We Paid Cash: A Delivery and One Week in the Hospital

We paid cash!A testimony from Reelika

Having a baby is always a miracle and a real blessing for entire family. But with all this excitement, huge lists of medical and delivery expenses come, as well.

I was in a hospital already three days before my son was born. I always knew I wanted to have a private family room and not to share the room with three other women and their babies — yes, this is how it is here in Northern Europe. The shared room is covered by health insurance, but the private one is not.

I never knew I’d have to stay in a hospital that long. But due to an emergency c-section it totaled up to a week and the cost of a room was calculated based on the number of days I stayed there.

The total cost of staying one week in a delivery room was almost my full monthly salary. But I paid it fully in cash!

Here is how I did it:

  • I set my mindset earlier that a new life should not start with a debt.
  • I did my homework and found out the potential expenses of a delivery room. I estimated the stay in a hospital up to five days.
  • Once I found out about my pregnancy, I created myself a weekly savings plan for the delivery room.
  • I learned to say “no” to many invitations that would have cost me too much money.
  • I prioritized and focused on things that matter the most.
  • I opened another savings account specifically for the baby and delivery costs. I had a portion of my money automatically transferred from the checking account to the savings each time I got paid.
  • I took advantage of reading many educational books about finances and business as I also majored in.
  • I made some extra income with freelance consulting.
  • I decided to increase my emergency fund. I also went through my closets and sold any clothes I didn’t need anymore.
  • I got used to the new lifestyle of living below my means.

Although I had saved a lot, the delivery room still cost more than I estimated. But since I stayed in a hospital longer due to the emergency c-section, I treated the situation as an emergency as well.

I decided to pull 15% of the delivery costs from my emergency fund and pay the remaining 85% with my savings. Just like that, my delivery and one-week stay at the hospital were paid off with cash!

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Reelika is a working mom, entrepreneur, Christian, philanthropist at heart, financial management lover, travel enthusiast, and baking fanatic. She blogs at Financially Wise On Heels about personal finance and entrepreneurship.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

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How I Simplified Our Home and Became More Content

simplified home

Guest post by Sarah of The Jelly Jars

Over the course of the last year, my husband and I have completely rewritten our life plans, moved away from the city we thought we would retire in, said goodbye to our best friends, gave away 1/3 of our possessions, and downsized our living situation from a 2600 square foot home to a 900 square foot apartment as we pursue this new dream.

The biggest surprise for me in this whole journey has been how much I’ve loved downsizing!

Here is what I have learned in the process:

1. I only own what I love.

In cutting down on our possessions, we asked a lot of questions. Did the item have great value – was it of high quality, an investment that we made? Did the piece have great sentimental worth – were we tied to it because of family history or special memories? Did the item serve a specific purpose – does it serve a necessary function in our home?

If an item met certain criteria, we kept it. If not, it was donated.

2. I don’t need as much as I think I do.

Because of this process of downsizing, I realized I had accumulated so much stuff without even realizing it. Our basement was filled with boxes of decorations and extra clothes and anything I wanted to hold on to “just in case I need it one day.”

But now, without these extra items, I realize that I am still content and still can live a full and joy-filled life because life is not made full by material possessions.

How I Simplified My Life & Became More Content

3. I opened up room in my life for things that mattered.

I am no longer worried about that season’s trends or decorations or the fact that I need a better mail organizer.

My heart is less tied to material possessions and is now more available to the little gifts that I see in our moments and sprinkled throughout our days.

4. I gained perspective.

It’s so easy to compare yourself against advertisements or movies or even your neighbors and friends, thinking you need more and more to keep up. But when I looked at our possessions with a different perspective, I saw how very much we have and that we actually are very well taken care of.

Once I silenced the driving need to keep up with friends or commercials, I have been able to find contentment with what we already have rather than being discontent with what I wish my life looked like.

The process of simplifying helped me to clean out our home yes, but even more so it helped bring about a new way of thinking for us.

Now we are much less apt to buy something without truly evaluating if it is worth it to us or if it is just a purchase to satisfy a short-term desire, and we have found much more contentment through no longer buying into the belief that we always need more.

