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26 Aug 2011   ·   46
Money Saving Mom

Overcoming the Bondage of Credit Card Debt

I know many of you are struggling with difficult financial situations and I thought Sarah’s testimony might give you some hope and encouragement:

In February of last year, I felt led to go on a medical mission trip to Peru. I work in the health field, and until January of last year, my husband was a banker.  He lost his job, but was fortunately able to find another in auto parts.

In the seven years of our marriage, he did all the finances, and I mean all. I simply used my credit card for everything and assumed he paid it off every month.

I was wrong.

I started looking into our situation to determine if we had the money to support my trip and, in doing so, I was shocked to discover we had over $15,000 in credit card debt alone, not to mention two mortgages, a student loan, and two cars! I felt betrayed and angry. I asked/demanded my way into taking care of the bills. He grudgingly allowed it, except for his credit cards.

He refused to talk to me about the situation or let me see his statements. We lived like angry roommates for a few months and my two-year old daughter cried whenever we were all together.

Close to our breaking point, he finally admitted that he was buying alcohol and that’s what he was hiding. He tried to stop on his own, but had to go to a hospital for detoxification. The alcohol, like our debt, had been a slow slide into the pit.

After much, much prayer, and God-given forgiveness, we are on our way to healing. He traded in his decked-out truck for a smaller car and better gas mileage. We have both stopped using credit cards and have started our Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball and I use coupons and avidly read MoneySavingMom.

Best of all, we can now talk about our money now without it turning into a fight and my daughter is turning into a Daddy’s girl. In six months, we have paid off $8000 of credit card debt!

My desire from the first has been that this would make us a stronger couple, and that our family would be a testimony to God’s grace. We would have surely fallen through the cracks and become another divorce statistic without His help.

Sarah loves to run, bake, and raise her two-year-old daughter.

photo credit

26 Aug 2011   ·   122
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash: Our daughter’s first two years of college

We paid cash!

A testimony by Julie from The Family CEO

Exactly one year ago, our oldest child headed off to college. We knew this day was coming, but as with everything to do with kids, time goes much more quickly than you expect. We needed a plan for paying for our daughter’s education, keeping in mind her brother would follow her in four years.

Here were the facts:

  • We had some money saved, but not a lot.
  • What we had saved had been cut in half by the stock market crash.
  • We didn’t want our daughter – or us – to have to borrow money.

Kind of tall order, huh?

Still, we were able to pay cash for her first year of college, and the money is in the bank for her second year, which she just started. We’re halfway there and the plan is to stay one step ahead of her college expenses, paying as we go.

Here are the things that have helped us accomplish that so far:

Choosing an in-state school

We looked at quite a few schools, both public and private. In the end, our daughter chose an in-state school, in no small part because of the affordability. Not only was the tuition reasonable, the school had a four-year tuition compact, meaning it wouldn’t go up during that time.

Scholarships

We’re blessed that our daughter is a strong student, and was a very involved in high school activities. That translated into scholarships and subtracting scholarships from an already reasonable tuition bill made that part of the college costs much more manageable.

Starting a new stream of income

Several years before she left for school, I started my blog and also started doing some other writing online. This resulted in a small income stream that I put into an online savings account, earmarked for college. When the time came, I was able to pay for her laptop, books, the balance of her tuition, and a big part of her room and board out of that account.

Part-time jobs

Our daughter worked during summers and over school breaks, and all of that money went into her savings account. She used that for spending money while at school. As she heads off to school this fall, she is applying for part-time campus jobs, which will cushion her bank account that much more.

Community college classes

Our daughter’s high school offered classes she could take for college credit. We still had to pay for them, but at much lower, community college rates. Ultimately, she was able to enter college with 18 credits – an entire semester’s worth. That should help her graduate on time, which will be the biggest money-saver of all.

So that’s where we are. Two years in and we’ve been able to pay as we go with cash so far. With some perseverance and a little good fortune, we should be able to make it the rest of the way as well.

In 2006, Julie hired herself to save her family money, make some extra money, and pay down debt, all while living a fulfilling life. She blogs about her experiences at The Family CEO.

