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4 Feb 2009   ·   132
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Saving money on tax preparation

As the end
of January nears, my husband gets in a tizzy to get our taxes done so he can plan
ahead. In the past I have bought Turbo Tax every year to do our taxes. After reading your blog for almost a year now, I got to thinking that
there must be some form of less expensive tax preparation software. I hate to
drop $50 on Turbo Tax!  It’s a wonderful program, but very
pricey!  We make more than $50,000/year so we don't qualify for the free programs that out there. Does anyone have a suggestion for a less-expensive solution than $50 for Turbo Tax?

Great question, Amy! Since my husband is an attorney and my dad is a CPA, we've never had to pay for tax preparation as they work together on getting our taxes filed. However, I know most people aren't in the same position as us so I'd love to hear what you all do as far as tax preparation goes. Any ideas for Amy and her husband to save money on their tax preparation?

3 Feb 2009   ·   66
Money Saving Mom

Get Your Finances in Line in 2009: Monthly check-up (and some thoughts on why we’re saving to pay 100% cash down on our first home)

January is behind us already–wow! That means it's time for our monthly check-up to see how we're doing on our financial goals for

As you will recall, our big goal for this year is to save up enough to
pay 100% cash down on our first home.
This has been a long-time dream
of ours and we've been actively working the past year towards this. In
actuality, though, we've been dreaming and working towards this even before
we got married.

You see, six years ago when we go married, my husband and I both committed to stay out of debt during law school–something
we knew would be a challenge, something which is rarely done, but something we both felt was possible, by
the grace of God.

We made it through my husband's undergrad and three
years of law school without debt–which was our first goal. And once we
had done that, we had momentum and motivation to aim for our even bigger goal of paying cash for
our first home. Because we didn't have school loans, car loans, or credit card debt, we realized that with lots and lots of hard work,
lots of scrimping and careful sticking to our budget, and lots of perseverance, paying cash in full for our first home just might be possible.

So that's our big goal for this year. A lot of people look at us like we're crazy for attempting something like this–especially when we started out with almost no savings after law school. But we're pretty used to that since people thought we were nuts for getting married before law school, having a baby during law school, and staying out of debt during law school. I guess you could say that being weird has become our modus operandi!

At any rate, we're not just shooting after this to be weird; we've run a lot of figures and spent hours calculating the numbers and we realize that in our situation, waiting and saving for a few years–if it takes that!–to buy a home debt-free will allow us to be in a much better position financially than if we were to take the money we have saved and put it as a big down-payment on a home.

It would not only likely take us at least a few years longer to pay off that home than it will take us to save up to pay cash in full for a house, we also feel like we would lose some of our momentum in the process. We're highly motivated right now; we don't want to be renting any longer than we have to and we're willing to forego a lot of extras and luxuries which we could easily afford in our budget in order to sock away a much larger amount to savings.

In addition, we're learning a lot about patience and self-discipline. What you wait for and work for, you appreciate much more. Yes, we could go buy a home next week. Yes, we could put a good down payment on it. And yes, many folks would think we were being financially-savvy for doing so. But we wouldn't have the opportunity to learn all the perseverance we're learning right now.

We also know that there is a temptation to buy more than you can really afford when taking out a mortgage. (Which is one reason our country is having the housing crisis they are having right now–but don't get me started on that!)

In the past few years, we've experienced some total and unexpected financial setbacks. When my husband graduated from law school, it appeared he had a good and secure job that he'd hold for the next few years. Things outside of our control happened and within a few months, he was without a job. Another move, another job, and another eight months later, he was again without a job. God took care of us and provided for us very well during these times, but we learned that you can't put your security in a job or a paycheck.

Very quickly, we came to be so grateful we had waited to buy a home. It's quite simple and inexpensive to get out of a rental agreement and downsize to a small apartment compared to the headache and possible financial strain which could ensue if you have a house payment you can't pay in a house you can't sell.

So even if others think we're making a mistake to wait to buy a home until we can pay cash for it, we continue to press on, persevere, and save. Not everyone is in a financial position where they can save like we are blessed to be able to do right now. We have a good income, our expenses are low, and we don't have debt. Because of this, it's a no-brainer for us to do what we're doing.

