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18 Jan 2011   ·   71
Money Saving Mom

31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget Video Series: The Benefits of Menu Planning

My apologies that this didn’t get posted until this morning, instead of last night as promised. We filmed it yesterday on our new Flip video camera (a Christmas gift from my dad) and then I spent three whole hours (I’m not kidding!) trying to get the thing to upload correctly.

There were some connection/login issues, but I’m pretty sure the majority of issues had to do with user error. Yes, you are welcome to laugh at my technical ineptitude; at least I now know 331 different ways not to upload a video. 🙂

Hopefully, I’m getting the hang of it and it will take me significantly less time to get this uploaded next week!

Related: Menu-Planning Saves Your Sanity

17 Jan 2011   ·   25
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu Plan: The 15-Minute Meals Edition

(My little kitchen “helper”!)

One of the things I do when planning our weekly menus on Saturday is to consult our upcoming week’s schedule. In doing so on Saturday, I realized we had a busy week ahead of us. So I’m sticking with simple meals — most which can be made in 15 minutes or less.

Cold Cereal
Cold Cereal
Steel Cut Oat Groats with Walnuts and Raisins
Fresh Orange/Carrot/Apple Juice, Toasted Bagels with Cinnamon/Turbinado
Raisin Toast, Scrambled Eggs

Chicken hot dogs
Macaroni & Cheese
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
Cheese Quesadillas
Beans & Rice

Green Chili Chicken and Lime Soup, Bread Machine Buttery Rolls
Tilapia, Sweet Potatoes, Homemade French Bread, Broccoli
Turkey Sausage and Potatoes, Green Salad, Bread Machine Buttery Rolls
Italian Chicken, Sweet Potatoes, Peas, French Bread
Taco Soup, Best Ever Cornbread (recipe coming on Thursday!)
Dinner Out
Dinner at In-Law’s House

17 Jan 2011   ·   26
Money Saving Mom

7 Time Management Tips For the Working Woman

Guest post by Sarah

1. Lists are a Girl’s Best Friend

Lists can bring sanity to a chaotic household. My husband and I have learned that something as simple as a magnetic list on the fridge ensures we don’t return from the store only to realize we’ve forgotten to purchase several key items!

Packing lists eliminate frustration with trip preparation.

Meal planning lists make grocery shopping significantly more efficient.

We also keep a list of household project ideas, so that with any down time, we simply pull out our list and determine which potential project would be best suited to our available time and supplies.

2. The Power of Prioritizing

I now have a “To Do List” template that breaks my daily tasks into three distinct categories:

  • Urgent tasks that must be completed by end of day.
  • Important tasks to work on as time allows.
  • Future project ideas.

This ensures that my available time is always spent on the most urgent matters, and as time allows, I can easily knock out additional tasks that may be less time sensitive.

In addition, as one item is completed, sorting tasks in this manner allows for immediate selection of the next task at hand.

3. Multi-Tasking is a Must

Always look for ways to be productive while you wait!

If you let your dog outside each morning to do his business, use that time to pack your lunches for the day. While waiting for water to boil, you can empty the dishwasher. While on the phone, you can open mail, straighten your desk or fold a load of laundry.

4. A Chore A Day Keeps the House at Bay

Take 10 to 15 minutes a day to tackle a single household chore — emptying trashcans, dusting, vacuuming the main rooms or cleaning a bathroom. This will keep the house tidy, without requiring an hour and a half of cleaning each weekend.

5. Dinner After Dessert

Each night before bed I will plan our dinner for the next evening.

This allows advanced planning if meat or other items must be thawed, and helps me identify any potential ingredients I may be missing and need to pick up on my way home the following day. In addition, this eliminates my biggest pet peeve — coming home from a long day of work, and trying to come up with a plan of what to make for dinner!

6. Combining Work & Play

Finding ways to make your chores more enjoyable will increase your chances of actually completing them! I now save all my ironing for the weekends, where my husband and I will put on a good movie, and I tackle the ironing as we watch.

7. Just Say No to Procrastination

Procrastination is time management’s worst enemy. Take the bull by the horns and knock out the task at hands. Period!

