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How Buying Less Can Set You Free (Guest Post)

Guest Post by Danelle Ice from Home Ever After

We all want to have an inviting home, comfortable environment, and nice things for our family.  As moms, we’re always looking for products to make our lives easier, to make chores go smoothly, and to make our homes beautiful.  The desire for “things” is normal in moderation.  The problem is when buying “things” takes you over, cluttering up your home, controlling your actions, and wreaking havoc on your family budget.

The desire for material things is encouraged by advertisers to get you to buy their products.  Commercials make us think our lives aren’t whole until our kids have the newest bicycles or our husband has a top-of-the-line barbecue grill.  What advertisers WON’T tell you is that not only do you have the power NOT to buy things, but that buying less can set you FREE!

More Things = Less Money + Less Time.

Things are a huge responsibility, and take their toll in many areas of our lives.  First, it takes money to buy things.  Then, we have to find space to store things, batteries and electricity to power the things, time to learn how to use things and teach our family how to use things.  We have to spend time or money to fix things when they break.  We spend time to clean and maintain things.  We pay for a larger house or storage to have room for all of our extra things.

The first step to simplifying our lives is to stop buying unnecessary items immediately. Just saying no to bringing more possessions into your home will immediately give you more time, more money, and less clutter.

What if you want to let go of things but don’t know how to make the change? Here are 5 tips that can help you get started:

1. Realize that  most “needs” aren’t truly needs.

Most “needs” we feel to buy things aren’t real needs, they’re wants.  Food for dinner? Yes. 5 new cookbooks? Probably not.

Worse, they’re never ending.  The desire for stuff doesn’t end when you get that latest gadget.  The empty spot is quickly replaced by another item you don’t have.  Read about the difference between needs and wants here .

2. Stop coveting.

Almost everyone has a friend or neighbor who seems to have everything.  Don’t get caught up in the desire to have everything others have.  Acquiring things to keep up with someone else will not bring you a feeling of contentment with your life or gratitude for what you have; it will only breed feelings of guilt that you can’t afford (or choose not to buy) all those items.

3.  Be grateful.

Be thankful for all the wonderful things you have, and the comfortable lifestyle and loving environment you’re able to provide for your family.  When you feel gratitude for what you have already, it is difficult to feel bad for not having more.

4.  Be content.

We are full, whole, loving people, with or without things.  Material possessions can never make you a kinder, nicer, or a better friend, parent, or spouse.  Desiring and acquiring more things won’t change who you are–at least, not for the better.

5.  Declutter for charity.

Make a family project of decluttering your home to donate unneeded items to those less fortunate.  This is a sure way to put things into perspective and realize that “things” only have value when they fulfill a real need.  Donate items to Goodwill, to less fortunate friends, or to families from church that can use a little help.

Set yourself free of the responsibilities of being a “consumer” and realize that you have the power to stop buying things!  Buying less does a multitude for your mind and soul, including getting you a little closer towards having gratitude for what you already have, not focusing on what you don’t.

This guest post is by problogger Danelle Barbi Ice from Home Ever After, an online Home & How-To magazine specializing in homemaking, decluttering, frugal living, and more.  If you like this article, please subscribe to Home Ever After for free!

photo credit: dawnzy58

Super Savings Saturday

I’m running behind in getting Super Savings Saturday posted because we’re at the Blissdom Blogging Conference where we’ve had the chance to meet dozens upon dozens of incredible women and learn enormous amounts of valuable information. We’re also enjoying lots of chocolate, good food, laughter, late nights, and this amazing hotel we’re staying at (which we got for a great price by booking online at a discount!). To top it all off, we even had a chance to get to hang out with Dave Ramsey yesterday for a little while.

Without further ado, here’s what we bought at the grocery store this week:

Before coupons and sales, my total was $135, after coupons, I paid $65! (Some of the items we got free with coupons that came from a special package ConAgra sent to all Blissdom attendees.) Our refrigerator and freezer are now well-stocked again after a month of eating from the pantry! And we were also able to buy all the ingredients needed for the Freezer Cooking Day. Yay!

