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1 Mar 2011   ·   77
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: How I Lowered Our Electric Bill and Created Teachable Moments

I loved this idea from Jody who blogs at Because I’m Me:

For a long time, I’ve been on my kids to turn the lights off, unplug things we’re not using, close the doors, take shorter showers, etc. They were tired of hearing it and weren’t listening.

One day a light bulb went on in the brain and I presented my children with the following offer: Each month the electric bill was below $190 they’d get the dollar amount the bill was below $190 (i.e.: if the bill were $180 they’d get $10). That money would go towards a party, be it candy, ice cream, cake, pizza, chips, whatever they could buy with that money. I never buy food like that, so it would be a real treat for them.

The first month the bill was still up there around $200, an encouraging improvement but not what they needed.

By the second month, the bill was only $162. Yup, almost $65 less than usual! Not too shabby. And it gave them $28 to blow on junk food. I never expected them to get it as low as that!

In addition to a lower electric bill, my children were able to learn valuable lessons. For example, how to budget that $28 to get the best bang for their buck while pleasing all six kids.

They opted to purchase store brand soda, inexpensive ice cream, lots of buy one, get one free items, use coupons, and to pass on some items that were just too expensive. When all was said and done they managed to have enough junk food for one fine party and many days of treats afterward, and they contributed $10 to a dinner of Chinese take-out!

Last week one of my sons said he wished we’d get an electric bill every day so he could keep track of the amount of the bill throughout the month. I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity for a “teachable moment”, so out came the electric bill, an explanation of how to read the meter and a brief “field trip” to the side of the house where the meter is. Now he can check every day, do the multiplication and addition and see if we’re staying on track.

We are now four months into this deal and the interest has not waned!

Jody Sanders is a single Mom of 6 kids in south Florida. She home schools four of her kids, runs a home daycare and loves to sew. She can be found at Because I’m Me.

photo credit

28 Feb 2011   ·   63
Money Saving Mom

31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget Video Series: How to Plan a Weekly Menu, Part 2

I’ve stooped to new lows, folks. I shot this right after working out, so I’m still in my workout clothes with “workout hair” and no makeup.

I planned to keep these videos really real so that you could feel like you were just coming into my home and we were chatting over coffee at my kitchen table. But I usually do try to change out of my workout clothes and put on make up before someone comes over. But oh well! 🙂

Websites referenced in this video: and

28 Feb 2011   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu

(Seasoned Baked Potato Wedges ready to go into the oven.)


Orange Cream Smoothies, English Muffins
Homemade Granola Parfaits
Raisin Toast, Scrambled Eggs, Fruit
Cold Cereal, Juice x 2
Overnight French Toast Casserole, Fruit
Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls, Scrambled Eggs, Juice


Leftovers x 3
Macaroni & Cheese, carrots
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches, fruit
SmartOnes meals, frozen veggies
Cheese Quesadillas, frozen veggies


Chili Burgers, Seasoned Baked Potato Wedges, Frozen Vegetables
Brown Bag Burritos (from the freezer), Green Rice Casserole (from the freezer), Fruit
Lasagna Casserole, Broccoli, Bread Machine Buttery Rolls
Whole Grain Chicken Soup With Rice,* Olive Garden Breadsticks,* Apple Slices
Homemade Chicken Salsa Pizza, Tossed Salad, Double Chocolate Brownies
Dinner Out
Dinner at Extended Family’s House

26 Feb 2011   ·   29
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Target Trip #2: Spent $6.25, Got $20 back!

Today’s Target trip was similar to yesterday’s, only I paid a lot less out of pocket since I rolled the gift cards I had earned yesterday!