Sarah is a Regional Sales and Customer Service Manager at Simmons First Bank. She and her husband do not yet have children (although she’s confident that will take time management to a whole new level!). However, with demanding jobs and a number of volunteer commitments, their schedules are usually very busy, and require a significant amount of organization and effective time management.

photo by Mitchell Bartlett

14 Jan 2011   ·   29
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash: A Fun Family Outing

We paid cash!

A testimony from Kristin

My husband works in lawn care so there is never a spare week in the grass-growing days of spring and summer to take a vacation.

Since I was expecting another baby at the end of the summer, we would be too busy caring for an infant to attempt a family get-away in the fall or winter either. However, when we got the urge to take the kids on a fun outing one day in June, we were able to do it without lots of planning and without a twinge of guilt!

How We Did It

We only use cash when we pay for things so we accumulate a lot of spare change. Each time we return from a shopping trip, we put all of our dimes, nickels and pennies in a container in our bedroom. We roll and spend the small change periodically, usually on small treats like ice cream or a movie.

Our quarters are more sacred. We put all of them in a separate jar out of sight and allow the pile to collect…and collect…and collect.

Then comes the fun part. About once every six months, we decide on a fun way to spend the money we’ve saved. It can be used to purchase an item we can all enjoy or, as in this case, used to fund an outing we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. Since it was June and my husband couldn’t take extra time off, we needed to keep our outing close to home so we decided to visit a touristy beach town, about 45 minutes away.

Getting Ready to Go

We Paid Cash A Day AwayOnce we began to make plans, we let everyone be hands-on. My husband dumped the quarters out onto the floor and the kids stacked them in groups of four. Then my husband and I wrapped the coins into rolls of $10. We all counted the rolls and took them to the bank to exchange for paper money.

With our quarter money, we were able to spend the whole day away. We had enough money for gas, parking fees, wrist bands for a small amusement park, lunch on the Boardwalk and dinner at a restaurant on the way home.

Still Going…

When we got home, after carrying sleepy children in the house and tucking them under their covers, we emptied our pockets and…clink!…dropped the first of our new collection of quarters into the jar.

Kristin is wife to Brian and home school mom to Gavin, Maddie, Owen, Benjamin, and Alaine. She blogs about her family and her passions at Bits and Pieces From My Life.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

13 Jan 2011   ·   90

Hamburger Vegetable Soup Recipe

Hamburger Vegetable Soup

This is the very best Hamburger Vegetable Soup I’ve ever eaten. Growing up, it was a staple recipe at our house and now it’s become one of my husband’s favorites, too.

Our children also love this soup — especially when topped with shredded cheese! It’s delicious paired with Bread Machine Buttery Rolls and the perfect way to warm up a chilly winter evening.

13 Jan 2011   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

From My Inbox: We Cut Our Spending and Simplified Our Lives

Here’s another great email from a reader:

A few years ago my husband and I were inspired to get out of debt. Even though the debt we had was not a major burden, we felt that we needed to get out from under the loans just in case a rainy day came our way. And I am so glad that we did!

Literally a month after we paid off our debts my husband was laid-off unexpectedly due to the economy. After a few moments of panic, my husband and I put our heads on straight and came up with a game plan. Here are a few things we did to reduce spending:

Clothing and services

  • Took inventory of our wardrobe and sold pieces we never wear on eBay.
  • Asked my hair dresser to dye my hair back to its natural color, so I could go longer between hair cut appointments.
  • We dropped our health club and formed a jogging group with friends.
  • Asked friends and relatives for hand-me-downs for our toddler.

Housing and utilities

  • Eliminated premium channels from our cable service.
  • Canceled Netflix and used Redbox instead.
  • Reduced phone extras on our cell service.
  • Investigated whether bundled service (phone, high-speed Internet and cable television) might save us money. Turns out they gave us a promotional rate on our high-speed Internet.
  • Washed only full loads of dishes and clothes.
  • Used a clothesline and used our dryer just to soften air-dried clothes.
  • Kept our home heated or cooled only when we were actually there.
  • Switched to compact-fluorescent bulbs, and turned them off when not needed. Turned off TVs, computers and other electronics when not in use.


