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22 Dec 2010   ·   114
This Christmas Candy is SO simple, deliciously addictive, and super inexpensive! Make a BIG batch for frugal gift ideas!

World’s Easiest Christmas Candy Recipe

This Christmas Candy is SO simple, deliciously addictive, and super inexpensive! Make a BIG batch for frugal gift ideas!

We have a yearly tradition of making this Christmas Candy. It’s the easiest stuff ever to make, it is inexpensive and it’s addicting!

I originally found the recipe in the book Queen of the Castle: 52 Weeks of Encouragement for the Uninspired, Domestically Challenged or Just Plain Tired Homemaker. It was called “Crookies” in there, but we’ve re-named it “World’s Easiest Christmas Candy.”

All you need is brown sugar, saltines, butter and chocolate chips.

Lay one sleeve of Saltines out on a cookie sheet (you might want to spray or grease the pan first, though I’ve not had trouble with it sticking, but some mentioned in the comments they’d recommend this).

Melt one cup brown sugar and one stick of butter in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat until a gooey mixture forms. Pour this mixture over the saltines and spread around with a spatula to generously coat them.

Stick the pan in the oven on 350 degrees for around five minutes until the brown sugar mixture is bubbling on the crackers.

Pull out of the oven and pour two cups of chocolate chips over the crackers and let them sit for a few minutes until they are starting to melt.

Spread the melted chocolate chips evenly over the crackers and then stick in the freezer for around an hour (until chocolate hardens).

Once chocolate is hardened, lift off the cookie sheet with a metal spatula and break into pieces.

Put into gift baggies and store in the freezer until ready to give as gifts.

21 Dec 2010   ·   69
Money Saving Mom

Celebrating A Simple Christmas: Teaching Our Children to be Givers

One of the things we try to emphasize a great deal in our home is giving. We want to train our children to not only understand how to be wise in handling money, but we want to instill in them what we believe is one of the greatest purposes for wisely stewarding money: so that we have more to give to others.

In our everyday lives, we are seeking to encourage them to be givers. One of the ways we are doing this is by sponsoring children through Compassion International.

We read the letters from our sponsored children to them, we walk about the living conditions in other countries, we talk about how much a small amount of money we give can be used for so much good in countries where they have next to nothing and we involve our children in making cards and pictures to send back to our sponsored children.

Yesterday, we made Christmas cards together to send to our sponsored children (yes, I know, they won’t get there until after Christmas, but I figured that the sentiment would still be meaningful!).

After our cards were finished and addressed, it was dark and Jesse was home, so we all loaded up into the van and went to look at Christmas lights. The light displays didn’t seem as plentiful this year, but we still had fun together — and that’s what was most important!

How are you encouraging your children to be givers this Christmas season? I’d love to hear your ideas!

15 Dec 2010   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

Managing Your Time When It’s “Just You”

Guest post by Becky, a single woman from Washington State

If you’re only taking care of yourself, how can it be that you still cannot find enough hours in the day?

Value your time

It’s easy to over-commit to work, volunteer or social activities. After all, you don’t need to go home and take care of anyone else. But it’s still important to remember that you do have someone to take care of – you!

You need to eat healthy food, wear clean clothes, maintain your house, pay bills and so on. You may have more time to share than someone with additional family obligations, but nobody expects you to live in chaos because you have no time left to meet your own needs.

Figure out what motivates you

When you’re single, you don’t have to answer to anyone. That can be freeing, but it’s also a lot easier to waste time. Sometimes it can be motivating to have to answer to someone or be working together toward a goal or lifestyle.

When it’s just you, you could spend the entire weekend eating chips in your pajamas and nobody would know. Figure out a way to hold yourself accountable – setting personal deadlines for projects, creating a daily/weekly routine, sharing goals with friends or family; whatever works to keep you productive and using your time wisely.

Be creative

Tweak existing time management ideas to work for you:

A twist on “Freezer Cooking”

Cooking an entire new meal every night for one person isn’t a good use of my time and leads to wasted food. At the same time, I can only eat my favorite black bean soup so many times in a row.

I work to find recipes I like that freeze well and then freeze the leftovers in single-serve containers. These are great to take for lunch or to reheat on nights I get home late and don’t have time to cook.

I cook a couple times a week and then rotate through my leftover “meals” for variety — you can easily add a side salad or vegetable.

A twist on “When your child is napping”

Many articles on time management for moms talk about accomplishing small tasks when your child is napping or you’re waiting to pick up a child from an activity. You can apply the same concept to work.

Instead of chatting with co-workers, you can use your lunch hour or coffee break to pay bills, write a letter or e-mail or run to the grocery store. (Please note, I am not advocating that you multi-task and do these activities during your work hours.)

A twist on “Delegating tasks”

You don’t have a spouse or children you can ask to help you, but depending on your circumstances, you may be in a position to hire help.

I have a friend who works in a well-paying position (with long hours) that she loves. She’s happy to hire someone to do her deep cleaning a couple times a month.

