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29 Nov 2010   ·   62
Money Saving Mom

Time Management 101: Home Management (Part 1)

I wanted to end this series on Time Management with some thoughts on managing your time when it comes to homemaking. I’m still learning right along with you, so I hope you’ll chime in and share some of your tips and ideas, too!

1) Streamline Your Homemaking Routines

Most of you know that my mantra is, “Keep it simple.” There’s no need to have an elaborate system if something really basic works for you (though, if an elaborate system works for you, more power to you!).

And there’s no need to feel like you have to scrub every little nook and cranny of your house all the time. Give yourself grace to let some stuff go.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stick with the basics. In our house, if we have clean laundry, sufficiently picked up rooms, clean bathrooms, the dishes are loaded into the dishwasher and the floors are swept, I consider things to be in pretty good shape.

I aim to complete the tasks on my Daily, Weekly and Monthly checklists, but I don’t always get to all of them. However, I’ve found that if I shoot to get them done, even if I skip a few things every few days, the house stays in pretty good shape. It’s never perfect, but it’s usually 45-minutes to Company Ready. And I’m satisfied with that at this point in my life.

2) Take Time to Plan

I touched on this before, but I’m going to talk about it again. Without a plan, you don’t know where you’re supposed to be going. You’re aimless and purposeless and you’ll usually be more apt to just run around in circles putting out fires.

Planning one cleaning project to do each day and actually doing it, is much better than waking up with 447 projects in your head you feel you really should do but you’re so overwhelmed that you end up doing nothing.

I encourage you to set aside time in your schedule each week to make a simple plan of action as well as goals for the coming week. I usually make out this list for the upcoming week on Saturdays and then try to review my list the following Saturday bumping whatever didn’t get accomplished during the previous week to the next week.

Reviewing this weekly list of goals is always so encouraging to me because even on those weeks when it feels like nothing really got done, when I review my list at the end of the week I’ll realize that yes, I really did accomplish some things — despite what it may have felt like!

I use a list similar to FishMama’s (above), only mine’s not so detailed. It just has sections for Home, Jesse, Children, Personal, Ministry and Blogging. I try to set 3-5 goals for each section each week.

In the home section, I might write an extra organizing or cleaning project and two cooking projects. In Jesse’s section, I might write to set a goal of writing him one note, doing something fun with him and a specific prayer request to pray for him daily. In the children section, I might set a goal to finish a book we’re reading together, do an extra craft project and plan one fun outing.

In the personal section, I usually set goals for Bible memory work, a book I want to finish and some other area I’m working on improving in (such as going to bed on time!). For the ministry section, I might set a goal to have a friend over, write a card to someone and make food for someone. And in the blogging section, I’ll usually set goals for whatever posts or projects I’m hoping to finish that week.

Now obviously, I don’t always do everything in every section every week. In fact, some weeks I only get a few things off my list done. But planning these at the beginning of the week and then referring to my list of goals as I make out my short daily to-do lists helps me to be a lot more purposeful in living my life.

3) Involve the Family

My husband and I are firm believers in families being a team. No one person in a family was designed to carry the load of everything; it should be shouldered by each individual member to the level of their ability.

Now, I know I am very, very blessed to be married to a man who doesn’t shirk when it comes to work — whether that’s in his professional role as an attorney or when he’s at home changing a dirty diaper. He works from sun up to sun down and then some and I’m constantly challenged by his discipline and work ethic. [I often tell him, “Would you stop making me feel so lazy?!” :)]

My husband and I are a team through and through and we both contribute to our family economically as well as keeping up our home, training our children and doing the myriad of tasks, errands and chores which must be done to keep a home and family humming along. While I know our particular family dynamics wouldn’t work for everyone, I do encourage you if you feel like you are shouldering too heavy of a load to talk openly with your family members about how to shift some of that load elsewhere so that it doesn’t crush you!

We’re also in the process of training our children to also be assets to our family. While we very much want them to enjoy their childhood and just revel in that carefree state, we also feel like one of the greatest gifts we can instill in them is a strong work ethic.

No matter where you end up in life, a hard-working, persevering attitude is always going to be a huge benefit. Plus, I believe it is so much more fulfilling to live a life of service, rather than a life of selfishness.

We have found that modeling hard work and servanthood before our children is one of the best ways for them to learn, as well as encouraging them to work alongside us from an early age. And we give them age-appropriate chores to accomplish each day, as well as encouraging them to take initiative in helping outside of their daily chore list. (By the way, you can download some fun and free printable chore lists here, if you’re interested.)

We are still learning the practicalities of imparting this to our children in a Godly and balanced manner, so I won’t give you any tips for what works. But ask me in about 25 years from now, and hopefully I’ll have some words of wisdom to share. 🙂

On Wednesday, we’ll talk more about clearing out clutter, taming the laundry monster, simplifying meals and letting go of the myth of a perfect balance. If I have time, I’m also going to do a little video blog tour of my extremely simple homemaking binder for those who are looking to set up a simple home organization system.

How do you encourage your children to help around the house and develop a strong work ethic? I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions!

29 Nov 2010   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

Make Christmas Clutter-Free With Charitable Giving

A guest post by JessieLeigh from Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles

I love Christmas! I love the decorations, the music, the wrapping, the anticipation…I love it.

What I don’t love? Clutter.

