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How Living Abroad Taught Me to Simplify Life

Guest post by Tsh at Simple Mom.

Our family recently lived overseas for nearly four years. We’ve been back for one year as of this month, and in setting up a new home stateside, I’m reminded of several practical things I learned during our time living abroad:

1. You really don’t need that many clothes.

We never had closets when we lived in the Middle East, and many homes outside North America don’t have built-in closets, either. Wardrobes and armoires seriously — and conveniently — limit your clothing allotment. I was fine with one sweater, two pair of jeans, one pair of shorts, a few short and long-sleeved shirts, and about five skirts. My husband had even less than me.

My kids were fine with about a week’s worth of clothing. We stored their off-season clothing or the next size up in the top shelves of their wardrobes.

I was surprised as anybody that we were perfectly content with just these items, and I need to remind myself daily, now that we’re back in the States, that I really do tend to wear the same ten items, regardless of my myriad options.

2. Simple, healthy, in-season food is best. So is walking.

Farm-fresh food was in abundance in our host country, and we enjoyed a farmer’s market right in our neighborhood every Wednesday and Sunday. It took time, but eventually I learned a basic menu planning system for our family — simple meals using in-season ingredients, rotating every two weeks.

Eating the same meal twice in one month is no big deal. I was over-complicating my cooking process by thinking I needed to whip up elaborate meals all the time. In reality, my family is fine with semi-monthly pasta primavera. Simple recipes are easy to repeat.

Plus, we walked everywhere. Our family of four (plus one on the way) didn’t have a car until our last few months abroad when we borrowed one. Even then, gas prices at $12 a gallon meant we still rarely drove. Walking most everywhere helped us live frugally and more healthy.

3. Save your money for what really matters to you.

Living cross-culturally meant we simply weren’t as tempted by little everyday “gazingus pins” — lattes, magazines in English, shoe sales, and high-quality ice cream were so unbelievably expensive that they weren’t even an option, save a few times per year.

This made it easier to save for more meaningful experiences. To celebrate our becoming debt-free and saving up our fully-funded emergency fund, we went to Paris for a week. It was incredibly expensive, but because we paid 100 percent cash, we could merely laugh in wonder at the $100 dinner bill instead of panic.

I admit — it’s been challenging to apply these lessons learned stateside. American culture doesn’t make simple living easy. But it’s still worth it. When you don’t allow your belongings to own you, and when you know your family’s core values, you’re free to make small, daily choices that add up to a lot.

Tsh Oxenreider recovers from wanderlust by drinking black coffee, parenting three little blessings, and writing about simple living at Simple Mom. Her book, Organized Simplicity (F+W Media, 2010), shares her story of packing up her home in 15 boxes and moving it 6,000 miles away.

photo credit

Orange Cream Smoothie Recipe

I promised I’d let you know how my freezing oranges experiment went. Well, I’m happy to report that it was a success!

I used them to make this Orange Cream Smoothie recipe last week and it was a hit. The children all drank it down and loved it and my sister and brother, who were over at our house, also said it was delicious.

Now, I do have the blessing of owning a Vita-Mix. I can’t say for sure how well the frozen oranges would grind up in a regular blender. If you try this recipe in a regular blender, let us know how it turns out!

More Than Double Your Budget with Daily Deal Sites

Guest post by Stephanie at Daily Deals by Brad and Stephanie.

I was skeptical of daily deal sites at first, but I decided to check them out since we’re always looking for ways to save money. In the first three months of using Groupon, I saved $150, with little effort. Now, I’m totally sold out on daily deal sites!

Maximize Your Budget

  • Only purchase deals for something you will use and with money you have in your budget already. For example, we allocate a certain amount each month for dining out. If we only use daily deal vouchers, then we have effectively doubled our dining out budget for that month.
  • If you want to purchase a daily deal voucher for a store or restaurant you’ve never been to, check online reviews (like Urbanspoon and Yelp) first. You don’t want to spend your hard-earned and painstakingly budgeted money on a place that’s sub-par.
  • Consider buying vouchers as gifts. I purchased half of my Christmas gifts from daily deal vouchers. That’s a savings of at least 50%! Plus, sometimes the daily deals give me gift ideas I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.
  • Subscribe to the daily deal sites for other cities that you visit often for work, or a city you are planning a vacation for. Not only will you double your budget, but you will get ideas for new places to visit in an unfamiliar locale.
  • Subscribe to multiple daily deal sites. Often, I have seen the same store or website offering a daily deal voucher on different sites. Usually, one has a better deal. See a list of recommended Daily Deal Sites here.