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

25 Aug 2011   ·   163
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking in an Hour: Homemade Granola Bars & Homemade Egg McMuffins

It’s Thursday and that means it’s time for another Freezer Cooking in an Hour play-by-play post. I did the cooking this afternoon, because I made homemade soap with my sister yesterday afternoon (I’ll post more about that adventure tomorrow!).


1:40 — I crack the eggs and stick them in the pan to bake in the oven. While I’m doing this, Jesse calls to talk to me about the cover graphic for my book that my publisher just sent over and I’d emailed him to look at. (We’ve been going back and forth with my publisher doing some revisions to the cover art and they sent the final image through today. I wanted to make sure he was okay with it before I gave it a thumb’s up.) He was getting ready to head into court and could only talk for a minute, but we got things squared away.

1:45 — I put the eggs in the oven and look up the granola bars recipe. Kaitlynn plays Starfall on my computer while Silas is in and out of the kitchen.

Kathrynne finishes making her boats for our homeschooling project (we’re studying Christopher Columbus this week, so we made boats to float in the bathtub as a fun hands-on project.)

(In case you’re wondering what’s under the blanket, that’s my homemade soap curing. I’m not supposed to move it until tomorrow, so it’s stuck on our kitchen table for now!)

1:55 — While the liquid ingredients for the granola bars are melting and being brought to a boil on the stove, I clean up the mess that was leftover at the kitchen table from the boat-making project.

1:57 — One of the children starts having a bad attitude and needs to be dealt with. My assistant comes upstairs to ask me a question about something. I completely forget that I have ingredients simmering on the stove.

2:00 — What is that bad smell?? Oh no! The butter, honey, and brown sugar have been boiling for three minutes too long! Ack! I run back to the kitchen and take the boiling mixture off the stove and try to redeem it. It looks too hardened and goopy, but I add in the granola and rice crispy cereal.

2:05 — It looks like the granola bars just might fare okay. I pull the eggs out of the oven and transfer the granola bar mixture to a pan.

2:10 — Whatever did the granola bar recipe mean when it said to “gently press” the chocolate chips in? That isn’t working at all. I finally give up and decide to melt them. I stick the pan of granola bars back into the oven for a few minutes.

2:13 — I start trying to get the cooked eggs out of the muffin tin. It looked like such a brilliant idea, but the eggs aren’t coming out of the pan as beautifully as I expected. Oh well, I’ll make it work.

2:15 — I pull the granola bars out of the oven, spread the melted chocolate chips around, and stick them in the refrigerator hoping they can yet be salvaged. I read the Egg McMuffin recipe and realize I was supposed to toast the English muffins while the eggs were cooking. Oops! The toaster will have to do.

2:25 — The Egg McMuffins are finished, so I pull the granola bars back out of the refrigerator to see if I can cut them. Um, that isn’t going to work. Instead of the evenly cut bars I was envisioning, these are cutting into pieces and shapes of all sizes and sorts since it seems too hard. And so much for them being chewy. However, I eat some of the small pieces that break off and decide that even if they don’t look good, they certainly taste good!

2:35 — I resolve to try the Granola Bar recipe again someday in the not-too-distant future (maybe during naptime when I can actually remember to watch pans of stuff that are boiling on the stove?!). I wrap up the Egg McMuffins and stick them in the freezer, clean up the kitchen, and feel grateful that even if everything didn’t turn out like I’d hoped, at least I won’t have to throw any food out this time!

Have you had any freezer cooking adventures or mis-adventures this week?

25 Aug 2011   ·   25
Money Saving Mom

Busy Bag Idea: Number Wheel

Many of you have asked for Busy Bag Ideas for preschoolers, so here’s one that Kaitlynn (4) has enjoyed (this was one of the Busy Bags in the Busy Bag Swap Box):

The Number Wheel is just a simple laminated circle, divided into ten “slices” plus ten clothespins with numbers 1-10 written on them. Each slice on the Number Wheel has a different number of dots in it that correspond with the numbers on the clothespins.

The object of this activity is for the child to match up the dots in each slices with the numbers on the clothespins. It not only teaches basic math and matching skills, but also has some fine motor skills practice thrown in, too.