So I love giving consumable gifts. It’s fun for children to have things to unwrap and it’s nice for me to know that once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Another way I like to cut back on clutter and help my children learn a little about giving is through gifts of charitable donations.

But how can we make this, well, more fun for our kids? How can we hold on to the joy and elation of surprise on Christmas morning while making the real gift something for others?

Here are a few tricks that help keep it exciting even for toddlers and preschoolers:

  1. Double up. Rather than purchasing a new, trendy game, pick up two copies of an old classic. Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, Hi Ho Cherry-o, etc. often go on sale for $5 each during the holidays. Wrap them both together for your child to open and he gets to keep one, the other gets donated to a child in need.
  2. Give a small toy that represents the charity. Want to give to an animal shelter? Wrap up a little stuffed dog or cat. Is this the year you donate to the March of Dimes? Give your child a small baby doll. Let your little one know that while she takes care of her new treasure, your donation will help take care of even more in need.
  3. Give them a gift card. Children have amazingly giving spirits. They also love to get to choose things and to be “in charge”. Consider giving your child a ten or twenty dollar gift card to a local supermarket and letting them choose canned goods for a local food pantry. The adventure of getting to shop is as good as a new toy for many little ones!

Those are my three favorite ways to keep Christmas clutter-free and encourage a giving heart all while making sure there’s something to open under the tree.

Do you have any tricks for making charitable giving fun for children? Share it in the comments!

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.

Do you have an idea for a guest post? I am always looking for high-quality, original (i.e. not published anywhere else online) content with tips and ideas Money Saving Mom® readers can use. If you would like to submit a guest post, please follow the Guest Posting Guidelines.

photo by Fearless

25 Nov 2010   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m taking the day completely off from blogging today to enjoy time with family, extended family and friends. I’ll be back tomorrow morning at around 4 a.m. CST to be sharing the best and hottest online Black Friday deals in an effort to help you get some great deals on items you need to buy.

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to make a list of things you need to buy as well as to determine your budget for your Black Friday shopping. This will help you to be prepared to only purchase those things which are good deals for you. Because, as I always say, just because something’s a great deal, if you don’t need it or you can’t afford it, it’s not a good deal for you.

Now I’m off to finish my Thanksgiving food preparations and enjoy some extra time with my family! Have a wonderful, peaceful, blessed day.

And by the way, one of the things I’m especially thankful for this year is you all. Thank you for your encouraging emails and comments, the wonderful guests posts and other submissions you contribute, the great deals you send my way and for reading here. You all bless me day in and day out — thank you!

24 Nov 2010   ·   118
Money Saving Mom

10 Things We Don’t Spend Money On

I know I’ve been sharing lots of deals on products and stuff recently. I’m trying to stick with the best deals to help you save money on Christmas gifts and other things you might need to buy this season.

However, I thought that it’d be good to offset all these posts with a link to Simple Organized Living’s post on 10 Things We Don’t Spend Money On. I love how she shows how they are choosing not to spend money in areas, so that they can put their money where it matters to them.

What things do you not spend money on?

22 Nov 2010   ·   20
Money Saving Mom

How to Get More Done in Less Time as a Blogger (Part 3)

If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, be sure to read them first.

6. Work Smarter, Not Harder

I’m a minimalist at heart and believe there’s no reason to make blogging any harder than it needs to be. So I’m constantly looking for ways to be more efficient and work smarter, not harder.

A few things which I find helpful:

::Use Google Calendar — I find it very helpful to have a plan, but I rarely stick completely to the plan. With Google Calendar, I can map out the posts I’m planning to run during the upcoming week, but if something else comes up and they don’t end up running, I can quickly and easily drag and drop things to another day or week or month.

Google calendars are also really helpful for planning out series, giveaways and blog projects. In addition, we use them for our family calendar and my husband’s work calendar. It helps to be able to see both of our schedules at a glance!

::Use Email, Rather Than the Phone — Advertisers and other people often want to set up conference calls to discuss potential opportunities. I’ve found that you can spend a lot of unnecessary time on the phone only to discover that the opportunity isn’t a good fit.

If a company contacts me and wants to set up a phone call, I email back and say that I prefer to correspond by email and if they give me more details on the proposal, I’ll be glad to see if it’s something I’m interested in. In most cases, they will send back the proposal and instead of having to have a 20-minute phone call, it will instead only take me two minutes to review and respond.

I only set up phone calls when it is really merited and I feel like it’d be more productive and efficient to hammer out details by phone.

::Set Up WordPress Templates — I just recently discovered Article Templates, a WordPress plugin, and I’ve been blown away by how much time I’ve wasted by not using these!

Since I post a lot of deals on my blog, I often have the same photos and wording in some posts each week. For instance, every Saturday evening, I post the best deals at CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens for the upcoming week. I used to have to upload the image into the post and copy and paste the information about linking up at the bottom of the post.

Not anymore. I now have templates set up for Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid and with just a click of a button, the photo is uploaded and the wording for the link-ups is there and I just have to add in the new deals for the week and the post is ready to go.

If you have regular features on your blog, this can be a great timesaver for you!

::Have a Weekly Planning/Writing Retreat — It’s been said that one minute of planning saves you five minutes in execution. And I’d pretty well agree with that statement. Making time to plan ahead, instead of living by the seat of your pants is critical if you want to manage your time well.