We don't expect everyone to follow in our steps nor do we think everyone in every financial situation should. However, we do hope that we can be an inspiration to many of you out there–especially to those of you who are young and just getting started in life. Just because everyone tells you you can't, doesn't mean that you can't.

Be willing to dream big, aim high, and work hard. Don't let the naysayers get you down. Keep on, press on, persevere. And you just might be surprised at what can happen! I know we've certainly been!

And now for the monthly progress report:

We started out this year at 33% of our house savings goal. As of January 31, 2009, we're at 36%!

Only 64% left to go! Yes, it might seem like a small percentage step, but we are thrilled to
be making headway like this. It still seems impossible that we might
actually make 100% of our goal amount by the end of the year, but who
knows? We'll keep working, hoping, dreaming, and saving all we can.

And we'll see what February holds!

How did you do in January? Whether
or not you posted financial goals for 2009, please take a moment to
post about your financial successes and failures in January and, if you'd like, the areas
you hope to improve in February. Then, come back here and leave your link
below. If you don't have a blog or would rather share anonymously, feel
free to leave your update in a comment. Let's all keep each other
accountable to be better stewards of
our resources!

2 Feb 2009   ·   14
Money Saving Mom

Menu Plan Monday: This week’s $10 menu


As I mentioned on Saturday, we skipped shopping this week aside from a quick run to the store my husband made for milk, butter, and ice cream. I was planning to stop by and pick up some fresh produce, but after thinking it through, I decided to challenge myself and see if I could plan a fairly healthful menu based upon what we already have on hand.

Here's what I came up with using what we already have on hand from previous shopping trips and the $10 shopping trip my husband made:

Banana muffins, fresh juice, milk
Strawberry smoothies, whole wheat toast
Oatmeal, apple juice
Pancakes (from the freezer), oranges
Scrambled eggs, fresh juice, banana muffins
Strawberry smoothies, pancakes (from the freezer)
French toast, oranges

Egg salad sandwiches, applesauce
Roast beef sandwiches, oranges
Grilled cheese sandwiches, broccoli
PB&J, applesauce
Rice and beans with cheese, veggies
Spinach brown rice and cheese casserole

Roast in the crock pot with gravy over noodles, homemade bread, green beans, grapefruit
Chicken broccoli rice casserole, steamed veggies, homemade bread
Steak, mashed potatoes, broccoli
Beef Stroganoff, steamed veggies, homemade bread
Beef hot dogs, broccoli with cheese
Meat balls, brown rice, steamed veggies
Dinner out

Granola bars
Homemade hot cocoa (organic cocoa, milk, and a little sugar–yum!)
Bran muffins (from the freezer)
Banana muffins (from the freezer)
Breyer's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream (my current pregnancy obsession!)
Strawberry smoothies

And that's that! I was pretty excited to see how the stockpiling I've been doing over the last month or two to replenish our supply after our move and prepare for the baby is starting to pay off in allowing me to have more ingredients to work with!

For more menus this week, check out Organizing Junkie.

31 Jan 2009   ·   13
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: The I-skipped-shopping edition

I was planning to go to the grocery store like usual on Friday, but after our traumatic evening Wednesday night and Thursday morning, I was rather behind and tired. And in surveying our cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer, I realized I had pretty much everything I needed to make it another week without shopping.

So my husband made a quick trip to buy milk, butter, and ice cream (the essentials, you know!), but other than that, I stayed home. I'll probably stop in to the store Monday or Tuesday to pick up some fresh produce but don't plan to buy anything else until my weekly shopping trip next Friday.

You know what? It was so nice to be able to skip shopping this week! I enjoy grocery shopping and snagging great bargains, but it's also nice to be able to take a week off when needed without really even missing it. That's one of the blessings of building and keeping a good stockpile of food and household supplies not to mention that skipping a shopping trip every once in a while is a great way to stretch your budget even farther!

On Monday, I'll share what our menu for almost-no-shopping week looks like. Stay tuned!


