Creating Fun Family Nights In


If there is one thing that our family loves it is a good old-fashioned board game night, in fact, some of my most favorite childhood moments were spent around board games. I still remember the Sweet Valley Twins board game that I would play with my best friend and the endless rounds of Skip-Bo that I played with my sister when we were kids. Later, when we were first married, we had little to our name other than a futon for our bed, a card table for our kitchen table, and a stack of board games to keep us company. Those are still some of my fondest memories of those newlywed days.

Now board games are the ultimate frugal family fun night in our house. I try to get our board games at Goodwill because it is a great way for me to try them out without making a huge investment. Sometimes I buy games and we discover that it isn’t something we would want to play over and over again, but I know I don’t have to worry about it. When the games cost us only $1.50, it makes it much easier to donate it back and try something else out.
Here are a few of my favorite board games to look for when doing your Goodwill shopping.

skin in the game

Apples to Apples– If you have not played Apples to Apples before, you are really missing out on a treat. It is my new favorite game to tote around to all of our family functions and any opportunity where I can get a few friends together. Simply deal the cards out to each player and one person gets to be the judge. The judge will share a card and you select from your cards the best match to that card. Once everyone has given their card to the judge, the judge decides which card best fits the card they shared.
The fun is in the variety of unexpected comparisons people make, sometimes apt, funny, creative, or simply absurd. For example: people might match “Awkward” with “Oil Spills,” “My First Kiss,” “Dandruff,” and “Gold Chains. ” Or: “Painful” with “High School Reunions” and “Regis Philben. ” Strategy comes into play since, because each player takes turns being the judge, you begin to pick up on the preferences of each player and tailor your choices accordingly.
Honestly, if you find yourself hosting a dinner party where you are worried about conversation or a family gathering that you don’t have very much in common with, this is the game to break out to get through those awkward silences. Kid versions of this game are also available. (Age Recommendations- 12 and up)
Skip-Bo– As I mentioned before, this was my favorite game growing up and my sister & I would play this for hours and hours. Created by the makers of UNO, this card game is a delight for anyone of all ages. The game is a sequencing game of skill and strategy intended for two players or more and ages seven and up. Players create sequential stacks with cards on the board, the first player to use all the cards in their stack wins. The deluxe edition has a board with placeholders for all of the stacks of cards and score sheets to keep tabs of the winners. I love this game because it is easy to still have conversations while playing, making it a great game to socialize with other couples.
Trouble– Trouble is a great game for younger kids because it is a very simple concept and the playing time is perfect for shorter attention spans. Adults may remember this great game from their childhood. With this game, you just move your four pegs around the board and put them into the finish spots. If you land on an opponents peg while going around the board though, you can boot them back to the beginning and make their piece start all over again. Instead of rolling dice, you push the “Pop-o-matic,” in the center which throws the dice for you. My kids really love this game and you will too! (Age Recommendations- Ages 4-9)

Giant Connect 4

Connect Four– Connect Four is one of our favorite games and both the kids really enjoy it. The game is a vertical version of tic-tac-toe. Each player has a color and you drop the pieces in and try to get four in a row. The other player can block your moves with their pieces and this is a great game for strategy building to see if you can outsmart your opponent. This is another game that is short and sweet so it is perfect for children with short attention spans or for a quick game before bedtime.
Rummikub– This is a game that my husband loved to play when he was growing up, and now he has me addicted to it too! The game is intended for ages eight and up and can be played with two or more players. With rules similar to gin rummy, Rummikub is a classic tile game that’s guaranteed to get at least a million kid-hours of use in any family. Players take 14 numbered tiles and try to get rid of them as fast as possible by creating runs (for example, 7-8-9) and sets (7-7-7). The link provided is for their deluxe edition (which we do not have). This deluxe edition is cleverly designed so that the four plastic tile racks fit together to form a carrying case for the game. Junior editions of this game are also available.