So I set aside a block of time on Saturday to have a mini “Planning Retreat” while my husband takes the children out to to run errands or doing something fun. During this time, I plan out our upcoming week, map out my blog posts for the next week, tie up any loose ends on projects, place online orders, clean out my email to-answer file and just generally get things in order so that I can rest on Sunday and start with a clean slate on Monday. Taking this time to plan makes a world of difference in all areas of my life!

Next Monday, we’ll talk about Time Management when it comes to homemaking, laundry and household chores. And then I have an amazing line-up of guest posts from women in all different walks of life to share with you!

What are your best tips for saving time and staying organized as a blogger? I’d love to hear as I’m always looking for ways to streamline and be more efficient!

photos from Shutterstock

22 Nov 2010   ·   39
Money Saving Mom

3 Ways to Use Leftover Turkey or Chicken

Guest post by Liz from Simple Italian Cooking

The secret to using leftovers is to use them as part of a different recipe. Here are three ideas to help you get the most out of your leftover meats:

1. Pasta with Vegetables and Meat

Combining pasta with meat is a great way to get both your carbohydrates and protein. Simply heat a pan over high heat with a little olive oil. Chop or slice your meat and add to the pan along with a few cloves of garlic, chopped bell pepper, sliced zucchini, cherry tomatoes halved, thinly sliced onion and some chopped basil and parsley.

Heat over medium heat while your short pasta is cooking. Keep in mind, this is just a generic list of vegetables. Use whatever you have on hand.

Once the pasta is finished, add it to the vegetables and chicken/turkey mixture.Toss and serve with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

2. Pizza

Another way to use leftover turkey or chicken is to add them to a pizza. You can use shredded meat with any kind of pizza — thin, thick, with a red sauce, or without a red sauce. The options are endless.

For example, you can create a chicken pizza by following the example of one of the pizzas at California Pizza Kitchen which uses sautéed garlic, spinach and roasted artichokes. Add some freshly shredded mozzarella along with some grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Instead of using their spinach artichoke sauce, drizzle the pizza with extra virgin olive oil, add a dash of salt, and bake in the oven as you normally would.

If you do not have any pre-made pizza crusts, you can easily make your own in under 3 minutes using a bread machine or a food processor with a pizza dough setting. Processing by hand will take longer – approximately 10 minutes.

A basic recipe consists of three and a half cups of flour, two Tablespoons olive oil, one Tablespoon salt, a package of dry active yeast and one cup warm water. Simply combine the water, salt and yeast and let sit for five minutes. Then add in the flour and knead with your hands until a stretchy but not sticky consistency is achieved.

3. Fajitas/Wraps

One of the easiest ways to use leftover chicken or turkey is in a fajita. Saute some sliced tomatoes, the meat, zucchini, mushrooms, garlic and onion over medium high heat in some olive oil. Once cooked down, place a fajita wrap on the vegetables until it is warmed. Then transfer to a plate, add in the vegetable mixture, fold over and top with sour cream, salsa and some guacamole.

With a little creativity, and some frugality, it is possible to economize your meals while still providing a good tasting recipes for you and your family.

Liz is publisher of Simple Italian Cooking, where she shares her favorite easy homemade Italian recipes.

What are your favorite ways to use up leftover turkey? Tell us in the comments section.

photo by tuchodi

21 Nov 2010   ·   35
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: A freezer full of meat

A few weeks ago, there was a Groupon for Kansas City Steaks. I had accumulated some Groupon referral credits (thanks to some of you who ordered through my referral link!), so I bought five $50 vouchers to Kansas City Steak Company for $25 each (well, they were free with my Groupon credits). And then we worked it out so that our orders totaled less than $0.50 each shipped.

We ended up spending less than $2 out of pocket for a freezer full of meat which included lots of steak burgers, beef hot dogs, steak and more:

And just for fun, here are a few pictures which give you a little peek into our week:

Not too long ago, we went through one of Jesse’s boxes from his childhood things and the girls were delighted to discover his soccer shirts. They are one of their favorite things to wear now! Early this week, the girls decided they all wanted to dress up in soccer shirts and have me take their picture, so I obliged.

We also took a field trip to a nearby museum which re-creates what some of the buildings in our county would have looked like in 1865 to 1880. The children thoroughly loved it.

The girls loved the schoolhouse, log cabins and general store as we’re reading through the Little House on the Prairie series together at lunch and these were similar to the ones in the Little House books.

The tree swing was a favorite!

Silas tried his hand at the hoop ‘n stick. Can you tell this boy has some personality?! Since it ended up being colder than we were expecting, I turned my scarf into a sort of head wrap for him to bundle him up a little more. So he was sporting quite the interesting look. But he didn’t care; he was having a blast!

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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.

20 Nov 2010   ·   74
Money Saving Mom

November’s Monthly Financial Check-up: We replaced Old Blue Van!


October was a pretty monumental month for us: we replaced Old Blue Van with a new-to-us car! I’m so proud of my husband for his willingness to drive a old, barely-running van for the past few years in order for us to be able to save to pay cash for a house. His sacrifices paid off because he now has a very nice, very reliable vehicle which gets  much better gas mileage and should last him for a good many years to come.

This is the first time we’ve ever had a vehicle that had less than 60,000 miles on it and was only a few years old. And it feels really, really weird. Almost as if it’s a rental car or something.