Market Pantry Pasta — $1.02
Buy 2 and use $1/2 Target coupon
$0.52 each after coupon

Market Pantry Salsa — $1.34
Buy 2 and use $1/2 Target coupon
$0.84 each after coupon

Market Pantry Cheese — $1.94
Buy 2 and use $1/2 Target coupon
$1.44 each after coupon


BirdsEye Vegetables — $1.02 each
Bought 6, used 2 $1/3 Birds-Eye or Steamfresh Varieties (IE) Printable (FF)
Free after coupon and gift card

Market Pantry Vegetables — $1.02 each
Bought 8, used 2 $1/4 coupons
$0.06 each after coupons and gift card

Old Orchard Juice — $1.19 each
Bought 3, $0.48 each after gift card

Weight Watchers SmartOnes — $1.80 each
Bought 10, used $5/10 Target coupon (no longer available) stacked with $4/10 manufacturer’s coupon
$0.19 each after coupons and gift card

Green Giant Frozen Vegetables — $1.27 each
Bought 2, used 2 $0.50/1 Green Giant coupons
$0.06 each after coupons and gift card

For some reason, I ended up having to buy 29 items to get the $20 in gift cards. When the cashier scanned the last item, it didn’t prompt her to give me the final $5 gift card, so I had her scan another juice and then it prompted it. Not sure what all went on there, but I’m not going to complain that I ended up having to buy an extra item!

I used the $25 in gift cards that I earned yesterday to pay for my total, so I only ended up having to spend $6.25 out of pocket and then I got back $20 in Target gift cards.

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.

25 Feb 2011   ·   27
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash! :: Laptop and TV

We paid cash!

A testimony from A. Ellis

My husband and I wanted to purchase a new LED television to replace a very old, very tiny 19” television in our bedroom, but decided it was definitely a “luxury” expense that would wait until we had saved up to pay in cash. In the meantime, we window-shopped the electronics stores and settled on the approximate type we hoped to purchase.

My high-school daughter also needed a laptop (we homeschool) so I needed enough to cover that (first priority) and the television (second).

How We Did It

I started shopping eBay and Craigslist for gift cards to the large electronics store where we planned to purchase the television. At the time, Bing was giving an extra 8% rebate for eBay purchases. Each time I found a gift card that would net me at least 15% off face value including all rebates, plus fees and postage, etc., I would purchase it using eBay rebate points (2%), Mr. Rebates (3%) and the Bing cashback program (8%). Example: I bought a $500 gift card for $475 ($25 off) + rebates (another $61.75 off) = $388.25 for a $500 gift card.

Once I had enough for the laptop, I waited a couple weeks for a sale on an appropriate model, and bought the loss-leader on the front page of the ad. Cost: Less than $250 (before tax) for a $589 laptop computer.

It took about eight months of being in the “right place at the right time”, but I finally accumulated about $2000 total in gift card value (for which I paid a total of less than $1485 after all rebates were factored in). We then waited until we received a coupon for a “free $50 gift card with purchase over $500” and started shopping for the TV.

Two weeks later, almost every LED TV in the store was featured in some type of “package deal” in which extra merchandise was included in the sale price of the TV. We settled on a LG 47” 1080i HD 120Hz LED television which was packaged with a LG Home Theater system including blu-ray player and five speakers, and an internet connection thumb drive, all for $1399 (regular price of TV alone $1699).

The gift cards I had saved up and purchased over time at a discount covered the price plus tax, and we had enough left over to buy my son a video game he had been wanting with a “10% off one full-price item” coupon (they wouldn’t allow use of this coupon on already sale-priced item, I tried!) and we also received the extra $50 gift card for a future purchase.

Total cost (with 8.1% tax): $1128 for a complete home theater system with a sale price of $1512.32 including tax (and original retail of well over $2000)

A. Ellis, B.S., M.Ed. is a mom of 5, one married, two high school, two 3rd grade and lives in Arizona.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

25 Feb 2011   ·   46
Money Saving Mom

Free ebook: Time Management 101


In the past year, I’ve received numerous emails from women begging me for my “secrets” to time management. They ask me to please share how I manage to seemingly “do it all”.

Every time I get an email like that, I wish I could invite the woman to my home. Because seriously, I think it’s easy to make bloggers out to be someone they are not when you’re basing all your conclusions of them upon the little sliver of their life that they share on their blog.

I know, because I’ve been guilty of it myself. I’ll read a woman’s blog, see the pictures and ideas she shares and begin to wonder if really and truly she might be superwoman’s clone. And I feel badly because I don’t measure up in any stretch of the imagination to this blogger. When in reality, I know good and well that every single woman has their strengths and weaknesses and no one has it all together.

–from the first chapter of Time Management 101

Thanks to the help of the wonderful Money Saving Mom® team, I’m excited to bring you a brand-new downloadable ebook, Time Management 101.