Sarah is a mountain-loving, dark chocolate-eating, Frank Sinatra-listening, owie-kissing, truth-telling, freelance writer/blogger who seeks out a passionate life with her husband and two kiddos. She writes at The Jelly Jars.

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6 Ways We’re Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low — Without Using Coupons

6 Ways We're Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low Without Using Coupons

So, I figure it’s high time I let you in on something that’s changed for us this past year. Some of you have probably already guessed this was the case. Some of you might be shocked and disappointed.

But regardless, I need to come clean about it. Because I don’t want you to assume something is the case when it isn’t.

So here’s the truth: I’ve basically not clipped or used any coupons on groceries this past year.

Nope. Nada. Zilch.

I had slowly been easing out of “extreme couponing” the past few years as life picked up its pace, we baby-stepped our way to fewer processed foods, and I fell madly in love with Aldi.

Then we moved to TN and lost our wonderful full-time assistant/babysitter. I had every intention of getting back into couponing, but with all of the transition and processing involved in moving + writing another book, Jesse ended up taking over most of the grocery shopping and cooking for us.

I would have never seen my husband as someone who would rock out as a chef (when we got married, I’m not even sure that he knew how to make toast!), but the guy has taken to the kitchen like white on rice.

In fact, he now runs circles around me when it comes to recipes. He loves experimenting with new ingredients and spices and he finds great delight in cooking things that require many pans and steps… which is the complete opposite of me!

6 Ways We're Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low

As a result, we more than doubled our grocery budget and we eat much healthier. However, we’ve still found many ways to keep our grocery budget relatively low without using coupons and while eating a diet comprised of lots of quality, whole foods.

I’ve been surprised and excited that we’re able to eat very healthfully for our family of 5 and only spend an average of $100 to $120 per week.

Here’s what’s working for us:

1. Shop at Aldi

I know I’ve sung the praises of Aldi over and over again, but I cannot help but include them on this list. When Jesse first started doing the shopping, I encouraged him to try doing most of the shopping at Aldi and then just shopping at Kroger for anything he couldn’t get at Aldi.

It took a few weeks of suggesting it, but he finally tried it. And he came home all stoked exclaiming, “I saved SO much money by shopping at Aldi!”

He’s now a diehard Aldi fan. Which is just one more reason to love him all the more. :)

6 Ways We're Saving Money on Groceries Without Using Coupons

Aldi has introduced so many new features and products in the last few years, including gluten-free foods, organic foods, and more. If you have an Aldi nearby, I cannot stress enough how much you need to go check them out. Just do it and maybe soon you’ll be singing their praises along with us!

2. Keep It Simple

While Jesse continues to add in new recipes to our weekly rotation, we still keep a lot of things very simple.

Breakfast is usually oatmeal, bacon & eggs, or cereal. Lunch is often sandwiches or leftovers. Dinner is usually just a main dish and veggies of some sort. Sometimes, we’ll throw in a side of fruit or sweet potatoes, too, but we’re good with just having a few options at dinner time. It saves time and money — and makes for less food waste.

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3. Eat Up Your Leftovers

Speaking of food waste, one thing we work hard to do is to use up leftovers or to re-use leftovers in a creative fashion. We’ll often have leftovers for lunch and, if there are quite a few different leftovers, we’ll serve a Leftover Smorgasbord for dinner one night.

Our philosophy: why make new food when you have food still in the fridge waiting to be used up? Save yourself cooking time and money and eat that instead. :)

4. Make Things From Scratch

We don’t buy many boxed or canned foods these days. We slowed weaned ourselves off of them over the past few years and now we not only love homemade so much more, it also saves us money.

Plus, since we keep our means simple and Jesse and I both help out with the kitchen/cooking, it really doesn’t take a lot of extra time to make things from scratch.

6 Ways We Keep Our Grocery Budget Low

5. Cook With Inexpensive Ingredients

As I mentioned earlier, we keep food pretty simple. We do buy higher quality ingredients, but we stick to recipes that use (mostly!) inexpensive ingredients — and mostly ones that can be purchased from Aldi.