We were able to get a great deal on it — even a little less than our budget! The original sales receipt from the car’s initial purchase was in the glove box and we were pretty shocked to discover that by buying it three years old and with 30,000 miles on it, we got it 50% off the sticker price. If that’s not proof that you can save money by buying used, I don’t know what is.

So, here’s our current list of Financial Goals:

1. Significantly increase our giving to needs in our community and around the world. This is an ongoing goal, 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 for our next BHAG.

Our goal for this next month is to buy a couch set for our basement family room. We already have the money almost saved, we’re just looking for a good deal. I’m anxious to get some furniture in our completely bare basement family room so we can offer people somewhere to sit other than the floor!

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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, 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!

19 Nov 2010   ·   54
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: Host a Stockpile Swap Party

Have an overflowing stockpile or just want to clean out some of your extras before Christmas? Here’s a great idea that Amy emailed in:

Once anyone has couponed for six months or more, you usually find you have a healthy stockpile of items. Recently, I approached my friend Esther about the idea of a Stockpile Swap. We decided on a date, time and location and began to organize this unique event!

We planned our swap on a weeknight, when most people were available. We used many different venues to advertise for the event, such as Facebook, Esther’s blog, and our church newsletter. Each person was asked to bring ten new, unopened grocery, cleaning or toiletry items. We made these terms very clear. We also asked each participant to check expiration dates and double-check that the items had never been opened or used.

Many people brought more than ten items, which just made the selection better. Some people even brought candles, books — all new! I was fearful that we would have many of the same items — mostly highly processed food or way too many Johnson’s Buddies soaps or feminine products. But, I was pleasantly surprised to see such a wide variety of items, and even some organic items. One friend even brought some local honey she had on hand!

We gave each person a name tag with one of four different colors. These colors were used to divide into four smaller groups. Then we established an “order of play”. For example, it went in a rotating cycle of pink, purple, orange, yellow. As a color group would go to the tables, each person could select only one item. We rotated through the same four groups until everyone had accumulated ten items. We then donated the remainder of the items to local needy families.

It was really encouraging to see people go home with ten new items — things they hand-picked and really could use! We also had a coffee table full of coupons that were free for the taking and door prizes to give away.

It was a great night for everyone and something I hope to do every six months or so. It helped me to clear out my own stockpile and select some items that I could use. I left feeling like I’d just scored the deal of the year — for free!

Amy lives just north of Orlando, Florida.  She is a part-time nurse and full-time wife and mother.  She loves to host parties, sew, and spend time with her family.  She blogs about her sewing projects and home remodel at Gabriel’s Good Tidings.

18 Nov 2010   ·   33
Money Saving Mom

Earn Swag Bucks for printing coupons!


Swagbucks.com just rolled out a feature to reward you for printing and using coupons. If you look in the toolbar under the “Earn” link, there’s a “Coupons” link which takes you to the page to print coupons.

These are the same coupons hosted on Coupons.com and you’ll earn 10 Swag Bucks for every coupon you print and redeem at your local grocery store! Swag Bucks are only awarded for redeemed coupons and it may take up to six weeks after redemption for Swag Bucks to show in your account.

Thanks, Janelle!

17 Nov 2010   ·   16
Money Saving Mom

How to Get More Done in Less Time as a Blogger (Part 2)

mode done in less time
If you missed it, be sure to read Part 1 here.

4. Limit Time-Wasting Online Activities

There are so many ways to be productive online, but there are a thousand more ways to waste enormous amounts of time online. If you’re struggling with being distracted online with time-wasting websites and activities, I’d encourage you to consider setting up safeguards. Here are some suggestions:

::Parental Controls: On most computers, you can set up parental controls with a time limit, where say, you only have two hours a day on the computer and it shuts off when the limit it up. Or, you can set it up so that your computer will only allow you to log on for certain hours of the day.

::Leechblock: This Firefox add-on will block any time-wasting sites you choose either entirely or for designated time periods in order to help you get focused work done.

::Rescue Time: Wondering where all your time is going online and why you’re not getting anything done? Rescue Time will track your online activities and you can also set limits for how much time you can spend on individual sites.

5. Take a Computer Sabbatical Regularly

There are so many good things you can learn and read and share and do online, but I think all of us need to step back and step away from time to time and just relish media-free quiet. It clears your mind, it helps put things in perspective and it allows you to come back refreshed!

A few years ago, we implemented media-free Sundays at our house and this has been one of the best things for our family. We don’t always 100% follow it as there are some Sundays when we break at a DVD for the children while Jesse and I spend time together or we’ll need to turn the computer on for something or other, but I don’t blog on Sundays and by and large the computers stay completely shut off.

This makes Sunday a very restful day at our home and allows us to spend extra time fellowshipping with friends and family at a leisurely pace. We also often get in Sunday afternoon naps!

6. Set Boundaries for Social Media

Twitter, Facebook and Skype have made it possible for us to have discussion and online interaction with dozens or even hundreds or thousands of people every day. If used wisely, social media can be a tool which helps to grow your blog and gives you an opportunity to minister and reach a wider audience. On the flip side, social media can suck up a great deal of time if not kept in check.

I’ve definitely struggled with this. As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of young children, I found that the lure of social media was great. Here I could talk and interact with other moms in similar situations, we could share our funny kid stories, encourage one another in potty-training and homemaking, share blogging ideas and so much more.

The problem was, I wasn’t disciplined to shut it off. I constantly felt the need to check in on Skype to see what discussion were going on, or to check Twitter to see what I was missing out on.

