The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us


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Affordable Dating

Though I have mentioned in previous posts about how to get babysitters free and have given resources that list cheap things to do on dates, I have not addressed how to have a less expensive date if you do have a bit of money to spend.  There is a not-well-kept secret I am about to let you in on.  I really love eating out.  Even with all the weight loss I have experienced over the last year, I still love it, maybe even more.  Now I love going online to search the menu and look up nutrition info so I can choose the best dish for me, & then I daydream about that food all day.  🙂  The more children we have and the more God grows us with our stewardship, the less we find ourselves in a restaurant.  So I kind of feel like eating out is a “must” for our dates out.

There are a few ways you can save some bucks doing this.  One is to follow a coupon blog or two.  These blogs don’t just benefit huge couponers but have something for everyone.  They will often list when restaurants have some big mark-downs (many of these happen on holidays & birthdays) or offers they give to facebook fans, for instance.  We will frequently go to a restaurant with at least a $5 off coupon for orders of $20 or more, not terrible for a “sit-down” restaurant.  A few I follow are:

Money Saving Mom

Mrs. Moneysaver

Hip2Save

Another great resource is “The Entertainment Book.”  These are put out every year, and you request ones that are in your area.  They are full of huge discounts on restaurants, amusements, movies, shopping, etc. where you live.  They are fairly expensive if you buy them in the beginning of the year ($35.00), but considering there are many “buy one get one free” entrees, you could quickly make that money back.  Also, the longer you wait in the year, the more the price of the book goes down.

Don’t forget to take advantage of restaurants.com.  You can often get a $25 gift card for $2 if you use a coupon code.  We are sitting on four restaurant.com coupons right now and just used one at the end of last year to go to a restaurant we love, love, loved!  It’s especially a great opportunity to try out local restaurants.

Most of you probably know about Groupon, but if not, you should sign up.  You get a daily email with the deal for that day, often this is half off a purchase, and it’s mainly for local establishments.  You have to sign up for the groupon the day it’s advertised, but the groupon often doesn’t expire for a year or so. 

Finally, date at times that are not typical.  Because of our babysitter’s schedule, we almost always go out around lunch time on Saturdays instead of the evening.  Often, you can eat off the lunch menu for cheaper and still get huge portions.  If you do go at night, many restaurants will let you have lunch-size portions for the lunch price if you request.  You just have to ask.

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How Do We Get Babysitting for Dates?

This has been a question we have asked each other many times since we have been parents, and through friends and research, God has blessed us with many different ideas of how to do this.  One of our favorites over the years has been swap dating.  I wrote a short post about it here.  This blessed both families involved.  We got to go out once a month, our children became close friends as they spent 8 hours or so together each month, and we became even closer to the other couple as we would spend a bit of time before & after the dates fellowshiping.

Currently, we don’t have a family with whom we swap date (this works better if your families are comparable in size & age, so the bigger your family, the more difficult this is to pull off), & we still don’t have tons of money to fork out for babysitters, so we had to look into other options.  We felt we could set aside enough money each month to pay for babysitting once, but we ideally wanted two out-of-home dates, so I began mentoring in exchange for babysitting.  I meet with a young woman, Jessica, who is in high school, once a week, and she babysits for us twice a month, once for “free” and once for pay.  We have loved it, and since Jessica is basically the epitome of what I want my daughters to be like when they are older, we get a mentor for them as well.  

Another option that is a spin-off of the one above is mentoring a group of women for a few hours once or twice a month (teaching baking, sewing, a Bible study, etc.) in exchange for babysitting from each of them.  Depending on the amount of women (or men if any of you male types read) with whom you are working, you could potentially get weekly dates this way.

We have also played around with the idea of starting a babysitting co-op with some close friends.  Basically, you get points for the amount of time & number of children you babysit that you can “cash in” for your own date night.  There are existing co-ops in most areas, or like I said, you could start your own.  I love these kinds of things because of the interaction our kids get with other kids and parents.

Finally, if this is something you desire, pray that God will provide a way for the two of you to get out.  I cannot tell you the amount of times we have gotten random phone calls or emails from dear friends who tell us they are coming over to watch our kids whether we like it or not, even though we have so many that are so young.  God has been good to provide us with sweet servants who want to bless us, and He is faithful to continue giving all of us good things.

Quick addition, Bill and I also still date on the weeks Jess isn’t here.  We just do an at-home date after the kids go to bed.  These have been some of our sweetest times together.

Because this is dear to our hearts, I’ll spend the next couple of weeks giving good dating resources, telling some cheaper ways to date, sharing how we plan dates, and we hope to begin posting what we did on our dates to help get your creative juices flowing.


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How Do You Shop?

I was raised by a wonderful woman who taught me more useful things than I could count, but there was one thing she hated and avoided at all costs–shopping.  My mother shops like a man.  She knows what she wants, walks straight to the rack, and buys it, sometimes without trying it on.  Window shopping was unheard of (unless it was antiques or pets), and her idea of fun definitely was not going to the mall to try on all kinds of fun stuff.  She likes efficiency.  Can you blame her?

To the dismay of my mother, she still ended up raising a daughter who enjoys shopping.  I mean, come on, one of the most fun parts of prom is trying on every cute (and ugly) dress you see, no matter the price.  The problem, though, is that I never really learned how to shop for the best prices.  Now that we have kids, this is becoming a problem.

Here are a few tricks I know: shop at consignment shops, buy clothes at the end of seasons, and the greatest bargains are the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas.  That’s where my knowledge ends.  Thankfully, we have never really had to buy clothes for Liam because of hand-me-downs from one of his cousins, but with the cooler weather yesterday, I panicked when I realized Ariana doesn’t have a single pair of pants or a jacket.  Though we usually shop at Walmart for the kids, we ran to the mall to look.  After seeing the prices, I couldn’t bring myself to buy more than three items.

Clothes shopping is an area I would really like to improve, both the amount I pay and being better prepared so I don’t have to make last minute trips.  For all of you shopaholics, would you mind sharing some advice?  Besides the sales times I mentioned above, are there other times in the year or season (or week) you typically find good sales?  What are your favorite stores for the prices and sales?  How can I find out about sales that are going on without going to the store?  Also, I do love consignment shops but was wondering what your favorites were?  Any additional advice is also welcome.


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Simply Romantic

Since we were married, Bill and I have been given the great advice to date and romance your spouse often, so we are always on the lookout for resources to help us in those areas.  Here are some of our favorites, and they are all from Family Life.  Two on romance are Simply Romantic Tips to Romance Your Wife and Simply Romantic Tips to Romance Your Husband.  I can’t speak much for the former because Bill doesn’t allow me to look and cheat, but the latter is excellent.  So far, Bill has loved, loved, loved all the tips I have followed.  Some dating resources that are great are Coffee Dates for Couples (even though Bill doesn’t like coffee we have been able to modify several of these to make great dates), Dates on a Dime, a book that gives ideas for free, $10, and $20 dates, and 40 Unforgettable Dates with Your Mate.  I bought this for Bill as a wedding present, and we have worn it out.  It is an amazing book that gives four date ideas for each of the top five love needs for each sex, preparation advice, discussion questions for the date, post-date ideas, and lots more.

A great, creative resource for loving each other through sex is Simply Romantic Nights.  It comes with a book and twenty-four cards (12 for each spouse) with everything you need to create a romantic night with your spouse (enough said).  I would encourage each of you who are married to check out some of these resources and have a great time dating your honey.