How I Paid $550 for $3,700 Worth of Braces

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Guest post from Marie

At nearly 14, my son’s last baby tooth had finally fallen — I was filled with elation but also dread. We always knew he would need braces (we’re talking major orthodontic help) as he was born with a snaggle of slow-growing teeth and was missing an adult canine tooth.

It’s a genetic trait several family members share, and they have all ended up with partial dentures as adults.

Fortunately for my son, dental implants are now the norm, but they start at about $3,000 per tooth. How was I, a divorced mom, going to pay to straighten out what was there, and plan for what will come?

Saving Up

I started putting away $10 a week since my boy was 10, giving me more than $1500 so far. Working for a coupon company, I cut every corner I could and put any excess into braces and college funds. My work insurance also paid a portion of orthodontics.

By January of this year I’d saved up $2,000; but braces tend to run $3,500 and up in my area, and he’d need more than the norm. He’s a good-looking kid but refused to smile and it broke my heart. It would only get worse as he entered his teen years. I had to do something.

Seizing a Deal

The answer came unexpectedly a few weeks ago when I attended a fund-raiser for a new magnet middle school. I went as a favor to a friend who was selling her jewelry in a booth. I was surprised by the number of handicrafts and silent auction items.

I promised myself I’d steer clear of beauty products and artisan clothing – wants instead of needs – and then I came upon the most unusual “deal” I’d ever seen: $3,700 worth of metal braces from an orthodontist whose son attended the fledgling school.

Doing My Research

A deal like this would not be worth it if the orthodontist had a bad reputation. A quick survey of attendees who knew him and a Google search on my phone showed he was a respected professional with no complaints filed against him. I had to do this. The opening bid was $500. I held my breath and bid the next allowable amount: $550 — and I won!

A Deal Waiting for Me

Sometimes you have to spend money to save money, whether it’s grocery stockpiling or buying in bulk or a pre-sale price. This fell into the latter category for me. Even if the $3,700 didn’t cover all the work he needed, it would lighten the load.

When the initial appointment time came around, I was nervous. What if my son needed so much work my $3,700 and insurance would be just a drop in the bucket? I did not want to use credit with a high interest rate to pay it off.

A Pleasant Surprise

It turned out the orthodontist, a kind man, works with families with small budgets and even works on a sliding scale with families receiving public assistance. I didn’t fall into that category but he agreed to honor the auction deal. My son gets a full set of braces next month and all adjustments until the work it done.

Planning Ahead

Yes, he will need a retainer with a false tooth until he is old enough to get the implant, and that step of the journey will run at least $5,000. Insurance will pay part of that, if I have the same coverage in five years. To be safe, I will continue to save and should be able to afford it, and my son will be able to afford to smile again.

Marie Hickman is a TV journalist turned savings writer. She and her son live a fun, frugal life in Palm Harbor, Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @MrsHickman777.

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How Getting Fired Gave Me the Freedom To Start My Own Business

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Guest post from Caitlin of Proofread Anywhere

At age 24, I was fired from my job as “marketing manager” at a court reporting agency. It was for good reason, too: I was finishing my work super fast and then doing whatever I wanted the rest of the time. This was the kind of place where you finish your own work, then go get someone else’s.

It wasn’t getting fired that shocked me though, it was how upper management handled it.

I was called into a conference room to meet with three managers (I’ll call them Randi, Candi, and Mandi). There was a huge stack of paper that had printouts of my Internet activity and screenshots of my activity were displayed on a TV. I definitely deserved to be fired, but they also chose to attack me personally. They told me I was trash, called me horrible names, and they even went so far as to say I shouldn’t have children because I had no morals.

My bachelor’s degree certainly had not prepared me for this!

Despite my faith that God would redeem me, I harbored bitterness and resentment. I was depressed for weeks, and could barely get out of bed in the morning. My amazing husband, Ben, never left my side, never spoke an unkind word, and continually encouraged me to pursue my dreams.