How'd you do this week? Post about the deals and
bargains you were able to snag this week or other ways you saved money
on your blog (with pictures, if possible!) and then come back here and
leave your link below. **To make it easy for everyone to navigate
quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super
Savings Saturday post.**

30 Jan 2009   ·   20
Money Saving Mom

Bacon-Wrapped Apple BBQ Chicken

bacon wrapped bbq chicken

Guest Post by Erin from $5 Dinners

Creativity is a key part of making my $5 dinners every night. It would be much easier to make spaghetti or chicken and rice every night. But there’s no fun in that! A little imagination with some basic ingredients can really add some spark to your meals.

Here’s a delicious dinner I made recently for, yes, $5:


If you’d like a $5 Dinner meal, just like this one, delivered to your inbox every night, come on over to and subscribe to our email updates!

30 Jan 2009   ·   4
Money Saving Mom

A few great reads

::My friend, Jaycie, has put together a very creative challenge involving exercising and earning vacation money. Go here to read more about it.

::In the middle of morning sickness or another difficult season of life? You don't have to let your food budget fly totally out the window. Stephanie shares some practical tips and helpful ideas here. (By the way, I took a similar approach a few months back when I was in the throes of morning sickness. Read more about that here.)

28 Jan 2009   ·   248
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Frugal wedding gifts


photo by Bonnie BonBon

I was wondering if any of your readers had ideas for
frugal wedding gifts? My youngest sister is getting married and I
would like to give her something nice but our budget is limited. I'm not very creative or crafty, so it has to be something
simple to do. I am a mom of 7, as well, so time is limited. -Michelle

I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions for Michelle. With "wedding season" fast approaching, I'm sure many of us could benefit by hearing about your frugal but thoughtful wedding gift ideas. Post away!

27 Jan 2009   ·   11
Money Saving Mom

This week’s ~$60 menu

Here's the planned menu for this week using these groceries and what we already have on hand in the freezer and in our cupboards:

Cream of wheat, fresh juice
Whole-wheat waffles (from the freezer), strawberries, yogurt
Granola over yogurt with fruit
Banana muffins, scrambled eggs
Pancakes (from the freezer), strawberry smoothies
Whole-wheat waffles, hard-boiled eggs, fresh juice
Oatmeal, juice

Annie's Mac and Cheese, oranges
Shrimp, steamed veggies, toast
Egg salad sandwiches, apples
PB&J, veggies
Spinach rice and cheese casserole, strawberries
Leftovers x 2

Steak, mashed potatoes, green beans
Roast over noodles with gravy, steamed veggies, grapefruit
Meatballs, mashed potatoes with cheese, steamed veggies, muffins
Chicken broccoli rice casserole, grapefruit, scones, green beans
Beef hot dogs, steamed veggies, homemade bread
Chicken burgers with cheese, broccoli, fruit salad, homemade bread
Dinner out

Banana muffins
Granola bars

24 Jan 2009   ·   39
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Dillons Mega Sale!


See all that stuff?

13 packages of Kraft cheese
5 packages of Smart Chicken (ground and chicken breasts)–reduced by half price
7 cans of organic cocoa powder–reduced to $0.25 each!
organic eggs–reduced to $1.85
beef hot dogs
2 bags Hershey’s chocolate chips–reduced to $0.99 each
Cottonelle toilet paper–free after coupon
4 Green Giant Steamers–free after coupon
Dove shampoo
Herbal Essence shampoo/conditioner
6 Johnson’s Buddies soaps–free after coupon
4-pk Yo-Plait yogurt
2 packages Fiber One bars
3 boxes Quaker oatmeal
2 boxes Orville Redenbacher natural popcorn
1 quart whole milk–reduced to $0.99
3 bags Chex Mix

Before reductions, sales, and coupons, it would retail for $140-$150. After reductions, coupons, and sales, I paid $49 for all of it!

The best deal of all, in my opinion, was the cheese. It was $1.49/bag or block if you bought 10 of the mega sale items. However, their were $1/1 coupons in a little dispenser right next to the cheese. So I paid $0.49 each for all 13 packages of cheese!! I’ll be freezing most of the shredded cheese to use in some of the meals I’ll be making up and freezing for the baby’s birth.

