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20 Things You Can Do With Others for Little or No Money

Guest post by Lacey

One of the things motherhood has taught me–besides how much I love my daughter–is to value community. Yes, my baby girl is great, and I adore spending time with her, but time with other moms is incredibly important for the heart and soul. Too much time in isolation, and I find myself growing discouraged, impatient, and less likely to embrace the goodness I have been given.

Spending time with other women who are in the same spot in life provides encouragement and perspective. But, if you’re not careful, meeting up with someone else or a group can turn expensive quickly. It’s easy to say, “Meet me for lunch,” or, “Let’s get coffee,” and not think about how much money you’ll be spending.

So, here is a list of 20 things you can do with others for little or no money that still allow you to find the community that we all need:

1. Go to a park and enjoy a pretty day.

2. See if your city has a Science Spectrum. In the city where we just moved, a year long membership costs just $5 a month–and I can invite another adult woman for free, as long as our children are under age three.

3. Make your own coffee and invite someone over. If you want to make it extra special, try making some homemade syrups or your own lattes.

4. Rent a redbox movie and pop your own popcorn.

5. Walk around the neighborhood and enjoy a pretty day.

6. Do potluck lunch. Suppers are often hard to do (and that’s family time), but a potluck lunch with several friends could be a lot of fun!

7. Have a dessert buffet: everyone brings one snack or sweet to share! (This could be a lot of fun around Christmas time!)

8. Start a book club.

9. Have a baby sitting circle–one mom watches the other kids while the other moms shop or run errands.

10. Have a baking day and get caught up on all of your baking for the month.

11. Take a picnic.

12. Take a nature walk with all your children.

13. Walk the mall (and window shop!).

14. Visit a museum.

15. Hold a craft party, or any other “skill:” knitting, photography, etc.

16. Make brunch.

17. Have a weekly/monthly group where each member takes a turn teaching the others how to do something.

18. Start a blogging group.

19. Plan menus together.

20. Create an accountability group.

To Remember:

::It doesn’t matter what you do. The point is to build a community of people that helps you stay encouraged and in the proper perspective.

::In order for this to happen, the people with whom you are in community (yourself included) need to be real, vulnerable, and honest. This is the surest way to build solid community.

::As well, each person needs to be willing to be sensitive to the needs of others—listen at least as much as you talk (if not more). Keep your eyes out for new people to include–remembering that you were once where they were!

What are your best tips for finding and building community, without spending a lot of money?

Lacey lives in Lubbock, Texas with her husband, Kade, and sweet daughter, Selah, where they work at Redeemer Church. She regularly captures her musings on all things related to being wife, mommy, and recipient of grace at her blog. There’s usually a cup of coffee involved.

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The Importance of Saving for A Rainy Day

Testimony from Mauree who blogs at Today is Sweeter

When my husband and I got married almost three years ago, I was in the process of paying off numerous credit cards, a small school loan, and a car loan. Though I had made tremendous headway, we still had close to $8,000 to pay off when it was all said and done.

As a result of my husband’s personal commitment to saving before we were married, we were able to pay off all but the car loan within days of coming back from our honeymoon. The car loan was paid off a few months later after we had “packed” some more away. That left us completely, 100% debt free!

Because we had been debt-free for that first year of marriage and saving on a monthly basis, we were able to purchase a house and take advantage of the First Time Home Buyer’s Credit. We received a check for $8,000 a few months after closing on our home. While it was tempting (okay, really tempting!) to splurge on new furniture and home upgrades, we decided to simply leave those funds in our savings account as an emergency fund and to do any decorating and small home improvements out of what we were saving monthly.

Saving for a rainy day was hard at times, but because of our resolve to stay debt-free and to save for the future, we were blessed to have the ability to pay cash for three unexpected expenses over this past summer. That “rainy day” certainly came!

During a morning thunderstorm, a large tree fell on our deck leaving us with tree removal and deck repair costs. A week or so later the 25-year-old oven that came with the house gave up the ghost and had to be replaced. And while we knew our home would be in need of a new roof when we bought it, replacing it came sooner than planned and had to come out of our savings account this summer as well.

While it would have been easy to spend that “free” money on the non-essentials, I’m so thankful that we chose to save it. By choosing saving over spending, we have the peace that those unexpected expenses are paid in full and we have not gone into debt to meet those needs.

Maureen Polderman is a stay-at-home mom, private piano instructor, and writer of the blog Today Is Sweeter. She and her husband Josh have one son, Blake, and live in Wyoming, Michigan. They are striving to live debt-free and cherishing the sweet days God gives them!