  • Sold our car that had a car payment. Yep, we became a single car family.
  • Got all the discounts we deserved, such as good-driver, good-student and multiple-car discounts.
  • Because we were driving less, we told our insurer; and got a cheaper rate.
  • We biked or walked as often as possible.
  • Grouped our errands to reduce gas consumption.


  • I brought lunches and snacks to work.
  • Cooked once, ate twice: leftovers were used for a later meal.
  • Used the weekly grocery store circulars to see what’s on sale and used coupons along with sales.

After several months of many prayers, my husband landed his dream job. It was a miracle! However, the pay was significantly less than what he was making from his previous job.

The transition to our new income would have been a struggle, but we had already reduced our spending significantly. In fact, we were able to save $500 a month with all of our reductions. Moreover, we are still a single car family. My husband rides the bus to work everyday and really enjoys it. This experience brought us closer together as a couple. We both agreed that reducing spending has simplified our lives.

Ashley and Ryan are currently living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ashley is a dental hygienist and Ryan works for the Federal Government. They have a two and half-year-old son.

11 Jan 2011   ·   45
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: Unwanted Clothes + Consignment = More Space and $!

This is a great time of the year to clear the clutter in your closets!

Do you have clothes laying around your house that you haven’t worn in over a year? Maybe you’re more organized than that and have them in tubs or boxes but they’re just taking up space in your garage? Maybe you don’t know what to do with them and you hate garage sales. Don’t worry; there is a solution.

Consignment shops are stores that specialize in selling used clothing and occasionally other items, too. My guess is there’s probably one in your area somewhere. There are tons of them popping up ever since the economy slid downhill. What they do is take your unwanted clothing, display it in their store and give you a percentage of the profit if it sells! Sounds easy enough, right?

Every consignment shop is different and has its own rules and guidelines to follow. My suggestion would be to call around and ask what percentage they offer, what their requirements are and then compare them if you have more than one option.

Another good idea would be to visit the shop and check out their prices. See if you would be happy getting that amount for your clothing. Almost always your stuff will be marked higher than what you would mark it at a garage sale. So not only do you make more, you are also saved the time and energy that a garage sale requires!

Most shops offer at least 50% of the selling price which is a really good deal. Sometimes they offer you a higher percentage if you use your income as store credit. Let’s say you sell 10 items and your total profit is $20 at 50%. If the store has a 75% store credit policy this means if you spend your income in their store, they’re actually giving you $30 instead of just $20!

Consignment and resale shops are not only a great way to sell your clothes, but also a great place to shop. You can usually save over half of the retail price by getting it used. Sometimes, you can even find brand-new items for a fraction of the cost they were in the store!

Jessica and her husband are renting a small duplex until they can save up money for a house. She is the manager of a consignment shop and loves looking for deals. She just recently started her own blog with tips on saving money and finding good deals.

Have you sold items through a consignment store before? If so, I’d love to hear your advice, tips and ideas.

photo by photine

11 Jan 2011   ·   132
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: How does not having a mortgage outweigh the tax benefits of having a mortgage?

Please explain why paying off early/not having a mortgage payment outweighs the tax benefits of having a mortgage. I know it is true, but have a hard time explaining it to others. -Susan

Wow, talk about slaying a “sacred cow” here! The so-called “mortgage deduction” is one of the most-oft-given reasons people have given to us as to why it was unwise for us to buy a house with cash.

It is interesting that, recently, the Deficit Reduction Commission came out with a list of actions it would recommend taking to help reduce the national deficit to get the country back on sound financial footing. One of the most controversial recommendations they came up with was doing away with the mortgage deduction. The import of this would be to throw out one of the main justifications folks use to keep themselves saddled with a monthly mortgage on their personal residence.

The thing is, most people don’t use the deduction because only a fraction of Americans actually take itemized deductions on their federal income tax returns.