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

Making the Most of What You Have (Guest Post)

Guest Post by My Friend Kelly

January is over and the Eating From the Pantry Challenge has come to a close. While you may be ready to dive back into grocery shopping, couponing, and restocking, don’t let the momentum end here. The principles behind this challenge can be applied to a variety of other projects which can help cut costs, de-clutter your home, and streamline daily life. Sometimes this means using up excess stock and other times the focus is getting more regular use out of non-expendable items.

Here’s a few ways to do that:

Personal Hygiene Products

Whether or not you can find coupons and deals on the food your family eats, most everyone will be able to find a rebate or rewards deal on hygiene products at one of the drug stores or national chains around the country. Using what you learned during Eating from the Pantry Month, give yourself 30 days before buying any new personal hygiene products. In the meantime, clear out your bathroom cabinets and see what you still need and what you don’t.

Finish up half-used bottles of shampoo and conditioner and use the last bits of lotion from gift sets. Replace the razors with dull blades or broken handles and if you have liquid soap, refill pump bottles.  Toss broken combs or hair accessories and use up the last inch of mousse or gel before starting a new bottle. If someone in your family opposes a particular brand and you have unopened items consider putting together a care package. Check out this post for ideas on what to send and who to send it to.

Pull out fresh floss and mouthwash to improve your oral hygiene and health. If you haven’t swapped out your toothbrush in the past three months or have recently gotten over an illness open up a new one but don’t throw out the old just yet–a toothbrush can clean more than your molars!

Household Cleaners

Maintaining a clean house doesn’t have to take hours and hundreds of dollars in premium cleaning products. Use similar tactics to inventory what you have, see what you need, stretch what you use and find substitutes.  While you’re digging under the sinks use up the last little bit of general cleaner and wipe down the shelves. Try to identify what you use each product to clean and how often you use up a bottle.

Don’t just think about products but other supplies as well.  Re-purpose old towels from the kitchen or bath as cleaning rags, use old worn out toothbrushes to scrub small crevices, find an old pillowcase to clean ceiling fan blades, or lone socks to dust. If you find you have a pile of dusting rags you can reduce the amount of paper towels you buy.

Office supplies

How many different places in your house do you have a stash of pens? Notepads? Tape? Round everything up and sort it out (old shoe boxes come in handy here) and toss or donate what you don’t use.  Find out what you’ll need for everyday use and what school-aged children can take to class. Just like the pantry challenge, make do with what you have–blue pens can work just as well as black ones–and substitute where you can. Whether you write grocery lists on the back of a used envelope or reuse file folders these tactics can keep money in your pocket and clutter out of your home.

Centralize one place for commonly misplaced items like tape, scissors, and sharpies. Or is that just my house?

Crafts & Decorations

If you can be described as crafty, then you’re probably well aware of the dangers that entrap quilters, scrapbookers, knitters and painters alike. It’s easy to hoard supplies and fill drawers, bins and yes, even rooms with projects that we have no hope of finishing in ten lifetimes. Make the commitment to stop buying new supplies for one month and go “shopping” at home. Dig through your stock and try to remember what project you had in mind when you brought home these items.

Finish an old project or start a new one, substitute one component instead of buying new, and give away things you won’t use to someone who will. Consider a swap amongst friends or just a potluck night in when everyone can bring a dish and a project and work together.

As Spring rolls around it can be easy to get tired of our surroundings and want something new and fresh.  Check your attics, basements, and closets for decorative items that were put away or forgotten. Re-hang a picture or touch up the paint on a table. Move around some furniture, pull out the throw blankets, fill glass vases and use the good china.  Put a new picture in an old frame or clear everything off a wall and paint it fresh.  Look for things you already have that can be used in new and interesting ways.

There are also some things we can be getting more use out of, things that are not necessarily used up.

Entertainment

Do you have family games gathering dust? Puzzles, video games, books or movies that go unused? The same principles apply even if using an entertainment item will not expend it for future use. Pull out all your puzzles and look them over together. Maybe some are missing too many pieces, another too advanced for younger children, some too juvenile for older children. Keep what you’ll use, recycle what you won’t. Donate unused items to your school or church, ask friends if their children would enjoy something new.

