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12 Oct 2009   ·   55
Money Saving Mom

September Financial Update: It starts with the small things

Meagan left the following comment on my August Financial Update post:

I just wanted to tell you something. This morning I have about a week’s worth of dishes piled up. We don’t have a dishwasher and I hate it so much. Although this sounds weird, this post and others you’ve posted before have inspired me to get my life in order. We aren’t in the position to be debt free yet but you’ve inspired me to do the dishes. I can’t do the huge things yet, but I can do the little things, so that when we are in a position to do the big things, we will be ready to face the challenge. -Meagan

Meagan, your comment was right on the mark. You are so absolutely right!

My desire in sharing our financial goals and progress here is not to discourage others who are in different financial situations but hopefully to inspire everyone–no matter what your financial situation–to do something and start somewhere.

You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t stand up and take the first step. It’s easy to dream big dreams and make big plans, but the execution of them must happen one step at a time.

Back whenever my husband and I first had this crazy idea to pay cash for a home, we thought it truly would be impossible. We crunched a bunch of numbers, talked about all sorts of money-saving and income-earning ideas, and we both wondered if we’d lost our minds to set this goal and then share it with the world by publicly posting it on my blog back near the beginning of 2008.

But we did anyway, because we knew that, if we were going to pull this off, we’d need all of the accountability and cheerleading we could get. And then we dove in and took the first step: we set up a house savings account and we started setting aside every penny we could squeeze out of our small budget.

The first hundred and then the first thousand we saved were very rewarding. Little by little, things started picking up steam: our efforts and years of work on various income-earning things started to produce real fruit; we found new ways to cut our expenses even more; and we were the recipients of some unexpected financial gifts. The snowball just kept rolling downhill and picking up more and more snow–at a much greater rate of speed than we had originally ever envisioned.

Last October, God supernaturally opened up the door for us to be able to move back “home” (where cost of living is low) and start our own law firm. We used some money we’d set aside for extras, made the move, took a big leap of faith to start the law firm, and watched in amazement as God has blessed it far beyond our wildest expectations.

We kept plowing forward and our momentum grew. We continued to live on a modest budget (see a basic idea of that here) even as our income increased and we were constantly on the lookout for ways to earn extra income on the side (we’ll be talking more about these in the new Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom series).

One day last June, we woke up and realized we were half-way to our goal! Lord-willing, by the end of 2009, we are hoping to be at 85-95% of our goal–miles closer than we could have ever dreamed we’d be at this point.

How do you run a mile? One step at a time.

It is the same with financial goals or any goals, for that matter. They can only be accomplished one small step at a time.

It’s takes faithfulness in the little things to eventually see big progress. For us that’s been little things like: matching coupons with sales, planning a menu, purposing to live on a budget, reusing something instead of buying another new item, shopping around to get the best rates on insurance, making homemade pizza instead of ordering carryout, driving older vehicles, shopping at thrift stores, and learning to be content with what we have. All of these things might seem like a drop in the bucket when done individually, but, over time, each of those drops can start adding up.

Maybe you can’t save up to pay cash for a home, but you might be able to save $5 on your grocery bill this week and set that aside for savings. Start with the small things, be faithful in the little things, and stick with your goals–even when it feels like you’re going nowhere.

Start somewhere, do something, and don’t give up! Over time, as you become more experienced and adept at saving and earning money, you’ll likely start to see those little steps add up to a large amount of ground covered… and it will be worth every little sacrifice!

********************************

Now for the numbers:

We began September at 65% of our house savings goal and we ended the month at 69%! 

(If you’re new here, be sure to check out this post where I explain in detail why we’ve committed to this “crazy” idea to pay 100% down on a home. )

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

10 Oct 2009   ·   103
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Sam’s trip, Dillon’s trip, green peppers galore, diapers, Snuggle, and a Baking Day!

First things first, I promised you a report of our Sam's Club trip last Saturday. Here's what we ended up buying:

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48 10-inch tortillas–$4.46 (this was about the same price as Aldi, but the tortillas were much nicer than theirs)
10-lb bag of pinto beans–$6.23 (beats Aldi price by about $0.30 per pound, I believe)
72-oz bag of Nestle chocolate chips–$9.34 (beats Aldi price by a few cents per 16-oz.)
1 pint pure vanilla–$6.88 (I'm not entirely sure if this beats the store prices of vanilla since I never buy vanilla but I've been told this was a good price. Is it? Anyone know?)
1 5-lb block of cheese–$10 (beats Aldi price by $0.60 per pound)

Total: $39.26 (We used all of the leftover grocery money from September to make these bulk purchases as well as a few dollars from this week's grocery budget.)