Scrabble– What is not to love about this game? Intended for two players or more and recommended for ages eight to ninety-nine, you can play this game for years with your children. The game has been improved with a swivel board (less stretching required!), raised holders to rest the tiles into, and a bag to store all of the tiles. This is one of my personal favorites and we play this a lot in our house. Don’t forget to purchase a copy of the Scrabble Dictionary and store it with your game board. Take some time to study some words and really beat your opponents! Want to see what Scrabble obsession looks like? Rent the movie, “Word Wars.” It is all about the Scrabble championships that are held and people who attempt to make a living from this sport. Junior editions of this game are also available.
Upwords– Along the same vein, this is another fabulous word puzzle game, but with a twist. You build words just like Scrabble, but you can build up and up (five letters high) to change words into new words. The more you stack, the more points you earn. I think it is more challenging than Scrabble, but the scoring is much easier to do. This game is for two players or more and recommended for ages eight and up. This game can be a powerful tool when your children are beginning to read because it can help teach them how to change words using different letters. Consider it a cheap version of “Hooked on Phonics” and a game that they can enjoy for years after they have learned to read!

Yahtzee– A classic game of dice that has been around since 1956 and is still played in millions of homes today. You can play alone (which I don’t think would be as much fun) or with more players. The ultimate in this game is to actually get Yahtzee or five of a kind. This game is so much fun and also a great teaching tool for children. Children can learn basic addition and subtraction, as well as sequential ordering.

Monopoly– I had never played this game until high school, and I can honestly say that my husband is always the winner, which is why we don’t play it as much! This game is a great teaching tool in money-management and in buying real estate. We have a couple of different versions of this game, but my favorite is the Dot Com Monopoly, which we purchased when Dot Coms were ruling the world. Few of the companies on the board exist anymore, which makes for interesting conversation and fond memories before the dot com bomb hit for computer nerds and geeks alike!
We have many more games in our collection and the last time I hit Goodwill, I picked up another stack of new ones. Our collection keeps growing and we hope to have a game collection that our kids will enjoy someday with their friends. In a day of technological bliss, game nights now seem “retro.” Why play on a board when you can just grab your game system or play a computer game online? I hope that board games will last the test of time because they can be an essential part of family bonding and creating a family night to remember!
What are your family’s favorite board games? Have you ever found any great ones at Goodwill that have become part of your family night? Please share here!

How to Shop at a Thrift Store

One question I get asked quite a bit is “how do your shop at a Thrift Store“?
Well – I’ll tell you – it is a mix of science, research, art and…GOOD LUCK!
Here are some basic tips that will help you as you head out to fill your closets with fab finds for Fall!
1. Be patient The biggest tip I can offer is to be patient!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve frequented stores searching for an authentic vintage Louis Vuitton (anyone out there have one?  message me!).  But many times on those “scouting trips” I find something else amazing…like Gucci sandals, 7 (seven)-jeans, Anthropologie skirt.  All things I would not have in my closet (all for under $20, by the way!) if I hadn’t stopped in searching for that vintage LV.
2. Be ready to dig Think of this kind of shopping like an archeological dig, or treasure hunt.  You really don’t know what you will find until you dig through a lot of other stuff.  This means your Thrift Shop shopping trips may take some time. Be prepared to invest that time. What you invest in time you will save 10-fold in your wallet!
3. Be friendly Everyone who’s worked in a customer service position knows what a big difference one nice person can make in your day. Besides, being nice pays off; in return for your smile the person checking you out might tell you about a 50% off day or suggest a “preferred customer” shopping program!
4. Avoid binging, shop with cash It can be tempting to stock up when you go to a thrift store – I’ve done it, and end up with all kinds of things that end up getting donated back to Goodwill.  If you are on a tight budget, it is wise to seek out sale days, and implement a ‘cash only’ policy.
5. Go in With a Plan Know ahead of time what you need. The organization of each store can be a bit different, and might be overwhelming. So if you go knowing you’re looking for 12-24 month-old boy’s khakis, and size 8 black dress shoes, it can be a lot less stressful.
6. Be Open-Minded That said, keep your eyes open for any surprising deals. It’s hit-or-miss with thrift stores, so sometimes you really hit the jackpot (remember my note above about the Gucci sandals, Anthropologie skirt and 7 (Seven) jeans?). You need to make sure what you find is actually something you need – otherwise, you’re just over buying. Think about unexpected gift ideas. You could find birthday gifts for all your nieces and nephews, or you might find throw pillows in just the right shade your friend is looking for.
7. To Brands or not to brand It is true that there is a coorelation between quality and price – which means know your brands.
8. Try Things On Always try things on. Just because it’s a beautiful silk Ann Taylor skirt doesn’t mean you should buy it. If it doesn’t fit well, then it’s a needless purchase and will only clutter your closet. And different brands size things differently, so you can’t assume anything by the number on the tag.  One last comment on this – many people alter clothes.  Just because the tag says it is a size 10 doesn’t necessarily mean it is a 10.
9. Don’t Go With Kids Sure, you may have to bring them sometimes. But if you’re armed with a detailed list, it can be hard to get much accomplished at a thrift store when you have little ones to watch. Shopping at thrift stores means having to sift through lots of aisles of crammed-full racks. If you have to bring your kids, plan on just shopping one of the store’s sections, and then come back another day to shop the rest.
10. Find Ways To Repurpose Think creatively when you head out to your local Goodwill store. I read about a woman who was looking for a Christmas tree skirt, but she happened upon a perfect vintage tablecloth with red and green flowers. It was thick, durable canvas with a beautiful red fringed border – and it will work better as a tree skirt than she had originally planned.