Do your kids have piles of half used or broken crayons? Turn them into a craft project. Go through your books and weed out volumes you no long read, reference or enjoy. Do the same for family pictures by tossing prints that are fuzzy or faded, or pictures that have no personal meaning or value. Be careful about tossing older photos that may have some value to another family member. Check out this post for tips on preserving family memories.

Clothes

If you find yourself wearing the same outfits over and over again try the Empty Closet Challenge.  Pull everything out and box up things that don’t fit or flatter your figure.  Work with what you have and fill in pieces that will create attractive looks that fit your lifestyle.  At the end of the month pull out the boxes of discarded clothes and sell them by consignment or eBay, return new items to the store, donate to a charity or give to a friend. Don’t forget to look over belts, scarves, jackets, shoes, and jewelry too. Rethinking a wardrobe can be challenge–check out this site for ideas on using thrift store finds to create stunning new looks for under $20!

I know it seems overwhelming when you think of all the places to apply the principles you learned during Eating from the Pantry Month. But just like January, take one thing at a time, make adjustments as you go, and share what you’ve learned. By 2011, you might just have a cleaner, uncluttered home, more money in the bank and new routines. Then your only challenge will be finding a New Year’s Resolution you haven’t already accomplished!

Kelly is a 25 year old single homeowner living in Northern California. Despite a high cost of living and tough job market, Kelly has created a cozy home without acquiring debt. Now just $3,000 away from eliminating student loans (the last of consumer debt), Kelly looks forward her first trip abroad, thrift store decorating, and teaching financial awareness. Kelly blogs at My Friend Kelly.

Photo credit: Fauxto_credit; Kevin McShane; Patrick Q

Buying a Car with Cash: How We Did It (Guest Post)

Guest Post by Toni from The Happy Housewife

A little over two years ago we called the Dave Ramsey Show and screamed, “We’re DEBT FREE!” at the top of our lungs. It was a life changing event and a moment I will never forget. Since then, we’ve committed to live debt-free. Doing so has meant we’ve had to change our thinking about many things.

For instance, I always thought it was acceptable to have one car payment in order to have a safe and reliable vehicle. When we decided not to borrow money anymore we had to figure out a way to drive vehicles without a payment. We had purchased cars with cash in the past, but typically they were beaters that my husband drove to and from work. We wanted our next car purchase to be a late model vehicle that we could drive for at least ten years.

Is it possible to save up and pay cash for a quality vehicle in this day and age? Well, here’s how our family did it:

1) We Paid Ourselves, Instead of the Bank

When we wrote up our first debt-free budget, we included a “car payment” category. But instead of paying the bank, we paid ourselves.

We did some calculations and decided we would need to replace one of our vehicles in two to three years. Based on the vehicle we would need and the time we had, we decided to put $300 a month towards our car payment. Each month that money grew in a high interest money market account while we continued to drive around in our paid-for vehicles.

Considering the average American car payment is almost $400 a month, we were still saving money by not having a loan on our vehicle.  We figured that after three years, we would have saved over $11,000 and felt we could replace one of our vehicles with that amount if we added in the amount from the sale of our current vehicle.

2) We Got Creative and Flexible When Things Don’t Go According to the Plan

Our plan seemed great, but then I ended up getting pregnant with our seventh child and our eight-passenger suburban wasn’t going to work anymore. Suddenly, there was much less time to save and more of a car to purchase.

We had about $8000 in our car fund at the time and realized we needed about $15,000 for a van. So we decided that for a short period of time we would stop funding other savings accounts and aggressively work towards saving for a van.

We were planning on selling one of our vehicles anyway, so we estimated the selling price, subtracted that amount and the $8,000 from the $15,000 and realized we needed to save about $5,000 in eight months. That amount came to about $625 a month.

While that seems like a lot of money, it was really only $325 a month because we were already saving $300 a month in our car fund. We stopped saving in other areas in order to meet our vehicle savings goal.

