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14 Jul 2010   ·   343
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: How do you track your money?

“What kind of system do you use to track your money?” -Ruthanne

[My apologies that it’s Wednesday and I’m just now getting the Q&A Tuesday up. I had good intentions, but it just didn’t happen yesterday!]

First off, contrary to what people might think, I’m more the creative and entrepreneurial one in our family and my husband is the numbers nerd. Without my husband’s attention to detail and love of spreadsheets, we’d be sunk.

What’s crazy is that over the last seven and a half years that we’ve been married, my creative and entrepreneurial spirit has rubbed off on Jesse a great deal, but, unfortunately, I’ve not become any more of a spreadsheet-lover.

So that’s why I’m so thankful for my husband. He has a sophisticated system he uses to track all of the money which comes in and goes out and he keeps us on track with our budget. We review these numbers quite often together to make sure we’re headed in the right direction and on the same page.

In the beginning years of our marriage, he used a ledger to keep track of all of our finances. This worked well, but it took at least an hour each week to stay on top of. He switched over to Quicken a few years ago and it’s been a huge time-saver. Plus, it’s so fun to be able to see all the instant graphs and spreadsheets available with a click or two of a mouse. (If you don’t already have access to Quicken, is a very comparable free software which my husband recommends.)

Every single debit card transaction and check we write is accounted for in Quicken so that we can know exactly where we are financially at all times. Since we actually don’t spend a whole lot of money outside our regular bills and what we purchase from our cash envelopes, it usually just takes Jesse about 1-2 hours per month to input our receipts and make sure everything reconciles.

Unlike many people, we keep our cash envelopes separate from our regular accounting. We just take out $425 per month to fund these envelopes and we don’t track the expenditures in these accounts.

Our current cash envelopes are:

::Gifts — $30 per month which covers wedding, baby shower, birthday gifts and so forth.

::Vacation — $50 each month for family vacations (or, if we decide, a fun family outing).

::Clothes — $15 per month per family member (except Jesse, since he has a separate non-cash budget category for his clothing). This covers shoes, socks, clothes, under things, coats, etc.

::Eating Out — $20 per week ($80 per month) which covers our once-a-week dinner out. We usually vary whether we do something really inexpensive or a little on the nicer side.

::Groceries — $40 per week ($160 per month)

::Home — $30 per month which covers home furnishings, decorations and any other home items we need to buy (for instance, last month, we used the money in the envelope to replace our DVD player which had been on its last life for quite some time).

::Homeschooling — $15 per month which covers any supplies we need to purchase and some of our curriculum (I also used the proceeds from our garage sales to purchase some of our curriculum as we splurged on the Bob Jones Distance Learning DVDs for some of our curriculum this year.)

Instead of tracking all the expenditures in each of our cash envelopes, we’ve found that just adopting the “When it’s gone, it’s gone” approach works well for us. Because in reality, after using cash for so long, we’ve found that we rarely have empty envelopes!

How do you track the finances at your house? I’d love to hear! And if you’re married, are you the numbers nerd or is your spouse?

14 Jul 2010   ·   40
Money Saving Mom

Girly fun

A poofy dress-up skirt from Grandma and Grandpa + a swing set built by Grandpa in her back yard = hours of pure delight, fun and giggles.

Who says you have to have all them fancy toys with bells and gadgets and gizmos to make a little girl happy? Sometimes, the simplest things are the most enjoyable and memorable!

12 Jul 2010   ·   91
Money Saving Mom

Keeping Frugality Fun

There is nothing that will squelch the joy in frugality faster than pinching your pennies so hard you never have any fun. And if you’re planning to practice thrift for the long haul, you need to strategically come up with ways to keep life interesting, exciting and fresh. Otherwise, you’ll likely burn out before a few months are out.

Just because you don’t have a lot of money or are trying to live on little doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to have fun and splurge a little without breaking your budget. Here are a few things we’ve done:

::Have a bookstore date. We did this often back in our law school days, when there was almost-zero wiggle room in our budget most months. We’d browse books, buy a drink to share (usually paying for it with a card I’d earned through reading emails from MyPoints!) and sit and read and talk for awhile. It made for a very relaxing evening that cost us next to nothing!

::Go out for coffee. Nowadays, we don’t often have time for leisurely bookstore dates, but we use our Starbucks gift cards earned through Swagbucks for fun (and free!) dates.