We eat a lot of eggs, sweet potatoes, oats, fruits and veggies that are in season, beans, chicken, and some beef and pork. Those are the basic staples that many of our meals include. Jesse does branch out and try new recipes, but he usually only buys a few new ingredients every week. The rest of the ingredients are things we may already have on hand or things that we routinely buy at Aldi.

6 Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill

6. Pay for Specialty Foods With Swagbucks

We do buy a few specialty ingredients — such as protein powder, Trim-Healthy-Mama approved sweeteners, and olive oil — and we get these with Amazon using gift cards earned through Swagbucks. It’s a great way to be able to afford a few of those high-quality ingredients we love to use in recipes.

6 Ways We're Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low Without Using Coupons

How do YOU keep your grocery budget low?

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Included in this bundle are the following ecourses and ebooks:

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What My Blog Looked Like in 2007 (trust me, it wasn’t pretty!)

In 2004, when I found out that I was pregnant with our first child, I began searching high and low for something — anything! — I could do from home to earn enough money so I could be a stay-at-home mom. That had long been my dream and I was so determined to do so.

After many different tries and mistakes, I finally landed upon this thing called blogging. I started a few blogs in the next two years — learning a lot as I went! Because there was so much interest in me writing about saving money on groceries, I started MoneySavingMom.com in 2007.

I didn’t have money to invest in blog design, so I started with what I could afford and set up myself: a free blog on Blogger.com with a white background. I didn’t know how to design a header, so I just had plain text at the top that said “Money Saving Mom”.

After a few months, I had been making some money off of affiliate advertising and sidebar ads — enough to invest a little money in sprucing up the blog. So I hired someone to design a header for the blog for $25.

And here’s what it looked like…

What My Blog Looked Like in 2007

Yes, it wasn’t pretty. At all.

But that “ugly” blog that cost me almost nothing to start grew and grew until I finally had to move to Typepad and then to WordPress.

I had no idea that that little blog would be such a catalyst for so many things — meeting so many amazing bloggers and readers, making a full-time income from blogging, having speaking opportunities, getting book deals, the opportunity to give generously, the ability to move to Nashville and work with my husband in business, the opportunity to provide jobs for people on my team…

I don’t share this with you to gloat; I share this with you to encourage you.

Don’t let the lack of money to pay for a very professional website or expensive office hold you back. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes keep you from beginning somewhere. Don’t wait until you have everything figured out to jump in and start working on your dreams and ideas.

Just start… even if it’s not as nice and professional as you’d like it to be.

Experiment… even when you fail and make mistakes.

Jump out of your comfort zone… even if not everyone thinks your idea will work.

Some day, you might look back and shake your head at how little you knew, how much you’ve learned, and how far you’ve come… but you never would get to witness all that progress if you don’t take the first step.

P.S. If you’re thinking of starting a blog, be sure to read my comprehensive post on How to Start a Blog & Make Money Blogging.

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The 3 Most Important Things to Do After You Start a Blog

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Last week, I asked you if you had any questions on blogging or business. I was pretty astounded at all the questions I received. And it made me excited to see how many of you were interested in a weekly column tackling business and blogging-related topics.

My plan is to answer one question per week for as long as there’s interest and questions being asked. We’ll see how it goes!

Here’s today’s question, emailed in from Alyssa:

Currently, I am considering the possibility of starting my own blog. For the past several weeks I have done TONS of research. So naturally, I was really excited when I saw your post about asking you questions about blogging.

I haven’t been able to find much yet in terms of tips or suggestions for once your blog is live (like the first couple of months). It seems like there is endless information out there about the logistics of getting the blog off the ground and running. And then, there is quite a bit of information out there for different ways to monetize your blog and make your graphics beautiful.

But, what I haven’t found very much of is strategy for your first couple months while your blog is just getting started. I would be curious to see more information (from you in particular) about what you would recommend a brand new blogger focus on in that first few months.