3) We Did Extensive Research Before Buying

During the time we were saving for a vehicle, I spent about fifteen minutes a week checking the Auto Trader, Craig’s List, Ebay, classifieds, and car dealerships websites looking for vans. I checked safety records, resale value, and owner reviews. I wanted to know what was available and the average prices.

After several months of research, I’d learned that white vans were the cheapest, sliding side doors were hard to come by, and Fords were usually less expensive than Chevys.

When we reached our savings goal, I actively began searching websites for a van that met our criteria. After four weeks of searching, I found a van that had all of our needs and preferences and it was still under warranty.

We purchased our van almost one year ago. While it was hard to part with so much money at the dealership, I don’t ever stress about not being able to make a car payment. Paid-for vehicles are fun to drive!

Toni is an author, homeschooling mother of seven children, and military spouse. Her blog, The Happy Housewife, inspires and educates on frugality, budgeting and how to thrive on one income in a two-income world.

Photo Credit: Emilio Labrador

Lessons I’ve Learned from The Pantry Challenge (Guest Post)

Guest Post by Jennifer from Saving and Giving

Our family decided to take The Pantry Challenge in January and this has been quite an experience for us!  Not only have we cleared out some of the older items that were lurking in our pantry, but we’ve learned many unexpected non-cooking lessons along the way:

1) We’ve slashed our grocery budget by another 30%.

Before I started my own frugal shopping adventure, our weekly grocery spending was hovering around $100 per week.  That was for a family of three, and our daughter was under three at the time.  Once I learned the ropes and began hunting bargains, I got our weekly grocery spending down to about $70 per week.  I was even creating a nice little stockpile as I did our weekly shopping.

I used to wonder how Crystal was able to feed her family (which is slightly larger yet similar in age to mine) for $40 per week. I couldn’t seem to get out of my $70 rut!  This month, I had my ah-hah!  moment.

It all came down to the menu plan.  Since joining the frugal shopping ranks, I have been menu planning using what we had on-hand as a starting point.  This month has shown me that, while that’s a good start, I was making one fatal mistake.  I was using my pantry as a starting point AND purchasing several additional ingredients for each meal.

If I had a can of diced tomatoes, I would decide to make chili.  So I would buy ground beef, tomato sauce, kidney beans, and chili beans.  I saved $0.99 by not having to buy the diced tomatoes, but I was spending another $6 to $8 on the other ingredients.  Somehow that just wasn’t saving me money!

I wholeheartedly jumped into the Pantry Challenge.  I wanted to give it my all!  So I planned meals that truly used what was in the pantry.  If I found a can of diced tomatoes, I paired it with several other ingredients I had on-hand to create a meal.  I had to buy a few extra ingredients to round out the month, but not many.

Since we have truly been eating from our pantry, I have been able to use a smaller amount of grocery money (less than $50 each week) to purchase a few fresh produce/dairy items and whatever was on sale at rock-bottom prices.  I’ve found myself adding things to the back of the pantry for use when the challenge is complete.  Once the challenge month is over, I will menu plan from the new items I’ve added to the pantry.  Then I can continue the cycle of cooking with what we have and purchasing only the very best sale items each week.

I am so thankful that the Pantry Challenge has helped me break the $70 per week grocery cycle.  This challenge has been exactly what I needed to kick-start a new way of menu planning!

2) I’ve learned that my meals don’t need to be extravagant.

As I searched my pantry, I found several cans of Progresso Tomato Basil soup.  At first I thought they might be good for lunches, but then I realized that my husband loves grilled cheese with tomato soup.  That’s not even close to what I usually make for dinner since our dinners are usually the meat-potato-vegetable variety.

But in the spirit of the Pantry Challenge, I served grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner one night.  It didn’t seem like much of a dinner to me, but it was a hit!  Preparation was quick, our meal was enjoyable, and clean-up was a breeze.  It was a very healthy meal, and we were all quite satisfied.

I realized that maybe I’ve been making things too hard–and too expensive at the same time!

3) The Pantry Challenge has encouraged me to stop making excuses.

