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Guest Post: The Little Things Make a Big Difference

Guest Post by Beth from Recipes and Deals

Do you ever sit down to pay bills and think, “Where did the money go?”

That used to be me every month. I was nervous to have anything automatically withdrawn from our checking account because I didn’t want to write a check and not have money to pay a bill, yet I felt like all I did was pay bills!

We had recently made the transition from two salaries to one and we found it to be a big challenge. Plus, we had two children 20 months apart. Both were in diapers for awhile and both have food allergies which necessitate the purchase of more expensive grocery items.

After several attempts at setting budget and falling behind we finally took advantage of our church’s class offer of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. We began a hard, long, and ongoing conversation about where our money was going and we’ve learned a number of things along the way. Here are just a few of the things which have made a big change in our finances:

1) Always use cash when possible. Making the change to pay with cash
as opposed to using a debit or credit card has made such a huge
difference for us. We use the Envelope System outlined here. When the
envelope is empty, it’s empty.

2) Look for extra ways to make money. I am a certified swimming instructor and now that our boys are older, I’ve been able to slowly begin teaching again part-time in the Summer. The extra money goes to our emergency fund or other extra expenses we have. 

I sell our children’s clothing to a local consignment store and have made a few hundred dollars doing so. In addition, we have a garage sale once a year. Throughout the year, as we outgrow things or find we no longer need them, I price them and add them to our garage sale boxes in the basement. In the past 3 years, I’ve made over a thousand dollars selling old furniture, baby items, and clothes at our yearly garage sale.

3) Find an accountability partner. This is vital! My sister-in-law and I are of the same mindset. With children 4 months apart in age, we are in the same life stage, and have the same desires to be good stewards of our money and bodies. We talk several times a week, exchange recipes, coupons, and tips. Most importantly, we celebrate each other’s successes and encourage each other in the frustrating times.

Since October, we have been aggressively paying down school debt and have been committed to paying cash for all expenses. As of April 1, we will have approximately $7,000 less debt than we had in October! We have truly seen how often it’s the little things which make a big difference in the long run!

Beth is a stay-at-home mom and lives in a small town in the Midwest. You can see her weekly menus, recipes, and deals at her blog.

Worth Reading: Bread stores and bath towels

::Meredith's post here on buying bread from bread/bakery outlets was very helpful. I've done this myself many a time and found the prices to be almost unparalleled. Now if I could just find a bread outlet which was close to my usual shopping route so I could do this again!

::Marie walks you through a helpful tutorial here on how to make a hooded bath towel. If you're a little bit savvy with a sewing machine and are able to find a great deal on towels, this could make for a very inexpensive gift. We've been given one of these for each of our children and I personally just love them!

Super Savings Saturday: The final day of our Eating From the Pantry Challenge

It was our final day of our official Eating From The Pantry Challenge and here's what we ate today:

Breakfast: Grape-Nuts and milk (We made some extra powdered milk up last night and stuck in in the refrigerator overnight. I couldn't really even tell the difference on cereal this morning!)

Lunch: Baked potatoes with butter and cheese

Snacks: Tortilla chips, organic toaster pastries, no bake cookies

Dinner: Chicken noodle soup, tuna sandwiches and fried egg sandwiches, carrot sticks

(Um and yep, nevermind the fact that we're sorely lacking in the fruit and veggie eating department today! I had plans to incorporate the last of what we had on hand, but time and energy slipped away from me.)

Well, I made it–15 days without stepping foot into a grocery store! I do believe that's almost a record for me and it was a nice change of pace. I've often skipped a week of grocery shopping, but usually that was when we were very well stocked. It's not very often that we go this long and let things get this bare. However, we had plenty to eat every day and we certainly didn't go hungry!

We didn't have as much of a variety in our meals, we didn't eat as much protein as we usually do, we ate more of fewer things, and we certainly didn't eat as healthfully as we usually do, but we made it through the Eating From The Pantry Challenge just fine.

In fact, I found it rather invigorating to concoct new recipes, ideas, and meal creations with what we had on hand. And it was also nice to take a complete break from using coupons or snagging deals. I'm anxious to jump back in now!

The best news is that we didn't touch any of the After-The-Baby Stash either, so we're plenty stocked for the coming months! We also used up a number of odds and ends of foods which would be going bad soon, too.

All in all, it was a great challenge and I'm so glad we did it! I'm especially glad that so many of you participated, too! That made it much more enjoyable. Maybe we'll have to do it again sometime soon, eh?