Quality content is obvious, but what marketing techniques would you recommend and what strategies would you use for optimum growth? -Alyssa

Great question, Alyssa! And I’m guessing you’re not alone in wondering what some of the first steps would be once you’ve actually started blogging. {If you’re still in the thinking of starting a blog stage, be sure to check out my comprehensive post here on How to Start a Blog & Make Money Blogging.}

I thought about this question — and especially back to my early days of blogging as well as to bloggers who have started in recent years and what I’ve watched them do. With this in mind, here are my top 3 recommendations for what you should do after you start your blog:

1. Blog Consistently

This is a must. Do not, I repeat, do NOT, start a blog, put up a few posts, and then disappear for days at a time.

If you want to do this blogging thing well, if you want to build a successful blog, if you want to make money blogging, you MUST be a consistent blogger.

Now, this does not mean that you need to put a post up at 8:01 EST a.m. every day like my amazing friend and virtual assistant, Andrea, does. Though you are more than welcome to, if that kind of consistency is your thing.

The consistency I’m referring to here is that you show up regularly. That people know they can count on you. That you treat blogging like you do a real job — because it totally can become that with consistency.

This might mean that you post an in-depth post every other week. Or, it might mean that you post every day. Or it something in-between or something entirely different.

But whatever you do, be consistent about it. Perseverance for the long haul is the key to success in blogging.

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If you pay attention around here, you’ll know that I don’t always blog at the same time every single day. But I pretty much almost always blog every single day. You know that when you check in here each day, I’ll be sharing some deals, sharing some inspiring ideas, and maybe sharing a peek into my life, too.

You never know exactly what you’ll get or exactly when my posts will go up (because I’m more in the “blogging by the seat of my pants” camp), but you do know that, unless it is Sunday, I’ll be updating this blog every day.

I don’t always feel like blogging. I don’t always feel like showing up. But I show up every day because I love you all, because I’m committed to this blog, and because I know that staying consistent in blogging is one of the biggest keys to success for the long-haul.

Blogging consistently every single day is a habit I developed years ago and the rewards have been far beyond what I could have ever dreamed or imagined! I love this community. I love the amazing ideas shared. I love getting to learn from you. I love the encouragement I receive from here.

And our family is also grateful for the income this blog provides that gives us flexibility and the ability to pay cash for purchases, save for the future, and give generously.

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None of these things would have happened had I started blogging and blogged faithfully for a few weeks and then fallen off the planet for weeks. Start and stop blogging — where you blog consistently for a few days and then go long periods without blogging and then blog for a few days in a row and then go missing again — is a surefire way to sink your blog. People will only show up consistently if you also show up consistently.

I encourage you to consider carefully what you can realistically commit to in regards to blogging and the time you have available to invest in it. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Start out slowly — maybe committing to post 1-2 times per week, if that, and then gradually increase if you feel like that works for you. When it comes to blogging, quality content is almost always better than quantity content.

In addition, I encourage you to plan out post ideas for at least the first 6-8 weeks of blogging. This exercise will get your creative wheels turning and will help you to refine what your blog is about and determine whether or not you have enough content inspiration to write dozens and dozens of posts on those topics.

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2. Experiment Strategically

It’s good to have a plan in place for where you want to go with your blog, but in order to make traction and figure out what works for you, you’re going to need to do a lot of experimenting.

It’s easy to go into Experimentation Overload mode… where you’re trying lots and lots and lots of ideas all at once. However, this is not only a recipe for burnout, it’s also going to inhibit you from really drilling down and learning what is working.

So rather than trying to implement 33 new ideas in the first 3 weeks of blogging, pick 1-2 ideas. Set some goals for those ideas, map out a plan for experimenting with those ideas, and then get to work!

Keep focusing on those 1-2 ideas for at least 3-6 weeks. Keep tabs on how effective the idea is. Does it bring more traffic? Is it increasing social media engagement? Are you getting good response via comments or emails? Or whatever measurable ways there are to track it.

Also, consider personally if that type of writing or implementing that idea is fulfilling to you. Do you love it? Hate it? Or somewhere in between?

It’s important to remind yourself often that what works for one person won’t always work for another. And that what one person loves, another person will loathe.

Your sweet spot in blogging is where you find what you love writing about/working on that also brings traffic and engagement. However, please don’t compare your traffic and engagement numbers to someone else. Every blog is going to be different, just as every person is different.

