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4 Jan 2010   ·   34
Money Saving Mom

Eat From the Pantry Challenge: Are You Ready for an Adventure? (Guest Post)

Pantry

Guest Post by My Friend Kelly

Let's face it: we're all busy. No matter if you are married, single, in a
career or working at home, mother to seven, one or none, we all have enough to
fill our days and then some. Maybe the thought of adding one more challenge to
an overflowing Resolution list is too much to consider right now.

Relax, the Eat From The Pantry Challenge isn't boot camp. Crystal and Jessica are quite the opposite of
screaming drill sergeants. These are women who are willing to spend
considerable time and energy to share their struggles, successes, and failures
in order to encourage us.

This month-long challenge doesn't require you to
create a blog, starve your children, or eat leaves and wild roots. It's closer
to finishing the unread books on your shelf before buying new ones.

At the end of November, I embarked on my own challenge to clean out my pantry
and freezer. I am proof it can be done even if you’re not a master baker or planner.
If this pantry month seems too difficult let's start with a new perspective.

This is not a challenge, it's an adventure! Adventures are fun and exciting,
full of surprises and exploration. Here’s just a taste of what you might learn
on this adventure:

Re-discover Creativity

Remember the days when an empty plastic container and cardboard from the paper
towels could entertain you for hours? Or times in college when you made pasta
in the coffee pot and grilled cheese sandwiches with an iron?

It's time to get creative
again! Whether it's breakfast for dinner to finish up some pancake mix, using
stale bread for croutons
, or finding substitutes, cooking is about enjoying the
process and breaking out of the mundane.

Creativity comes when you have seventeen cans of tuna and need a new recipe.
Creativity is testing new sauces on pasta and trying new recipes, ingredients,
and styles of cooking. 

Discover Thankfulness

As we settle into our routines, grocery shopping can become a tedious chore.
Take this month to focus not on what you don't have in the pantry but what
you do. Instead of focusing on the deals you might miss, enjoy the ones you
found already! It's simple to grab chili on sale and celebrate a great
deal but it's a little harder to make chili and cornbread or chili on a baked
potato three times a week to use it up.

Look at all the opportunities we have to buy food and utilize discounts,
coupons, and rewards. It's easy to take that for granted. When was the last time
your family gave thanks for having a local grocery store, fresh produce, and the
funds to pick up a treat or two?

Discover Usefulness

Once you embark on the Eat From the Pantry "Adventure", try a little trick I call 'spelunking.'
Simply dig through your stock and find something you can use in place of going
to the store. Crunchy salad toppers can be used in soup. Top macaroni and cheese with the last
tablespoons of bread crumbs. Turn mushy apples into
applesauce and juice into popsicles.

Try Amy
Dacyczyn’s Universal Casserole Recipe
. Or, if you get stuck without an “essential”
ingredient this site
on substitutions is one of the easiest to reference.

I know my great grandmothers would be ashamed to see the amount of food I
let spoil each week. They didn't waste; the mantra was to "use it
up!" In that spirit during my Pantry Month I rescued a ham from the work
potluck that was to be thrown away. Ham omelets, sandwiches, added to beans and
soup helped stretch many meals. If you're thinking your stock can't possibly
last 31 days give it a shot and find out how long it WILL last. The worst that
can happen is you'll find your answer.

Discover Giving

Crystal has connected her savings to a charity, would you do something similar?
Soon we'll be collecting 2009 receipts and income information for taxes. Do you
find yourself wishing you could give more in time, donations or money? Food
banks are struggling this year so whether you donate some of your savings of
that can of creamed corn you don't want to eat, this is a great time to give
back.

How about making a Saturday trip to a soup kitchen to
volunteer your time? Encountering people in your own city who really do
struggle for daily meals can add some much-needed perspective.

Discover Purpose

What are you saving money towards in 2010? Do you have a family vacation, new
baby, cash-only Christmas plans, or need new clothes?  Remind yourself with
pictures posted on the fridge that represent your savings goal. When you sit
down to a meal get excited about your next adventure and what it means for your
family. If you have kids, talk to them about the importance of paying back
debts, saving for summer camp, or giving to others.