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10 Things I Learned From My First Attempt at Freezer Cooking

Guest post by Jessica from The Abundant Wife

I have been following Money Saving Mom® for over a year now, and I have long been curious about the concept of Freezer Cooking. As I was creating my meal plan for this week, I looked on Crystal’s website for some Freezer Cooking Recipes. It was then that I realized that her recipes were not all that different from recipes that I already use. This was a new idea to me!

Then I reviewed her instructions for how to begin Freezer Cooking. I had always imagined Crystal gathering with her friends to cook all their meals for the month together.  I was surprised to see that Freezer Cooking can be done any time of day, and does not require a team of cooks.  Here are the top ten things I learned from Freezer Cooking for the first time:

1. Freezer Cooking can be done using what you already have in your kitchen, with recipes your family already enjoys.

That big pot of soup you made for dinner? Just freeze the leftovers in individual meal sizes, and pop it in the freezer. Voila! Now you’re freezer cooking!

2. Freezer Cooking can be done at any time during the day.

I made my soup for dinner, and prepared Mexican rice (to freeze) at the same time.

3. Freezer Cooking reduces anxiety.

You don’t have to experience stress at 5 p.m., wondering what to make for dinner or if you’ll have time to cook it.

4. Freezer Cooking simplifies meal planning.

When you are making your weekly meal-plan and grocery list, you can count on some meals already in your freezer.

5. Freezer Cooking reduces waste.

You don’t have to worry about food spoiling before you can cook it, or about running out of an ingredient before you can use it.

6. Freezer Cooking and using is a great way to utilize what’s already in your pantry.

You can list your current ingredients in your free Supercook account, and the website will give you hundreds of recipes based on what you already have. Choose one to cook, and then freeze it for later!

7. Freezer Cooking is great if you have children who grow impatient while you’re cooking.

By planning ahead, I can cook during a quieter time of the day. With a meal in the freezer, I can spend less time on food prep and more time with my kids.

8. Freezer Cooking will save you clean-up time all week long.

My husband loves this part. He usually washes the dinner dishes, so Freezer Cooking means less work for him!

9. Freezer Cooking gives you more opportunities to be generous.

Once you have food prepared, it’s easier to offer a meal to someone in need.

10. Freezer Cooking saves money!

You’ll be less likely to buy more expensive convenience foods at the last minute when you have a meal in the freezer ready to go.

I could keep talking all day, but I’ve got to go defrost our dinner. 

Jessica’s family of four just moved 2,700 miles from Maryland to California for her husband’s new job. When she’s not freezer cooking, you’ll find her blogging at The Abundant Wife about faith, family, and finances.

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How to Make Freezer Cooking Work When You Have a Busy Schedule

Guest post by Melissa from Mom’s Plans

By the time my second child was born, I was a die-hard freezer cooking mama. I had my freezer cooking session every month, and we ate meals from the freezer every week. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

After my third child was born, I relied on freezer cooking even more. I followed Crystal at Money Saving Mom® and Jessica at Life as Mom and had my freezer cooking day on the same weekend everyone else did. I loved feeling like I was part of a freezer cooking community.

But then I quit my outside job so I could stay home. Without my income, our family could not make ends meet, but I was willing to sacrifice so I could be home with our kids.

We trimmed our budget, but I still found it necessary to bring in some money, so I began to do work as a freelance writer and virtual assistant in the evenings when my kids were sleeping. God does provide, and slowly more and more work trickled in until I was making enough to supplement our budget so that it finally balanced every month.

However, I was no longer able to get all of the work done in two to three hours at night. My husband watched the kids on the weekend so I could go someplace quiet and write for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday in addition to my evening work time.

My weekend work time was when my freezer cooking time used to be. I could no longer find a place to fit a large freezer cooking session, and I was growing frustrated. Shortly before this, Crystal admitted that having a freezer cooking day was no longer working for her, and she turned to freezer cooking in an hour.

I loved the concept! Seeing Crystal’s flexibility created a new way of thinking for me. Instead of stressing about not being able to freezer cook, I gave myself permission to realize that in this season of life, it was no longer working for me.

The five o’clock hour with three small children still gets crazy, so I had to come up with another plan. Now, I prepare our meals based on the week. If it has been a chaotic week, then on the weekend I do what I can which may be only prepping some foods such as veggies to make dinners easier on the week nights.

Last weekend I had time to prep all of our upcoming meals for the week night and put four additional meals in the freezer. This will give me some leeway when I have another chaotic week. Other times I cook all week long, but I double each recipe so I have five new meals in the freezer for another week. In short, I do what I can, and it seems to be working.