::Visit the pet store. Can’t afford to go to the zoo? A pet store is a great alternative. Our children love to peer into all the different cages and aquariums — and we’ve never had a pet store owner have a problem with us just dropping by to browse.

::Plan a nicer dinner each week. If beans and rice make up a large part of your diet, plan ahead so that one night per week, you have “feast.” You could go all out and re-create food from one of your favorite restaurants at home. Or, you could keep it simple and just try a fun new recipe or make your family’s favorite dessert. If you can’t even afford that, add a table cloth, your best dishes and candles to your normal fare to make it seem extravagant. No one will probably notice you’re eating beans and rice yet again if they are distracted by the beautiful candlelight. 🙂

::Stop by the library. The library was one of our favorite places to frequent when we were on a very limited income. When my husband was in law school, there was little else we could afford when it came to entertainment, so we spent countless hours and evenings at the library. And we checked out hundreds of books, CDs and DVDs. Best of all, that particular library had no late fees!

::Go shopping at CVS. This might seem a little crazy, but back when I was playing the drugstore game really hot and heavy, we oftentimes used extra ECBs to splurge. And some nights, we’d divvy them up and see who could get a better bang for their bucks by hitting up the clearance section of the store. It felt like a splurge, but it didn’t affect our pocketbook.

::Have a Loose Change Date. During the first few years of our marriage, any extra pennies or nickles or dimes we had, went into a change cup that we kept in our kitchen cupboard. Once a year, when we were feeling particularly like we just couldn’t keep on living like no one else and needed some sort of pick me up, we’d take the change cup to the bank and exchange it for dollar bills.

You know that money was tight, because usually after a year of putting in our extra pennies, nickels and dimes, all we’d have would be around $7-$8 collected! But that $7-$8 could meant we could rent a movie at the $0.50 movie store and get dinner at a fast food restaurant with coupons. And you know what? A little splurge like that often did the trick to re-invigorate us on our frugal journey.

How do you keep frugality fun at your house? I’d love to hear your ideas!

photo by Maddy Lou

12 Jul 2010   ·   47
Money Saving Mom

Debit Rewards Programs

While I’m a big proponent of using cash as much as you possibly can, if you’re going to use a debit card for online purchases, to pay bills or to buy gas, you might as well earn rewards, right? Lori has some helpful information in her post below on how to get the best bang for your buck when it comes to debit card rewards programs. As always, though, remember that you’re not saving money if you spend extra just to get the rewards! -Crystal

Guest Post by Lori at Moms by Heart.

Looking for another way to stretch your dollars? Put your checking account to work for you! Here are a few banks that offer special rewards programs for debit cardholders. Each program is different, so be sure to factor in fees, minimum balance requirements (where applicable) along with ATM locations if this will be a primary account for you. Stop over here for a printable spreadsheet summary.

Chase — Ultimate Rewards Debit Card

How It Works:
Earn 4 points for every $5 in signature purchases (aka: non-PIN purchases). 2,500 points = $25 gift card to various retailers like: Amazon, Bath & Body Works, Kohl’s and more. Check them out here.

What You Need:
Chase Ultimate Rewards Checking Account — details here.

What’s It Worth To Me: $75 per year
If I spend $1,000 a month in signature purchases, I’ll earn 800 points per month or 9,600 per year. That’s nearly enough for $100 in free gift cards. Since there is a $25 annual fee, my net will be $75 per year. Doing my online shopping through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall will earn me up to 10 bonus points per dollar spent. Cha-ching.

Other Chase Rewards Programs:
::Chase Debit with FREE rewards (no annual fee, but only 1 point per $5 spent)
::Continental Airlines Debit
::United Mileage Plus Debit

Wells Fargo — Check Card Rewards

How It Works:
Earn 1 point for every $4 in Signature purchases. 650 points equals $5 account credit or $5 gift card to various retailers including Amazon. Earn up to 16 points per dollar for shopping at the Wells Fargo Earn More Mall.

What You Need:
Wells Fargo Checking Account and Check Card. Looks like fees may vary by state. In Texas, they offer a free checking with no minimum balance and no monthly fees.

What It’s Worth To Me: $18 per year
If I spend $1,000 a month in signature purchases, I’ll earn 250 points per month or 3,000 points per year. $25 cash or $25 gift cards run 2,500 points. So, the approximate yearly value is around $30. Since there is a $12 annual fee, my net will be $18 per year.