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It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game and become so focused on that that you lose sight of what you love or why you started blogging in the first place. Remember that all the traffic and engagement and income in the world isn’t worth it if you’re miserable in the process.

Do what you love and what works best for you. Don’t worry about what works for someone else or how much traffic they have or how much income they are bringing in.

It’s also good to realize that a successful blog and business is constantly growing and experimenting and changing as technology and blogging and the online space changes, expands, and morphs. The day you get stuck in a rut and refuse to keep growing and experimenting is the day your blog begins to die.

Be willing to fail. Jump out and try new ideas. Change up the way you post. Experiment with different voices and writing styles. Try video blogging or podcasting.

Read books. Watch other bloggers. Learn from them and be inspired by them, but always remember that it’s most important to be YOU.

You have a unique story and perspective that no one else on the planet does because you are the only you in existence. So be you, bravely.

Be okay with breaking the “blogging rules” if doing so means you are staying true to yourself. Be okay with having less traffic or making less income if doing so means you keep your integrity or have your priorities in place. At the end of your life, you won’t regret it.
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3. Network Religiously

One of the best things you can do for your brand-new blog is to get to know other bloggers. Some ideas:

  • Join Facebook groups with other bloggers.
  • Leave well-crafted comments on other blogs.
  • Reach out to bloggers via Twitter.
  • Offer to write a highly-relevant and well-written guest post for a blog you love.
  • Use hashtags on Instagram and find other folks who are interested in the same things you are.
  • Comment on Facebook/Instagram posts of bloggers you love.
  • Join Pinterest group boards and re-pin posts from bloggers you love.
  • Write a blogger and tell them thank you without asking for anything from them.

Now, this list might seem really long and overwhelming… and it sort of is. Which is why I encourage you to just focus on the 1-2 networking-related goals like we talked about earlier.

You can’t do it all, but you can reach out a little. And a little bit of the right kind of reaching out can go a long way.

What do I mean by this? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret.

Want to know the best way to develop relationships with other bloggers? Stop making it about yourself and what you can get from them.

It’s a huge turn-off to get pitches and requests from people again and again and again when they want nothing more than to just use you as a step stool for their own personal success and gain.

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Instead of networking with bloggers for the purpose of what you can get from them, start looking for ways that you can give to other bloggers. Promote their links. Retweet their posts. Send them encouraging emails just because. Tell them thank you.

Truly show that you care about them as a person, not that you only care about what they can do for you. Expect nothing in return.

Let me tell you, because it’s so rare that someone reaches out and says thank you and gives without asking for anything in return, I take notice of it right away. And that’s how some of my best friendships and blogging relationships have been formed.

I’m so over the whole “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” philosophy and I know how lonely and discouraging it can be when you are constantly hearing from people who are complaining or who wants something from you, that I am always looking for ways to serve, celebrate, and give to others. It’s so much fun and it’s so fulfilling. And bloggers genuinely appreciate it and often go out of their way to build a relationship with you as a result.

Some of these relationships have not only blossomed into deep friendships that have blessed my life in numerous ways, but they’ve also opened doors of opportunity that I never would have expected.

Bloggers: I’d love to hear what YOUR advice and recommendations would be for Alyssa. Tell us in the comments!

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Want to Pick My Brain About Blogging/Business?

Option #1: Ask A Question & I Might Answer It In a Blog Post

Have a question you’d love for me to answer regarding business and/or blogging? Leave a comment on this post or shoot me an email (crystal @ moneysavingmom.com) with your question. Each week, I’ll choose one question from those submitted to answer in-depth in a blog post.

Option #2: Hire Me As Your Coach/Consultant

I’m available on a very limited basis for blogging/business coaching. If this is something you are interested, you can read more about the packages I offer here.

I also just recently started offering a monthly coaching package (not listed on the page above). This consists of a monthly hour-long call via Skype, a followup email with a plan of action, and the ability to reach out to me with questions and/or to report your progress and stay accountable to your goals. You can fill out the form here if you are interested in finding out more details on this.

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