We took the $120 we'd usually allot to groceries for the past two weeks and split it–$60 is going into savings and $60 is staying in our grocery envelope to give me a little more wiggle room for buying items to replace our rather-depleted stock.

So it looks like not only was this challenge a great exercise in creativity and ingenuity, but we were able to save a nice little amount of extra cash while still having plenty left over to pay for groceries for next week. I'm hopeful that after a good shopping trip or two and our cupboards, refrigerator, and pantry will be well-stocked again. We'll see!

Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save in other ways? If so, be
sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below.

Note: Please
remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got
and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy
for everyone to navigate quickly through
the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday
post.

Guest Post: How I Dress My Children for Free

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photo by loop oh

Guest Post by Melissa from Lake Michigan Treasures

When my son was little, I went to garage sales to buy all of his clothes. I did find some adorable clothes, but I also found many that were out of style, stained, and missing buttons. As he got older, it became harder to find clothes that looked good, and I wanted some good outfits for church, pictures, and other special events.

I began selling on eBay when he was about a year old in an attempt to make enough money so I could stay home with him. About 6 months later, I discovered Gymboree and found I loved their clothes!

However, I did not love their prices. Yet, when I went to the back of the store, I found some clothing that was discounted as much as 80%. Pants that would normally cost $28.00 were marked down to $6.99.  As I frequented Gymboree more, I learned ways to save even more which I wanted to share with you all:

::Buy only clearance items and always use coupons. (Many magazines such as Plum and Parenting Magazine offer 20% off coupons. I subscribe to the Gymbohaven Newsletter to learn what magazines are currently offering coupons.)

::Buy during Gymbucks earning time, but only buy items that are on clearance. If you purchase $50 worth of clothing during Gymbucks earning, they will give you a voucher for $25 off your $50 order during Gymbucks redemption. If you purchase $100, you will receive a voucher for $50 off your next $100 order. 

Gymboree offers Gymbucks about six times a year. Typically Gymbucks earning periods run about 6 weeks long and redemption periods run about 10-14 days. During the Gymbucks earning period, it is not unusual for Gymboree to have sales where they drop the price of shirts to $3.99, pants to $6.99, dresses to $6.99 to $9.99, and shoes to $4.99. If it is at the end of a season, I always buy my son clothes for next year in a size up from what he is currently wearing.

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::Use eBay to make money back on your kids used Gymboree clothes. Even though it is possible to dress my kids (now I have a newborn daughter to dress in their adorable clothes too), for a fraction of the cost of retail at Gymboree, it is still not that frugal until eBay is added in.

For the last few years, once my child has outgrown his Gymboree clothes, I sell them on eBay, usually for the same price I bought them for or sometimes more than I paid! For instance, when my son was two, I fell in love with a pair of black corduroy overalls with a train on the front. I bought those and a matching turtleneck and socks (both with the train image on them) and spent approximately $22 on this outfit, and he wore it for his pictures, for Christmas, and to church.

After he had outgrown it, I sold it on eBay for $24.95! Basically, he wore this adorable outfit for an entire Winter and then I got all of my money back. I dressed him for free!

A few tips for selling your children's clothing on eBay:

::When buying at Gymboree, make sure to avoid plain items. For example, I bought my son a blue striped tee shirt and khaki shorts. Even though it is cute, because it is plain, I am having a hard time selling it on eBay.

::If possible, try to buy a set of clothing. Each line of clothing that Gymboree makes has a specific theme. The overall outfit I mentioned earlier was part of a line called “All Aboard.” Because I bought all the pieces with the train on them, they were more valuable for resale on eBay.

If you can find them, try to buy the matching socks or hair accessories (or for a baby, the bib), but don’t pay more than the discounted price for them because it is not worth it to pay full price for these items. I would rather go without the accessory than to pay full or nearly full price for them.

::Be aware that eBay shoppers follow the same seasons as retail stores. So, for instance, in February and March, when it is still cold, shoppers on eBay are snatching up Spring and Summer clothes.

If you try to sell your used Summer items in May or June when kids will actually use them, you won’t make much money because most parents already have their kids’ Summer wardrobe. By July and August, they are moving on to buying Fall and Winter clothes.

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::If you have several kids, consider opening an eBay store. Part of my success comes from the fact that I have an eBay store and can just leave my son’s clothes in my store until they sell at the price I want. However, if you do open a store, there is a $15.95 a month fee, so I would only recommend this for some one who has three or more children with clothing to sell.

::If you do not want to open a store, sell your clothing at auction. Some people believe that if you start your auction at $0.99, you will get more bidders and will sell your items at a higher price. I usually do not find this to be true.