This was a terribly ugly situation; but little did I know, something beautiful and unexpected would come out of it.

Way back when I started my job, Randi had given me a transcript to proofread. I had such a knack for it that she moved me from my receptionist position to a position in the transcript production department. I got to know and work with many court reporters and ended up taking on several as personal clients.

After I was fired, I was still making a few hundred dollars a month from two of those personal proofreading clients… but nine months later, I lost those two clients. I took a chance and asked one of them for contact info of the agency my client worked for (that now had its “own” proofreaders). I e-mailed an inquiry, and I’ve been doing quality assurance proofreading for them ever since – almost three years now!

Another something unexpected stemmed from that one inquiry. One of the largest legal support agencies in the United States had my name… and they started to hand it out. I had new clients left and right!

Just two months after my initial e-mail to that agency, I made $1300 in 30 days. The next month, I read some more, and I made over $2500. A couple months later, I made over $4000 proofreading transcripts. It’s continued ever since, and I rarely work over 20 or 25 hours a week. A few times, I’ve even surpassed the $5000 mark in one month. My average before-tax income the last few years has been $43,000 to $47,000 per year.

I also went on to create ProofreadAnywhere.com, a hub and platform for my online course, Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice, where I now share my knowledge and experience as a transcript proofreader to teach other people with “eagle eyes” to make money by proofreading transcripts. The course imparts every bit of my knowledge on the subject – and the best part of my job is seeing my students’ lives change because of it.

I find myself feeling grateful toward Randi and the others for firing me from their company — because now I have my own company!

Randi tried to destroy my spirit, but I now realize she actually set me free. I finally forgave myself for the wrongs I committed against her and the company. It held me back for a long time, thinking that I somehow didn’t deserve to flourish because of the things I’d done, and that somehow she was right.

I’m human and I made some mistakes. But I am not trash. I am God’s child – living proof of His power to redeem.

Caitlin Pyle is a professional transcript proofreader and creator of Proofread Anywhere. She loves traveling, home workouts, and being inspired.

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A “Glamper’s” Guide to Budget Camping

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Guest post from Kristin of The Touring Camper

Our family loves to go camping — or perhaps I should say “glamping” given we camp in a travel trailer?

Either way, having a camper has enabled our family to save money on more expensive destination vacation experiences by staying at inexpensive campgrounds rather than condos, lodges, or hotels. However, the cost of gas is high these days, so we are always trying to find ways to save money.

Here are a few tips we have learned along the miles:

1. Look for Government Campgrounds First

When picking a campground, first check out state or government-affiliated parks (like the Army Corp of Engineers). Typically these parks will have a cheaper rate per-night of camping. KOAs and private campgrounds usually offer more amenities, like pools, cable, and wi-fi, which bump up the nightly rate.

2. Plan Your Activities Ahead of Time

To save money on touring the area we implement three strategies:

Use the Visitor’s Center

During our 2014 trip to Charleston, SC, we stopped at the visitor’s center to sign our kids up for a free passport program. As we visited local sites that were connected with the program (many were free) the kids collected stamps in their passports and earned rewards.

Buy an “All-Access” Pass

If you plan to visit several area attractions, sometimes you can get a discount by buying a pass that gives access to several linked attractions. During our 2013 trip to Johnstown, PA, we purchased one pass at a discounted rate that gave us access to historic sites as well as a children’s museum.

Purchase Memberships for Locations you Visit Regularly

Consider purchasing a science center, museum, or zoo membership that has reciprocity with locations you plan to visit. This past year, we had a Carnegie museum membership in Pittsburgh that also gained us free access to COSI during a Columbus camping trip.

3. Pack Carefully

Once you plan your activities (see #2 above), take the time to carefully pack what you’ll need for those various activities to avoid last-minute shopping stops at expensive camp stores.

However, even with careful planning, you may still need to head to the store for a necessity. So before you leave on your trip, know where budget-friendly dollar stores, Walmarts, or Aldis are located!

