehardly agree with declining with grace. I just draw the line at explanations.

I said I couldn't come. I apologized for missing said event. I wished you good times at said event. The End.

**hops down off my soapbox and goes to google "frozen and jam"**


Tuesday 27th of July 2010

I'm with you on this one. The only people who hear we can't afford something are our own kids. Otherwise, no explanations.


Monday 26th of July 2010

I love it! I always feel like I have to explain, but I'd like to be able to pull off the blunt thing like you. lol

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