This 66-page ebook is a revised and edited compilation of my Time Management 101 series.

I hope it will be an encouragement to many of you! And if you know of someone you think it might be a blessing to, feel free to share the link or print out a copy and give it to them.

It’s in an easy-to-read, downloadable format. Just fill out the form below and you’ll get a copy in your email soon!

25 Feb 2011   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

MSN: How to get groceries for free by gleaning

MSN posted an interesting article recently on how to get groceries for free by gleaning:

A truck pulls up, two people jump out, and, within minutes, they’ve loaded up a few cases of dented cans, a box of ripe pears and a few dozen loaves of day-old bread. Jumping back in the cab, they pull out of the grocery store parking lot and head for the next store on their list.

Some call it food rescue or grocery recovery, or even an old biblical term: gleaning.

But no matter what you call it, the practice of rescuing food before it hits the garbage bin is becoming increasingly popular as a way of reducing waste, feeding people who’ve fallen on hard times and even helping average families save hundreds of dollars a year on groceries.

Read full article.

Thanks to Ashley for passing along this article!

24 Feb 2011   ·   25

Three Bean Chili Chowder Recipe

This soup has been a family favorite for years. It’s simple, easy and foolproof. And it would be scrumptious with some honey cornbread.

24 Feb 2011   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

Reader Testimonial: My Money-Saving Christmas

Lecia from Kindly Deeds emailed in the following testimonial which I thought many of you would enjoy reading:

Due to two consecutive layoffs, my husband has been employed for only seven out of the last 24 months. That means we’ve had two holiday seasons in a row with very little money to spare on gifts. Each year we draw names with both sides of our family, which gives us an extra 14 people to shop for, in addition to our own family of seven!

Both this year and last year, I relied heavily on my email updates from to help me provide Christmas for all those people. If you haven’t signed up yet for the Money Saving Mom® email list, you definitely should. Reading and using those emails has saved my family hundreds of dollars over the past two years.

As a direct result of the emails, I got:

  • Two cute little change purses from Target for my daughters. They love these and keep their dollar store Silly Bandz in them!
  • About $40 in gift cards to by using Swagbucks for several months. Plus, I signed up for the Amazon Mom program and got free shipping throughout the holiday season.
  • A free Duplo-style car that I just had to sign up for. That was perfect for my little nephew.
  • Three $10 credits from Kellogg’s after buying three boxes of cereal per credit (and I got the cereal three for $7, and then saved more by using coupons)! These credits were good for any toy or electronic product at stores like Wal-Mart.
  • About $20 in PayPal cash from taking surveys on sites recommended by
  • A free photo collage from Walgreens. I used my son’s Homecoming photos to make a collage for him that he treasures.
  • Free or nearly free photo books from various sites that made perfect gifts for grandparents.

We also scrambled together a few more dollars by trading in books and video games at our local used bookstore, and transferring some prescriptions at a time when K-Mart was offering $25 gift cards for each transferred prescription. Since three of my five kids take daily medications for asthma, we were able to get $100 in gift cards this way.

Once I got through the Christmas season and took a minute to breathe, I realized how blessed we had been, and I was so full of joy and gratitude for the wonderful and frugal Christmas we were able to have.

Lecia Crider lives in Mesa, AZ with her husband, Jay, and their five children. She blogs about service opportunities at Kindly Deeds, and she’d love for you to take a peek at her husband’s resume on LinkedIn!

23 Feb 2011   ·   121
Money Saving Mom

Mortgages, Paying Cash and Goal-Setting Run Amuck

I finished sharing our story of paying cash for a house two weeks ago and but I promised I’d follow it up with a few thoughts on mortgages and paying cash. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about writing this post last Wednesday, so I’m finally getting it done this week. Thanks for your patience!

While being debt-free is a wonderful thing, I want to stress very clearly that it’s not the be all, end all. Paying cash for a house doesn’t make you a better person than someone who is barely struggling to make ends meet and doing good to pay the utility bill and grocery bill.

We all have different families, different backgrounds and different situations, so our financial stories are all going to look quite different. And that’s perfectly okay! I want to give you ideas, inspiration and encouragement here, but then I hope you’ll take it and go find how to best steward the resources God has given to you.