So far, I was very under-impressed with Sam's Club. Yes, we saved a small amount of money by shopping there, got a bit higher-quality food than Aldi offers, and got it all in larger quantities. However, some of these prices I can beat with a good sale and coupon on occasion. In addition, I was very careful to only buy those items which would truly be a better deal than the prices I normally pay. I found such deals to be far and few between.

Most of the items at Sam's Club were priced much higher than I usually ever pay. And that's not even factoring that it costs at least $35 to buy a year-long membership to Sam's Club. I am not convinced at all that in our area, it would be worth spending $35 a year. In fact, I am doubtful that I'd break even in savings. However, we are blessed to live very close to Aldi and to stores which double
coupons. If we didn't have either of these, I can see where it
definitely might be less expensive to buy a lot of your groceries at
Sam's.

I'm not giving up on Sam's Club yet. I'm going to try a few more times and see if my perspective changes at all. I'll keep you posted!

*************************************

In other savings news for this week: we had Great Flu of 2009 at our house this week and everything was a bit topsy-turvy, including shopping. I couldn't really get out to do any shopping because I was taking care of two very sick little girls, but I still managed to get some great deals without even walking into a store!

My husband went to Dillon's late Tuesday night to buy some drinks for the girls to help them stay hydrated so I also had him get a few of the deals while he was there. Here's what he came home with:

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After coupons, he spent $23.54 for everything pictured above.

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Some friends gave us a bunch of peppers from their garden.

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We used some of them this week and I chopped and froze the rest to use this Winter. That will definitely save us some money to have plenty of peppers ready to use in casseroles, stir-frys, and so forth.

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I also got a box of diapers free from Amazon thanks to Swagbucks and I got a 64-oz. bottle of Snuggle for $0.40 shipped thanks to Alice.com. (I thought this deal was no longer available, but a reader said she was able to get it. Login/signup here and then go here to see if it shows up for you. I'll be posting more deals from Alice.com as they surface! They offer free shipping and coupons every week so some of their deals are the same or better than what I can get locally with a store sale and a coupon. But you have to pick and choose as many of their prices are much higher than most of us usually pay.)

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And last but not least, I had a Baking Day and stocked my freezer. What was most exciting to me about this Baking Day was that I was able to make a lot of dinners and breakfasts and I didn't spend any extra grocery money to do so. I've just been stocking up on good deals for the last 6 weeks or so and I had enough stuff on hand to make almost a month's worth of meals–all on a $40/week budget!

All totaled this week, we spent $63.20. However, $35 of that was leftovers from September's budget so we're starting week one of October out a little under our $40/week budget again–and our freezer is filled. I'm totally loving that! It just goes to show how a little creativity can certainly go a long way in maximizing the mileage of your dollars, can't it?

——————————–
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.

8 Oct 2009   ·   85
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day: Lasagna, Ziti, and a picture of the fruits of my labors

After the girls went to bed last night, I quickly whipped up three pans of lasagna and three pans of Ziti.

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The lasagna recipe was a new one (go here to see it) that FishMama highly recommended. I'm curious to see how it tastes. It was easy to make and less expensive than usual lasagna since I can often get cream cheese for $0.50 per package (with a sale and a coupon)–which beats the price of cottage cheese or ricotta cheese that I'd usually use in lasagna.

I don't have a recipe for the Ziti because I just made it up on the fly using ground turkey, pasta sauce, cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese, noodles, and spices. I've learned that a great way to be frugal in the kitchen is to learn to be creative and flexible with ingredients!

After finishing up the pans of Ziti and Lasagna, I called it a day. I didn't get to quite everything on my list, but I did get a lot done yesterday–and that's a very good feeling! In fact, I was surprised at how much I'd gotten done when I laid everything out on the table to take a final picture:

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5 batches of Whole-Wheat Waffles
3 bags of browned ground turkey (we'll use this for homemade pizza or possibly pair it with pinto beans to make chili)
1 bag of cooked chopped chicken
1 batch of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
5 bags of cooked Pinto Beans
3 pans of Lasagna
3 pans of Ziti
3 meals of Chicken Tetrazinni
1 bag of Southwest Roll-ups

It was about seven hours' worth of work total to make all of that and I'm figuring it will make at least 20 dinners and 8-10 breakfasts. That is totally worth it to me for seven hours of work. Plus, it means I don't have to worry about "What's for Dinner?" many nights for the next month nor do I have to mess up my kitchen as much!