Bank of America — Keep the Change

How It Works:
Your debit card purchases are rounded up to the next dollar amount and the difference is deposited into your savings. The best part? They match your savings 100% for the first three months, and 5% for the next nine months (maximum of $250 per year).

What You Need:
::Bank of America checking account with debit card — details here.
::Bank of America savings account — details here.

What’s It Worth To Me: $69 per year for the first year, $12 per year thereafter
This will vary. Check out this page to input your info. I assumed 40 debits per month of $50 each ($1,000) with average “change” of $0.50. That gave me $69 per year in bank savings matches. Since Bank of America matches your savings 100% for the first three months, this amount is not typical. No annual fee.

Other Bank of America Rewards Programs:
::US Airways Debit
::Nascar Racepoints Debit

Citi — Thank You Rewards

How It Works:
Earn 1 point for every $2 qualifying signature purchases and 1 point for every $3 PIN purchases. You’ll also earn bonus points based on the type of checking account you have along with other Citi services you’re enrolled in. 8,000 points = $50 cash or $50 Citi Gift Card.

What You Need:
::Citibank Checking Account — There are no monthly fees as long as you keep an average balance of $1,500 (EZ account). Details here.

What It’s Worth To Me: $37.50 per year
If I spend $1,000 a month in signature purchases, I’ll earn 500 points. In one year, that adds up to 6,000 points. There are various $25 gift cards available for 4,000 points, so the approximate value is  $37.50. There are no annual fees. However, the deal is killed by the possibility of monthly fees if I go below $1,500 average balance.

Stack Your Savings

Once you’ve selected the best program for you, you can stack your savings by:

Lori is a nurse and mom to five who shares all her frugal finds over at Moms by Heart!

10 Jul 2010   ·  
Money Saving Mom

Will you please forgive me?

I put up a post last night which was intended to serve as an inspiration. Instead, many of you were offended by it.

While I had spent a great deal of time considering that post before publishing it and had re-written it a few different times in hopes it would be conveyed in the way it was intended, nevertheless, my words fell short and were a burden rather than a blessing to many of you.

I’ve deleted the post, but I wanted to publicly ask those of you who were offended or hurt by it to please forgive me. It is inevitable that I’m not going to please everyone as a blogger, but my hope is that the vast majority of you will be inspired by what I share. I never want to come across as though I’ve “arrived” or am somehow better or more capable at this financial thing. I have many, many shortcomings and have made and continue to make many mistakes. I just hope to share from our own personal experience — failures and successes — in a way which will encourage you in your financial journey.

Thank you for reading here. Thank you for your encouragement to me. And thank you for bearing with me when I’m not always the best communicator. I’m blessed to have you all as readers!

I’m closing off comments on this post, but please feel free to write personally if you need clarification on anything.

8 Jul 2010   ·   305
Money Saving Mom

A Dream Come True: Paying Cash for Our First Home

When we walked into this house, we both instantly fell in love with it. It was everything we were looking for — and so much more! Best of all? It was in our price range.

While we both were a little antsy to go ahead and put a contract on it, we wanted to research out everything more thoroughly, think it through, pray about it some more, sleep on it overnight and bring both of our dads to investigate it again with us to make sure we weren’t missing anything which we needed to be aware of.

There were already quite a few showings scheduled, so we felt it was best to not piddle around. We scheduled a time to come back and look at the house the next day with our dads and then we went home to pray and think.

Once home, we researched flood plains, tax appraisals, register of deeds documents, homes in the area which had recently sold and how much they sold for and we spent a long time praying for wisdom. We wanted to be 100% sure God was leading us to put a contract on this home. We really didn’t want to practically clean out our entire bank account for something which was not His will for us!

And the more we researched and prayed, the more the lights turned green. Based upon the prices of comparable houses in the area which had recently sold and based upon what we felt the home was worth, we decided upon what we wanted to offer.

The next day, we went back to look at the home praying that if there was any reason we weren’t supposed to put an offer on the house, God would make it very clear to us. Well, in going through the house with a fine-toothed comb again, we only came to like it even more. And our dads really liked it as well and felt the offer we had decided upon was fair.

So, with great excitement, we signed the contract. And within a few hours, the sellers accepted!

We had a hard time believing it was really and truly for real. After talking, dreaming, working and praying towards the goal of paying cash for a house, it felt rather surreal that it had actually happened.