About five months ago, God really convicted me of the need to do a better job of prioritization and I realized that I was spending too much time online social media. So I took some drastic measures: I disabled my Skype account and disabled my Tweetdeck account.

I set up my posts to auto-tweet to Twitter and now only check Twitter.com once or twice a day and respond to any messages on there, usually spending less than five minutes a few times per week on Twitter. I’ve found I’ve had a lot more time to focus on higher priorities now that I’ve really limited social media in my life — and it’s been a good thing (though I do miss the fun conversations and comradery!). I’ve also found that by limiting social media, I’ve been a lot more apt to pick up the phone or spend more time on real-life relationships, which should always trump online stuff!

7. Get Enough Rest

I used to think that burning the midnight oil would make me more productive, but I’ve actually found that I’m much more productive if I get at least seven hours of sleep almost every single night. I usually am most productive in the mornings so I make it my goal to go to bed by 10 p.m. and get up between 5 and 6 a.m.

It’s hard for me to shut things down at night but I’ve found that I’m much more prone to dawdle and waste time at night than I am in the mornings. You might be the other way around. Do what works best for you, but whatever you do, put getting enough rest high up on your priority list.

You’ll feel better and more energetic and I’d wager to guess that you’ll also find an extra hour or two of sleep at night helps you to be more productive than if you spent that time trying to pry your eyeballs open with toothpicks and get more work done.

{And to be brutally honest here, I wrote this a few weeks ago and I’m not preaching to myself as I’ve not done a good job of this the last few days and I’m suffering for it. I’ve been a ton less productive, more irritable and walking around like a zombie the last few days. Time to get back to early bedtimes — starting tonight!}

8. Say “No” Often

As women, we’re often afraid to say no. We fear we might miss out on a big opportunity and we worry about what other people might think of us. I know, because I’m there a lot.

I just want to encourage you (and myself!) to guiltlessly say “no”. If an opportunity is going to require time you don’t have or going to oblige you in a way you don’t feel comfortable with or is just not a good fit for you or your blog, say “no”.

Before committing to anything, count the costs. What are you going to have to give up in order to do this thing or attend this event or write this post or participate in this series?

Is it worth what you’re giving up? If you’re not 100% sure that it is, than say “no”.

The final installment of How to Get More Done in Less Time as a Blogger will be posted on Monday.

photos from Shutterstock

15 Nov 2010   ·   28
Money Saving Mom

How to Host a Frugal Thanksgiving for Guests with Food Allergies

Guest post by Sonja from Frugal Gluten Free Living

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be stressful and costly. Add guests with food allergies, and you could find yourself over-stressed and over-budget. But if you stick to a plan, follow these tips and stay true to your budget, Thanksgiving dinner can be memorable, fun and frugal.

1. Have Your Allergic Guests Bring Their Favorite Dish

People with food allergies will be relieved if you ask them to bring a dish. Most will either pack snacks or eat meals before a dinner away, just in case they are unable to eat what’s being offered.

It’s difficult to be a gracious guest when food limitations are so severe. Having a stand-by dish they can trust because they made it will ease your guests’ minds.

2. Do Research

Ask what allergies your guests have. Be specific. If they’re gracious, they’ll probably tell you to not make a fuss, and just go about your meal planning. But you may want to tweak a dish just for them.

For example, if they suffer from a gluten allergy, you can cook the stuffing out of the turkey, so as to prevent cross contamination. Or you can use cornstarch to thicken the gravy rather than traditional flour.

Some changes are so small, but your guests will be touched that you made the effort. I know I’m always overwhelmed with the hospitality my in-laws have shown my family when we’ve stayed with them and they had gluten-free cereals and noodles for my toddlers. I never expect it but it absolutely moves me to tears to think of their thoughtfulness. (By the way, some gluten-free dishes are so inexpensive and easy, you may find you like them, too.)

3. Don’t Be Offended

If your allergic guests stay away from your grandmother’s famous broccoli cheese casserole (drool!), please don’t be offended. They are probably more upset about it than you are.

4. Keep Ingredient Labels on Hand

People with food allergies obsessively read the labels. A little MSG in a salad dressing will make my husband sick for the rest of the evening.

Your allergic guests may never ask to see the ingredient list to a casserole (I wonder about the etiquette rules for that), but you can casually comment that you have the ingredient list for that casserole if she’d like to look it over to see if she can have it.

5. Don’t Stress

Chances are, your guests are more anxious than you are. With my family’s food allergies, I plan at least a week in advance before we go to a function. I try to balance bringing snacks, versus feeding people ahead of time, so our food allergy doesn’t become center stage at an event.

It’s humbling to have such a restrictive diet (we can’t have eggs, dairy, gluten, or most meats) but we’ve learned that family gathering around food is more about family and less about food.

Sonja Stewart writes about ways to stay within the grocery budget while on a gluten-free diet. Her blog, Frugal Gluten Free Living shares recipes and shopping tips for those living with food allergies. She lives in Astoria, OR with her husband and homeschools her two young children.

Do you have an idea for a guest post? I am always looking for high-quality,original (i.e. not published anywhere else online) content with tips and ideas Money Saving Mom® readers can use. If you would like to submit a guest post, please follow the Guest Posting Guidelines.

photo by atmtx

15 Nov 2010   ·  
Money Saving Mom

How to Get More Done in Less Time as a Blogger (Part 1)


As part of the Time Management series, I wanted to share some productivity tips for bloggers, as many of you asked about this. All of these won’t work for you, but hopefully you can find two or three to implement and save yourself time and effort!