——————————-

Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it
on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blog post. I'd
love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so I can get
more ideas for my next Baking Day projects! And I'm guessing many
others would be inspired as well.

7 Oct 2009   ·   34
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day: Pinto Beans and Chicken Tetrazinni

Did you think I up and forgot about you? Nah, I just had to take a break for dinner and time with my husband. But everyone went down for an early bedtime so I'm trying to make the most of a quiet house!

Here's what I've done since my last update:

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I bought this big 10-pound bag of Pinto Beans at Sam's Club on Saturday for just over $6 so I used some of it to make a big pot of Pinto Beans. You can read how I cook these up here.

Once the beans cool, I will divide them into two-cup portions in bags and freeze them. Then, whenever I make a recipe which calls for canned beans, I can just use these instead. It's much cheaper and better for you, too. In addition, it's so easy to do.

I didn't have any brown rice on hand, otherwise I would have cooked some of that up, too, and then stuck it in the freezer in two-cup portions as well. It's so simple to then pull out a bag of rice and a bag of beans and thaw them overnight to use for a healthful and very inexpensive meal of beans and rice. (You can set out bowls of corn chips, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and cheese along with the beans and rice and let everyone build their own Mexican dinner on their plates. Or just serve plain beans and rice with cheese.)

In addition to the Pinto Beans, I made a double batch up Chicken Tetrazinni. This is an easy and inexpensive recipe which freezes well:

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(For the record, this looks a whole lot better cooked than uncooked!)
 
Chicken Tetrazinni (serves 4-6)

2 cups spaghetti, cooked and drained
2 cups chicken, cooked and diced
1 can cream soup (you can make your own with this recipe)
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup green pepper (or red pepper, as I used this time since I had some given to us from a friend's garden!), chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, grated

Saute onions and peppers in a little oil. Mix with the rest of the ingredients. Cool and put a freezer bag and freeze flat.

When ready to use, thaw and place in a 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until heated through. (I like to sprinkle with additional cheese.)

I doubled the recipe and split it into 3 freezer bags as it will be enough for three dinners for us.

Next up: Lasagna and Spaghetti Pie (and I haven't forgotten about the Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins; I just keep procrastinating on those!)

7 Oct 2009   ·   62
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day: Southwest Roll-ups and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I'm not meaning to leave you all hanging for hours on end, I just find that when I sit down to blog, I lose my focus. So I'm trying to stay off the computer more this Baking Day and just focus on, well, baking!

We also took a break from being in the kitchen to have our afternoon Reading Time. We love reading together and I try to make a point to read to everyone at least 20-30 minutes every day, even on those days when we take a break from our usual routine.

But here's what I've accomplished since I last checked in:

I finished all the waffles! I ended up with a mountain of waffles (five bags!) which should last us for every bit of 8-9 breakfasts. That means we should be stocked on waffles for at least another 5-6 weeks. And that's a great feeling. My picture of all of these will be coming in the final Baking Day photo.

I also chopped up all the chicken I had boiled and made up Southwest Roll-ups. These are one of our family's "staple recipes". You know, the kind that you turn to when you are feeling brain fried in menu-planning or just need a really easy dinner. I've been making these and freezing them ahead of time recently and have found this works well, too.

Southwest Roll-ups (makes 8 roll-ups)

1 can refried beans
1/4 cup salsa
1-2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
8 tortillas

020

Mix together beans, salsa, and chicken.

021

Spread 1/8 of mixture onto one tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese. Roll up and turn ends under. Stick in a freezer bag or in a 9×13 baking pan.

022

When ready to bake, thaw and bake in a pre-heated 350 degrees oven for 20-30 minutes until heated through. Sprinkle with more shredded Cheddar cheese, if desired. Serve with salsa. Serves 4.

I bought this huge bag of chocolate chips at Sam's Club on Saturday so I made some Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins (the recipe is here).

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I've heard there is a canned pumpkin shortage in some parts of the country, but I have quite a few cans which I bought a number of months ago for $0.25 each so I'm well-stocked. And now that I have plenty of chocolate chips, I'll likely be making more of these muffins as they are one of our favorites.

023

I made them with all whole wheat flour and I don't think you can even
tell a difference. My husband loves these in his lunches! I stick them
in the freezer once they are cooled and then just pull out a few and
stick them frozen into a baggie into his lunch box. By lunch time, they
are thawed and ready to eat!