Check out some books on frugal cooking, there are hundreds available from the
library and paperback book swap
for just the price of postage. Or check out a new food blog for recipes that
utilize what you have on hand.

Re-discover Family Time

When you've got all you need right at home to prepare and share a meal, the
time really does center around family. Instead of running out to pick up one or
two things, find a substitute and create a new tradition–you may even
discover a new taste when you introduce variety!

Set the table, light a candle, and share about your day. And don't dismiss
family time if you're single like I am; use this time to decompress and relax.
Enjoy your quiet time and then call your parents or a friend and ask about
their day. Or pick up some nice cards and write a note to a friend or family
member.

What I discovered

While I've never had a baking day or tried to prepare a month's worth of food
in one weekend, I survived the month of December without grocery shopping. When
I found myself thinking of eating out or running to the store for “just one
little thing” I would immediately challenge myself to recreate the meal at
home. And on the days when I was busy and pressed for time, a bowl of soup and
peanut butter with jelly sandwich worked just fine.

You will find yourself accomplishing more on this adventure than you ever
thought possible. Case in point: I've gone 31 days without Starbucks coffee!

In the end I still survived and I'm stronger for it. I
certainly believed I'd be down to mustard, olive, and spaghetti sandwiches by
now but I'm eating just as well as before. I've learned a lot of lessons which
I share on my blog.  And I’m looking
forward to reading what y’all learn as well.

Are you up for a little adventure?

Kelly is a 25 year old single homeowner living in Northern
California. Despite a high cost of
living and tough job market, Kelly has created a cozy home without acquiring
debt. Now just $3,000 away from eliminating
student loans (the last of consumer debt), Kelly looks forward her first trip
abroad, thrift store decorating, and teaching financial awareness. Kelly blogs at My Friend Kelly.

photo by ex.libris

4 Jan 2010   ·   34
Money Saving Mom

My 2010 Blogging Goals: Priorities, Personal Posts, Diversification, Community, and Networking

If you know me much at all, you know I'm a strong believer in having written goals. Not just dreams or ambitions or pie-in-the-sky ideas, but realistic, achievable goals.

At the end of every year, my husband and I sit down and review our goals from the previous year and make out a list of goals for the new year. We try to do this in all areas of our life–from personal to spiritual to vocational.

While we don't always complete all of these goals and some of them we decide to chuck altogether, just discussing where we're at and where we want to go and then writing it down is a very beneficial and motivational exercise in itself. And we've been amazed at how much more we accomplish when we are purposeful in how we live our lives.

As the saying goes, "If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time." If you aim high, you might not quite make what you aim for, but you'll likely go much farther than you'd go if you aimed at little or nothing at all.

Over the next week, I'll be sharing some of my goals for 2010 with you here, not only so you can get a little peak into my life, but also because also because I've found public accountability to be a highly motivating thing.

To start things off, here are my blogging goals for 2010:

1) Keep God and my family as my first priority. If I manage to do nothing else this year but grow closer to God and spend the bulk of my time loving on my family, it will be a successful year. Everything else pales in comparison to those relationships.

While the computer can be an incredible tool and I love the opportunity I have to blog and interact with many of you, my family is my number one priority. Email, blogging, comments, Twitter, and Facebook all take a backburner to my husband and children.

One change I've made in the last few months is to set up parental controls on my computer so it is only accessible during certain times of the day–for an hour before my children wake up and for a few hours during our afternoon Quiet Time.

These self-imposed boundaries have been a huge help as they keep me accountable to make sure I am only spending a limited amount of time on the computer and am completely focused on meeting the needs of my family when my children are awake and my husband is home.

In the time that I do have set aside for blogging, here is what I want to focus my energies and efforts on:

2) Write more personal posts and share more pictures. While I plan to continue to share lots of great deals and bargains here like usual, I'm going to put forth a much greater effort in 2010 to share personal posts of things I'm learning, insights I'm gleaning, frugal tips and ideas, experiments and failures, and give you a little glimpse into our family's day-to-day lives.

3) Provide diverse content through guest posts. I have some excellent guest posts lined up for 2010 which I'm excited to share with you. My goal is to run one per week and I hope to include a variety of posts from individuals who come from a plethora of backgrounds and financial situations.

