Toddlers love pictures (of themselves)

It’s a fact. Toddlers are vain creatures. Alex can’t handle walking by a mirror without giggling at his reflection, pausing to take a closer look. I note that there is not much this kid pauses for in general, other than the aforementioned mirrors, and choosing a snack.

I happen to enjoy looking at my cute munchkins as well, so it is my mission to put their faces on as much stuff as possible. I think it also makes them feel important, something the under-3-foot-tall crowd needs.

Below are several ideas for incorporating your kids mug shot into daily life. Some of these require only uploading a few photos and doing some simple cropping via the respective company’s customization tools. Others I made myself using Photoshop Elements, which I recommend if you do any kind of photo editing or like to dabble in graphic design. Elements is much easier to pick up than feature-heavy Photoshop, and doesn’t cost $600 (hooray!).  As an added bonus, the software license can be installed on up to two computers. Just the ability to control the dark/light levels in your photos is worth the investment, but it’s also useful for creating posters and any other printed material you can dream up. If you’re not ready to make the leap, though, Pixler might be worth checking out! It’s a free web-based editing tool with features similar to Photoshop.

This is the newest entry to my personalization collection: custom wrapping paper. It’s from minted.com, a company that makes adorable customized art and gifts. I can’t wait to wrap gifts with these cute faces. Bonus — everyone will know who the gift is from. I recommend signing up for Minted’s emails. I got a deal for five free additional sheets of wrapping paper, so double the cute.

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Truck parking sign

Alex’s collection of giant-sized vehicles keeps expanding, so I made this truck parking sign to keep them all corralled in the playroom. I created the design in Elements, and ordered a standard 8×10 print from Mpix. To make it a bit more sturdy, I chose to have the print mounted on mat board. The print arrived ready to hang with some tape, and now Alex has parking for his trucks. (And I have a place to throw them at the end of the day.)

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Custom stickers

Everybody loves stickers. Stickers with your kids face are just two times the awesome factor. I used these to seal up goodie bags from Alex’s second birthday party. I ordered mine from Pro Lab Express, but Snapfish has an even easier ordering tool, no special software required. Snapfish always has coupon codes, so make sure you check before completing your order. Are you an Ebates user? Cash back is almost always 10%!

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Book of names and faces

One of my favorite projects to date is Alex’s names and faces book. It has pictures of our family, and the name of each family member on a brightly colored page. This was a big hit in the 12-30 month range. After age 2 1/2, Alex only wants to see your face if you’re handing him a Danimals smoothie (just kidding, I hope).  You can make your own book at Pinhole Press.

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Custom canvas print

Last, but not least, is the ever popular canvas print. You’ve seen the Living Social and Groupon deals, now bite the bullet and order a giant canvas for your house. We gets lots of compliments of the one I took of Alex at 15 months. At some point I’d like to get a nice picture of the boys together to hang in their room, because I think that would just be adorable. The company I’ve ordered from in the past is MyPix2Canvas. They offer their own canvas and print specials from time to time, so you may want to sign up for their email list. Or visit your favorite deal site and see what’s available!

 

Best Brands for Boys

Best Brands for Boys: Clothes that won't break the bank

Once upon a time, I would spend hours combing through clearance racks, hunting down the absolute best deal, then whipping out a coupon to make the savings even bigger. This sort of shopping tactic takes a lot of time, and as such I no longer spend Saturdays at the mall. Oh, shifting priorities.

To streamline the clothes-buying process, I have a list of stores that I can count on for well-made, reasonably priced clothes. Considerations include fun and unique tops, durability and elastic-waist pants with a relaxed fit . (What is it with stores making skinny pants for boys? Could you please tell me how they are supposed to climb trees and jump off of things in those?? It’s nuts, people. It needs to stop.)

Without further adieu, here are my top picks and how to get the best deals!

Hanna Andersson: Those Scandinavians know how to make clothes. The Nordic sweaters and matching family outfits are not really up our alley, but you would be hard pressed to find more durable pants, whether it be jeans, sweats or chinos. I’ve had pretty good luck finding this brand at area consignment shops, but have purchased from their store and website a few times as well. A 20% off sale is typically the best I’ve seen, though their outlet stores occasionally have additional savings. It’s worth signing up for their emails so you stay abreast of sales. This is also a good brand to scout out on Ebay if you are familiar with their sizing (sizing goes 60, 70, 80, 90, etc. . .). Free shipping is a little hard to come by, but they do allow free in-store pick up. If you are in their retail store (or outlet) and they don’t have the size you need, they’ll ship it to your home for free and honor any in-store discounts. I was able to pick up a pair of their carefree jeans for $24 (originally $39) that way!