PicltLptr
(Picture from Marg at RecipeZaar)

Next up: Chicken Tetrazinni and Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

7 Oct 2009   ·   60
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day: Whole-Wheat Waffles and Ground Turkey

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The dishwasher is humming, the chicken is boiling, the noodles are cooling, the waffles are baking, the girls are practicing their ABC's with Starfall at the kitchen table, Silas is sleeping, and I finally have a chance to sit down and post an update on my progress!

First thing this morning, I browned a big pot of ground turkey, turkey sausage, and ground beef. We prefer ground beef, but I was able to get some great deals on quality turkey over the last few months, so I'm being creative with what I have. I browned them altogether so I'm hoping it somewhat hides the ground turkey.

010

(My apologies to any pregnant woman who is reading this. I'm sure that a picture of raw meat cooking is anything but appetizing!)

I'll be using the browned turkey in lasagna, spaghetti pie, and freezing some to have on hand for homemade pizza nights. I've found that if the meat is already cooked, half the work of putting together a pizza is done!

015

After I got the meat browning, I mixed up a batch of Whole Wheat Waffles (see the recipe here). I took the recipe by five so it is making quite a massive amount of waffles!

014

As I usually do, I used milk that I had gotten reduced and frozen. This time, it was organic milk which I picked up for $0.59 per half gallon after the reduction and coupons. I also used fresh-ground whole-wheat flour and fresh eggs from my family's farm so these waffles are packed with good nutrition!

017

Once the waffles are cooled, I'll stick them into freezer bags and then we'll just pull them out and reheat them for quick and delicious breakfasts!

While the waffles were baking, I rinsed the pot I used to cook up the meat in and got the water started to boil the noodles. And then I cleaned up my very messy kitchen, started the dishwasher, got drinks and a snack for the girls, helped them get started on some new projects. (Since both girls are running fevers, I'm not having them help with cooking today so that our food doesn't get sick germs passed into it! So I'm pulling out a variety of fun things for them to work on while they rest.)

Then I was back to the kitchen to drain the noodles and start cooking up the chicken.

Next up: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, Pinto Beans, and Hot Pockets

7 Oct 2009   ·   39
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day: The Master Plan

As those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know, my two-year-old was very sick Sunday and Monday evenings. We were able to get her in to the doctor yesterday and were relieved to find out she just has a very bad case of the flu–which we were very relieved to hear!

I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to be able to do a Baking Day this week but when she started taking a turn for the better yesterday and I knew I was going to be home all day today and she'll likely be resting much of the day, my husband said if I was up to it, I should just go ahead and go with the planned Baking Day. So here we are!

I got a later start than usual because we all slept in this morning. I've learned that I'm not very productive when I'm tired so it's better to sleep in and get enough rest than to try and limp along in a sleepy fog. After a much better night's rest last night, I'm feeling much revived and energized and ready to hit the kitchen and get busy baking and cooking!

Before going to bed last night, I made a Master Plan for today's baking. It really helps me to have a specific, numbered list to go off of. In addition, it helps me to be able to maximize my efficiency so that I can be multi-tasking on most tasks.

Here's a peek at my scribbled down list for today:

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I'm off to brown the turkey and start on the waffles. I'll be back with a report shortly.

6 Oct 2009   ·   67
Money Saving Mom

“Baking Day” list for tomorrow

513

(Teaching the girls how to boil, peel, cut, and stuff eggs as part of our homeschool lessons a few weeks ago.)

After a long hiatus, I'm back to doing menu planning and Baking Days! It's amazing how good it feels to be getting back "into the groove" (Nevermind the fact that my baby boy is almost five months old! It seems I just had him; I can't believe how quickly time goes!).

I'm planning to host a Baking Day here tomorrow and I'll be live-blogging it like usual. However, since I'm trying to do more freezer cooking now that our homeschooling is in full swing, I'm actually going to be doing more cooking than baking. I've never combined the two like this before, so I'm anxious to see how it goes.

You can follow along with my progress on my blog and you can also follow along/join in on Twitter with the hastag #BakingDay. Speaking of which, I'd love to have you join me by doing some of your own baking. At the end of the day, I'll post a Mr. Linky so that everyone can link up and share what they accomplished in their kitchens tomorrow.