1) Create a Computer Time Budget

Just as I found it helpful to have a time budget for my daily activities, so I’ve found it so helpful to have a time budget for my daily computer times, instead of just saying, “I’m going to spend four hours on computer and blogging work each day.”

I currently have my computer time broken down into the following specific blocks:

45 minutes on substantive writing
1.5 hours posting time-sensitive deal posts
30 minutes on email
15 minutes on Facebook/Twitter
15 minutes on a writing project
45 minutes extra — placing online orders, reading blog posts, extra projects

I don’t always follow these time blocks perfectly. Sometimes something comes up which requires I spend extra time working on a technical issue. Or occasionally I’ll have a conference call scheduled. So I’ll shift some things around in order to accommodate these extra things.

But having my computer time all budgeted out, instead of just getting on and doing whatever seemed most pressing, has helped me to get a lot more done in a lot less time. In fact, some days, I’m able to get everything done on my list — with time to spare!

2) Do One Thing At a Time

I know, I know! Multi-tasking can be a very efficient way to do many things. However, when it comes to most computer work, if you want to get concentrated work done in an efficient manner, you need to shut out all the noise and just focus on one thing at a time.

If it’s your time to email, work on emailing. Go through your emails in order of priority and don’t stop until your time is up. If it’s your time to write blog posts, only work on drafting blog posts until your time is up.

If you’re used to trying to post or email while you have a bunch of applications open and constantly dinging at you, you’ll likely be surprised at just how much work you can get done in a distraction-free 20-30-minute concentrated block of time.

And once you get in the habit of doing one thing at a time, you’ll learn where your fizzle out point is when you need to stop and take a break or stop for the day in order to come back to it refreshed and energized. Personally, I’ve found that I do best by working in 20-30 minute blocks and then rewarding myself with a short 5-minute break to check email or Facebook. If I’m working on an in-depth project which requires a lot of brain power, I’ll often set the timer for 20 minutes and work on it and then set the timer for 15 minutes and worth on cleaning up or doing laundry.

3) Tame the Email Monster

A) Eliminate Unnecessary Emails

-Go into your Twitter account and change your settings so that you don’t get notified when someone follows you.

-Go into your Facebook settings and change your notifications so that you don’t get emailed when anyone does anything but replies to one of your posts or sends you a private message.

-Unsubscribe from all email lists which you don’t actively read the emails and benefit from.

-Turn off notifications when someone subscribes or unsubscribes from your YouTube or email newsletter service.

-Set up a very comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions page which answers a large number of questions people routinely email you about. Put this in very conspicuous places on your site including smack-dab in the middle of your Contact page. While plenty of people will disregard this, I promise that it will at least cut down on some of your email load.

-Have a search button in a very obvious place on the sidebar of your blog. This encourages people to search for that post or recipe themselves of emailing in to ask you for the link.

B) Don’t Feel Obligated to Answer All Your Emails

State on your Contact page that you aren’t able to answer much of your email. This frees you up from feeling obligated to answer every email which comes in.

C) Keep Your Inbox Cleaned Out

I shoot for having less than 10 emails in my inbox at all times. If they are in my inbox, it means they need to be dealt with within the next 24 hours.

When I check my email, I deal with emails immediately. I either respond, if I have a minute and only a sentence or two is required in response, I archive them if no response is necessary, or I file them in my “To Answer” file in Gmail if a response is necessary but I don’t have time to respond at the moment. Once a week, usually on Saturdays, I try clean out the entire “To Answer” file so that it’s completely empty.

This system works well for me as it helps me to not be bogged down with a lot of emails not requiring an immediate response in my inbox. And it ensures — most of the time, at least! — that nothing highly important gets overlooked or lost in a sea of emails.

By the way, if you’re going to take the time to answer a question in more than a paragraph or two, consider turning it into a post. Then, you kill two birds with one stone — you answered an email and you wrote a post!

Related: Amy shares more tips for keeping your inbox cleaned out.

D) Set Up Canned Responses

I love Gmail’s Canned Responses feature and I highly recommend using it. You can set up responses for emails you often receive and with a click of a button insert them straight into an email.

For instance, I often receive emails asking for my address or how to start a blog. I have a canned response all set up for these questions, so I just click the appropriate Canned Response and it automatically inserts it and in a couple of seconds, the email is pretty much answered.

E) Enable Send and Archive

This is another cool tool in Gmail. You can change your “Send” button to “Send & Archive”. Instead of having to push send and then go and delete the message, you can do it with one click, saving yourself a couple seconds per email. When you are responding to dozens of emails each day, those little seconds add up! See how to set up Send & Archive here.

I’ll be posting Part 2 on Wednesday. Stay tuned!

**Update: This giveaway is now closed.**

Win a free Windows Phone 7!

Would you like to try out a Windows Phone 7 for free? These phones were just released and Microsoft is giving one away to a reader here this month!

To enter, just leave a comment on this post sometime between today and November 29, 2010. Tell us your favorite tip for getting more done in less time as a blogger or in any other facet of your life.

After November 29, 2010, I’ll choose and notify the winner. See the official rules of this giveaway here.