If you’re currently single, we’d love to hear your tips and tricks for time management! Share them with us in the comments.

photo from Shutterstock

14 Dec 2010   ·   11
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: How do you implement your investing?

I would love another post on investing based on your personal experience. I am particularly interested in how you implement your investing. Do you wait until you have a specific amount in your savings account, do you invest a percentage per pay day, or do you have some other strategy that you follow? Many thanks! -Tess

We do some of all of the above. It’s probably not the best method, but it’s how I have things set up for now, fully expecting changes in the future.

We primarily use mutual funds as our investment vehicle of choice. I have set up some of our accounts, including Roth IRA and children’s savings, to invest automatically once per month.

This takes advantage of the dollar cost averaging, meaning that, if you invest a given amount automatically each month, you will catch a fund at a different value from month to month and will be able to buy more of the fund if it is down in price, as opposed to buying a lot of shares at the same price with one yearly lump sum purchase.

We are planning to fully fund our retirement funds in one lump sum at the end of this year and have been saving for the last few months with this in mind. I hope to have this set up with the monthly depositing later on (hopefully next year!), but this year, because we put a lot of our savings goals on hold to pay cash for our house, we didn’t do that.

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

14 Dec 2010   ·   57
Money Saving Mom

Free Customizable Daily Docket now available for download!

Update: We changed a few things and you should be able to save the edited form and re-open it. Sorry for the issues some of you were having!

When I did the Time Management 101 series, many of you asked if there was any way I could make my Daily Docket customizable so that you could add your own chores and section headings to it.

Well, thanks to the help of Jessica from LifeAsMom.com and Joy from FiveJs.com, I’m excited to be offering a customizable Daily Docket — for free! The Customizable Daily Docket allows you to type in your information directly to the form and print it.

You can update the information and print as often as you’d like. Here’s how to customize the new Daily Docket:

1. Download the new Daily Docket here and open it in your PDF reader. (If you don’t have a PDF reader, you can download Adobe Acrobat for free here.)

The sections of the document highlighted in yellow in the image below can be customized with your own text. Please note that your document won’t be highlighted like the image; this graphic simply shows you the sections that are customizable.

2. Click on the section you’d like to fill in.

3. Type in your text.

4. Print out the document when you’re done typing in your text.

5. Save your document if you’d like to save your changes. You’ll be able to open the document again to add different text at any time.

13 Dec 2010   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

Family Travel: Plan that trip without exhausting yourself!

Guest post by Kay at KayTravelsLife.com

When you decided to take to the road with your family, you imagined smiling faces and photo ops at roadside nature parks. Only after making reservations did you become overwhelmed with preparing your family for even a short trip!

When I worked outside of my home full-time and commuted three hours each day, every minute was precious! I had to develop a system for careful time management before a trip. By planning your time, you can:

  • Get more than two hours of sleep the night before you leave.
  • Avoid the cost and time spent on last-minute trips to the store.
  • Save money on your travels by foreseeing and bringing everything you’ll need instead of buying it on the road.
  • Be relaxed and rested instead of rushed and exhausted!

A week or two before your trip, set aside an hour when the kids are asleep and your husband is occupied but available for consultation. Make four lists:

1.What to Bring

Get detailed. Think of everything you will need, down to socks and baby’s bottle. Don’t leave an item off because you think it is obvious. I have been known to forget my shoes or forget to pack diapers in the diaper bag.

2. What to Borrow or Buy

List items you’ll need to purchase for your trip and where you’ll need to get them. Also, brainstorm whether you know someone you can borrow it from instead or purchasing it.

3. Grocery List/Menu Plan

This list is mainly for campers, but making your own breakfasts in a hotel room or lunches at rest stops will save you money. If you’re camping, a thorough list will save you time at the grocery store and help avoid a trip to the nearest town for peanut butter. Don’t forget snacks!

4. Most importantly, list out each day preceding your trip and assign one or two tasks for each.

Map out which day you will do the laundry, for example, which lunch hour you’ll do the grocery shopping, which evening you’ll take the dog to the boarder, run to a friend’s to borrow a cooler and when you’ll pack the clothes.

Include time the night before you leave to pack the car. Preparations will be less intimidating if you only have one or two things to do each evening, and you’ll avoid the last-minute rush and frustration of beginning your trip stressed. Since I have only one free hour a night, this list is crucial.

Save those lists!

When you return, revise the lists from your experience, note the occasion and duration (“Christmas at Granny’s, three days two nights”) and file them away. Next time you want to get out of town, you’ll be way ahead of the game!

Kay travels Texas and beyond with her husband and toddling son, whose first road trip included camping in the wilderness of the Big Bend area when he was just seven months old. Visit Kay at KayTravelsLife.com.

photo by chris runoff

9 Dec 2010   ·   25
Money Saving Mom

Make Christmas Clutter-Free With Experience Gifts

Guest post by JessieLeigh at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles

It’s too easy to find ourselves buried in clutter if we surround ourselves with too many things. For our family, with children who have December and January birthdays, the Christmas season can become overwhelming and, ultimately, lose meaning and even fun. Believe it or not, it’s not fun to be surrounded by piles and piles of stuff.