5 Things I Love to Buy at Goodwill

It is no secret, I am a Goodwill addict and there is nothing I love more than pouring over the Goodwill deals and finding new ways to repurpose thrift store items. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share with you five of my favorite things that I LOVE to purchase at Goodwill so that you can begin hunting for them at your own store.

Clothing- My little secret to being the best dressed that I can be on my budget is that I love to purchase my clothing at Goodwill. I am also, admittedly, a brand snob and I love to have great pieces in my wardrobe that will last the test of time. Thankfully, there are many great brands to be had on my budget at Goodwill. Don’t just look at the clothing only as wardrobe pieces though, but try to think beyond that.

Even the items that aren’t in your own size can be made into amazing things. I love to turn that beautiful fabric from those thrifted items into elegant accessories for my daughter or use fabric to embellish other pieces in my wardrobe. With items like ruffled t-shirts and embellished tops being at the height of fashion, consider the clothing section as an opportunity to find some great fabric for very low price.

27/365 New hand mixer
photo credit: Linda Scannell

Small Appliances-
The small appliance section at Goodwill is unbeatable and I love to browse this area of the store. I can find some of the best deals on items like bread machines, mixers, toaster ovens, and more in our store aisles. This is a great way to try out an appliance you have been eyeing at the department store without making the big investment.

Once you select your favorite small appliance, be sure to visit your local library to find books on creative ways to put those small appliances to work in your house. Armed with your inexpensive appliance and your free book, you will have a fun way to kill those winter doldrums.

full board game section
photo credit: msinnott

Board Games-
Our family is nuts about board games and we try to add to our collection regularly. I can never guarantee how much we will really love a board game until we have given it a test run and Goodwill is a mecca of board game fun on a frugal budget. I love to find great classic games at our store and always am on the hunt for fun retro board games that we can add into the mix. Thankfully, board games are very inexpensive and they can add a lot of variety to your family nights without a big investment.

Board game boards and pieces can also make fun decorations and art in your child’s playroom or as a fun way to spruce up the mantle. Scrabble tiles can spell out cute holiday phrases while Monopoly pieces in a glass jar can be a fun way to decorate and offer a little nod to your favorite games of all time!

Basket full of toys...
photo credit: lorises

Baskets- I have quite a collection of baskets from Goodwill and if you witness the prices in the retail stores, you will know why Goodwill is the answer for storage solutions in your home. Not only do I use these baskets for organizing the chaos in our house, but I also rely on their amazing basket section for making beautiful gift baskets for the holidays and for creating great Easter baskets for the children. Remember that any tired basket can look brand new with a fresh coat of spray paint and can fit into any room in your home.

Cookbooks- Are you looking to add a new cookbook to your collection? Well, Goodwill is the best spot for gaining some inspiration in the kitchen. I love to pick up vintage cookbooks from Goodwill to help give me some new ideas for things to cook up in the kitchen. My, “How to Cook Everything,” by Mark Bittman was nestled among the books at our Goodwill and remains one of my most used and loved cookbooks.

Once you have your new cookbooks, enjoy browsing the houseware items and find a new platter, cake stand, or fun new dish set to bring your new feast to life. I guarantee that your family will find a new love for Goodwill too when they see your beautiful feast so lovingly prepared for them!

Amy Allen Clark is the Founder of, a web community where she shares advice on parenting, money-saving ideas, recipes, and solutions for work-at-home moms. Visit her site for more ideas on ways to live on a frugal budget!