4) Foster community. We have some new features lined up for the site redesign we're rolling out in the next month which will encourage more interaction and help to foster more community and forum here. Many of you have asked for this so I'm thrilled to be able to launch these features in the near future.

5) Network with bloggers and encourage and help newer bloggers. A few months ago, a few bloggers and I banded together to create
SavvyBlogging
–a website with the mission of helping others make the most of
their blogging efforts. What started as a simple idea for a
get-together, turned into a complete Round Table Dinner and
Discussion and an active Twitter stream packed with helpful tips and
ideas for taking your blog to the next level.

I also will be collaborating with other bloggers on some other exciting projects over the next year and am even jumping way outside of my "comfort zone" to speak at the Relevant Conference in October. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to encourage other bloggers and share a few things I've learned along the way.

Those are a few of my blogging goals for this coming year. Check out others' goals or link up yours here.

31 Dec 2009   ·   82
Money Saving Mom

Our Journey Towards Saving 100% Down For Our First Home: Part 1

Yes, we paid cash for our home, but we don’t think most people should follow in our exact footsteps. While we hope to encourage and inspire you through our story to think outside the box and set big goals, we want you to adopt goals which are right for your own family — even if they are much different from our family’s. Every family is in a different situation with different needs, different circumstances and different longterm goals.

We think being debt-free and owning a home outright can be a wonderful thing, but there are many ways to get there and it’s going to look different for everyone. We chose to do something pretty counter-cultural and save up and pay cash upfront, but this was because we were in a unique position to do what we did. And it started way back when we were young…

A Wise Financial Upbringing

My grandpa had raised my dad that the only debt which he should ever have would be a mortgage on his house. My dad took this to heart and when I was very young, my parents, who had never had consumer debt, began working towards paying off their mortgage early. After they paid off their mortgage, they began saving to build a house debt-free.

When I was 10 years old, they sold our current paid-for residence and our family moved to a rundown trailer (which didn’t have heat, air conditioning or a stove!) while they built a house debt-free using the money from the sale of our paid-for house and the money they had saved. My dad was the general contractor and did a lot of the manual labor in order to save money. I recall going with my parents to store after store while they negotiated prices on everything from the trusses to the light fixtures to the toilets.

Within seven months, our home was finished enough for us to move out of the dilapidated trailer. And they had paid for everything in cash! Observing their commitment to live a debt-free life and the sacrifices and creativity they employed in order to accomplish it had a profound impact upon me.

When my husband was 11, his mom died after a long struggle with cancer. After her death, Jesse received a small sum of money and his dad wisely invested most of this money for him to use for college — which we are so grateful for! His foresight to do this is one of the main reasons our family is in the financial position we are today as that money, combined with what Jesse was able to save while working part-time through high school and college, added up to almost the exact amount needed to pay cash for law school ($35,000).

Jesse’s dad and stepmom also modeled careful financial stewardship: they always lived within their means, didn’t buy things they couldn’t afford and worked hard to pay off their house early. Jesse was inspired by this from an early age and started to hope he could follow in their footsteps when it came to finances.

Paying Cash for College

In his last year of high school, Jesse started applying for scholarships in earnest and he was able to get a full ride for the first two years of his undergrad. He also lived at home and worked part-time, so his expenses were very low and he was able to continue to save money.

He transferred to a private Christian college in Virginia in his third year. While he learned a lot from his year there, it cost an arm and a leg and he also wasn’t able to work much while going there. When he ran the numbers, he realized that if he were going to stay at the private college for his last year of undergrad, it would significantly cut into his law school savings. So he decided to move back home and finish out his final year at the state university he’d started at.

There was also another strong reason he chose to move back home: he was anxious to marry me! 🙂

Getting On the Same Page About Finances

When Jesse finalized his plans to move back home and finish his final year of undergrad at the state university, he started applying for scholarships there. We were thrilled when he was able to get an almost full scholarship again for his last year. He once again lived at home and worked part-time, enabling him to keep his expenses very low and allowing him to save money.

Soon after he moved back, we got engaged and started planning for our future. One of the things we spent a lot of time discussing and praying about was finances.

