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28 Jul 2011   ·   21
Money Saving Mom

Today’s Office Max shopping trip

Did you see the Office Max coupons I posted earlier? I was excited that our stores had everything in stock so we were able to get the maximum amount allowed for each coupon:

6 Office Max packages of filler paper – $0.10 each

5 Just Basics Ballpoint pens (10-pack) – $0.20 each

5 Schoolio 1-subject notebook, 70 sheets – $0.20 each

Remember that these coupons are only good through July 31, 2011.

28 Jul 2011   ·   26
Money Saving Mom

Reader Testimonial: A Place to Live for Three Months

Tiffany at My Litter emailed in the following testimonial that I thought many of you would enjoy reading:

I am surprised to find myself writing this post. We have always been a “cash” family and know the benefits, but you never know when having that extra cash can really save a situation.

My husband and I have lived in the same “starter” home for the past 12 years. When we moved in, we had one child and tons of space. Now we have seven children and no space!

We had talked about moving, but liked our small house payment and with the economy the way it is, we were nervous about making a decision like that. However, when the opportunity came to move two miles away into a house twice the size for a very reasonable price, we decided to jump at the opportunity.

Things fell into place perfectly. Our old home sold quickly and we were going to be able to lease it back from the new owners until our new house was ready. Things were too good to be true.

At closing the new owners decided they wanted did not want to lease us back our old home, we would have to move out in two weeks and find temporary housing for three months until we could move into our new house.

We were shocked.

I immediately began looking for somewhere to live, but didn’t expect to have any trouble. I was wrong.

No one wants to do a short term lease for three months. They would much rather wait for that 12-month contract and not miss the chance to have someone lease longer.

I started looking for apartments, only to find that our family was too large. Fire code prohibited us from having anything smaller than a four- bedroom apartment, and there was not a single four-bedroom apt. within 15 miles of where we were lived.

We had two days until we had to be out of our old house and still did not have anywhere to live. We moved everything we owned into storage and decided that we would have to get two extended stay hotel rooms (that connected) for the next three months.

I was sick to think of how stressful that would be with nowhere for the kids to play and the difficulty of making meals. My husband and I decided to say another prayer that someone would consider a three-month lease to a family with seven kids and a dog!

The next morning as we were moving the final large items into storage, we got a phone call from a friend who had a neighbor with a home that he would consider leasing. But not realizing that we only wanted three months he quickly tried to back out.

My husband felt impressed to ask him once again if he would consider it if we paid him cash for the three months upfront. To our surprise, he said yes. I cried tears of joy all the way to the bank–something that I am sure will never happen again when withdrawing money!

The almost $6000 to keep my family together and not in a hotel for three months was worth it. That money would have been spent on a mortgage payment over that period of time, but had we not had the cash saved and only been able to pay a month at a time we would not have had that option.

It can be difficult to be frugal, to clip coupons, and put things you want on hold, but this situation reconfirmed to my husband and I that paying cash or having the ability to do so is the way to go.

Tiffany and her husband Paul are the parents to 7 fabulous kids who all have killer senses of humor, which makes their lives just that much more fun, crazy and wonderful! Paul works full time in sales, and when he is not coaching the kids sports, is a blogger at I Heart The Mart. Tiffany is the Director at a private Christian preschool and in her spare time (between the hours of 1am and 3am) she blogs at My Litter.

27 Jul 2011   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

How to Make Money Blogging: The Pros and Cons of Joining an Ad Network

We’ve talked about affiliate marketing and private advertising as ways to make money blogging. Another income stream to add to your blog is to join an ad network.

Ad networks are basically advertising brokers. You offer the advertising space on your blog and they try to sell the space for you. If they sell the space, they take a cut of the sale (usually 40-50%).

Some people love using an ad network. Others haven’t had such great experiences. Here are a few of my thoughts on the pros and cons of joining an ad network:


Ad Networks Require Little Effort

Instead of private advertising where you have to do all the legwork of selling the ad and setting up the ad, when you join an ad network, you do nothing but sign a contract, put some HTML code on your sidebar, and then get checks.

Ad Networks Usually Earn You More Than Private Advertising or Affiliate Ads Do

How much you make with an advertising network will vary widely. I’ve heard of people making as low as $1-$2 CPM (per thousand pageviews) or as much as $15 to $20 per CPM.