Download a free printable Number Wheel here. There are also some variations on the Clothespin Number Wheel idea here. Find more Busy Bag ideas here.

25 Aug 2011   ·   93
Money Saving Mom

Essential Items for Your Kitchen Pantry


Guest post by Lacey Wilcox at Live Loved

Crystal has talked a lot about stockpiling, which is a definite financial asset as you try to provide for your home. An important component of stockpiling is your kitchen pantry. Making sure it’s got what you need means you’ll always be ready for unexpected guests, a change of plans or water lines breaking (if you live out in the middle of nowhere like us!).

Keep in mind, I’m a far cry from Pioneer Woman. These are just a few things I like to have on hand:

Baking Supplies: Great to have when you just can’t fight that sweet tooth, or need a bread to go with a meal (unfortunately, they’re also the reason that I will never be able to wear skinny jeans—that and Nutella…)

–Flour

–Sugar (This includes all sweeteners: white sugar, succanat, turbinado, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, etc.)

–Honey (Great to use as a sweetener, and I would love to hear success stories you’ve had baking with it!)

–Yeast

–Cornmeal

–Peanut butter

–Oatmeal

Canned Goods:

–Canned tomato products (This includes tomato sauce, diced, crushed, and even stewed tomatoes. I love to experiment with all the flavors that are out there — don’t forget that Rotel falls into this category too!)

–Canned tuna/salmon

Dried Goods:

–Pasta

–Beans (You can definitely buy the canned beans. Lately I’ve started buying the dried ones, because they’re cheaper, and with less sodium and other things)

–Rice and other grains (couscous, quinoa, orzo, barley, tabouleh, etc.)

Cooking Essentials:

–Oils: I almost always use olive oil, but I keep some vegetable on hand for baking.

–Vanilla

–Spices/herbs

–Vinegars: red wine and balsamic are great for making your own homemade dressing!

–Dressings: we keep an extra bottle or two on hand for salads, but also as marinades for meat and things like that

Some extras:

–Dried fruits

–Nuts

–Bread crumbs (stock up on these on sale, or make your own!)

–Onions/garlic

–Potatoes

Now, since I don’t claim to be Betty Crocker, I know that my list is far from complete. What are your essential items that you always make sure you have on hand? Trust me, I’m taking notes!

Today’s guest post is by Lacey Wilcox — wife, blogger, and mother of Selah. She and husband Kade live in the Texas Panhandle and manage Panfork Baptist Camp. Visit her blog, Live Loved.

Photo Credit

24 Aug 2011   ·   55
Money Saving Mom

How to Make Money Blogging: Q&A

Here are my answers to the questions you all asked in the comments of last week’s How to Make Money Blogging post:

Anyway you could talk about how you deal with negative comments/criticism? This has gotten me really discouraged lately. -Jenae

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with negative comments and criticism, Jenae! Unfortunately, the sad reality is that if you have a blog that is read by more than a handful of people, you’re probably going to get some negative comments. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people through blogging, while at the same time, I’ve had to learn to develop thick skin for those very frequent comments and emails from people who don’t like my blog.

There’s no way to please everyone; it’s just a fact of life. And when people can hide behind an anonymous identity and say whatever, some people feel comfortable saying very harsh things–things they would likely never say to your face.

One thing that has really helped me is to remember something Dave Ramsey said at his EntreLeadership conference: “You are not accountable to those you don’t have a relationship with.”

I have many real-life friends who I see on a very regular basis who read my blog. If they come to me with a concern about something I post, I’m going to take it very seriously, pray about it, examine my heart, and seek the Lord to see if I am in the wrong.

If, however, some anonymous person posts or emails a comment bashing decisions or choices we’ve made or criticizes something I post about, I try to remember to just let it roll off my back as I know that they are only seeing a snippet of my life through my blog.

And I try to use negative comments and criticism to remind me of the need to extend grace to others. I want to be a cheerleader and an encourager to others–even if I don’t always agree with them. I want to “find the good and praise it”.

Early on in your blogging career when you were trying to take every opportunity to get your blog out there, how were you able to chase every lead or network often and still have a family life?