Though I always menu plan, I don’t usually stick to my plan.  I might be tired, feel lazy, or just not want to make my planned meal.  I always find some reason to either eat out or make something other than what’s on my plan.  Normally, I skip a planned meal or two and then forget that I’d bought the ingredients to make those meals.  My habits are what lead to so many orphan ingredients being in my pantry!  (Though I must admit that the dry black beans I found turned into some fabulous Crock Pot Black Bean Soup during the Pantry Challenge!)

This month, I’ve stuck to my meal plan.  I have had to make a couple of changes due to being treated to a meal out and forgetting to defrost some meat.  But I’ve adjusted the plan and am really and truly using up the ingredients this time!

4) I’ve been reminded how very blessed we are.

I knew that I had a reasonable amount of food on-hand.  If we had a snowstorm or other issue that kept us from the grocery store for a week or two, I knew that we would be just fine.  However, I had no idea exactly how much we had.

Cleaning out my pantry, freezer, and cupboard area as part of the Pantry Challenge was an eye-opening experience.  I was saddened by what I had to throw away, knowing there are many people in our area who could have used that food.  I was surprised at how little meat I had to buy for this month’s plan.  I was thrilled to know that, with very few additions from the grocery store, we would be able to eat for a whole month without our cupboards being bare.

God has blessed us with more than we need.  In fact, I’ve even taken some bags to the food pantry collection area at our church over the past two weeks. In reality, this challenge hasn’t been a challenge to stretch what we have.  It’s been a challenge to be better stewards of what we have, and to share more with people who aren’t as fortunate.

Jennifer Bruce is wife to Jason and mom to five-year-old Emma.  She blogs at Saving and Giving where she encourages people to save money and be generous.  Jennifer hosts a weekly meme called A Time to Give where she invites others to share simple (and often free!) ways to give.  When Jennifer is not blogging, she can be found playing Candy Land with Emma, spending time with Jason, reading, or making stationery and invitations for her clients.

photo credit: Br3nda; jkelber

Freezer Cooking Day: You mean I was actually supposed to cook something?!

I have a big confession to make: I sort of flaked on you on the whole Freezer Cooking thing.

I have a whole lot of excuse cards I could whip out: my 8-month-old is cutting 4 teeth (bless his heart!); I’ve been battling a infection in my mouth which got really bad this weekend and was almost debilitating (I’m on the mend now–thanks to a great doctor!–but ouch!); and this whole switching servers and changing from Typepad to WordPress has been a bear (Gratefully, I have some amazing tech people working me on it–like FiveJs!–or my site would be permanently broken and maimed!).

I had visions of all these delicious meals I was going to make, wonderful pictures I was going to take, and well-crafted blog posts I was going to write, but it just didn’t happen.

Instead, you’ll just have to suffice for no picture and a small list of what I was able to get done over the past three days:

3 meal’s worth of Barbecued Beef

5 Chicken and Dressing casseroles (This is a new recipe and I reworked the recipe so majorly because the original wasn’t turning out as I’d hoped so I’m not even sure how to replicate. I wasn’t too impressed with the final result, but my husband LOVED it. I was happy about that considering he has to eat it four more times!)

2 bags of cooked chopped chicken (Having the meat already cooked and chopped makes preparing Homemade Pizza a complete snap. I can have it in the oven in 15 minutes or less!)

4 meal’s worth of Marinated Chicken

So all totaled, we have enough for 14 dinners–which is actually not too bad considering I only cooked for about 2 1/2 hours total! And I have the ingredients on hand to make about 8 other main dishes for this month (I was supposed to make some Cheeseburger Meatloaves and homemade Macaroni and Cheese but I never got around to it!), so I think that’ll probably last us the whole month through!

And next month around, I hope to do a much better job of cooking and blogging about it.

Have you entered the Freezer Cooking Day giveaways yet? If not, they end tonight and you’ll definitely want to put your name in the hat to win one of three great items to help you in the kitchen! Head over to LifeasMOM to enter.

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Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blog post. I’d love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so we can get ideas for our next Freezer Cooking Day! And I’m guessing many others would be inspired as well.