However, remember how I said last week that you could charge $0.50 to $1 per CPM for selling private advertising? Well, that’s very much on the low end for ad networks. From what I’ve researched, most people make $2-$4 CPM on average with most ad networks. If you’re just starting out selling private advertising and haven’t had enough demand to warrant raising the price, you will very likely make more with an ad network than you will with private ads.

Ad Networks Often Sell More Than Just Ads

While the revenue from sidebar advertising can be good, the revenue from other advertising opportunities is usually much better. I don’t accept sponsored posts, but I have done a few underwritten post series (such as my Christmas Gift Guide & Giveaways series).

My Christmas series paid very well and I never would have gotten that opportunity had my ad network not made the phone calls and coordinated the details to close that deal. Since they are working with multiple bloggers, they are able to attract advertisers with big advertising budgets–something I’m not usually able to do on my own.


Ad Networks Give You Less Control

I shied away from joining an ad network for a number of years because I wanted to have control over what ads showed on my sidebar. Every single ad network I talked to was unwilling to let me have control over what ads showed on my sidebar.

I finally discovered that Federated Media would give me a say and joined their ad network early last year. While some unapproved ads have slipped through the cracks on occasion (due to hiccups with their ad placement system), they have been exceptional about removing any campaigns immediately if I request it. From what I’ve heard, most ad networks are not always so compliant.

Ad Networks Can Be Difficult to Get In With

It took me a number of months and persistence, plus a kind friend giving me a shoe-in, before I was able to get in with Federated Media. The best ad networks often have a long waiting list and few openings.

Things to Consider Before Joining An Ad Network:

::Will they offer you a guaranteed CPM rate? Most ad networks that are actively “courting” bloggers are new or struggling. They’ll make you all sorts of great-sounding promises, but very few are willing to back those up with a guarantee in writing. If an ad network will only guarantee you pay of around $2 or less per CPM on average, you will probably do better to just stick with using Google Adsense on your sidebar.

::What are the terms of the contract? Is it an exclusive agreement that would bar you from being able to run private ads or affiliate ads? If so, don’t agree to it. How do you get out of the contract? Have these details in writing ahead of time so you don’t get stuck in some bad situation.

::Will you have control over the ads they run? If you run a blog on healthful eating, you probably don’t want McDonald’s Big Mac ads running on your sidebar. Sending mixed messages to your readership is a quick way to lose your integrity. Make sure that the ad network promises in writing to remove ads you deem to be inappropriate for your blog.

::What do other bloggers in the network think of it? One of the best ways to determine whether or not a network is right for you is to go find other bloggers who are a part of the network and ask them how it is working out for them. You might find that what the ad network reps promised you on the phone is entirely the opposite of what bloggers in their network are actually experiencing. Firsthand knowledge is priceless and could save you a huge headache.

Are you a part of an ad network? If so, I’d love to hear your experiences–both good and bad!

photo credit

27 Jul 2011   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

Encouraging Creativity in Your Children

Guest post by Stacie Nelson from Motherhood on a Dime

Encouraging my children’s creativity and taking time for memory-making activities is a priority of mine. One of my favorite ways to do this is by keeping several well-stocked craft boxes available at all times!

Unfortunately, if you are not careful, purchasing craft supplies can be an expensive undertaking (especially when you’re drooling over the latest and greatest gizmos and gadgets)! But with a little bit of planning and a tad of creativity, you can stock a craft box very inexpensively. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Shop Back-to-School Sales

Now is the perfect time to stock up on supplies for your craft box, because prices are at the lowest you’ll find them! Don’t just buy what the kids need for school — plan ahead and buy what you’ll need for the whole year at home, too. It’s much less expensive to fill your boxes now with crayons, gluesticks, notecards, scissors, pencils, pens, paper, etc.

(Warning: Once you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ll feel sticker-shock when you run out of something in the middle of the year and have to replace it!)

Raid the recycling bin

Before you throw something away, think about adding it to your craft box! If you don’t consider yourself crafty or you aren’t used to thinking about items in this way, it may be challenging at first. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes! There are so many items that can be repurposed. Here are just a few ideas:

cereal boxes • coffee cans • toilet paper rolls • plastic trays from various packaging • jars • lids • tissue paper from gifts • old cards • milk cartons • rubber bands from newspapers • tin cans • junk mail magnets • cloth scraps • drink carriers • seeds • beans • scrap paper • egg cartons

(You can find a more complete list of ideas here.)