Many of the “snacky” items I’ll be saving for after the baby is born. I’m trying to build up a good stockpile of food and household items to have on hand then so we don’t have to worry much about shopping (you can read more about this here). This should also save us money because I usually am not thinking clearly enough after a baby is born to be using coupons or shopping the sales.

For those of you who shop at “my” Dillons store be sure to hit this cheese deal! Also, check out the section of the store (at the back) where they have mark-downs. There were boxes and boxes of Hershey’s chocolate chips reduced to $0.99 back there!

I also went earlier this week while I was out running errands and got the following items:


From the health food store: a bag of organic apples reduced to $0.99, organic toaster pastries reduced to $0.99, Kashi granola reduced to $1.99. Again, I’m saving the toaster pastries for quick breakfasts after Baby comes.

From Dillons: 5 bags of cranberries reduced to $0.50 each. I stuck all of these in the freezer to use in baking.

And then yesterday, a friend found strawberries at a steal and bought some for me, too:


Can you guess how much all those strawberries cost? $6.49!!! We’ll be eating some of them fresh and I’ll freeze the rest to use in smoothies. Yummy!

I was planning to go to Aldi and buy some more fruit and veggies for this week, but after getting all those strawberries and surveying what’s still in my refrigerator and freezer, I think I’m going to hold off doing so for at least a few more days and make sure we use up the fresh produce we already have!

And I’m still quite a bit under our $60/week budget allotment for this month. All I can say is that God is so good and so faithful to provide for us as I seek to trust Him, pray for His blessing upon shopping trips, and do my best to be a wise steward of the resources He’s given us.

I’ll post our menu for what we’re eating this coming week on Monday, for those who are interested.


How’d you do this week? Post about the deals and bargains you were able to snag this week or other ways you saved money on your blog (with pictures, if possible!) and then come back here and leave your link below. **To make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.**

23 Jan 2009   ·   30
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: How I Save Money by Planning a Menu


photo by jen maiser

Guest Post by Karen

It’s a popular refrain sung by all who would be truly frugal: “If you want to save money, you must menu-plan!” There’s no getting around it—it does require thought and… well, planning. But like any discipline, it’s well worth the effort!

If you’ve been following MoneySavingMom for any length of time, then you probably already understand the “why’s” for menu-planning. Nevertheless, a little review never hurts!

Some of the perks of a menu plan:

1. You save yourself a daily headache by knowing in advance what’s for dinner (truthfully, the biggest draw for me!).

2. You give your budget a break from all the “pick-up-a-few-things” stops at the grocer or convenience store.

3. You save time and money at the grocer when you do go shopping, because you’ve got a plan!

4. You spend far less dining out or picking up takeout.

We’re probably all in the same boat as to the “why” of menu-planning. But surely some of us simply haven’t a clue as to the “how.” Do I get stuff on sale and make a menu from that? Use what I have and shop for the rest? Plan my menu and then shop?

It can be overwhelming at first, for sure! Everyone approaches it differently; what works for me may not work for you.

However, I’ve experimented and played around over the years, and here’s what I currently do:


1) Take inventory of existing food items. This is my first priority—using what I already have (another hard-and-fast frugal rule!). This includes any meats, beverages, dessert items, everything. I try to come up with meals that I could put together with what I already have and I’m always surprised at how far my pantry actually stretches!


2) While I’m completing step 1, I also make a note of what meals I could make, if only I had _____________. Many times, I lack something very inexpensive, such as a can of cream soup, or a stick of margarine. I jot those items down, and my grocery list is underway!


3) Check and compare sale fliers and coupons. I shop at only two grocery stores now; I found I was spending what little I saved on gas for all the trips! Plus, I have 2 small kiddos. I’d swap a couple dollars for time and energy any day!

Often, the sale ads jog my memory about a coupon I have stashed or a favorite meal I’ve forgotten about. And I try to ask the hubby whether there’s something special he’d like to eat that week. He appreciates that, and he’s usually ready with an answer!


4) Once I’ve got 10-12 meals written down, I slot them into my calendar. For me, this takes up the most time, but I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful. I use a whiteboard, and I plan meals according to the specific days’ events.