More Ways To Save

  • Refer your friends. Almost all daily deal sites have a referral program where, for each referral you give, you earn credit at that daily deal site. Some sites offer $10, $12 and even $25 in referral cash.
  • Shop through cashback sites, like Rakuten (formerly Ebates) and ShopAtHome when using online vouchers. Shopping at these sites mean you earn additional cash back on your online purchases. Before using your daily deal voucher, always check these sites first to see if you can earn money on your purchases.
  • Look for coupon codes to stack with your voucher. Some vouchers can be used in conjunction with coupon codes. If that’s the case, check coupon code sites like RetailMeNot for online vouchers or scour your mailers and Sunday papers for coupons to use with local vouchers.

Be Cautious

  • Check prices before you buy. Always check out the website to see what the prices are before you buy. A $20 voucher to a perfume store which you got for $2 is probably not going to be a good deal if the perfume store only sells perfumes which are $100 and up.
  • Find out if shipping is included. If it’s not, check if the daily deal voucher can be used towards shipping. If shipping is not included, you’ll need to factor that into your budget before determining whether purchasing the voucher is a good deal.
  • Can you buy multiple daily deal vouchers? Sometimes buying more than one will further your savings (as long as you’re still staying within your budget guidelines). However, many vouchers only allow you to use one per purchase.
  • Read the fineprint! Most of the daily deal sites have a very clearly marked section for “Fine Print”. Be sure to read it. And remember, never buy something because you feel pressured by the timer. If they do the deal once, they’ll likely do it again at some point.

Do you have any more tips for daily deal sites? Share in the comments below.

Stephanie and her pastor hubby Brad regularly compile the best daily deals from sites like Groupon.com and share daily deal tips at Daily Deals by Brad and Stephanie. They love using daily deal sites to buy gifts, stretch their budget and try new places!

photo credit

Making Extracurricular Activities Extra Affordable

Guest Post by Sarah at Read Cook Save

Your eight-year old is excited about playing soccer this spring, your six-year old says she wants to take violin lessons and your four-year old has her heart set on ballet. In addition to paying for the classes, you’ll need shin guards and a uniform, ballet shoes and a violin. How are you going to afford it all?

The trick, as always, is planning ahead. Way ahead, if possible. Here are a few tips for making extracurricular lessons both fun and affordable:

The Lessons

  • Know your options. Dance academies and martial arts dojos often require lengthy (and costly) commitments. If your child is new to the activity or if you prefer a more low-key environment, check out community education programs, your parks and recreation department and local YWCA/YMCA. Some churches also sponsor youth programs. Start asking around your community — you may be surprised at what’s available.
  • Ask about trial lessons. Your child may be able to take a trial class for a pro-rated fee (or possibly free). This gives you and your child a chance to make sure the class is a good fit all the way around before committing to an entire class.
  • Understand registration fees. Some programs require a registration fee in addition to class fees. Find out if there is one, if it is for the family or the individual and how often (annually, seasonally, etc.) it is required. Ask if there are circumstances in which it can be waived and see if you qualify.
  • Sign up early. Many programs offer a discount of 10-30% if you register several weeks in advance. Of course, this is more time for something unexpected to come up on your end, so be sure you understand the cancellation/refund policy.

The Equipment

  • Ask when you sign up. Make sure you understand exactly what kind of supplies, equipment or clothing are required and what, if anything, is covered by the cost of the class. Ask where you can buy or rent what you need at a reasonable price. Ask if there are stores in your area that give students in this program a discount.
  • Put the word out. Let your friends know what you’re looking for; if someone has it in her attic or garage she may be willing to lend it or give it to you.
  • Consignment shops. Call the children’s consignment shops in your area and ask if they carry the kind of equipment/clothing you’re looking for.
  • Yard sales and thrift stores (of course!). With some lead time, these can be good places to browse for outgrown leotards and sports equipment. You’re less likely to find a second-hand flute or a pair of size two tap shoes — but you never know!
  • Craigslist and Freecycle. Better if you’re looking for specific brands, sizes or styles.
  • Retail stores. By planning ahead, you can still find bargains. Ask when their sales are, if they give discounts to students in your program, and find and use coupons.

Sarah Barbour blogs about her adventures in new-found thriftiness at Read Cook Save.

photo by Summers

Q&A Tuesday: Less-expensive avenues for creating a will?