To illustrate how the deduction supposedly works (please correct me if I am wrong), let’s say you make $68,000 per year and have made enough charitable gifts, etc. to justify itemizing the deductions on your income tax return, as opposed to taking the standard deduction. In addition, assume a monthly mortgage payment of about $650 (a figure which is below the national average, according to the National Association of Realtors) on a $120,000 30-year loan at 5% interest. This would be the case if you purchased a house for $150,000 and put 20% down.

With these assumptions, according to the calculator I used, first year interest payments would be just shy of $6000, with total monthly payments being just north of $7700 per year. The tax deduction would be right around $1750 the first year, according to the calculator, with an average over the life of the loan of approximately $1100. (Bear in mind this is quick and dirty math and the actual figures may vary.)

If I had a mortgage and enough deductions to itemize and take the mortgage deduction, I would definitely take it. It is a no-brainer not to.

However, if I were mortgage-free and considering one, I think in the short run I would rather pay less in rent than what the mortgage payment would be, save the difference, and let the property management company take the hit on maintenance and the owner on property taxes, saving those costs as well, and take the standard deduction until in a position where I could put a nice down payment on a home (by “nice” I mean non-conventional, e.g., 20%+ — think outside the box and challenge yourself!).

But that is me and assumes the standard deduction would be more than any itemized deductions. If it looked like I would not be in a position to make that down payment in five years or so, I would take the mortgage and pay it off as quickly as possible. Clear as mud?

As you can see, I don’t think I would use the deduction alone as justification to get a home loan, there would need to be other factors present, such as the expected length of time of saving, and whether we were planning on staying in one place for more than two or three years to allow equity to build.

Adding to the hesitancy to use the deduction as the only deciding factor for getting a loan is the possibility that the same could be repealed as a cost-savings measure to reduce the deficit. I doubt the repeal would ever happen, and there would be immense political fallout if it were, nonetheless there would have to be more than just the deduction benefit to justify taking out a mortgage just the same.

That said, you will definitely want to talk to your tax professional to see what the tax benefit would be in your case, as there can be more that goes into figuring the deduction than just rate, loan value, interest payment, etc., (e.g., points paid to lower the interest rate, loan origination fees, and other closing costs).

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the 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.

10 Jan 2011   ·   47
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu

Cold Cereal
Cold Cereal
Steel Cut Oat Groats with Walnuts and Raisins
Fresh Orange/Carrot/Apple Juice, Toasted Bagels with Cinnamon and Turbinado
Pumpkin Carrot Cake Muffins with Sweetened Orange Cream Cheese

Tuna Salad Sandwiches
Egg Roll Burritos
Macaroni & Cheese
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
Cheese Quesadillas, Grain-Free Healthful Brownies (Healthful Brownies is sort of an oxymoron, isn’t it? But these count as healthful in my book!)

Green Chili Chicken and Lime Soup, Bread Machine Buttery Rolls
Beef Hot Dogs, Sweet Potatoes, Fruit Salad
Turkey Sausage with Potatoes/Cabbage/Carrots in the crock pot, Green Salad, Bread Machine Buttery Rolls
Taco Soup, Best Ever Cornbread (recipe coming next week!)
Dinner Out
Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Fruit, Flat Apple Pie
Dinner at In-Law’s House

10 Jan 2011   ·   43
Money Saving Mom

Time Management Tips for Parents with Special Needs Kids

Guest post by Lisa at Warrior Mama

I’m a mom of two special needs kids. I make all of my kids’ foods from scratch to avoid their combined 35 food allergies and sensitivities. I also manage multiple specialists, food supplements, medications and education IEP’s.

Here are a few things I do to make my days run more smoothly:

Take time to write down a master checklist for your day.

Place the checklist in a plastic protector to be reused. Managing special food diets, supplements, medicines and therapy appointments is overwhelming! A checklist frees your mind to take care of your family knowing you are not going to forget the details.

Designate a box for completed school papers.

Your school papers box will do double duty. Kids with learning disabilities sometimes need to revisit old worksheets to remember how they learned a school skill. These papers will also help give you concrete examples of what skills your child still needs help with to take when you go to their IEP meeting.