Since we had both had such an excellent financial upbringing and wise examples in our parents, neither of us had any debt, and we were very committed to living beneath our means. However, in crunching the numbers, we knew it was going to take some extreme creativity and frugality if we were going stay out of debt through law school.

Jesse had researched the costs of law school and determined it would likely be a little over $10,000 per year if he were to go to an in-state school and get a scholarship. He also had to add on the cost of books, which would be somewhere in the vicinity of $4,000 total.

All told we were looking at it costing right around $35,000 for three years of law school — which was almost the exact amount he had in savings thanks to the money his father invested for him plus the money the money he saved while working.

So we could pay cash for law school, but we also had to find a way to survive and pay our bills during those three years. We figured that we could live on right around $1,000 per month if we basically only spent money on the bare necessities. I had saved up $5,000 from working some part-time jobs before marriage, but we were hoping to keep that set aside as an Emergency Fund to use in case we had some crisis (and we did indeed end up using it a few months into law school when Jesse totaled his car!).

We were looking at having to find a way to come up with at least $36,000 extra in cash to pay for our basic living expenses for the next three years. That probably doesn’t seem like much to some of you, except we were hoping to start a family soon after we were married and we were committed to me being a stay-at-home mom once children came along. In addition, Jesse was limited to working only 20 hours per week per the law school rules (they limit students to only working part-time since the class load is so heavy in law school. And, in retrospect, I think anyone would be pretty out of their mind to try and work much more than that!)

We made a very barebones budget and we talked about every way possible we could come up with to cut expenses and bring in extra income. In addition, we discussed what sacrifices we’d be willing to make if it came down to it.

After much prayer, we knew this was the path God was calling us to; but it didn’t mean we weren’t scared or stressed sometimes, wondering how it was all going to work out. At the same time, though, we were excited to make a leap of faith and see God do miracles on our behalf.

Practicing Frugality From the Get-Go

We got married right before Jesse’s last semester of undergrad and we started practicing frugality from the get-go: we honeymooned in an old and inexpensive hotel in a small town in a neighboring state and splurged once to go out to eat at Subway. The rest of our honeymoon we ate food we’d brought from home or which we picked up at Dollar General while we were there!

Back from our honeymoon, we rented the cheapest apartment we could find and we outfitted it with furniture hand-me-downs we got from friends and family, plus a used couch we bought for $100. We both worked as many hours we could at our part-time jobs, we saved everything we possibly could and we learned that a strong marriage is not dependent upon how much money you spend, but on the depth of your love and commitment to one another.

Jesse graduated from the state university in May and we started making plans for our move to Topeka, Kansas, for him to go to law school. The real test of our faith and frugality was about to begin.

29 Dec 2009   ·   349
Money Saving Mom

Celebrating a Major Financial Milestone!

Early tomorrow morning our family is flying to California to visit some special friends of ours.

We're very excited about this trip for many reasons: we're looking forward to a vacation as a family; we can't wait to hang out with some incredible people; and we're anxious to get to introduce our children to what a real beach is.

But this trip is about much more than family, friends, and fun; we're taking this trip in celebration of reaching a huge financial milestone in our family.

If you've been reading my blog for more than a few months, you know that we got this weird idea to pay cash for a house and we set a big goal at the beginning of 2009 to have fully-funded our house fund by the end of the year. We started the year at 33% and it seemed very far-fetched to think we'd actually make our goal.

But God had other plans. He worked some miracles, moved some modern-day "mountains", and by His grace and enabling, I am thrilled to tell you that we are ending 2009 at our 100% goal! We're already seriously pursuing house-hunting and hope to have purchased a home debt-free by the end of April 2010, if not sooner.

Truly, "with God, all things are possible!"

This huge financial milestone did not happen instantaneously. It was not something we just up and decided to we'd aim for a few weeks or months ago. In actuality, our journey towards saving to pay 100% down for our first home began before we were even married!

On Thursday, I'm going to be sharing the nuts and bolts of our story and the struggles, lessons, difficulties, and victories we've encountered along the way. No matter where you are in your financial journey, I hope and pray our story is an inspiration to you to dream big dreams, set audacious goals, work hard, and not give up when the going gets tough. You just never know where it might lead!

Have you written down financial goals for 2010? If not, be sure to check out Simple Mom's post on the subject to nudge you in the right direction.