4. Consider Becoming a Good Sam Member

This program is similar to AAA, but geared for campers. The membership comes with roadside assistance but also offers fuel discounts at Flying Js.

Another option is to sign up for your preferred gas station’s fuel discount program.

5. BYOB (and Meals!)

Save money by bringing your own beverages… and your own meals.

Although it takes extra planning, we avoid expensive restaurant meals by having breakfasts and dinners at the campsite and packing lunches while we are out exploring.

To make the vacation as enjoyable as possible, we pick easy meals that can be reheated, quickly assembled over a campfire, or cooked in a crock pot while we are out touring. Additionally, when we camp with family or friends we generally take turns making dinner meals, which gives everyone at least one night off from cooking.

What are your best tips to camp (or “glamp”) on a budget?

Kristin and her husband Jarrett share additional camping tips and ideas over at The Touring Camper, where they are searching for adventure on and off the beaten path while reviewing places to camp and highlighting awesome places to visit.

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How to Make a Snail Mail Craft Kit

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Guest post from Jennie of Little Girl Designs

I love sending (and receiving!) good old-fashioned snail mail. Though life moves at lightning speed these days with our access to email, texts, and tweets, I’ve noticed that there is a growing movement of people who long for real mail in their mailboxes.

Last Christmas, as I was brainstorming ideas of what to make for my nieces and nephews, I decided making a craft kit for them would be fun. I assembled elements from my own crafting supplies (scrapbook paper, stickers, glue sticks, etc.) and created individual kits for each child.

To say they loved them would be an understatement. (That made this Auntie so happy!)

Since my family lives in three different states, one of the ways that we keep in touch is through the mail. Because the craft kits were such a hit, I thought it would be fun to assemble another one for each kid that could fit into a regular-sized envelope.

To get started, I took an assessment of what I already had in my craft drawers. If you’re a craft-lover, you probably have elements left over from 100 different projects that you have created in the past. As long as they are flat and light, these elements are exactly what you are looking for in assembling a snail mail craft kit.

If you don’t have many items to spare, you can check out the Dollar Store for ideas as well as Target’s One Spot (my new favorite place to find care package trinkets.)

Assembling the Card Kits

For each craft kit, I cut up several different kinds of construction and scrapbook papers. My nieces and nephews will be able to use this paper to collage, draw on, or paint.

I made two blank mini-books for them because I know they like to make up their own stories and illustrate them. (Here’s a tutorial on how to make a mini-book if you’d like to make one.)

I found a cute piece of fabric and cut out the bird pattern; they could glue that onto a larger card if they would like. I also cut a piece of watercolor paper into small sections and rounded the corners with a punch that I have. These would make really cute gift tags!

I rounded the edges of another strip of watercolor paper so the kids could make that into a mini bookmark.

If you’re the owner of decorative hole punches, you can punch out shapes for your craft kit. I punched out circles using various scrapbook papers. These can be used to assemble in a collage.

I also found some small googly eyes that I thought the kids would love gluing onto their projects.

Finally, I included stickers… because what kid doesn’t love stickers?

All of these pieces fit easily into a business envelope.

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Depending on what craft supplies you add, you can change the theme to match pretty much anything you can imagine.

I’ve found that I don’t have to write out instructions on how to use each element, but rather tell the kids that this is a craft kit for them to use to create art. If your little recipient will feel frustrated by all of that freedom, feel free to include ideas of how to get started.

Snail mail doesn’t have to be limited to cards and letters. Take a look into your craft drawer and you might just find there’s a snail mail craft kit waiting for you to make!

Jennie is a craft-lover who writes about DIY craft projects and creativity on her blog, Little Girl Designs. She firmly believes everyone has creativity ingrained in them and how it is expressed is part of the fun of living. She spends her days playing with her toddler, going on walks with her sweet family, and working on craft projects. She has been a maker since childhood and loves the feeling of finishing a project and especially giving it away as a gift.