The Proposed (and likely way-too-ambitious!) Baking/Cooking Day List:

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Whole Wheat Waffles

Homemade Applesauce

Pinto Beans (cook up and freeze)

Lasagna

Spaghetti Pie

Farmhouse Chicken

Chicken Tetrazzini

Barbecue Meatballs

Homemade Hot Pockets
Southwest Chicken Roll-ups
Turkey Enchiladas

Recipes, pictures, and more will be coming in my live-blogged posts tomorrow. And now I'm heading out for a quick trip to the store and then coming home to clean up my kitchen and thaw out meat, milk, and anything else I need for the morning!

6 Oct 2009   ·   5
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading Round-up

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photo used with permission from Utah Deal Diva

::Do you have an abundance of apples? Utah Deal Diva shares a number of easy and creative ways to use and preserve them without canning them.

::If you think you can't find anything cute at thrift stores, guess again! Jenn over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam shows you her latest thrift store finds in her Frugal Fashionista series.

::Want to save your family a little money by cutting your childrens' bangs? Check out Tiffany's video tutorial here.

::Clair at Mummy Deals is doing a 10-part vlog series on Slashing Your Grocery Bill. View the five vlogs she's done so far right over here. I can't get enough of her accent!

::Are you a pro at finding deals? Would you like to share your expertise with a larger audience? If so, you'll want to consider applying to be a DealPro with Savings.com. More details here.

6 Oct 2009   ·   29
Money Saving Mom

Coupons for Troops

Toni from The Happy Housewife emailed me information on her program, Coupons for Troops, and I was very excited to share this with you as I think many of you would be interested in participating! She is especially looking for more military families stationed overseas who would like to be the recipients of expired coupons. Here's what she wrote:

Coupons for Troops started in 2008 with the goal of providing
expired and non-expired coupons to military families stationed
overseas. The prices in overseas commissaries are significantly higher
than those in the States and military families do not always have
access to coupons in newspapers and inserts. Military commissaries
overseas accept coupons up to six months past the expiration date.

Military Commissaries accept manufacturer coupons as well as
internet printed coupons. The Commissary is a grocery store so only
"grocery" coupons are needed. Families cannot use store specific
coupons (i.e. Target, Walgreens, Kroger).

Those who participate in Coupons for Troops are assigned an
overseas military family. Coupons, which do not need to be sorted, are
then sent directly to the assigned family. All overseas military
families have FPO or APO addresses so mailing coupons costs the same as
if you were sending them stateside. You can send as many or as few
coupons as you have available. Please only send coupons that have been
expired 3 months or less in order to give the families time to sort and
use the coupons.

If you are a military family stationed overseas and would like to receive coupons I would love to add you to the mailing list.

If you are interested in learning more about this program or in receiving coupons, please contact Toni if you are interested in learning more about this program or receiving coupons.

5 Oct 2009   ·   124
Money Saving Mom

Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom: Introduction

As you probably know if you've read here with any consistency, my husband and I tend to be out-of-the-box thinkers. We don't like to be confined by the status quo.

Many people think of an 8-5 job as their family's primary or only source of income. We, on the other hand, only see Jesse's job as an attorney as one of our sources of income. And since the time we've been married, we've been on the lookout for additional creative ways to increase our income.

When first started trying to come up with things we could on the side,
we really had no idea where to start. Neither of us had much experience
or training and we racked our brains to come up with ideas. We read a
lot of books, researched many different things online, spent much time
learning from those who were much more experienced, and started trying
things. We had a number of total flops and a number of business attempts which will forever be listed in our "hall of shame" (most of these were my bizarre ideas!).

By the grace of God, though, we refused to give up–in spite of failure. Little by little, we started finding things which actually worked and we began to see some fruit from all of our labor. Over time–and with lots of research and effort!–we've found quite a few things which really can contribute a significant source to our income every month. These side incomes have not only
allowed me to be able to be a stay-at-home mom, but they have also enabled us to be able to save a significant portion of money towards paying cash for a home.

I often receive emails from women who feel in a desperate situation financially. My heart goes out to you as I well remember how hard those beans-and-rice days were. But the things I've learned over the past six years of have my own businesses have taught me one thing: no matter what situation you are in–even if it seems very dire financially–you can get creative and find some simple ways to decrease your outgo and increase your income.

When there's a will, there's a way. Don't give up hope! It's a whole lot of work, but it can be every bit worth it!

**************************

I've received many, many requests on the subject of earning money from home recently so beginning next week, I'm going to share my own personal journey to becoming a work-at-home mom in a series here. I'll be talking about things I've learned along the way, and will also share a plethora of ideas of things you can do to earn from home. I hope it can be an inspiration and help for those of you who are interested in working from home.