Shop garage sales or dollar stores

Keep your eyes open while garage sale shopping and you can find amazing deals on craft and educational supplies! I’ve found flashcards, bags of fabric, scrapbook supplies, alphabet stamps, lunch sacks, and more for much less than $1. Garage sales are also a great place to find storage containers for your supplies.

Also, consider looking for inexpensive craft items like fun foam, pom-poms, frames, and stickers at a dollar store or in the dollar section at Target.

Host a craft supply party or swap

One of my favorite places to buy craft items is online. Shopping through a bargain site like Discount School Supply can save you money when you buy in bulk — but who really needs 1000 crafts sticks or 25 bottles of glue?

A great (and fun) solution is to gather some friends, pool your resources, and make an order of the supplies you want. Later, you can have a party to divvy up the goodies!

Another simple idea is to have a craft swap with items you already have. Trade those supplies you aren’t using — someone else may love them!

What are your favorite ways to save on craft supplies?

Stacie blogs about her quest to find balance and bargains at Motherhood on a Dime. You can also find her sharing simple activities for little kids over at The Amazing Mess and pinning all of her favorite kid’s craft, homeschooling, and organizational ideas on Pinterest.

photo credit
26 Jul 2011   ·   94
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: How do we prepare for a layoff?

We just got word my husband’s company will be totally shut down by March. How can we be proactive with this information months in advance? – Paula

Hi, Paula!

I’m so sorry that you had to receive such devastating news! My heart goes out to you! When my husband and I were facing his potential unemployment a few years ago it was such a difficult time in our lives.

At the same time, I’m so impressed with your desire to do everything you can to wisely prepare for this. Since you have around eight months, that’s a lot of time to get your family in a great position to weather the storms that might be ahead.

Here are some ways I’d suggest you prepare for this looming layoff:

1) Get on the Same Page with Your Husband

One of the best things you can do is to sit down and create a game plan together. If there was ever a time for you to be a united team, it’s now.

Take a weekend sometime in the next few weeks to make a master plan for the next eight months. Post this game plan in a conspicuous place and refer to it constantly as you make decisions. If possible, sit down and review it on a monthly basis together to make sure you’re still headed in the same direction and see if there are any tweaks or changes you need to make to stay on course.

2) Create and Follow a Budget

A written budget must be the cornerstone of your game plan. If you are not on a strict budget right now, creating a workable, realistic budget for all of your spending is of utmost importance to allow you to get as much financial traction as you can before March comes. In addition, it will help you know exactly how much money you need to live on.

3) Whittle Your Budget Down to the Barebones

Take your written budget and analyze every category: “Could we live without this in the short-term?” If you can’t live without it, ask yourself, “Could we lower our expenditures in this category?”

Again, this is something you need to do together as a couple. You both need to agree together to the short-term sacrifices you are making.

4) Put Every Penny You Can into Savings

Any extra money you can free up in your budget by reducing expenses should go directly into your Emergency Savings. The bigger your Emergency Fund, the better. Not only is it reassuring to know you have this cushion, but it may end up putting food on the table and paying the light bill next year.

5) Stockpile Food & Household Items

As you well know, I encourage people to practice the Buy Ahead Principle and have at least three to six months’ worth of food and household items on hand to save you from paying full price. However, in your case, I’d suggest buying at least a 12-18 months’ worth of all deals that are shelf stable and don’t expire for at least 18 months to two years.

If you can get shampoo for $0.30 per bottle or toothpaste for free, go ahead and buy enough to last you at least a year. That way, in case there aren’t great deals on some of these items or you have no income coming in, at least you know you won’t have to worry about paying for basic essentials.

6) Experiment with Side Income Streams

My husband and I are big believers in having multiple streams of income. The more income streams you set up, the less you have to worry if one is taken away.

If you think there’s even a remote possibility your husband won’t be able to get a job immediately after his company goes under, I’d strongly suggest beginning now to research and experiment with possible side income streams. The book, The Other 8 Hours, has some excellent ideas and encouragement for setting up income streams while still working a full-time job.

What suggestions or advice do the rest of you have for Paula? Share them in the comments.