Keep all your supplements and medicines in one location.

Our kitchen has often looked like a small pharmacy and health food store! Go ahead, I give you permission, devote one whole shelf or cabinet to your child’s needs. And don’t get rid of those old baby food carousels; they are perfect to hold pill bottles.

Keep good tax records.

Children with special needs qualify for additional tax benefits. Keep all your receipts from supplements, doctor’s visits, special schools, foods bought for food allergies and the mileage for each of those events. Just like the school papers, just keep them in a box so you have them if you need them at tax time.

Color-code your calendar.

I put all our chiropractor and NAET appointments in green on my calendar. They are easy to find when I am planning my week so I don’t miss any appointments. It also makes it easier to go back and make a mileage list for taxes.

Buy extra medicine spoons.

I have at least 20 plastic medicine spoons. I keep them in the kid’s bathroom and the kitchen. What items do you always run out of? Parenting special needs kids is stressful. Anything you can streamline or duplicate may make your day run more smoothly.

Keep a diary.

Keep a small notebook to record daily events. Special needs children can be affected by foods and medical changes. I found that jotting down what my kids ate, when we changed supplements or medicine dosages and unusual behaviors overtime helped us make better decisions in managing our children’s needs.

Lisa is a Cincinnati mom who has struggled the last 10 years to give her kids the best education, food and treatments money can buy. Raising special needs kids is taxing emotionally, relationally, financially and physically. Her dream is to break down the walls isolating special needs families and providing them with information to help them achieve their goals. Lisa blogs at Warrior Mama.

10 Jan 2011   ·   19
Money Saving Mom

Now Available: Free Customizable Chore Charts and Daily Cleaning Lists

Thanks to the efforts of Joy from, we now are offering free customizable Chore Charts and Daily Cleaning Lists. You can customize all the fields with chores for your children or cleaning tasks for yourself and then save and print them.

Download the free customizable Chore Chart Pack here and the free customizable Daily Cleaning Lists here.

8 Jan 2011   ·   9
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday

I ended up not using any coupons this week, but I got some great deals by shopping the markdowns. Here were my grocery purchases:

Health Food Store Shopping Trip #1: Spent $12.90 — see the complete price breakdown and details of this shopping trip.

Aldi Shopping Trip: Spent $16.79 — see the complete details and price breakdowns of this shopping trip.

Health Food Store Shopping Trip #2: Spent $19.35 — see the complete details and price breakdown of this shopping trip.

Would you like to know what the best deals and coupon match-ups are for your local stores? Be sure to check out the Store Deals section of our site where we post the best deals and coupon match-ups each week for over 100 different stores across the country. You can sign up to receive the top deals in your email inbox each week as soon as they are posted!

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.

7 Jan 2011   ·   101
Money Saving Mom

Monthly Financial Update

It’s a new year and if you’ve not done so yet, I’d highly encourage you to sit down and set some financial goals for 2011. It’s amazing the momentum you can receive from having specific, written goals.

Here’s our list, continued over from the middle of last year. We tweaked it a little bit because, after prayer, thought and research, we’ve set our next BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal). By the end of 2012, we’re hoping to have enough saved to purchased a piece of commercial real estate as investment and residual income.

1. Continue to give generously needs in our community and around the world. This is an ongoing goal that we’re making a priority every month, so we’re keeping it uncrossed off from the list.

2. Pay cash for a replacement washer and dryer for our very used set.

3. Pay cash for a replacement for Old Blue Van.

4. Pay cash for a couch for our basement family room.

5. Pay cash for bunk beds for the girls.

6. Fully fund our IRAs.

7. Bump up our retirement savings to 10% of our income.

8. Fund our children’s educational savings.

9. Double our Emergency Fund Savings (Instead of having around six month’s worth of expenses set aside, we’re planning to set aside a year’s worth of expenses.)

10. Save 40% towards our goal of paying cash for commercial real estate.

We’d love to hear about your recent financial goals and successes! You can post about it on your blog and leave your link in the comments. Or, just share about your progress/goals in the comments. Let’s all keep each other accountable to be better stewards of our resources!