This giveaway is brought to you by the new Windows Phone 7. Less MIA. More PTA: Learn about Windows Phone online and see it in person at local T-Mobile stores today.

photos from Shutterstock

14 Nov 2010   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Ground Chuck & Annie’s Mac & Cheese stock-up

I stopped by Dillon’s to pick up some of the Annie’s Mac & Cheese which was on $0.49 when you bought 10. The children love this stuff, so I always stock up with enough to last us for at least six to eight weeks when it goes on sale.

I also found strawberries marked down to only $0.99 per package, so I snatched up some of those to freeze for smoothies. And then I picked up a few other deals and freebies.

My total was around $21 at Dillons.

Later on in the week, I swung by the health food store to see if there were any great mark-downs. I was extremely excited to find organic, hormone-free ground chuck marked down from around $6 per package to only $1.99 per package! I also found raspberries marked down to $0.99 (which I’ll also be freezing) and a bag of organic apples for only $0.99 plus a few other items. My total there was around $21, too.

And then I bought farm-fresh eggs from my brother.

So our grocery expenditures ending up totaling around $46 this week.

____________

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.

12 Nov 2010   ·   75
Money Saving Mom

Time Management 101: Make a Personalized Plan (Part 2)

Once you have some basic routines in place for your daily living, it’s time to put it altogether and devise a Daily Plan and/or Weekly Plan and then branch out to planning for all areas you’ve determined to be your priorities.

1) Daily/Weekly Plan

Now, I know some of you are rolling your eyes saying, “Oh brother. Here we go again. I bet she’s one of those fanatics trying to put me on a strict schedule for each day. That will never work for me.”

Be encouraged: I am not suggesting you need to have a very regimented, down-to-the-minute schedule which you never deter from in order to manage your time well.

Yes, seriously.

Wanna know a secret? We don’t follow a strict schedule! Instead, we have a plan in place for all areas we’ve determined are our priorities and we stick with a flexible routine.

That’s what I love about the Time Budget. Always before, I’d make these elaborate schedules and then I’d never follow them longer than a week or two because I’d get so flustered because I’d crammed them so full that the whole day was thrown off whack with just one or two little interruptions.

With a Time Budget and margin planned in the day, I’ve felt the freedom to shift things around, as needed. So, if the children are playing together really well in the morning, I might just let them play 30 minutes while I finish up a cleaning project. And then we’ll just skip or condense the cleaning/playtime in the afternoon. 

I think it is really helpful to go ahead and make out a specific routine for your day or week using the time budget and priorities, but use it more as a guide, not as a hard and fast must-follow-to-a-tee slave master. It’s there to give you gentle direction and oversight, not to make your life miserable!

You can see our written Daily Schedule here. However, that’s just the written schedule. We never follow it perfectly.

In fact, if you want to have a more accurate idea of what a day at our usually house looks like, it’d be more like this:

::Get up, read Bible, journal, pray

::Check email, clean out email inbox, blogging work

::Exercise, start a load of laundry

::Get children up (if they aren’t already up!), oversee their before-breakfast chores

::Get children started on breakfast (we eat oatmeal pretty much every morning), shower, dressed, make bed, clean up room

::Quick clean up of kitchen (while the children play or finish their morning chores) and make main dish for dinner (this usually involves about one minute of pulling out chicken or fish from the freezer and marinating it)

::Baths, dressed, chores (if the children didn’t finish their morning chores yet)

::Bible Time (We’re going through Teach Me About God, a Bible story coloring book and Hymns for a Kid’s Heart right now), Art (I eat a bowl of oatmeal sometime in here!)

::Kaitlynn and Silas usually go play nearby and I finish My Father’s World with Kathrynne (this is a unit study curriculum which encompasses almost all subjects, though it’s a little weak in some which is why we supplement).

::Kathrynne then works on her math lesson while I oversee and switch the laundry and finish any kitchen cleaning.

::Children watch a DVD or play while I do some blogging work

::Lunchtime and read a chapter from our current chapter book read-aloud

::Finish cleaning chores for the day

::Read to Kaitlynn and put her down for her afternoon nap (she sometimes just lays in her bed and looks at books for 45 minutes to an hour) or listens to a story CD. Recently, though, she’s been taking a good 1.5 hour nap most afternoons — probably because she’s been getting up earlier!

::Sing, rock and read with Silas and put him down for his nap.

::Return phone calls, extra projects or cleaning

::Clean out inbox, blogging (Kathrynne watches her school DVDs or plays.)

::Everyone help with folding and putting away laundry (I try to do at least one load from start to finish each day.)

::The children play together while I read, finish cleaning or extra projects.

::Finish dinner prep, set table and finish afternoon chores (if they weren’t finished earlier), clean up house

::Read together (if time)

::Dinner, family time, read Bible together

::Children ready for bed/to bed (Jesse usually gets the children ready for bed and puts them to bed and sends me to put my feet up and read or blog! Yes, I know, I’m very spoiled!)

::Time with Jesse

::Bedtime

This loose schedule is only for Monday through Thursday, as we only follow the morning routine on Fridays and then leave the rest of the day open for extra projects, errands, hospitality, getting together with friends and/or field trips. We pick one “big” fun thing per Friday to do and then also usually tackle some extra loose ends.Saturdays are much more relaxed at our house. Jesse usually takes the children out for a few hours while I have my Weekly Planning Retreat and then we just spend extra time hanging out together as a family, sometimes going out shopping or on a fun outing, sometimes just hanging out at home working on projects. We go to Jesse’s family’s house on Saturday evenings for dinner and our weekly “Family Night” (when everyone congregates to eat, catch up, play the Wii and laugh until our sides ache!).