With that said, if you are considering the benefits of paying cash for a house versus getting a mortgage, here’s what I’d encourage you to think about:

1) What are the costs of housing in your area?

Don’t just believe what everyone says about how much houses cost where you live. Go research it out yourself. All real estate is local. The prices in one area will be different from another, even if in the same city with comparable cost of living. For example, if you live in an area where most houses cost $400,000, you very well may be able to find a fixer-upper for $200,000 in a decent part of the other side of town.

Since we live in the Midwest, housing prices are really affordable, compared to many parts of the country. In fact, with some looking and patience, you can buy a very decent relatively new starter home for around $100,000 to $110,000. (Some of you who live in high cost of living areas just had to pick yourself up off the floor, I know!) The low housing prices is one reason we moved here and one of the big factors in our decision to save to pay cash for a house.

2) How much can you save each month?

This is not meant as an exercise in frustration, but as a reality check. Look at your written budget and see if there are any areas you’d be willing to cut or downsize for a time period in order to free up more money to go to savings.

Our family decided to keep our grocery budget low, have a moratorium on spending, not have any monthly subscriptions, delay college and retirement savings and downsize in rental home in order to free up more money to put toward savings. We also were blessed with a good income from both of our businesses, so the fact that we kept our expenses as minimal as possible and didn’t have any debt allowed us to be able to save a sizable amount of our income each month towards a house.

3) What do the numbers look like in ten years?

Once you have a good understanding of how much you can expect to pay for a house and how much you can save each month, you’re ready to run numbers and calculations to determine what is the best plan of action for your family. Figure out how much you could potentially save over the course of the next ten years if you were to live on as little as you can, rent and save as much as you can.

Then, calculate how much you’d have in equity in a home in ten years if you were to instead save aggressively for a great down payment (at least 20% down, maybe even 40%+) on a 15-year fixed rate mortgage on a very modest home, buy the home and then throw everything you could at the mortgage payment to pay it off early.

Running these numbers can give you a very helpful gauge to decide what is the best course of action for your family.

Don’t Get Too Focused and Miss Out On Life

My husband and I are very focused, driven and stubborn people (well, it’s probably just mostly me who is stubborn!). These can be wonderful qualities when exercised in balance.

Unfortunately, we didn’t exercise a lot of balance while saving for a house. Since we’re both self-employed and our income is based a great deal on our productivity, we became work-a-holics with a single-minded focus of earning enough to make our monthly house savings goals.

Instead of pacing ourselves and allowing ourselves margin, we sprinted and ran ourselves ragged. We accomplished our goal, but not without it taking a major toll on our family, friendships and health.

I’m grateful that God was gracious, our friends and family were forgiving and we survived the grueling months of hard work. But neither my husband nor I would recommend that you follow in our footsteps.

Just in the last year, we’re finally feeling like we’re beginning to learn to know our limits, have our priorities in better order and have more margin in our life — and we are happier and healthier for it.

So please, go right ahead and set big goals and work hard, but pace yourself and give yourself grace and breathing room.

23 Feb 2011   ·   290
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Is a chest freezer worth the investment?

Today’s question is from Corrie:

I am thinking of purchasing a chest freezer. I have a family of six and the refrigerator in my apartment is so small. In fact, it is shorter than I am and I can only fit enough food in it for one week. I wish I could get a bigger one but the cabinets above it won’t allow anything larger.

My question is, is it worth it to buy a freezer so I can stock up on sale items?  Am I going to pay the difference in electricity for a five-cubic-square-foot chest freezer?

Do you have a question you’d like to ask Money Saving Mom® readers? Read the submission guidelines and submit it here.

22 Feb 2011   ·   209
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: Milk is cheaper at Indian stores

Sheeba from Desi Saving Mom emailed in the following tip:

I know a lot of moms out there are struggling to pay for milk with prices as high as $3.59. Indian stores here in NJ (Apna Bazaar Cash & Carry) has gallons of milk for only $2.89. It has gone up just $0.10 in price and is cheaper than most stores. -Sheeba

In our area, Aldi seems to consistently have the best milk prices. Though I hadn’t thought to check an Indian store for milk!

How about the rest of you? Where are you finding the best deals on milk right now?

photo credit

21 Feb 2011   ·   106
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu Plan

(Strawberry Smoothies I made for the children for breakfast recently. I’ve found I can hide all sorts of healthful things — like ground flax seeds and more! — in smoothies and the children just lap them up and ask for more!)