As part of this series, I'd also like to include guest posts from those of you who are work-at-home moms. If you are interested in being featured as part of this series, please email me for further details.

Do you have any specific questions you'd like to see addressed in a series on working from home? If so, please email me or leave a comment on this post. I can't guarantee I'll be able to answer it, but I'll do my best to address it in this series.

3 Oct 2009   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: We were $35 under-budget in September!

I'm so excited! We stuck with our $40 per week grocery budget last month and, by some creativity and hitting the bargain shopping just a wee bit harder, I had $35 leftover at the end of the month!

I'll tell you what I'm going to do with this extra money, but first, here's what groceries we purchased this week:

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Total spent at Dillon's: $36.33

(And in case you wonder why I bought Jell-O and Velveeta Shells seeing as I told you last week that we don't eat food coloring, I needed 4 more items in the Buy 10, Get $5 off promotion and I grabbed those as they were only $0.20 each after coupons and the promotion. I'll donate them to someone who can use them!)

I also made another quick trip to the local grocery store running the Double Dollar Coupon promotion. They were out of most everything since it was the last day they were running it, but I still was able to get a few good deals:

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Our total for the groceries above: $3.81.

We were, once again, the recipients of some produce from friends so I didn't have to buy much of that this week. I'm also trying to use up some of the meat in our freezer since it was getting pretty full, so we didn't have to buy any meat either.

I'm so thrilled that I was able to set aside a little extra from our grocery budget each week so that I had a total of around $35 to make another bulk purchase. On the recommendation of Brandy from The Prudent Homemaker, we're heading to Sam's Club tomorrow to check out the prices there. I have a short list of items I'm going to check on (beans, rice, oats, cheese, vanilla, chocolate chips, unbleached flour, among a few other things) and I'll see if I can beat some of my target prices with the Sam's Club bulk prices.

My hope is that if I'm able to stock up on a 3- to 6-month supply of items we use a lot and save money by buying in bulk, over time, this will allow us to further maximize our grocery budget. That's the theory I have, at least. But I have to test it out for a year or so before I have proof that it really works! I'll keep you posted!

By the way, things are finally really and truly slowing down around here so I promise to do better about sharing our weekly menus. And, by popular demand, my Baking Day marathon posts will be back, too. I'm planning my first session next week–if all goes as planned. Stay tuned for that!

——————————–
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.

2 Oct 2009   ·   47
Money Saving Mom

EntreLeadership Recap

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As I mentioned two weeks ago, my husband and I were blessed with the opportunity to take a business trip and attend Dave Ramsey's EntreLeadership Business Conference. We'd both been eyeing this for sometime and when the tickets were put on special for $99 each and we found a very smoking hot package deal which included airfare, hotel, and rental car incredibly inexpensively through a travel site online we jumped at the opportunity to invest some of our business earnings to attend this conference.

We were in no way disappointed! Not only was it really wonderful to get to have some quality couple time–something that with three little children and two businesses doesn't happen as often as we'd like for it to happen!–but it was also a very inspiring and motivating conference. We came home fired up, encouraged, and ready to hit the ground running again with more purpose and drive and vision.

Here's just a brief recap of a few of the things I took away from this conference:

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1) Always be growing and learning.

Dave stressed the importance of constantly reading good books and surrounding yourselves with wise mentors. We can greatly hinder our effectiveness if we become stagnant.

While the focus of this conference was on running a business, I couldn't help but apply some of what was shared to my much more important job of wife, mother, and homemaker. I want to do the best job as I can do and that means continually seeking to learn and grow.

One practical way I am striving  to do this right now is by being mentored by more experienced moms. A few months ago, I joined a group of moms in our area who are committed to loving their husbands and training and nurturing their children. They meet twice a month for a teaching and sharing time and also have monthly required reading assignments. It's been so good to be motivated and encouraged by these wise women as well as to be reading articles and books which challenge me in my role of wife and mother.

I had set a goal at the beginning of this year to read 50 books–about one book each week. I've fallen quite a bit behind in this goal but EntreLeadership re-energized me to make this a greater priority in my life. So I'm going to make an effort to read at least four books per month for the next six months. Of those four books, I am aiming that one will be a business book, one will be a book on some aspect of homemaking/child-rearing, and one will be a book to encourage me in my Christian walk. While I might not get all three books in these genres finished in a single month's time, I'm hoping that just having the goal will propel me to be reading more and thus growing as a person in the various aspects of my life.

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2) You are the problem and you are the solution.