29 Dec 2009   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

My Pantry Looks Different Than Your Pantry

Pantry
Are you planning to join in the Eat From The Pantry Challenge? If so, you'll definitely want to check out this excellent article by FishMama on the importance of tailoring this challenge to the needs of your own family.

Remember, this is not a competition; this is an individual challenge and you get to make your own rules! Everyone's Eat From The Pantry Challenge should look different. Do what works for you.

For the record, I don't even have a pantry. Maybe someday, but for now, I'm happily using a metal shelf in our basement laundry/storage room. It works well–even if it's not some beautifully organized closet!

(Photo shown above is Myra's pantry. Read her post here on her Eat From The Pantry plan.)

28 Dec 2009   ·   100
Money Saving Mom

Eat From the Pantry Challenge: My Goals and Plans (and come link up yours, too!)

Eat-from-the-pantry

It’s so easy to think we have to go to the store every single week (or maybe even more often!), but I’ve found that when I challenge myself to make do with what I already have on hand, we can usually eat pretty well. Plus, we can save a lot of money in the process!

In recent weeks, I’ve been feeling like we have all sorts of odds and ends in our pantry, refrigerator, and freezers which need to be used up. But with the busyness of the Christmas season, I didn’t have much creative juices or energy to come up with ways to use this random assortment of items. Thus, the Eat From the Pantry Challenge idea was born.

I’d been contemplating how I wanted to pull it off, when FishMama wrote and asked if I’d be interested in doing an Eat From the Pantry Challenge in January since she was also feeling like her cupboards were bulging. I guess great minds think alike, huh?!

So we brainstormed for a few days and decided we’d co-host an Eat From the Pantry Challenge on our blogs January 1-31, 2010. We’re attempting to avoid grocery shopping as much as possible and will be blogging what we’re feeding our families, creative recipes we’re concocting, and how we’re pulling this whole thing off.

To be perfectly honest, I’m still not exactly sure at this point how I am pulling this off because I’ve never done something like it before. Let’s just hope it doesn’t royally flop seeing as there’s no such thing as backing out now!

The good news is that I have all of you and FishMama so if I get in a bind or run out of ideas, I’ll know just where to turn. Whatever happens, I know it will be an adventure!

Now, let me say right upfront that I am not going to completely avoid buying any groceries for a month. We like to have fresh eggs, milk, and produce, so I plan to buy those at least three times during the month.

So here are our family’s goals for the Eat From The Pantry Challenge:

1) Stop at the store a maximum of three times in January.

2) Only buy dairy (milk, eggs, cheese, etc.) and produce (fruits/vegetables).

3) Spend a total of $75 or less on groceries during the month of January.

4) Donate the extra $85 leftover (or more) that we would usually spend on groceries to Gleaning the Harvest.

Now for some caveats: we usually have dinner out once a week as a family (this comes out of our “Dates and Eating Out” envelope and is separate from our grocery money) so we plan to continue that. We also often eat a meal at our extended family’s house at least once per week and we plan to continue that, as well. Plus, we’ll actually be in California for the first few days in January visiting FishMama and her family so we aren’t going to officially start our Eat From The Pantry Challenge until we get home.

You can see FishMama’s goals and plan for her family here.

Would you like to join us in this Eat from the Pantry Challenge? We’d love to have you along! However, I want to encourage you to make your own rules according to what works best for your own family’s needs. Don’t feel obligated to do things the way we’ve decided to do it; do what works for you!

You can join in the entire month, or for two weeks, or just a week–it’s up to you! It’s not a competition, we just hope to encourage you to get creative and save money by wisely using things in your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry.

So, set goals for your own family for the Eat From The Pantry Challenge. And, if possible, consider setting aside the money you save by participating in this Challenge and either applying it towards debt, putting it into savings, or donating it to a worthy cause.

This is a simple way that you can squeeze a little extra out of a tight budget to help meet a financial goal or give to someone in need. It’s not required that you do this to participate, it’s just something I’d encourage you to consider.

At the end of each week in January, we’ll have a post with a Mr. Linky for you to share about what you ate from your pantry the past week and how the Challenge is going for you. You can also interact with others participating in this challenge on Facebook or follow along here on Twitter with the hashtag #pantry.