26 Jul 2011   ·   127
Money Saving Mom

Honest Frugality

Guest post by Caroline Allen from The Modest Mom

Last Thanksgiving, I decided to hit a few stores during the early morning hours of Black Friday. When checking out at one store, I noticed that the checker wrapped up a candle I was buying and was putting it in the sack.

The problem? She hadn’t rung it up yet.

I had an instant battle going on inside of me. My first thought was “Oh, it’s only $3.99, just let it go. It’s her fault, not mine.” Then I chided myself, knowing that wasn’t the right thing to do.

I told her that I didn’t believe she had scanned the candle yet, and she looked up at me surprised. I could see it all over her face. She was tired, and people had probably been very difficult to work with that morning.

To her amazement, I was right, and she thanked me as she scanned the candle. It would have been so easy to just let it all go, but I felt so much happier I felt knowing I had done what was best.

Another time I was shopping at a local grocery store. Upon arriving at my van I found that a package of cream cheese had not been paid for. I was with all four of my little children and my baby was crying. I decided to just leave, as the thought of going back in the store to pay for it was exhausting.

But the next time I was in the store (which was actually several months later), I grabbed a package of cream cheese, and asked the cashier to scan it twice, telling them what had happened previously. Once again I received a look of amazement, and a heart felt “thank you” from them.

As shoppers, if we stand together on principles of honesty and truthfulness, with how much more respect might we be treated? Sure, there will always be those crabby cashiers who dread coupons and treat you badly. But we must be sure that our endeavor to be frugal (which is a worthy one) never gets in the way of our endeavor to be honest in all we do.

Dishonesty costs all of us more money in the long run.

Consider this: the stores that we shop at lose thousands of dollars — some hundreds of thousands — each year in either stolen merchandise or merchandise that simply “slips through the cracks,” such as the examples I gave above. They cannot completely absorb these losses, but instead they must distribute them across their product lines in the form of price increases. This may only result in an increase of a few cents, but, as we all can attest, those few cent price increases here and there quickly add up!

So, the next time you go out and shop and you anxiously watch the computer screen as the clerk scans your items, don’t watch just to make sure you aren’t paying too much for an item, also check to make sure you’re paying enough.

Caroline is the wife of Sean and mother of four children seven and under with a fifth blessing on the way! Besides homeschooling and supporting her husband in his business, she runs a business from her home where she sells modest maternity and woman’s clothing — The Modest Mom, and is a consultant for Lilla Rose. She also enjoys blogging at The Modest Mom Blog!

25 Jul 2011   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu

my lunch today

It’s a busy week at our house this week. I’m finishing up the final edits for my book (I’m so excited that it’s almost done!), my husband has this big legal case he’s involved in, and we’re hosting a bridal shower for a special couple at our house on Saturday (There are 60-75 people coming, so it’s the biggest event we’ve hosted in our home so far!). At any rate, we’re mostly eating from the freezer this week to keep things simple.

Granola bars, fruit
Peanut butter & homemade jam sandwiches
Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothies
Scrambled eggs and toast, fruit
Oatmeal, Blueberry Ginger Smoothie
Fried egg sandwiches, fruit
Pancakes, scrambled eggs

Salad with hard boiled eggs, peaches
Peanut butter & homemade jam sandwiches, fruit, carrots
Macaroni & Cheese, peas
Refried beans with cheese & salad, fruit
Tuna salad sandwiches, fruit, carrots

Banana Almond Smoothie
Toaster pastries
Banana Cocoa Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Dinner at friend’s house (we brought salad toppings for a salad bar)
Build-Your-Own Haystacks, fruit
Crockpot Barbecue Chicken, Bread Machine Bread Sticks, green salad, fruit
Lemon Garlic Grilled Chicken, fruit, Bread Machine Bread Sticks, green salad
Hamburgers, Oven Baked Parmesan Seasoned Fries, steamed veggies, fruit
Asian Barbecue Chicken, rice, steamed veggies, fruit salad
Dinner at extended family’s house

Freezer-Cooking-In-An-Hour Plan (I’ll share pictures/details on how this goes on Thursday!)
Homemade Pancake Mix
Honey Pizza Dough
Fruit Crisp Topping

Did you make a menu plan this week? If so, I’d love to have you share your link in the comments.