In the very first session, Dave said a few really poignant words: "If your business or organization is messed up, YOU are the problem." He talked about how easy it is to lay blame on others when we're really the ones at fault.

"You are in charge. Fix it!" he said.

I think if we truly grasp this whole mindset of personal responsibility, it can transform our entire lives. It is so easy to make excuses, to transfer guilt, and to not own up to our own problems and mistakes.

Again, I thought of my own home. There's been more chaos and disorder in our home than usual and I realize that I am the primary one to blame. I've been lax in our daily schedule, staying up later than I should, and not being as disciplined in my own life as I should be. This lack of discipline has a trickle-down effect.

Instead of saying, "If only this or that…", I need to make the most of what I do have and get busy changing things. For me, that means making a concerted effort to go to bed early, being more disciplined about time spent on the computer, and sticking with our daily schedule. I need to stop making excuses, and by the grace of God, start implementing solutions.

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3. Learn to be intentional in your time usage.

I would say that the most life-impacting thing Dave talked about was time management. He said that we often say we don't have enough time. Yet it's not that we don't have enough time, it's that we're choosing to use our time otherwise. Or maybe we are just letting time slip by without even realizing it.

He emphasized how vital it is to be intentional about using all of our resources–including our time. I appreciated his words on prioritization of your day and how to keep the unimportant from becoming urgent and needlessly steal a large portion of your day.

There are many hats I'm wearing right now: wife, mother, homemaker, homeschool teacher, friend, daughter, sister, blogger… and the only way I can accomplish what needs to be accomplished and have a fairly organized home and life is by being intentional in what I do and the daily decisions I make. I have to say "no" to things which are unimportant, delegate tasks, let some things go, and come up with creative systems which flow well for those things which must be . Otherwise, my life will easily revert to chaotic stress.

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I so enjoyed the opportunity this trip gave us to spend one-on-one time with Silas. I'm loving this little guy to pieces and can't believe he's getting close to five months old!

As a side note, we also learned on our trip that we were in no way
created to live in a huge city. Kansas City seemed plenty big to us,
but Atlanta is HUGE. It's the biggest city I've ever been in
before and I think I spent half the time wide-eyed and incredulous at
how busy and populated it is. However, I just have to say that we found
the people of Atlanta to be very warm and friendly–not at all what I'd
expect for "big city folks". Southern hospitality and charm seem to be
alive and well, despite the massive population!

30 Sep 2009   ·   51
Money Saving Mom

Works For Me Wednesday: Making the Most of an Abundant Tomato Supply

While our container garden crop of tomatoes was less than stellar this year, we were blessed to be the recipients of many tomatoes from our friends' gardens. I never turn down garden-fresh produce–especially when it's free!

After eating lots of fresh tomatoes, using them in salads, and making fresh tomato juice in our juicer, we've been freezing the extra ones to use during the Fall and Winter months.

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To freeze tomatoes, just wash, core, and cut off any bad spots. Then stick them on a baking sheet in the freezer until they are frozen. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag and store them in the freezer.

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When you're ready to use them, all you have to do is run the frozen tomatoes under warm water and the skin falls right off. Once they thaw a little, you can easily chop them and then use them in place of canned tomatoes in recipes.

Using frozen tomatoes is much less expensive than buying canned tomatoes, much fresher, and much more nutrient-rich! It works for me.

What are your favorite ways to use up a bountiful tomato supply?

29 Sep 2009   ·   95
Money Saving Mom

Q&A: Does Couponing Only Work if You Eat Junk Food?

Melissa left the following comment on my Super Savings Saturday post last week. I began to respond to it in the comments section and I wrote so much that I finally decided it would be better to make this a separate post:

I've been using coupons for a while, but I've just newly done research on getting the most bang for each coupon. The thing that I notice though is that much of the food you get at really great prices is not really so healthy… chips, candy, cookies, and lots of processed stuff which could definitely be left out of the grocery budget totally. I have a terrible sweet-tooth and really love all that stuff, but if I got that much I know it would not be so good for my waistline. Are there ways to coupon and get healthy stuff, or does the couponing really only work for the junk food? I don't seem to find a lot of coupons for fresh foods, and healthy meal/baking supplies. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place? Any suggestions? -Melissa

Melissa, what a great question! There is a widely-held myth that using coupons means you only feed your family junk food. From a cursory vantage point, it can seem like us couponers buy a lot of processed food. And yes, it might appear like my family must only eat MSG and high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden foods. However, that is very far from the truth.