For example, my husband is home for dinner only three days per week, so I plan the nicest meals for those evenings. Wednesday night is a church night, which means planning something quick and easy. On Sundays we uphold a
time-honored family tradition: Nacho Night! And I always designate one night as “Leftover Smorgasbord Night.” This practice also helps to achieve variety; no one wants rice three nights in a row!

In addition, planning out my meals forces me to be a good steward with what I have. If I don’t plan carefully, my 3-pound bag of salad greens that was on sale will certainly wilt and rot, wasting money! Instead, I’ll plan a nice big dinner salad
(with chicken, per the husband’s request!) for Tuesday, spaghetti and
a side salad for Wednesday, and then I’ll have a sandwich and salad
for lunch on Thursday.

5) After double-checking the menu plan and grocery list, making sure nothing has been forgotten, it is time for The Big Shop. I make sure I’ve got my shopping list, any related coupons, and a full belly. (Really! You’ll spend less if you’re not ravenous!)

I feel good about grocery shopping when I’ve thought through my menu intelligently. And the best part? No more feelings of panic or
frustration when the husband asks, “What’s on the menu tonight?”

When she’s not fussing over her 2 sweet girlies (and when is that, exactly?), Karen writes about a little of everything at

22 Jan 2009   ·   102
Do you have a baby on the way, but you're worried about your finances? Read this encouraging series on how to have a baby without breaking the budget! TONS of great tips!

Having a Baby Without Breaking the Bank: Part 1

Do you have a baby on the way, but you're worried about your finances? Read this encouraging series on how to have a baby without breaking the budget! TONS of great tips!

My wife and I are expecting our first child. We were wondering if you had any tips that we could put into place now to start saving as we shop. And also if you had any websites that offer freebies for mothers, and any other good info you may have out there. -Jonathan

I often receive questions like the above from new parents-to-be and while I don’t feel like I’m the most-qualified person to talk on the subject, since we have had two babies (so far!) without spending much money at all in the process, I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far in this new series Having a Baby Without Breaking the Bank. I hope that those of you who have had children will also chime in and share what you’ve learned as well!

Despite what you often hear, having a baby doesn’t have to cost you an arm and leg. We had our first daughter when my husband was in law school and we were living on around $1000/month. By the grace of God and lots of creativity, we managed just fine!

There is often a tendency as soon as one finds out they are pregnant for the first time, to want to start buying things–baby things, maternity clothes, baby books, nursery furnishings, and on and on and on. My advice? If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

There are so many things that pregnancy books and magazines and even friends will tell you are must-haves. And you can fork out hundreds (or even thousands!) of dollars on these items needlessly.

In my first pregnancy–when we were living on our very meager budget–we actually didn’t buy anything aside from a few maternity clothes, a few blankets, a few packages of diapers, and a few sleepers. Everything else we needed for the pregnancy and our little girl we either borrowed from some one, were given as a gift, or did without.

My mom had advised me not to buy anything since it was our first baby and she was pretty sure many folks would be generous in their gifts to us. She was exactly right. Though we were in a small town that was new-to-us and didn’t have a lot of local friends, we still ended up having three baby showers and receiving plenty of gifts. We didn’t have an abundance, but we had exactly what we needed.

The good news was that since we were living in a tiny basement apartment, we didn’t have room for much of anything either so if we had purchased a lot of stuff, we would have quickly run out of space to store it. And we also learned that you can survive quite fine and have a happy baby without all of the dozens of gadgets and gizmos advertised everywhere as the latest and greatest things for wee ones.

So if you are a first-time parent, I’d advise you to think twice before buying a lot of stuff before your baby is born. You might end up with being given almost everything you need–or even more than you need!

In the next installment, we’ll begin discussing the items I see as necessities for pregnancy and the first six months of a child’s life and ways to get these inexpensively or even for free. Stay tuned…

21 Jan 2009   ·   26
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 5

As promised, here's the final installment of this week's Baking Day posts. Only, unlike yesterday when I was baking up a storm, I didn't bake or cook anything today.