Instead, if you want to make sure you recoup the majority of your purchase price, I would recommend starting with a price of at least 50% of what you paid. So, if you bought a dress for $9.99, I would start the auction for at least $4.99 and offer a "Buy It Now" option of say, $12.99 (assuming the dress is in very good condition). 

If you want to be even safer, eBay allows you to put an item up for auction with only a "Buy It Now" option. You could put that same dress up for auction with only a "Buy It Now" price of $12.99, so you know for sure, if it sells, you will get your money back. Or, you could auction it with a "Buy It Now" price of $12.99 and also allow "Best Offers". (Allowing "Best Offers" means that potential buyers can e-mail you with the price they are willing to pay, and you can accept or reject their offer.)

::Make sure your auction description is precise.
I bought a four-piece set of Janie and Jack clothing (the upscale sister store of Gymboree owned by Gymboree) for my son off of eBay two years ago for approximately $18.00. I got it this inexpensive because there was a small hole in the knee of the pants.

I stitched up the hole, and my son wore this outfit for two Winters. I just sold it a few weeks ago for $12.99 even though I honestly stated in my auction that it had the mended hole in the knee and two small stains on the shirt (compliments of my son). Because I gave an honest description of the item, the buyer left me positive feedback and was pleased with the transaction and so was I. My son wore an outfit for two years and it only depreciated $5, despite the addition of stains.

Gymboree is not your only source for buying Gymboree clothing. I have had good success buying gently used Gymboree clothes from second hand childrens' clothing stores and then selling them on eBay after my son outgrows them. 

If you remember the buying cycle, eBay can also be a good place to pick up used Gymboree clothes, as well. I have purchased several of my son’s Summer outfits in May or June for a very reasonable price because the seller didn’t sell within the correct eBay selling season and there are just not that many buyers for Summer items sold in June.

I hope that these tips and ideas have encouraged you that it is possible to dress your child in Gymboree clothing without breaking the bank. And if you do it right, you can dress your child for free!

Melissa has owned and operated an eBay store, Lake Michigan Treasures, for the last four years. She lives with her husband and two children in the Midwest and is constantly trying to find ways to save money without skimping on quality.

Photos from Gymboree.com unless otherwise stated.

Eating From The Pantry Challenge: Day 4

It's been 14 days since I've stepped foot into a grocery store and four days that we've officially been eating from the pantry. I have to say, I'm rather enjoying this challenge and was excited with the meals I came up with today.

The funny thing is, I keep feeling like we have "nothing left in the cupboards and refrigerator" and while they are barer than usual, we keep finding plenty to eat. It just makes me realize how truly blessed we are in the abundance we have. And this challenge has reminded me of this anew.

Here's what we ate:

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Breakfast: Leftover biscuits (from dinner last night) with butter and honey, apple slices, and scrambled eggs with cheese

Lunch: Tuna salad sandwiches on hamburger buns with carrot sticks

Snack: No bake cookies

Dinner: Steak, baked potatoes, green bean casserole, ice cream

If you're eating from your pantry this week, I'd love to hear what was on your menu today!

Eating From The Pantry Challenge: Day 3

It's been 13 days since I've been to the grocery store and today is Day 3 of our official Eating From The Pantry Challenge.

We used up the last of the flour and milk (which was expiring today) in the pancakes this morning. So now it's time to really get creative!

Here's what we ate today:

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Brunch
(We were out late last night at a birthday party so we got around late this morning and had brunch instead of breakfast and lunch!): Whole-wheat pancakes, grapefruit, chocolate milk

By the way, here's my favorite recipe for pancakes:

Whole-Wheat Pancakes
3 cups whole-wheat flour (or a combination of whole-wheat/white)
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 beaten eggs
3 cups milk (you can use buttermilk or sour milk)
6 Tablespoons oil

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. Combine wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Stir together just until moistened. Add additional milk to thin batter if necessary.

Cook on a hot, lightly greased griddle or heavy skillet. Makes approximately 20 standard sized pancakes.

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We were in a baking mood this afternoon so we got creative and found a few recipes to make which didn't include flour and milk. We made these no bake cookies (using powdered milk) and these peanut butter cookies. These bars also looked really good, but I ran out of time and energy before I had a chance to make them.

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Snack: apple slices, cookies

Dinner: Veggie and rice soup (I remade the leftover stir fry from last night into soup adding in some broth and seasonings and extra veggies.), biscuits (made with Bisquick and powdered milk since we're out of flour and milk)

If you're eating from your pantry this week, I'd love to hear what was on your menu today!