If you’re participating in the Eat From The Pantry Challenge, post about your goals and plan and then come back here and leave a direct link to your post below so others can read about it and be inspired. If you don’t have a blog, you can tell us about your plan and goals in the comments section of this post.

26 Dec 2009   ·   71
Money Saving Mom

Eat From the Pantry Challenge–coming January 2010

Eat-from-the-pantry-challenge

I've been spending lots of time the last few weeks reflecting on this past year–the triumphs and struggles, the victories and failures. While doing so, I've been making out a list of concrete and realistic goals for 2010.

And I'm excited about what this next year holds–some of which involves this blog! I'll be sharing more details about some of my goals for 2010 and unveiling new features and additions to this blog (including a complete blog re-design!) over the next few weeks.

In the mean time, though, I wanted to tell you one big thing FishMama and I have up our sleeves. Instead of hosting another Freezer Cooking Day in January, we're going to be co-hosting a month-long Eat From the Pantry Challenge.

We realized in inventorying our cupboards, refrigerators, and freezers, that we have lots of food stocked up and many odds and ends which need to be used up. So during the month of January, we'll be challenging ourselves to stay out of the grocery store unless absolutely necessary and feed our families from what we already have on hand.

I've done this for a week or two at a time, but never for an entire month so it should certainly be an interesting adventure in creativity! We'll be blogging what we're eating, recipes we're concocting, and how we're pulling it off.

While no one is required to participate, we'd love to have you join us–whether for a week, two weeks, or the whole month!

Stay tuned for more details on the Eat From the Pantry Challenge coming early next week. If you're planning to participate, you can sign-up on the Facebook page here.

24 Dec 2009   ·  
Money Saving Mom

A broken tea cup, a humble manger, and the best deal I’ve ever gotten

A few weeks ago, my rambunctious two-year-old accidentally knocked and broke a very special tea cup of mine. As I was sweeping the pieces of glass into a dustpan, I realized this was something one could easily find themselves upset over.

But instead of frustration, I found myself feeling grateful. Our lean law school years–when a hot cup of tea in my special tea cup was one of life's few luxuries–had taught me a profound lesson: things don't buy happiness.

It's a trite phrase, to be sure, but when you've found much happiness in spite of the lack of things and the lack of money to buy things, it seems anything but cliche.

There are likely many reading this right now who are experiencing financial difficulty. Maybe your husband is unemployed and there are no job possibilities on the horizon despite your incessant knocking on doors. Perhaps you have no idea how you are going to pay your rent or your mortgage and you're beyond tired of eating endless varieties of beans and rice.

No matter your current financial struggles, you can have happiness. In fact, you can find the very same kind of happiness I had when we were living on $800 a month in a little basement apartment in a new town with few friends.

You've likely read here about a lot of deals I've scored over the past few years, but today I want to tell you about the best "deal" I've ever gotten–one which changed my life forever and gave me lasting happiness and peace.

Two thousand years ago, in a humble manger in Bethlehem, a little baby was born. This baby, Jesus, would grow up to be the Savior of the world.

When I was 11 years old, I committed my life to Jesus and He become my personal Lord and Savior. Since then, my world has been turned upside down.

Where once I lived in constant fear and worry, I now have lasting peace. Where once I had emptiness, I now have true fulfillment.

Is my life perfect? Far from it! But I am loved unconditionally by the Creator of the universe. And that, my friends, is worth more than all the money in the world. He is what brings me true happiness.

As I swept up those pieces of shattered glass, I realized I wasn't upset over my favorite tea cup breaking because I have something which pales in comparison to a thousand expensive tea cups–I have Jesus.

The things of this world will fade, crack, break, and die. Jesus is Eternal. He will never leave me or forsake me. And someday, I get to spend Eternity with Him!

This Christmas, my prayer is that you also know Jesus, too. If not, don't delay another day until you get to know Him and commit your life to Him. (Go here to read more about Jesus and how He can change your world, too.)

I promise, this will be the best deal you'll ever find–worth more than all the money in the world can buy!

Merry CHRISTmas!