I have chosen to put the blogging aside for most of the day and only work on it at night after my children go to bed. But I have found that it leaves me little time to network because this is also when I write my posts, not to mention spend any quiet time with my husband. I also fear that I’m losing some valuable networking opportunities. So, do you have any advice on how to balance it all when one is early on in their blogging?

If you choose to have your priorities in order, you will lose valuable networking opportunities. However, the value of putting your husband and family first far outweighs a lost networking opportunity.

I’ve had to learn this lesson the hard way. As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve had seasons where I completely overextended myself and my marriage and family suffered as a result. It breaks my heart that I made wrong choices; I can’t get those days and hours back. But I can learn from the past in order to forge ahead into the future in a more God-glorifying manner.

My advice is to continue to strongly guard your priorities and let the blog take a backseat. However, talk with your husband about what may be a good balance for you. At times, we’ve set aside an evening each week for me to go to a coffeeshop and write. During other seasons, I’ve gotten up earlier than the rest of the household in order to write. Naptimes have also been great blocks of time for blogging, as well.

Once you determine what works for your family right now, set specific goals for your blogging time. Make writing a priority, but see if you can also carve out 15 minutes a day for networking. Perhaps five minutes for commenting on other blogs, five minutes for networking via email, and five minutes for networking via Twitter. Or, you could just choose one of these per day to focus on.

Set the timer and work as fast as you can during the designated time. Five or 15 minutes might not seem like much, but if you stay focused, you can accomplish a lot in that timeframe. A little bit of focused work each day can really add up over six months’ time.

What are the tax implications for blogging? My husband has worked as a consultant in another industry and all of those ‘small business’ fees add up. Since you are self-employed, at what dollar amount do you have to start reporting your income to the IRS and filing paperwork? -Amy

You need to report every dollar earned to the IRS. However, some states don’t require you to pay taxes until you reach a certain threshold of income earned. In addition, there are many deductions you can take when you are operating your own business–even if you just operate it as a sole proprietorship.

I’d heartily suggest that you keep blogging income completely separate from personal income. Set up a separate bank account and funnel all money earned through that account. This makes it so much easier to track income and expenses–and prevents co-mingling of funds.

For more information on tax implications of running your own business, I’d highly recommend sitting down with a local accountant.

There are already so many blogs out there about motherhood and saving money. It seems like this is already so saturated that it would be difficult to stand out or earn money. Do you have any suggestions about how to pick a topic and maybe about areas that are not so saturated? -Jennifer

Honestly, I don’t believe there is any blogging market that is truly saturated–except the market of bloggers who are trying to just mimic other bloggers instead of following their own passions and finding their own voice.

When picking a topic, think less about what areas of the blogosphere are “saturated” and more about where your giftings and passions lie. Focus on writing about what you love, what you’re interested in, and what unique experiences you’ve had in life that give you a perspective others might not have. When you do something because you love it, you’ll be enthusiastic about it and that enthusiasm will breed energy and excitement among others.

photo credit

24 Aug 2011   ·   112
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: How do you get a good stockpile going when you don’t have any extra money in your grocery budget?

Today’s question is from Mary:

Like many families in this current economy, we struggle just to make ends meet. Paycheck to paycheck is how we have been living.

Due to a slight loss in income, money is tighter than it ever has been. As a result, I find it hard to stockpile. If you don’t have extra money to spend, do you even try to stockpile, or do you just try to save on the items you normally buy?

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

24 Aug 2011   ·   33
Money Saving Mom

From Blunderer to Blogger: A Cautionary Tale

Guest post by Jenae from I Can Teach My Child

Once upon a time, I started a coupon blog. After blogging for nearly eight months, 14 people read my blog.

Yes, 14. Most of these readers were family and close friends who probably read out of pity.

I learned quite a few foolproof ways to not have a successful blog. Here are just a few (this is all tongue-in-cheek, by the way!):

::Blog about something you are not 100% passionate about. I love getting a good deal as much as anybody, but my passion for couponing seems to come and go–mostly due to burnout. Write down the five things in life you are most passionate about and make sure not to blog about one of those. 😉

::Blog infrequently. Go weeks or even months without posting–it makes life more exciting for your readers! Readers love not knowing when they can expect a post.