A few weeks later, we drove Old Blue Van into town and signed our names on the dotted line to become home owners. We were chuckling while driving there about how crazy it was to be driving a clunker to pay cash for a home. We felt a little out of place when we drove up to a parking lot full of shiny almost-new cars.

But, in a way, it seemed so fitting. Being content with a clunker instead of upgrading to a newer car was just one of the many reasons we were in a position to pay cash for a house.

After signing the contract and getting the keys, Jesse and I headed over to our new home. It is hard to describe the feelings which washed over us when we pulled up into the driveway. To see our dreams come to fruition. To see the sleepless nights and long days of working and saving pay off. To see the realization of years of scrimping.

It was far from a fleeting momentary giddiness; it was a deep fulfilling feeling in the bottom of our souls. By the grace of God, we had paid cash for our first home.

And we knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that God is good. We stepped out in faith and obedience at the beginning of our marriage to follow His leading to be counter-cultural and follow the Biblical principle of “owing no man anything” (see Romans 13:8). It has been far from easy and there have been many times when we’ve wanted to give up and give in. But as we’ve stayed faithful and obedient — even when the going got very tough — He has blessed that obedience and faithfulness far beyond our wildest imaginations.

Without God’s blessing and provision, we would never have been position to pay cash for a home. But He has seen fit to bless us with a spacious home that meets and exceeds all of our expectations. And it’s a testament to His goodness and graciousness to bless His children with good gifts. It is our heart’s desire that we be wise stewards of this home He has entrusted to us.

8 Jul 2010   ·   131
Money Saving Mom

A simple way we just reduced our expenses by $15 per month

After seven and a half years of marriage, we are officially landline-less! It’s something we’ve been hoping to be able to try for the last few years, but once we finally were able to afford a cell phone plan in our budget, we found it was less expensive to have an internet, cell phone and landline bundle than separate plans.

We’ve repeatedly priced all our options, and it has always continued to be less expensive to have a package deal, than to drop the landline.

Recently, however, our phone company finally started offering lower-priced a la carte options. So just this week, we ditched the landline — and will be saving $15 per month to do so.

Not only is this a simple way to save money, but I’m also thinking it’s going to save time, too, because I’m pretty sure we’re going to have a lot fewer sales calls.

Though, at times, I’d almost be willing to pay $15 per month just to avoid the terribly obnoxious middle-of-dinner debt consolidation sales calls. However, come to think of it, I’m going to kind of miss getting to answer their “How much debt do you have?” question. The response, “We don’t have debt” always completely threw them off-script and it was quite amusing to hear them fumble around trying to figure out what to say next. More often than not, there was silence and then a click on the other end. 🙂

photo by Tim Manteau

8 Jul 2010   ·   9
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking in July

FishMama is hosting Freezer Cooking again this month, since I’m kind of pre-occupied over here with settling into our new home. Stop on over to LifeAsMom this weekend to follow along or join in the fun.

I promise that I’ll be back to regular freezer cooking come August. Believe me, I hardly know how to live without a stocked freezer; it saves us so much time, money and effort.

And I also am hoping to start posting recipes and meal-plans again. Truth be told, we’ve been eating more than our fair share of cold cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and burritos. It’s not ideal, but sometimes you just gotta do what works! However, I’ve really missed cooking and baking and can’t wait to get back to it!

8 Jul 2010   ·   126
Money Saving Mom

Have you recently purchased something with cash? We want to hear your story!

As you know, I am passionate about staying out of debt and living within your means and I think it’s especially encouraging to hear personal stories from people who are choosing to be counter-cultural and pay cash, instead of credit.

I’d like to start highlighting stories from you, my readers, right here on Money Saving Mom®!

Have you saved up and paid cash for something recently — like an appliance, furniture or a car? I’d love to hear your story! And your story might just end up as part of the new “We Paid Cash” feature we’ re rolling out in the next few weeks.

Would you like to submit your story for possible publication? Just follow the details outlined here.

7 Jul 2010   ·   51
Money Saving Mom

I guess we’ll chalk this up to “Moving Brain” — if there is such a thing!

You’ve heard of “Baby Brain” before, but I think we need to coin a new term called “Moving Brain.” Because seriously? I have no idea where my brain cells are this week.