24 Jul 2011   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Aldi, Dillon’s, Health Food Store, and Dollar Tree

I had a 2.5-hour time block today to run errands and do my grocery shopping. Jesse was working on things with the children, so I went by myself. And somehow, in that 2.5 hour time block, I made it to six different stores!

One of my errands was to go to the party store to buy things for a big bridal shower I’m hosting at our house this next week. They had everything I was looking for and almost all of it was on sale! I also stopped at Walgreens but they were completely out of everything I’d hoped to buy (no surprise since it’s Saturday, but I still decided to stop since it was right on my way!).

Here were the groceries I ended up getting at the four other stores I went to:

Dillon’s Shopping Trip

2 heads of lettuce marked down to $0.75 each

2 bags of croutons — $1.99, used 2 $0.55/1 coupons that “doubled” to $1/1 = $1 per bag (not the best price for these, but I’d signed up to bring them to a get together tomorrow so I went ahead and bought them since I knew I didn’t have time to make homemade croutons between now and then.)

Total: $3.81 with tax

Dollar Tree Shopping Trip

3 packages of Nature’s Own Hamburger Buns — $1 each

Sea Salt — $1

Total: $4.29 with tax

Aldi Shopping Trip

2 bags of shredded cheddar cheese — $2.99 each

Baking soda — $0.49

Straws — $0.99

Carrots — $0.99

Colored pepper pack — $1.79

2 packages of sweet corn — $0.99 each

4 packages of tomatoes on the vine — $0.99 each

Total: $17.36 with tax

Health Food Store Shopping Trip

10 cartons of Almond and Rice Milk for $0.99 each

2 organic Toaster Pastries at $0.99 each

6 mangoes at $0.33 each

4 lbs. of peaches at $0.79 per lb.

6.3 lbs. of marked down bananas at $0.39 lb.

Blueberry yogurt marked down to $0.99 each

Brown cow yogurt marked down to $1.99

Total: $24.11 with tax

Would you like to know what the best deals and coupon match-ups are for your local stores? Be sure to check out the Store Deals section of our site where we post the best deals and coupon match-ups each week for over 100 different stores across the country. You can sign up to receive the top deals in your email inbox each week as soon as they are posted!


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.

22 Jul 2011   ·   4
Money Saving Mom

I Paid Cash: The First Two Years of an MBA Program

We paid cash!
A testimony from No Debt MBA

When I graduated from college a few years ago, I was pretty sure I wanted to go to business school after gaining some work experience. Through scholarships, work, being a resident assistant, and the generosity of my family I had graduated with no student loans from my undergraduate degree.

That taste of freedom was sweet and I loved doing my job search without minimum payments hanging over my head. So I challenged myself with a big goal — when I went to get my MBA I wanted to go to the one of the best schools and avoid student loans, graduating completely debt-free.

I started saving and researching as soon as I got my first paycheck. I knew that I’d have to continue living like a student to reach my goal. I’ve been budgeting carefully and tracking what I spend while slowly putting money away to build a nest egg that could help defray the costs of the expensive degree I wanted.

I’ve hit my first big payoff: this summer I’ll be getting the bill for the first of two years at my top MBA program. I’ll pay that bill in cash.

But the hard work isn’t done yet. Going forward I’m going to be maintaining the same frugal habits that have served me so well over the last few years:

  • I’m living on half of my school’s estimate of living expenses — groceries for two are $25 a week and we live in a very small apartment to save on rent.
  • I’m working all the way up until the first day of school and will work next summer to give my nest egg all the padding it can get.
  • I’ll reapply for financial aid this spring.
  • I’ll continue to pay cash for everything.

I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I feel so thankful and fortunate to be able to pursue a top-notch education without taking out a dime in student loans. By challenging myself with a goal I really didn’t think I could reach at first, I’ve achieved more than I thought I could.

No Debt MBA is a 20-something professional who will graduate from a top business school in 2013.  You can read more about how the goal of graduating debt-free is progressing at

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

photo credit

22 Jul 2011   ·   114
Money Saving Mom

Why to Have a Well-Stocked Pantry

Guest post by Heather at Fake-It Frugal

I’ve always loved to play Grocery Store. Ever since I was a little girl when my mom would give me empty cereal boxes and rinsed-out cans of vegetables, I’ve been stocking and re-stocking my shelves. Today, as a Home Economist in Training, I am taking that love of playing Grocery Store to the next level — in my basement.