But I love to give gifts. I love to surprise and delight my children. I can’t help it.

Still, while I’m not above buying one or two very special toys for them, I remain determined to keep Christmas clutter-free. I do this through three types of gifts: consumable, charitable, and experience.

Today, I’d like to share some fun “experience gift” ideas:

1. Travel

This could be as big as those dramatic “We’re going to Disney!” commercials or as small as “We’re going to check out a museum!” (in a neighboring town). It’s fun to go new places — near or far.

2. The Arts

Give the gift of creating or discovering. Whether it be painting a plate, taking a music class or seeing a ballet, exploring the arts and creativity can be a wonderful experience to treasure and reflect on throughout the year.

3. Get Moving

Last year, my son received karate lessons as a gift. It has been fantastic! Classes are great. So are trips to an indoor gym/discovery center. Going on a family hike, boat ride or fishing trip are other great ways to get active together and make it something special!

4. Some Pampering

When my mom asked for a “big” gift idea for my five-year-old daughter, I suggested she would enjoy having her hair or nails done and getting prettied up. What girl wouldn’t enjoy that?

Well, some might not, but pampering can take on many forms… some people feel pampered by not having to cook, others by having someone do the vacuuming for them. This type of gift is a great opportunity to show just how well you know the recipient. And that’s pretty special.

5. Fun With Friends

Give your husband tickets to a ball game. Give your girlfriend a gift certificate to a pastry shop. Give your children tickets to a matinee of a kids’ movie — one for him and one for a friend. The options are limitless. Spending fun, quality time with people whose company we genuinely enjoy is a beautiful gift to give or receive.

Having a meaningful, special Christmas complete with gifts doesn’t have to mean digging out of a giant “stuff” pile come January.

How do you like to keep Christmas special and clutter-free?

JessieLeigh is the mother of a former 24-week micropreemie and two full-term blessings as well. She is a determined advocate for the tiniest of babies, including the unborn, and a firm believer in faith and miracles. She shares about raising such a precious, tiny baby over at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles.

photos by Ernst Vikne

8 Dec 2010   ·   3
Money Saving Mom

Frugal & Meaningful Christmas Gift: Chocolate Memories Basket

I loved this gift idea from Blessed Femininity! She put together a gift basket for her Grandma in the nursing home with a special memory or word of encouragement tied to bars of chocolate.

This gift is similar to The Question Jar in that you likely won’t have to spend much at all out of pocket (except for the cost of the chocolate!), but it will mean so much to the recipient.

8 Dec 2010   ·   29
Money Saving Mom

Taming the Teenage Schedule

photo from Pottery Barn

Guest post by Elizabeth at Ordinary Time

Life with many children is busy and I have found it just gets busier as those children get older. They each have their own interests, activities and friends and trying to keep track of all the comings and goings of these not-quite adults can make a mother go gray even faster than she already is.

To try to save my sanity, I have come up with a game plan that keeps my busy older children happy while allowing me to keep track of what everyone is doing. Some of the key items of that game plan include:

1) Using a family calendar

We have a large, write-on calendar hanging in our kitchen. Everyone is required to write their activities and commitments on the calendar. If they aren’t on the calendar, they don’t exist.

I make sure to put family activities on the calendar so when my children are scheduling their lives, they know what to avoid. Our general rule of thumb is that whatever makes it on the calendar first takes precedence.

2) Making family dinners a priority

Our older children know that it is the very rare activity that can take precedence over family dinners. And really, it has become such a habit that it is not an issue. Sometimes, dinner time is the only time our family has to visit together. We believe that this is important to our family’s well-being and we make it a priority.

3) Planning “enforced family fun”

As children get older and their schedules get busier, sometimes we have to schedule our fun. If my husband and I want to do something as a family, we make sure to pick a date and get it on the calendar. Our children know that it is a non-negotiable activity.

When our children were younger, it was easier to be spontaneous, but as our children have aged, we have had to give up a bit of spontaneity in order to have family activities. It is worth the trade-off.

4) Teaching our children how to schedule their own time

Part of being a functioning adult means being able to plan and schedule on one’s own. As our children get older, we give them more responsibility with their own time management. We offer advice and guidance and sometimes help with the inevitable crisis as our children learn this valuable skill.

We begin when they are about 11 or 12, making daily schedules with them and as they get older, we contribute less and less. The most difficult aspect of this for me is to try not to remind as much as they get older. It is hard to watch your child get into a bind, time-wise, but sometimes it is the only way they learn.

Raising children through their teen years can be challenging for many reasons, but having a plan to keep the scheduling aspects of life under control can make it more enjoyable. Not only does is help keep life a bit more manageable, it can also help to strengthen family ties by allowing families to continue to spend time together.

Elizabeth Curry is a homeschooling mother of 9 children, ages 17 to 17 months. When she isn’t busy raising her children, she writes, sews, reads and blogs at Ordinary Time.

If you’re a mom of a teenager, I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for time management! Share them with us in the comments.