I set a goal for myself to try at least two new recipes every week. That might not seem like a lot to those of you who are really adventuresome in the kitchen, but for someone like me, who tends to get stuck in a rut, it’s been a good challenge.

And I’m finding that the more I branch out and try new things in the kitchen, the more I’m enjoying it!


Scones, Smoothies
Homemade Granola, Fruit
Raisin Toast, Scrambled Eggs, Fruit
Cold Cereal, Juice
Orange Cream Smoothies, English Muffins
Toasted Bagels, Fruit
Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls, Scrambled Eggs, Juice


Leftovers x 3
Macaroni & Cheese, carrots
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches, fruit
Cheese Quesadillas, frozen veggies
Seapak Frozen Fish, frozen veggies


Dinner Out
Tilapia, Toast, Frozen Veggies, Grapefruit
Brown Bag Burritos (from the freezer), Green Rice Casserole (from the freezer), Fruit
Turkey Chili Taco Soup,* Homemade Bread, Veggies
Whole Grain Chicken Soup With Rice,* Olive Garden Breadsticks,* Apple Slices
Homemade Pizza, Tossed Salad, Ice Cream
Dinner at Extended Family’s House


Homemade Starbucks Peppermint Mocha* (I’m going to tweak the recipe some, per instructions that Beth from The Natural Mommy emailed me.)

*Denotes a new-to-me recipe. If any of these become winners, I’ll be sure to let you know. And I promise to post my Homemade Starbucks Peppermint Mocha recipe, as soon as I get it perfected.

By the way, I’m on a restaurant recipe knock-off kick, so if you have any incredible restaurant knock-off recipes (especially Starbucks, Panera or Olive Garden!), be sure to leave the link in the comments below so I can consider trying them.

21 Feb 2011   ·   41
Money Saving Mom

Four Tips for Becoming a Successful Mystery Shopper

Guest post by Mystery Shop Mom

For several years, I have been following frugal blogs to help my family save money. More recently, however, I decided to become proactive and actually help make my family some money. I wanted the extra income but not the extra time away from my family. That is when I delved into the world of mystery shopping. Here are some tips to help you decide if mystery shopping is for you and, if so, how you can get started.

1. Understand the Realities of Mystery Shopping

If you are expecting to put in little or no effort to get paid and receive free goods, you need to adjust your expectations. Mystery shopping does require time and effort but, in my experience, I have been pleased with the reward for my work.

Additionally, you should not expect to get fine-dining and five-star hotel shops in your first months of shopping. You have to prove yourself to the companies with small jobs before you will be entrusted with the more luxurious ones.

2. Decide Your Purpose for Mystery Shopping

Do you need to make some serious cash or are you shopping for a little supplemental income? There are people who have actually quit full-time jobs to full-time mystery shop. I am, however, enjoying a little extra income and the extra space in our food and entertainment budget thanks to the grocery and restaurant shops I have been able to do.

After you sign up with companies and see how much shops pay, set monthly goals for yourself. Decide how much time you want to put into finding jobs, shopping and writing reports to determine how much income you would like to have per month.

3. Sign Up With Numerous Legitimate Mystery Shopping Companies

Most legitimate companies will be members of the MSPA, the international Mystery Shopper Provider Association. Currently, scammers have caught on to the names of legitimate companies and are using them in emails they are sending. You should never sign up with a company through a link you receive in your email.

Most importantly, you should never pay a company a fee to shop for them!

Resources exist to help you sort through these companies. I have compiled a list of companies that I have shopped and name some resources on my blog Sense to Shop. Always go directly to the legitimate website and sign up that way. The more companies you sign up with, the more opportunities you will have.

4. Branch Out of Your Comfort Zone

When you first sign up, you are probably not going to immediately get offers to shop your favorite restaurant or retail store. Be willing to take some jobs that involve some different locations or tasks than those to which you are accustomed. I have found some of my favorite shops by doing just this!

Mystery Shop Mom is a behavioral therapist turned stay-at-home mom of two amazing children ages two and six months. She enjoys spending time with her wonderful children and husband and partnering with him in ministry at the church where he is Associate Pastor.