::Don’t write any original content. Readers only want to read on your blog what can be found at thousands of other blogs. Make it a point to not write any original articles.

::Be a recluse in the blogging world. Don’t comment on other blogs or participate in link-ups. After all, if people really want to find you, they will.

Yes, these “tips” certainly helped to make for a blog that nobody wanted to read–including me, come to think of it!

Thankfully, I was able to learn from these mistakes on my second attempt in the blogging world (www.ICanTeachMyChild.com) when I swallowed my pride and tried again last July. I zeroed in on one of my life’s passions–teaching children.

It’s amazing how much fun I have when I blog about something I am passionate about! I vowed to post frequently. Most of my posts are ideas original to me or inspired by others. I love the new friends I’ve made in the blogging world and the community that has been created.

Most of all, I’ve learned from my own mistakes. I’ve learned that it’s okay to fail and that failures are often life’s best teachers.

Jenae is a Master-degree holding former first grade teacher turned stay-at-home Momma. She loves finding creative ways to save money, spending time with her family, and sharing fun activities on her website I Can Teach My Child.

photo credit

23 Aug 2011   ·   109
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: How do I develop patience while waiting for something I really want?

After some financial difficulties, my husband and I are back on track in our lives. I am at home with the children and he is working very hard. I do clean a condo on the weekend for some extra money.

Since we are on a tight budget, saving for a home of our own is going to take some time, maybe even several years. I know you were once in this situation. How did you stay patient? I find myself dreaming of cottages and looking at the real estate listings. I don’t want to feel like I am “just passing time” until we reach our goal.

How did you find the patience when “waiting” for a home? You always seemed so at ease and calm during that time. -Dawn

First off, I will tell you that I’m not naturally a patient person. I’m a get ‘er done and get ‘er done now type of gal.

However, God has taught me a lot about patience in the last nine years of my life. Over and over, things haven’t worked out in the timing or way I would have chosen. There have been unexpected job losses, there have been multiple times when we didn’t know what we were going to do for employment or where we would be living the next month, there have been business failures, and there have been many other setbacks.

It’s been hard, but oh-so-good for me to have to learn to wait and to learn to embrace less-than-ideal situations because that was pretty much the only choice I had. And looking back, I can truly see that God’s timing has always been much better than my own timing.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be writing this blog, I wouldn’t be writing a book, and my husband wouldn’t be running a successful law practice if it weren’t for the hard lessons we learned through times of waiting. So be encouraged; waiting can be a wonderful thing!

Here’s my advice for you:

1) Set Big Goals and Break Them Down Into Bite-Sized Pieces

Where do you hope to be in three to five years from now? Sit down with your husband and map out some specific written goals of where you want to be at the end of three to five years.

Then, break these down into small monthly and weekly goals. For instance, if you hope to have $15,000 saved in three years to use as a down payment on a home, you’ll need to save $5,000 per year. This translates to $417 you need to save per month, or around $105 you need to save each week. If, after reviewing your budget, you realize this is just not feasible, either revamp your goal, extend the timeframe, or find some areas in your budget to cut.

This specific weekly figure gives you parameters to work with. You now know exactly how much you need to save each week to hit your goal on target. You may not be able to hit the $105 figure each week, but proactively aiming for it will give you much greater momentum in actually achieving your goal.

2) Don’t Look At What You Can’t Have

You can’t afford a house right now, so don’t even look. Window shopping almost always evokes discontentment.

Avoid real estate listings, don’t stop at any open houses, and don’t shop for future furniture online. Just block all of it out of your mind right now–except to let it propel you towards your weekly and monthly goals.

3) Make the Most of What You Do Have

Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, seek to embrace and make the most of what you do have right now. Maybe you are crammed into a crackerbox apartment. Rather than waking up and going through your day grumbling about the lack of space, let it motivate you to pare down, get creative with organization, and be thankful that a smaller home means less to clean and more time to spend doing things you enjoy.