Sundays are extremely laid back — well, apart from the last-minute rushing around to attempt to get to church on time! (One of these days we’re going to master getting three children out the door and everyone looking presentable at an early morning hour. We’re still getting the hang of that… and it seems like every time we’ve almost mastered it, we add another child to the mix. :))

We usually hang around church until we’re the last ones there and then we head to Cracker Barrel or head home for a very simple lunch and afternoon naps. We spend Sunday evenings at my family’s house (usually all the extended family comes over and we eat, talk, laugh some more and just catch up on the past week). The only project I do try to accomplish on Sundays is a quick clean-up of the house and organizing my coupons (which I do while we’re at my family’s house).

And that’s that — at least for now! Our schedule is always evolving and changing as our lives change, our children’s needs change and as new responsibilities come along and old ones are set aside.

I share these details with you just to give you an example of how our family operates (and because so many of you begged to see our daily schedule).It goes without saying, but I’m still going to say it: please, please, please do not try to copy our schedule or feel like you have to do something similar to what we are doing.

What works for our family will not work for you. Find what works for your family — be that a full-fledged schedule, a simple routine, a different schedule for each day of the week, a different schedule for each week of the month, something in between or something totally different — and do that.

The key is to make a plan and loosely follow the plan. Because a plan doesn’t work unless you do!

2) Homemaking Plan

In addition to a Daily/Weekly Plan, I’ve found it very helpful to have a Homemaking Plan. You can see my current homemaking plan here. There are also sheets available to download (for free, of course!) to create your own plan.

I don’t always get to everything every week, but by getting to most things most weeks and keeping our home pretty streamlined of clutter, things stay in fairly good shape around here most of the time. (Now, if you drop by, I can’t promise there won’t be crumbs or fingerprints or toys on the floor, but our home usually can be “company-ready” in about 45 minutes. And I’m happy with that for now!)

You can see my Daily Docket that I print and use each day here. I normally print these on Saturday for the following week and keep them in my home management binder. I try to keep it simple and only assign five to eight things (or less) on the to-do section and one to two projects/ministries per day. Whatever doesn’t get accomplished in a given day, either gets bumped to the following day, or I decide to just cross it off the list.

I try to never have more than eight items on my daily to-do list, otherwise, I find that it can be discouraging and overwhelming from the get-go. I’d rather just have three items on the list and actually get them all finished, than 30 items and overwhelm myself and finish none.

3) Blogging Plan

During my Weekly Planning Retreat on Saturdays, I map out the blogging projects and posts for the upcoming week on Google calendar and prep anything that I can. I also prioritize things by posts and projects which must be done and those which I hope to get to, but aren’t quite as imperative to write/finish.

To be honest, up until about six months ago, I mostly just blogged by the seat of my pants — without clear plan or purpose. Setting goals for my blogging posts and projects each week and then revisiting them on Saturdays has helped me to be much more intentional in my blogging. And hopefully, this has also allowed me to do a better job at the actual act of blogging. In addition, it’s helped me to actually follow through on my promises (most of the time, at least!).

4) Other Plans

Ministry Plans: On Saturdays, I also map out plans for ministry opportunities for the following week — picking out at least one to three different ways that I feel God wants me to serve or reach out to someone in our church or community. I don’t always get to all of it, but having it planned, helps me to be more purposeful in exercising hospitality, serving and meeting needs.

Homeschooling Plans: Our homeschooling curriculum doesn’t require much extra planning and preparation right now, but there are times when I spend at least a small chunk of time on Saturday planning out the projects, printing worksheets and getting things all ready so that come Monday, we’re not scrambling.

Menu Plans: Since we’re eating really simply right now, I just make sure that we have the ingredients on hand to have oatmeal for breakfast every morning, and simple lunches and dinners every day. I pick one meal off the list for dinner each night and write it on my Daily Docket the night before.

Plan XYZ: For me, I’ve found that if I have a good Daily Plan, Homemaking Plan, Menu Plan, Blogging Plan, Ministry Plan and Homeschooling Plan, life flows along fairly smoothly and doesn’t usually feel too stressful or chaotic (though there are definitely those moments!). This is what is working for me at this season of our lives. I encourage you to examine what areas in your life could be benefited by regular planning and to set aside a small time block each week to plan. At first, it might be rough going, but over time, you’ll likely really start to reap the fruit!

It’s well been said that 10 minutes of planning can save you 20 minutes in execution. And it can also save your sanity and lower your stress levels, too!

On Monday, I’ll be sharing some time-saving tips for email, blogging and the computer in general, since many of you have requested this.

Helpful Resources:

Organizing Your Life as Mom

This 125-page ebook walks you through how to create a personalized household notebook. It includes:

  • worksheets to help you think through your jobs at home
  • calendars that cover all the bases: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.
  • planning sheets for the holidays, your budget, your mealtimes — your life
  • Download a free 15-page sample here.

Motivated Moms Chore Planner

This chore planner tells you exactly what you need to do each day to keep your home organized and running smoothly. There are a few different options to choose from and you can purchase the chore planner for November and December 2010 to try out for only $1 right now.