Baby Gap: This is where I get the bulk of Alex and Charlie’s clothing. The price is right, and you can get cute staple pieces. I have not had great luck with their pants — they trend toward slimmer children than my chunky monkeys — but I love their tops and I am a super big fan of their pajamas. They wash well, come in adorable prints and they all survived Alex abuse so Charlie will be able to wear them, too. I would be remiss if I did not mention their ridiculously cute winter hats for babies. Buy those early because they tend to sell out fast (you will not regret the bear ears, I promise). Sales happen constantly. I get one email from them a day announcing some sort of discount. Hold out for the 30-40% off sales for sure. If you’re not opposed to a new credit card, I’ve done well reward-wise with their store card. You also get additional discounts when you use a Gap card. Shipping is free after $50, and return shipping is also free. I actually find the online experience to be better than their stores, which don’t have the full selection, and can be a little on the messy side sometimes.

Mini Boden: This brand is one of personal favorites for its whimsical-cute tops, fun accessories and good-quality bottoms. But it’s definitely a splurge, so I stick to just a few purchases (assuming I can control myself — their baby clothes are ridiculous in the best possible way). This is a British brand, and a fun one at that — my packages usually have a sheet of stickers in them, and the catalog comes with a little tear-out activity. Tops feature animals doing funny things (I just got a shirt for Charlie with a pigeon riding a scooter), big prints and an expanded color palette. In terms of sales, 20% is pretty standard. Occasionally you see 30%, but it’s rare. I do recommend keeping an eye out for offers for a $50 Boden credit for $35. These occasionally show up on Plum District and Rue La La, and can be combined with coupon codes. Shipping is almost always free except during clearance sales, and you can often get return shipping free as well. Just pay attention to the coupon code details. I usually pay between $14-$22 for tops, and have paid as much as $40 for a pair of jeans, but they were really awesome pants, and I vowed to never do it again (it was at a time Alex was in a pants crisis. Nothing was fitting this kid in the waist without being 2 feet too long. Darn chocolate milk belly). Anyway, do yourself a favor and check out the cuteness.

LL Bean: I can’t speak highly enough about LL Bean’s outerwear for toddlers. Talk about getting what you pay for. Their rain gear is especially great, and I plan to get it in every size for pretty much the rest of time. Alex can lie down in a puddle (don’t ask) and thanks to their rain pants and coat, he comes in the house with dry clothes. It’s amazing. They have great fleece coats, too. Wait for a 15% sale to get the best deal! I do have their store card but it takes forever to get rewards, so I wouldn’t necessarily bother with it. If you have younger kids, you can count on being able to pass down what you buy, and a lot of the colors are gender neutral, so it doesn’t matter if it’s going to a boy or girl.

Alex's clothes

Honorable mentions:

Lands End has a decent collection of toddler boys clothes. You can return anything that doesn’t work out at their Sears retail locations.

I check out Diapers.com for deals on Hatley apparel, like this “Master of Disaster” shirt. Hatley also makes super adorable rain coats and boots. It’s best to buy these when Diapers.com offers a 20% off apparel coupon code. Returns are always free! Diapers.com is just generally awesome for any of your baby/toddler purchases, I highly recommend them.

Gymboree has great pajamas. I like that they call them Gymmies.

Zappos has a million and one shoes to choose from. Sales are sort of non-existent, but they ship overnight for free and offer free returns, so it’s great in a pinch or if you’re looking for something specific (I love the Native shoes I bought from them — they’re similar to Crocs but styled more like sneakers).

If you’re looking for a deal on shoes, I highly recommend their sister site, 6pm.com.

In case you missed it, read my tips on saving money on children’s clothes!

Challenge Accepted!: Cute boys clothes on a budget

Boys clothing on a budget

Alex (at age 1) sporting a Baby Gap windbreaker and jeans, courtesy of consignment shopping.

It has been my personal mission to dress my boys in cute, yet age-appropriate clothing (I made a promise to myself not to dress them in adorable animal characters, or anything embroidered on the bum, past the point of appropriateness. You’re welcome, Alex and Charlie.) I love the thrill of a good deal, and I really enjoy the hunt for something other than your traditional striped shirt. It’s pretty easy to find adorable clothing for girls – I mean, leggings, headbands and ruffle-bum tights are AWESOME. Hopefully someone else in the family has a girl, or else I’m in for a long wait for a granddaughter. But in the meantime, I’m going to pour all of my crazy shopping energy into two boys who, thankfully, wear what I purchase without complaint.

This will be a two-post series in the interest of breaking up my deep and personal thoughts on this very important matter.

To start, here are the two most important things I’ve learned to date:

1.) Don’t buy ahead. I know, it’s tempting. All of those summer things are super marked down, it seems like the way to go. But I have been burned more than once doing things this way. At least for this baby to toddler stage, I have not been able to accurately predict growth. So we may never actually get to wear the thing I bought last year, because by the time the season came around again, it’s either too big or too small. Already. Most of what I bought ahead ended up getting consigned.