21 Dec 2009   ·   10
Money Saving Mom

An afternoon with frugal friends

Borders

Yesterday, I had the privilege of getting to spend the afternoon with Erin from $5 Dinners and Amy from Amy's Finer Things. Erin was in town for a wedding so it worked out for us all to meet up for a few hours at Borders. It's always fun to meet fellow frugal zealots and Amy and Erin are every bit the real deal.

Erin has a brand-new cookbook out, she's been on the Rachael Ray show, and she's being featured on Good Morning America tomorrow and yet she's as down-to-earth and unpretentious as they come.

And Amy, well, she's just as kind and gracious as can be. She's a minimalist after my own heart and I'm so glad she lives somewhat nearby so that I have the opportunity to see her every other month or so.

It was fun to chat about everything from babies to photography (Erin gave us tips on how to make better use of our un-extravagant cameras!) to keeping computer time in check, managing three little ones, and laundry! I only wish we'd have had about three more days to hang out together.

My favorite thing of all, though, was Erin's precious baby boy. Isn't he just the most adorable little guy? At only 5 weeks old, he made my Silas (now 7 months old) look like a budding football player. I was reminded all over again just how quickly time flies and how much I don't want to waste this fleeting years of being a mom to little ones.

Be sure to stop by Erin's blog and Amy's blog, if you're not regularly reading there already. They are two of my favorite bloggers!

19 Dec 2009   ·   6
Money Saving Mom

Not exactly simple, but seriously cute: Miniature Gingerbread Houses

Foil_group

I found these Miniature Gingerbread Houses today from a link that Good Life Eats posted on Twitter. Are they not the cutest things ever?

I don't know that they qualify as being "simple" and I doubt I'm crafty enough to be able to create them (I was not born with an artsy bone in my body!), but I just had to share them here since I am positive that some of you could pull them off beautifully!

Go here for many more pictures and full instructions.

18 Dec 2009   ·   7
Money Saving Mom

Three simple and frugal last-minute gift ideas

Still looking for some gift ideas which won't break the bank? Here are a few to check out:

Oreo-truffles-2

A Southern Fairy Tale shares step-by-step directions for making Oreo Truffles here. These will be sure to please some chocolate-lovers on your list!

Finished

Kelleigh posted a tutorial for a very classy photo gift idea here.

Makeearringorganizer

Finally, Jen from Beauty and Bedlam blogged here about two gifts she created using things she already had on hand.

Want more inexpensive Christmas ideas? Check out this week's edition of Frugal Friday!

15 Dec 2009   ·   27
Money Saving Mom

Celebrating a Simple Christmas: Homemade Hot Drink Mixes

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One
thing we did for some simple homemade gifts this year was to make up a
bunch of hot drink mixes. I love hot drink mixes in the Wintertime and
they’re a nice gift to give since they don’t need to be used right away
but can be enjoyed at the recipient’s leisure.

We made Vanilla Chai Tea Mix, Fireside Coffee Mix, and Hot Spiced Tea Mix and packaged them up with gift bags, tags, and ribbon which I bought at 50% off at Hobby Lobby
last week. While I could have made my own tags and probably saved a few dimes, I
figured that keeping it simple and saving time and effort was worth
paying a little bit extra for.

We’ll be putting these drink mixes in gift baskets with mini-loaves of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread and Lemon Poppyseed Bread and a bag of this Corny Snack Mix (thanks to Shannon
for the recipe link!). All of these items can be stored in the freezer,
too, so if the recipient has lots of homemade goodies around, they can freeze these to enjoy later.

It’s a simple and inexpensive homemade
gift, but I think it will be meaningful and appreciated by those who
receive it. And we had a lot of fun putting them together, too!

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Originally posted December 2008

14 Dec 2009   ·   4
Money Saving Mom

Celebrating a Simple Christmas: Homemade gifts for less than $10

Looking for some last-minute frugal and unique gift ideas? Here are two which I really liked:

Granola

This Chocolate Cherry Granola from My Petite Chefs would make a delicious and frugal gourmet gift to share with someone this Christmas.

2009 December 130

This brownie kit would be so fun to make for a chocolate lover. Yum!

Looking for more ideas? Check out the many other links here for unique and creative gift ideas which are $10 or under.