4) Remember That You Are Richer Than Almost Everyone Else in the Whole World

According to statistics on WiseGeek.com: “Over three billion people — more than half the world population as of 2010 — live on less than $2.50 US Dollars (USD) a day. More than 80% of the population lives on less than $10 USD per day.”

Most of us know nothing about true poverty. Times might be tough, finances might be tight, and you may be worried about how you are going to stretch your paycheck to cover all the expenses you have, but most of us cannot imagine what it would be like to live without a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, shoes to wear, food to eat, running water, a working toilet, and so many other things things we consider necessities that many in the world would deem to be luxuries.

If you didn’t have to rummage in the garbage to scrounge up something to eat for lunch today, if you didn’t sleep on a cardboard box under a bridge last night, and if you own more clothes than you are currently wearing, you have much to be thankful for.

I’d love to hear from the rest of you: what helps you to be patient while waiting for something you really want?

23 Aug 2011   ·   43
Money Saving Mom

Busy Bag Idea: Egg Carton + Colored Plastic Eggs

Okay, so I have to admit that I wasn’t too enthused about this Busy Bag from our Busy Bag Swap. It seemed so simple that I figured no one would find it too exciting. Well, was I ever wrong! This is, by far, Silas’ favorite Busy Bag Activity to date.

He has taken the plastic colored eggs in and out of the egg carton more times than I can care to count. And he’s enjoyed every minute of it!

We were also thrilled to discover that Silas could match all of the colors of the eggs to the colors colored on the bottom of the egg carton. The girls and I had so much fun cheering him on as he did it right and then we couldn’t wait until Jesse got home so we could show him, too!

See more details on creating an Egg Carton Busy Bag here. Find more Busy Bag Ideas here.

22 Aug 2011   ·   62
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu Plan

Breakfasts

Chocolate Chip Pancakes, strawberries
Whole-Wheat Waffles, peaches
Scrambled Eggs, Bagels
Blueberry Ginger Smoothies, Toast
Whole-Wheat Pancakes, fruit
Granola, fruit
Egg McMuffins, fruit

Lunches

Peanut Butter Banana Wraps
Tossed Salad with Hard-Boiled Eggs, Toasted Bagels
Peanut butter & Homemade Jam Sandwiches, Apple Slices, Peas
Macaroni & Cheese, Fresh Apple Carrot Juice
Beans and Rice with cheese, frozen veggies
Leftovers x 2

Snacks

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins
Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars
Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothies

Dinners

Ravioli, Tossed Salad, Fruit Salad
Southwest Roll-ups, Fruit Salad, Chips & Salsa
Taco Chicken Bowls, Fruit Salad
Steak, Brown Rice, Frozen Vegetables, Fruit Salad
Crockpot Barbecue Chicken, Au Gratin Potatoes, Frozen Vegetables, Fruit Salad
Dinner at Party
Dinner at Extended Family’s House

Freezer Cooking in an Hour

Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars
Egg McMuffins

What’s on your menu this week? Share details and/or your link to your menu plan in the comments.

22 Aug 2011   ·   61
Money Saving Mom

The Joy of Giving Anonymously

A reader emailed me the following testimony that I thought would be an encouragement to some of you:

We had the pleasure recently of giving a sizable gift anonymously to an acquaintance who is in great need, and it reminded me once again of how fun it is to give this way. We recruited an out-of-town aunt of a friend to hand-deliver an envelope for us. She didn’t know the exact contents of the envelope, but just that it was meant to bless the recipient.

Afterward, our emissary even thanked us for the chance to be part of the process. In addition, yesterday the acquaintance who received the gift chatted with me for a minute and told me about the gift, calling it “the biggest blessing of my life”. It was so fun to be able to rejoice with her, all while she had no clue the gift originated with us!

After several years of doing this type of thing, my husband and I agree that it’s our favorite way to give personal charitable gifts. The fact that we are anonymous means that our relationship with the receiver is not affected at all; there is no sense of obligation or superiority whatsoever!

We also reduce the chance of being approached for an additional gift in the event that the receiver would do such a thing. We truly can say that it has been a pleasure, and that we feel like we are God’s instruments rather than the ones really giving the gift!

photo credit