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4 Ways to Make Fun Money Without Getting a “Real Job”

4 ways to make fun money

Guest post from Miriam:

Getting a job (or a second job) isn’t always feasible… especially for parents.

Fortunately, there are many ways to bring in some additional income without leaving your kids to daycare, sitters, or nannies all the time.

1. Swagbucks and Bing Rewards.

If you are just looking for a little bit of fun money to spend, Swagbucks and/or Bing Rewards are the way to go.

Searches, videos, and surveys can earn you small gift cards to places like Amazon.com, Target, and Starbucks in just a few weeks.

Read more about how Swagbucks works here and read more about Bing Rewards here.

2. Babysitting.

If you are already caring for children at home and aren’t too overwhelmed, consider babysitting for another family. Done regularly, this kind of work can really add up.

3. Mystery Shopping.

This is a bit more involved, but signing up to do this a few times per month can easily get you $50 or more. You just need a Paypal account in order to receive the payments.

Read more about becoming a Mystery Shopper here.

4. Online Surveys.

Typically, the points received from taking these surveys take a long time to accumulate. But you can earn some fabulous rewards.

I once earned a $20 Amazon gift card; it took a while, but refusing to check on my points totals for several months made it seem much faster!

Read more about online surveys and the best companies to sign up with here.

There are many other simple, creatives ways to earn a little extra fun money without getting a “real job”, so i’d love to know…

How do you earn fun money?

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How I Made Money Redecorating My Home

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Guest post from Jennifer of The Intentional Mom

I love the change of seasons because it provides me with the opportunity to dress up my home in a whole new way as I accessorize with the colors and themes that each new season brings.

This past year, I found myself getting bored with the same accessories, but with a tight budget, there was just no wiggle room to allow for anything new, no matter what kind of deal I could find.

Determined to still make this happen, I decided to weed out decorations that I was tired of in hopes of selling them to earn the extra money that would allow me to turn around and buy some new and “new to me” things, too.

My plan worked like a charm!

I went to town weeding out things that I didn’t love, and if I hadn’t displayed it during the prior season, it went, too. At first it was hard, but as I got going, it was rather freeing to clear things out. I got rid of some cool wall sconces and a Pottery Barn wrought iron wall decoration in addition to candles, flowers, tablecloths, and pictures.

I sold some of these things in my garage sale, others I sold on Craigslist, but the bulk of what I sold was done on Facebook garage sale pages.

It took some time, but over a few months I had sold it all, leaving me with a little cash to play around with. Altogether, I had $174 to spend on new treasures!

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In looking for new decorations, I knew the kinds of items and colors that I was looking for. With this in mind, I just waited patiently until I found things on Craigslist, the Facebook garage sale sites, and in stores that I got on sale and combined with a coupon.

I scored some amazing deals. I got a huge amount of “bang for my buck” when I bought someone’s former bridesmaids bouquets of artificial green and pink hydrangeas, orchids, and some greenery along with a bunch of tulle. I paid just $20 for over 75 stems altogether plus the tulle! I used what I needed in three different arrangements and then turned around and sold the extras I had left.

Among my other treasures were some handmade rustic items like a dining room table decoration with jugs, a large FAITH sign, and a fun hanging picture frame for a grand total of $40. I bought a new picture for my bathroom and some other hip vases and things, but the most amazing purchase was two brand new chevron chairs from Kohl’s for $25 each on clearance with a sale and Kohl’s cash during the holiday season!

Over the course of about six weeks, I had everything I needed and wanted. With all of my selling and buying done for now, I still have about $32 left over to spend on some new things for this upcoming summer or fall.

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Had I never purged my home of the old things, I wouldn’t have had the resources to give my home a whole new look. The old saying, “out with the old and in with the new,” paid off for this frugal girl in a major way!

Jennifer is a busy, homeschooling mom of seven who enjoys keeping a home, living a frugal and active lifestyle, and loving the little and not so little people in my life. My mission is helping other moms find contentment in living intentionally every day over at her blog, The Intentional Mom

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