I definitely do buy some processed foods and my grocery shopping trips are evidence of this. I know that bothers some people and I often receive hate mail about it. I understand that some people want to avoid every ounce of processed foods–and that's okay with me! But that's not where our family is right now. We strive to eat a balanced diet and do the best we can with the time and money we have.

We don't eat all organic, we do eat processed foods probably at least once or twice a day, and I don't always bake and cook every single thing from scratch. But if you look at examples of our weekly menus here, you'll see that according to most people's standards, we do try to eat fairly healthfully. There are definitely areas we can improve in and I'm always seeking to work on those. It's a learning process!

Balance is key to me; it's not an all or nothing thing. We've chosen to eliminate food coloring from our diet, we also rarely eat pork, we are very particular about the meat we buy, we eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables (many of which have come from friend's gardens this Summer–yum!), we make much of our food from scratch, we eat very little fast food, we use primarily freshly-ground whole-wheat flour in our baking, we use all-natural cleaners for at least 90% of the cleaning we do in our home, we don't drink soda pop, and we avoid artificial flavoring whenever possible.

Those are just the things we've chosen to do in our own home based upon the research we've done and what works for our family. Every family is different so I encourage each family to do their own research and decide what are their own family's goals and priorities and then stick with those.

While we mostly eat foods cooked from scratch, I do buy some processed foods (such as granola bars, ice cream, and cereal–and occasionally even Oreo Cakesters!) when I can get them at rock-bottom prices. We enjoy these for treats, I pack a few in my husband's lunches each day, and we often share some of our extra goodies with others.

That said, there are quite a few coupons for healthful foods. To give you an example, this past week I was able to get All-Natural Dannon Vanilla yogurt and Musselman's All-Natural Applesauce for over 66% off the retail price thanks to coupons. The week before that, I got 12 organic CLIF bars for free and five boxes of Kashi products for free. There have also been some great Target coupons out recently for fruit and vegetables. Coupons for organic foods and produce are becoming more prevalent than they used to be, and I'm excited about this trend!

If you don't want to buy processed foods at all, but you still use traditional household items (such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and the like), you could just use coupons on household items. By watching for sales on these and pairing the sales with coupons, you can significantly slash your grocery bill–without ever even using a coupon on food items!

For example, I never pay more than $0.20 for toothpaste and toothbrushes. Every few months, these go on sale for $1 and there are quite a few $0.40/1 and $0.50/1 coupons available–which our Dillon's store doubles. I save these coupons and use them during the week of the $1 toothbrush and toothpaste sale to stock up!

It's the same for laundry detergent, deodorant, dish detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and so on. By combining coupons with sales, I often get these items for free or for pennies on the dollar thus saving us a significant portion of our grocery bill.

Unless you truly cook everything from scratch, don't use shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and use cloth toilet paper, you likely buy at least a few items which you could use coupons on. If you even just use coupons on 5-10 items per shopping trip and pair these coupons with great sales, you could probably save at least $20-$30 off your grocery bill per month–and that's money which is then freed up to be invested elsewhere in your grocery budget or put into savings!

I will be quick to say that while I'm a big advocate of using coupons, there are many more ways to save on your grocery bill without using coupons. In fact, I see coupons as just a part of the reason we're able to have a $40/week grocery budget. I also recommend that you have a budget, plan a menu, plan your menu around your store's sales, learn the sales cycles so you can buy ahead when an item you regularly use is at it's rock bottom price, shop with cash only and a calculator, shop at more than one store (if you're crunched for time, just glance at your local stores' ads when planning your shopping trip and determine which one has the best sales that week and then shop there), and bake and cook from scratch as much as possible.

Not everyone can do every single one of these things (and if you're new to the world of bargain shopping, coupon-clipping, and frugal living, please do not burn yourself out by trying to do it all at once. Take babysteps, okay?), but a little time invested in some of these things can go a long way towards shrinking your grocery budget without requiring you to expand your waistline or consume loads of junk food in the process!

For more information and ideas, be sure to read my article on how to lower your grocery bill without using coupons. Amy is also doing a series on her blog on 20 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store Without Using Coupons. Check out the first installments of her series here and here.

In addition, if you're new to frugal living and want some great ideas to slash your
grocery budget without using coupons, I'd definitely recommend checking
out the book I am currently reading Family Feasts for $75 a Week.

What other suggestions do you have for Michelle? Please share in the comments section. In addition, if you eat primarily unprocessed foods and blog on how you do so on a budget, would you be kind enough to leave your link in the comments section?