Instead, my sister came over to help me today and she made all of this for me–plus, she took the pictures! Yes, I'm very spoiled to live close to family again.

Here's what she stocked our freezer with:


Whole-Wheat Banana Crumb Muffins–These are delicious! The recipe is here and was passed onto me by Donielle. She used some applesauce in place of the butter/oil and I don't think you can tell at all.


Spinach, Brown Rice, and Cheese Casserole–I love this stuff! I'd recommend putting in a little less spinach (unless you really like the taste of cooked spinach, more cheese, and maybe some extra seasonings in place of the Worchestershire sauce). It makes such a nutritious and delicious lunch; I always crave it when I'm pregnant, too!


Cranberry Orange Bread–Another great recipe! My friend found cranberries marked down to $0.50/bag at our nearby Dillons store and she tipped me off to the deal. Plus, she gave me this great recipe!

Cranberry Orange Bread
2 cups flour
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar                           
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder               
1/2 teaspoon baking soda                               
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
3/4 cup orange juice
1 egg                             
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Cut in shortening (like for a pie crust). Beat the egg. Stir in orange peel and orange juice. Add these to the
dry ingredients and mix. Then fold in cranberries and nuts. Bake in a
greased large loaf pan at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

And, not only did she make all of that, but my sister also made a double batch of pancakes, too. Whew! See why I'm so blessed to have family nearby?

20 Jan 2009   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 4

Well, I ran out of energy today before I ran out of items on my to-do list (that seems to be a fairly regular occurrence these days!) but I did get a big batch of meatballs made and a double batch of granola bars made before dinner time.

I have this big goal of having our second refrigerator/freezer stocked to gills with dinners, healthy snacks, and so forth by the time the baby is born. I've always made some extra food, but have never had the luxury of having an extra refrigerator, so I wanted to take advantage of that.

I'm also thinking that this being our third baby in four years and all, it's probably a wise idea to be as well-prepared as possible. I'm just guessing that cooking and baking in that first month or two after Baby arrives is not going to be the top priority.


Seeing as I'm 11 weeks out from being full-term, I figured I can go ahead and get started with filling the freezer. So I made this batch of meatballs with that in mind. There's enough here to last us for five dinners so I'm going to freeze two dinner's worth to use before the baby is born and three meal's worth to use after the baby is born. I'm freezing these on baking sheets and then will divvy up into freezer bags once they are fully frozen.

(By the way, for those who may be interested in reading more about how we're preparing for Baby #3, check out my other blog, Mom of Littles. I post updates on my pregnancy over there and will be sharing a lot in the coming weeks on details of how we're gearing up for this big event and trying to be as organized and ready as possible!)

After the meatballs were finished and in the freezer, I tried out this new-to-me granola bar recipe. I've never made granola bars before, but these looked so good and so good-for-you that I couldn't resist. They were pretty easy to make, though I feel like I need to make them a few more times to really perfect the recipe.


As always, I did some tweaking to it. I used some slivered almonds and flax seeds instead of some of the peanuts and sunflower seeds and added in extra oats to make up for the rest. Since I made a double batch, I added dark chocolate pieces to one of them as well. My hubby is quite fond of chocolate chip granola bars, so I figured he'd enjoy these better with some chocolate in them.

I wished I wouldn't have let the liquid mixture simmer for as long as I did; the bars turned out a bit crunchier than I was hoping as a result. But I'll know better next time! I also think that it was a little more complicated to make a double batch since you need to get them in the pan and shaped into bars quickly and doubling the recipe added extra time to it.

All in all, though, I was very happy with the recipe and will definitely be making it again.

That's all the cooking/baking that's happening for today. I still am planning to make pancakes, bread, muffins, and the spinach casserole that everyone's been asking for the recipe for. But that will have to wait until tomorrow afternoon. I promise that I'll do my best to share a post on that since so many of you have requested the casserole recipe.

And now, I'd love to see any baking you've been doing at your house today! If you've blogged about it, post your link or links below so we can all be inspired and motivated (and probably pick up some new ideas and recipes, too!). Thanks for joining in today and sharing another Baking Day with me. It's always so much more fun to have you all following along!