I came across quite a few outdated spices and other baking items which needed to be pitched while packing up the kitchen, so I had this “brilliant” idea to let the girls play they were “making muffins” with these baking items.

I sat them down on the kitchen floor with some plastic cups and spoons and let them have at it. It occupied them for a good hour or so and I was patting myself on the back for coming up with such a great form of frugal entertainment.

Then, I got busy with some unpacking somewhere and someone else got Silas up from his nap. Apparently, he wanted to help “make muffins,” too.

Unfortunately, my “brilliant” idea which kept the girls busy for an hour playing, also ended up taking me over an hour to fully clean up. While doing so, I quickly discovered that tile floors don’t mop up as easily as laminate. And I also became very familiar with all of our grout. 🙂

Next time, I think we’ll try experiments like this in the backyard!

6 Jul 2010   ·   77
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: How Do You Calculate Your Savings?

I’ve been receiving your emails for a few months and was wondering how you calculate your savings? I went to Publix today and spent $37.07. The bottom of the receipt said I had Store Coupons of $6.81, Vendor Coupons of $7.70 and Special Price Savings of $18.94 = Savings Summary of $34.45. So, did I save over 40% on my groceries or do I only count the savings from the coupons I used? Thanks! -April

Guess what, April? In my opinion, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to calculate savings and everyone has a bit of a different method to doing so.

I find it fun to see my total percentage of savings based upon retail, pre-coupon price vs. post-coupon, sales price. Of course, most of the prices are much higher than I’d ever pay (I mean, come on, we all know better than to pay retail, right?!), so it’s not exactly an accurate representation of true savings. But, it’s still rewarding and fun to see an 85% or 99% savings shown at the bottom of the receipt! 🙂

However, how much you spend matters so much more than how much you save. So I’d encourage you to set a grocery budget and focus more on sticking with that grocery budget, rather than getting overly focused on how much you save.

In the long run, consistently sticking with a grocery budget is likely going to save you a significant more amount of money than just concentrating on having large percentages of savings on your receipts.

Just for fun: How do you calculate your savings?

2 Jul 2010   ·   173
Money Saving Mom

Three cheers for used cars!

In the process of buying our home, one of the questions which came up was about the garage door openers. The owners said they didn’t have any garage door openers because it was just programmed into their car.

My husband and I were scratching our heads over this. Programmed into their car? Their realtor looked at us like we were possibly from the Dark Ages and said, “Yes, my car has three buttons — one for each garage door — you just program it to each garage door and then push the button to open your garage door.”

Um, seriously? They make cars with onboard garage door openers now?

Apparently, yes. And as is also apparent, we know nothing about newer cars.

As we were chuckling over this while driving around town yesterday in Old Blue Van — our beloved van that has been miraculously hanging on by a thread for over two years! — we got to talking about how much money we’ve saved over the years by buying used vehicles and keeping them running until they’ve lost all life.

You know what the best thing about used and paid-for cars is? They might not be beautiful and luxurious, but they don’t come with a big car payment you have to lug around and pay every month.

How Much We’ve Saved By Not Having a Car Payment

Just for fun, I added up an approximate amount of money we’ve saved over the course of our marriage as a result of driving used cars.

We’ve been married 7.5 years and have never had a car payment. If we had, instead, always had one $400-per-month car payment, we would have spent $36,000 in car payments over the course of the last 7.5 years. And if we had two vehicles with car payments, we would have spent something like $72,000 in car payments.

$72,000! And that’s not even factoring in the interest you could earn if you invested that money.

Of course, these numbers are just a hypothetical and obviously, they would be inflated for many people. However, no matter the case, I would argue that you’re always going to save a fair amount by driving used and paid-for cars.

Not only does driving used vehicles mean you don’t have a car payment, it also means you usually have some funny vehicle stories to share as a result of driving clunkers! Like the time we were on our way home and Old Blue Van started smoking pretty significantly out the hood. We pulled over and my Mama Bear instinct kicked into gear and I got my babies out quicker than I knew was possible because all I could imagine was that it was going to blow up.

It didn’t. And somehow we resurrected it, yet again, and it’s driven for another two years — without another smoking incident.

Another great reason to buy used cars? They hardly depreciate at all! For instance, Old Blue Van has probably only gone down in value a few hundred dollars in the last two years. By contrast, a brand-spankin’-new minivan would likely have gone down in value by thousands of dollars in the last two years.