This is specific to New Englanders, but the spring/summer/fall weather can fluctuate so much. This year the summer weather was seriously late to the party. I ended up having to buy Alex extra long sleeve tops to get him through. Extended summer weather or an early fall could also effect your wardrobe plans. Long story short, sometimes it’s just not size that’s hard to predict. Maybe pick up a few pieces if you really like something. But know there are other affordable options for next year. (I’ll get to that in a moment!)

2.) Don’t panic. I have a tendency to freak out the first day there is unseasonably warm or cool weather. I launch into new wardrobe mode and overbuy or overspend or pick things I don’t really care for that much, all so Alex can have a weather-appropriate wardrobe for the one week before the weather changes again. Part of this panic comes from the craziness that is retail seasons. Fall clothes showed up in July, and now I’m getting catalogs with winter coats in August. It’s insane. But that also means that it can be hard to find a sun hat in September, even though it’s still 80 degrees out, because retailers clear out the past seasons’s inventory. The take home message here is to do your best to get seasonally appropriate accessories on the early side, but for everything else, you can get by. No one is going to overheat or freeze in one day, or even one week. You’ll be happier with your wardrobe choices if you buy when you see something you really like, or even better, when it’s on sale.

In the next post, I’m going to talk about my favorite brands for boys clothing, and how to get the best deals, but for now, let’s talk consignment stores and sales. Consignment stores carry clothing for babies and kids that local parents bring in to resell. Typically the store takes 40-50% of the sale for prepping and displaying your clothes, and you get the rest of the sales price when the item sells. Clothes are in new or excellent condition, and you can pick up tops, pants, outerwear and accessories at 50% or more off of retail prices. Every store is different so you have to visit them to see what the selection is like. Some stores specialize in high-end brands, others are less picky. Once you find a good place, you can count on being able to pick up at least a few pieces to start your wardrobe building each season.

Consignment sales, which are typically weekend-long events, are a new and growing trend that I LOVE. I participate in at least one sale every fall and spring, and can make anywhere from $75-$200 depending on how much of the past season’s clothes and gear I have to get rid of. This type of sale is held at a temporary retail location rented out for the duration of the sale. Seller’s price and tag their own merchandise. Because you don’t have the overhead that a traditional consignment store would have, prices tend to be lower. Expect to see brands like Carters for under $5, Gymboree and Baby Gap in the $5-$7 range and Hanna Andersson, Mini Boden or other higher-end brands at $8 and up. These sales usually run Friday-Saturday, with a half-price event on Sunday (or whatever the last day of the sale is). You may not find the top brands on the last day, but you can definitely get good deals on basics, like jeans, t-shirts and button-down shirts.

For both consignment stores and sale events, you can find local options just by doing a Google search. Consignment Mommies is also an excellent resource.

You might also ask around to see if there are any Facebook groups in your area for selling kid’s clothes (sometimes you can find them just by searching on Facebook, others are by invitation only), and you can also try Craigslist or Ebay. These methods are a little more hit-or-miss and can be time-consuming, so I don’t use them as often. If you’re looking for something specific and don’t need it right away, I do recommend setting up an Ebay search – you can choose to get new listings that match your search emailed to you. This is nice if you know the size and brand you want. I was able to get Alex Hanna Andersson snowpants this way last year (they were awesome, and cost nowhere near the $69 list price!).

Have any tips you’d like to add? I would love to hear it! With two boys now the budget is a bit more slim.

Next time: My favorite brands and when to pull the trigger on ordering.

 

Currently 8.25.14

Thinking about: Fall. I’m scouting out apple picking orchards, trying to find the most toddler-boy friendly location. (Meaning lots of other things to do besides apple picking.)  I’m also thinking about the end of summer. This was one of our best summers yet, which I’m pleased to be able to say since it’s also the first summer we’ve had two kids to entertain. Charlie has been super great about being dragged all over creation for our summer activities. Its been fun watching Alex grow up so much this summer, too.

Reading: “Mistborn,” a science-fiction trilogy. I thought it might be a little too science-fiction geeky for me, and it kind of is, but I still love it. All 1,000 pages.

Listening to: Charlie fuss talk while rolling on the floor. He’s really into the bookcase he just rolled into. Or he’s done being on the floor. It’s tough to tell sometimes.

Thankful for: My family. I know I take them from granted, but they are everything to me.

Photographing: Charlie. I try to take photos of Alex, but when I get the camera out, he has a tendency to want to see the pictures, even before I take it. His classic maneuver is to stand still for literally one second, and then run over to me so he can see the picture I didn’t get a chance to take. Charlie is a much easier subject to photograph.

Charlie wants to eat the camera

Charlie attempts to eat the camera.

“Currently” is a weekly blogging check-in — I’m participating this week to meet some of the other great bloggers out there! I’m linked up at www.whenathome.com.