Here are some of my favorite meals to put together quickly:

  • Tacos – We make up a large batch of taco meat and put some in the freezer to pull out on a busy night. This meal is great because it takes no more energy to prep five batches of taco meat instead of one meal size serving.
  • Chili – I love meals that I can double and put in the slow cooker. I just put one in the freezer to save for another night.
  • Chicken “Dump” Packages – Simply put the chicken breasts in a freezer bag with the sauce of your choosing. Put this in the refrigerator to use later in the week or put it in the freezer – Simply toss it in the slow cooker in the morning.
  • Meatloaf – I make three batches of meatloaf, bake them, and put two in the freezer for later.

Don’t forget if you work outside the home to take some of these meals and put them in the freezer in single serving packages. They make quick, nutritious lunches and will save you a bundle.

Also, I love to cook up a bag of dry beans and put the extra in the freezer. I just pull them out when I am cooking; it is like using canned beans without the extra price and sodium.

Thanks to Crystal’s inspiration, I have modified my cooking plans, which has lifted my guilt and made me feel less tense about meal preparations. It is still busy around our house, buy I am much more relaxed about feeding my family.

Melissa is a work-at-home mom to three little ones ages 7, 2, and 1. She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s desire to learn to live a fulfilling life on less.

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My attempt to re-purpose a t-shirt into a knit bracelet

Ever since I posted this knit bracelet, I’ve wanted to try it making it. So this past Saturday, I pulled out a t-shirt from the rag bag and got to cutting.

I initially was going to do the four-finger knitting, but that didn’t go so well. I settled on the two-finger knitting and that was much easier.

After two tries, I finally ended up with a decent finished product. The girls were especially impressed that I made that out of an old stained shirt!

Speaking of knitting, here’s my latest dishcloth. Slowly but surely, I’m seeing some improvement in my stitches–and that’s encouraging to this not-crafty-at-all gal. 🙂

Why I Don’t Buy Taco Seasoning Packets

Guest post by Heather from Feel Good About Dinner

Premixed spice packets and sauces promote convenience, but are they really saving you time? If you knew you could get the same (or better) results by adding just a few spices to the pot, would you still buy them?

It is a lot easier than you may think. In fact, once you learn how to use your own spices, you will wonder why you ever bought those little packets.

Not only is it easy to use your own spices, but a lot cheaper. An average spice packet costs anywhere from $0.50 to $2. That sounds pretty cheap, but when you consider that it is only for one meal, it really adds up.

Basic spices can be purchased in generic varieties for $0.50 to $1–or even cheaper if you buy from a bulk food store. These can be used for several meals or even dozens of meals.

For example, I could buy a taco-seasoning packet for $0.50 on sale for one meal, or I could buy $3 worth of spices and make more than 20 taco/Mexican dishes. Multiply that by all of the different mixes we buy, and that is a huge savings over time.

Not only is it easy and inexpensive to season your own dishes, it’s also healthier and tastier. Spice packets add a lot of extra salt, empty calories, and mystery ingredients. In addition, seasoning dishes yourself doesn’t lock you into one flavor, but allows you to adjust the flavor of the dish to your taste.

I have known people who even used both seasoning packets and spices. The packet doesn’t provide enough flavor for them, so they add extra oregano or crushed red pepper. They could have skipped the spice packet all together and just added their favorite spices.

While it can be a time and sanity-saver for some people to pre-make baggies of seasonings, I’ve found it’s easier for me to just have the spices on hand and add them in to a recipe as I need them.

Not sure where to start when making substituting homemade seasoning for seasoning packets? The following is a list of basic spices to keep stocked in your pantry and the types of dishes for which they are used:

Italian Spices
Fresh Garlic

Mexican Spices
Chili Powder
Crushed Red Pepper
Fresh Garlic

Miscellaneous Spices
Rosemary: Pork, Broth
Sage: Stuffing, Sausage
Garlic Salt

For additional help, find a good homemade spaghetti sauce recipe to learn Italian spices and a taco-seasoning recipe to learn Mexican spices. Think of these recipes as a method and not just a recipe. Once you learn how to use your own spices, it will open up a whole new window of creativity in your kitchen.

Heather lives in a Detroit suburb with her husband, Mark, and two boys, Jonathan (15) and David (10). Heather is a full-time wife and mother and a part-time substitute teacher. Heather shares how to make delicious, healthy meals for the family that are time and budget friendly at Feel Good About Dinner.