Yes, there are lots of great reasons to drive used and paid-for cars. Which is why I loved Amy’s post today:

When our 2001 mini-van recently rolled over 130,000 miles, I decided to ask my Facebook Fans if I was the only “weirdo” happy to drive an older, high-mileage, paid for vehicle.  Turns out… I’ve got company! ;) A few commenters {ahem} even insinuated that my van was “practically new.”  Ha!

I’m fully convinced that one easy way to save big money is to purchase used vehicles (with cash) and drive them as long as possible.

Read Amy’s full post here.

And yes, I was one of the commentors who had to rib her about a 2001 van being “new.” Because seriously? Only 130,000 miles? That baby’s got a long life left — at least according to our car standards. 🙂

photo by GManViz

Please note: I’m not advocating that everyone drive unsafe, gas-guzzling, money pit cars whose doors are falling off. If you can afford it, I’m all for getting good quality used cars — something we’re hoping to save up for in the not-too-distant future. In the mean time, though, my husband’s still driving Old Blue Van.

2 Jul 2010   ·   3
Money Saving Mom

Weekend break and server move

Not only is our family in the process of moving, but this website is moving, too. Oh it’s not moving anyplace you won’t be able to find it (let’s hope!), it’s just moving to a bigger and better server — one that hopefully will allow it to stop crashing unexpectedly due to the traffic load. We’re out of possible fixes, so our only option left is to just up and move it over something much more powerful.

But in order for the big move to happen, I have to let the tech people at the hosting company and my wonderful tech support, Joy from FiveJs, take the reins for the weekend to get all the files and who-knows-what-else transferred over.

So I have one more post to go up and then I won’t be updating the site again until Monday morning — provided all goes as planned. Have a great Fourth of July weekend and I can’t wait to get back to sharing more deals and the conclusion of our house story next week, along with some other fun posts (and a few pictures of our new house!).

I will be posting lots of deals on the Money Saving Mom® Facebook Page while the server transfer is taking place. So hop on over there if you don’t want to miss out!

Speaking of our new house, I gotta go pack some more boxes…

1 Jul 2010   ·   74
Money Saving Mom

House-Hunting: Could this be THE house?

Last week, I left you hanging after we’d been house-hunting for six months and were getting kind of tired of hearing the question “Have you found a house yet?” We were also becoming a little lax in our finances because we didn’t have a big goal to work for. So, we sat down and had a Money Meeting to make new financial goals for the following year.

One of the things we talked about seriously at that Money Meeting was “How long are we willing to wait to buy a house?” Meaning, is there some point in looking for a home when we’d feel like it was time to lower our standards and just go ahead and get the best house we could find in our price range at that time instead of waiting it out for something better?

Our reason for contemplating this was because we’d looked at two different houses that week which were both in our price range and in an area we liked. But both of the houses were far from ideal. There were so many issues with both of them that we didn’t like and they’d both need some pretty extensive work before we moved in. We wondered if this was going to be as good as it got. They were adequate and we could make them work, but we certainly didn’t like either of them.

Maybe we were being too particular? Maybe we just weren’t going to find what we were looking for in the price range we’d set?  We really wanted to get a house we both loved, but were we being unrealistic? Perhaps we should just settle for something less-than-ideal, even if both of us really didn’t like it. After all, we’ve rented plenty of less-than-ideal places before and been perfectly content!

At the same time, we both didn’t want to fork over pretty much our entire savings account for something neither of us really liked. Something just didn’t seem right about that!

So we both agreed that we’d wait it out another six months and then re-evaluate how things were going. We also prayed together — for the umpteenth time! — that God would give us specific and clear wisdom and direction in this process.

Less than two days later, a house went on the market which met a lot of our criteria. It was in our price range and in an area we really liked, it had three bedrooms on the main floor and a master bathroom.

The bizarre thing was that there were no pictures posted online. We’d never looked at a house that hadn’t had pictures posted online, but for some reason this one caught our eye. And in a very uncharacteristic mode, we went and drove to the house to check it out. And as soon as we saw it, we both almost squealed: it was beautiful.

Surely there’d been some mistake. A house this beautiful couldn’t actually be in our price range.

So we figured there must be a reason there were no pictures online. It must have been gutted on the inside or something. But we still both just had to wonder if maybe this was THE house? However, we had no idea what the inside looked like nor did we have a clue whether the kitchen was anything decent so we tried our best not to get our hopes up until we’d actually seen it.