My husband and I want to have a will but it seems attorneys are charging a lot of money for this service. Can you suggest any other avenues to create a will? I know there are online tools like legal zoom but it seems so confusing. -Kristen

If you have been following the recent news over federal tax policy at all, you will know that one of the most hotly-debated proposals was the reviving of the estate tax (which was non-existent in 2010). This debate underscores the importance of having proper estate planning to ensure that one’s assets be distributed according to their wishes at death.

One of the most critical aspects of estate planning is having a properly executed will. Whether you have a sizable estate built after years of hard work or are just getting started and want to make sure your young children are cared for, you need a will.

Now bear in mind that a will will not save you in the event the constantly-changing death tax comes back, but it will ensure that you, and not the State, dictate what happens to those you love and care about.

As you would expect, I recommend that you visit with an attorney in your state about your individual needs and desires. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and each state has their own requirements for creating a will.

For instance, some states allow you to write out a will by hand and have it notarized, others do not. Some require you need to have a two witnesses and a self-attestation clause, again others do not. This is why it is imperative that you seek professional advice from someone knowledgeable for your state’s laws on Wills and Estates.

One of the main reasons my wife and I seek to encourage people to get out of debt and get their financial lives in order is so that they can get in the position to personally grow, succeed, give and provide a solid foundation for generations to come. A will or proper estate plan is a cornerstone of that foundation.

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.

The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting, or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.

Save Money By Buying a Vehicle at a GSA Auction

GSA auction van

Guest post by Amy from Raising Arrows

With the birth of our son in 2009, we noticed our little minivan was quickly becoming too crowded for comfort. Our five-foot tall 11-year-old was squished between two car seats and cargo space was virtually nonexistent.

As we searched for a larger vehicle, it became apparent 12- and 15-passenger vans cost a pretty penny — which we didn’t have. With our determination to stay out of debt, we put the idea of up-sizing our vehicle on the back burner and continued to squeeze children into our minivan.

Then, in August of 2009, a friend of ours who owns a small used car lot, informed us of a GSA auction in Omaha, Nebraska with several 15-passenger vans available.

GSA stands for General Services Administration, which is a specific entity of the US Government that handles the acquisitions for other agencies within the federal government. When you purchase GSA vehicles, you are purchasing vehicles that were owned by the federal government and used in specific government agencies. These auctions, where used government vehicles are sold off, are always open to the public. Because government vehicles are regularly maintained, they tend to be in first-rate condition, which relieves a lot of the stress of buying a used vehicle.

GSA auctions are hosted by various car auction companies, such as Manheim. Not every state has GSA auctions, but the savings you encounter buying vehicles this way is well worth the trip out of state.

You can find an auction near you here. Once on the site, you will be able to see all the vehicles up for auction.

Two ways to bid on GSA vehicles

The first is to go in person to the auction. Many auction sites require the bidder to put money down in order to obtain a bidder number. This is refundable if you don’t buy anything. You will be able to look over the vehicle, turn over the engine and put it in gear, but not test drive it.

The second way to buy is online; however this requires you to have a dealer’s license or know someone who does. We went this route through our friends who own a used car lot as well as the online auction bidding business named CarCo.

When bidding online, the auto auction company provides pictures and specifications on the vehicle, as well as any problems or repairs that have been made. The dealer then bids remotely during the live auction. CarCo charges a fee to bid on your behalf, but once again, the deals you can find at these auctions make the fee well worth it.

If you win the auction, there will be a buyer’s fee and a time limit as to when you must pick up the vehicle with cash in hand. The auto auction company will provide you a with a certificate to obtain a title.

GSA auction van 2

The GSA 15-passenger van we purchased was a maroon 2002 Chevy with 46,000 miles on it. It was in tip-top condition, and only cost us $8900 total, fees included. Purchasing through a GSA auction proved to be the answer to our prayers!

Amy is the homeschooling mother of six living children and a precious daughter named Emily being held in the Lord’s arms. She strives to offer a candid and honest look at homeschooling and daily life in a larger-than-average family. You can read more of her struggles and successes in bringing blunt-edged babes to finely sharpened arrows on her blog Raising Arrows.

Do you have an idea for a guest post? I am always looking for high-quality,original (i.e. not published anywhere else online) content with tips and ideas Money Saving Mom® readers can use. If you would like to submit a guest post, please follow the Guest Posting Guidelines.