They weren’t allowing showings for a whole entire week because they were painting the inside. So what else was there to do but wait?

Never before in the house-hunting process had I felt like I was on pins-and-needles, but that whole week, I couldn’t seem to focus on anything else. I was terribly anxious to get to go inside the house, or see pictures or something. It was an excruciatingly long week.

Finally, the day arrived. I tried hard to prepare myself for the worst as I didn’t want to have my hopes dashed.

However, I could have hardly prepared myself for what the inside of the house looked like. In fact, I almost felt like crying: it was utterly gorgeous.

And then I walked into the kitchen. And I, who am usually terribly composed and rarely get dramatic about anything, had to suppress a squeal. The kitchen was amazing, just amazing.

The whole house was absolutely perfect. Everything we’d said were essentials, everything we’d hoped it might possibly have, all the little things that we’d always thought would really nice to have, but never expected we’d actually find in a house in our price range — this house had it all.

It felt like a dream and I was about ready to burst with excitement.

But of course, we had a few more hurdles to cross… so I tried my best to contain my excitement before it was really real.

To be continued next week… (I was hoping I could finish the story in one post, but alas, there’s too much to write!)

30 Jun 2010   ·   134
Money Saving Mom

What do I do with all these bottles of shampoo??

Could you please write a post on what we can do with all of these extra bottles of shampoo, etc., that we get? It’s more than my husband and I can use. Can you please offer suggestions for what you do with all the excess? Thank you. -Leigh Ann

First off, I’m not a big proponent of buying stuff you don’t need — especially if you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to do with it or can’t afford it. I’m all about buying extras of things we’ll need and use when they are at their lowest prices, but I also think you need to determine when enough is enough and stick with that.

Being a wise steward of your resources is not just about clipping coupons and getting the best deal, it’s also about using your time and money in a way that you get the best return on your investment.

I’m not sure where your excess is coming from, but if you’re just buying stuff because it’s cheap and you already have more than you need, I’d suggest you scale back on your bargain-shopping for awhile. Really, it’s perfectly okay to take a break every now and then. In fact, I usually take at least 4-6 weeks each year when I don’t clip a single coupon from the newspaper inserts.

However, let me be clear that I’m not saying it’s wrong to have extra shampoo bottles on hand. You need to evaluate what works for your family.

Maybe for you, being strategic about shopping involves buying stuff you don’t need or won’t use so that you can reduce the expenses of things you do need and use. Or, maybe you have the time and energy to buy extra things which are free or almost-free in order to share with others.

If that’s the case, or if you just have a bunch of extra toiletries accumulated which you’d like to find a home for, here are some ideas:

::Make Gift Baskets

Ever thought about using some of your stockpile for birthday, Christmas and shower gifts? For the right kind of person, it’s a perfect gift!

Basic Cleaning Essentials Basket

You could put together a Basic Cleaning Essentials Basket with cleaners and sponges for a new bride. Stick it all in a bucket from the Dollar Store and add some rubber gloves and you have a very inexpensive and practical gift.

Laundry Basket

What new bride wouldn’t love a laundry basket filled with laundry detergent and stain removers?

New Baby Gift Basket

Put some diapers, wipes and baby lotions or soaps in a cute basket with a baby blanket and you’ve got a great gift for an upcoming baby shower.

Really and truly, the possibilities are practically endless when it comes to gift baskets. And if you use mostly items from your stockpile and purchase any additional items needed at the Dollar Store, you’ll likely be able to put together some really nice gift baskets for under $5! For more gift basket ideas, check out Idea Queen.

::Share With the Needy

There are so many different needs you can meet right in your local community when you have extra food and toiletries to give away. Homeless shelters, nursing homes, church food pantries and local food drives, are great places to consider.

In addition, look for people you personally know who are going through a tough time and consider sharing from your abundance with them. If you think they might be embarrassed for you to physically drop by a sack of groceries, then consider doing it anonymously.

::Send a Package to a Soldier

Check out AnySoldier for a list of what soldiers on the field need and want. You can click through the names and choose who you’d like to send a care package to based upon items you may already have in your stockpile. This is a great way to support those who are putting themselves in harm’s way for our protection and freedom.

Those are just a few of my ideas. I’d love to hear from the rest of you: what creative ideas do you have for using your stockpile to bless others?