My rules in keeping a Well-Stocked Pantry are:

  • Only purchase and store what you know your family will be consuming in the next six months, making sure to rotate older items to the front as you buy new to replace them.
  • When you find a good bargain, and if you can afford to do so, buy two or three of the same item.
  • Try to keep everything visible so that you know what you have.
  • Visit your pantry regularly, especially when you’re putting together your shopping list and when you’re planning your weekly meals.

My goal in keeping a Well-Stocked Pantry is threefold:

1. If the need arises for an emergency cake or snack for entertaining, you’re all set. There is no need to waste gas running to the grocery store for an unplanned run.

2. If you have a well stocked pantry and freezer, you’ll be able to make many more meals (if not all) at home instead of eating out, thus saving lots of money.

3. If your pantry and freezer are really well stocked to suit your family’s needs, there will be some weeks that the only thing you need to buy at the grocery store is fresh bread, eggs and milk. That translates to big savings since you can cut approximately one week’s worth of a grocery bill out of your monthly budget.

Heather Bea is a “Home Economist in Training” with a focus on frugal cooking and crafting. She’s the mother of one very sweet boy, Cameron and wife to a real and actual Economist, Justin. You can join her journey to find better and cheaper ways to do things that she’s been paying way too much money for in the past at Fake-It Frugal.

21 Jul 2011   ·   36
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking in an Hour: Strawberry Freezer Jam, Crockpot Barbecue Chicken, Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

Well, yesterday’s planned Freezer Cooking session didn’t go anything like I’d planned. It turned out to be one big interruption fest. Gratefully, somehow God gave me grace to keep it together even when I felt like severely losing my patience.

Remembering this saying I had recently found on Pinterest helped, too:

The Strawberry Freezer Jam and the Whole-Wheat Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins did turn out well, despite the interruptions. I’ll share more about the Strawberry Freezer Jam along with pictures tomorrow since it was one of my monthly Do-It-Yourself Experiments.

I wish I had a picture of the Whole-Wheat Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins but my children ate every last one of them up in less than a day. Okay, I confess, it wasn’t just the children who are the culprits. Ahem. 🙂

And I was also able to wash and freeze the rest of the strawberries, as well as a bunch of blueberries we’d bought this week (they were on sale for $0.99 each at Aldi!).

I waited to make the Crockpot Barbecue Chicken until today, because I just ran out of time and energy. But I made a double-batch this afternoon and we had one pan for dinner (I baked it in the oven instead of the crockpot since I was short on time) and froze another bag of it. The whole family loved this recipe and it’s definitely something I’ll be making again in the future. We served it with brown rice and vegetables on the side and it was delicious!

21 Jul 2011   ·   42
Money Saving Mom

Cheap or Free Toys for Kids

Guest post by Charity Hawkins

If you’re wanting to save money by not shelling out dough for more camps and clinics this summer, but are wondering what on earth to do with your children these last few weeks, take heart. Here are some mom-tested “toys” to keep your kids busy and best of all, they require minimal intervention from you:

Duct Tape

If you have boys (maybe over age three or so), give them a roll of duct tape, send them out to the backyard, and go make yourself an iced coffee. So far this summer, my seven-year-old son has constructed intricate forts with sticks, duct tape balls (what?), and zip lines with stuffed animals duct-taped to hangers.

Duct tape is best complemented with a generous supply of…


Get some good string in the tools section of Walmart (or your garage). It’s unbelievable the things my children have come up with: reins, with my five-yea- old daughter being the horse (nothing tied around necks, of course), lassos, and a net “for catching robot bears.”

My son went through a phase when he wore some rope around daily, just slinging it over his shoulder when he got dressed in the morning, like he was a short and very serious cowboy. You never know when you might need some rope. (Granted, my children aren’t what you might refer to as … uh… normal. This morning my daughter dressed herself in ski pants, sweater, snow boots, hat, and mittens and sat on the porch in the one hundred degree heat waiting for friends to show up. She wanted “winter to hurry up and get here.” We tend to not be constrained by propriety in our family. Or reality.)


Get some sheets out of the closet and let your kids make a fort. This is a good rainy-day activity, but it’s also nice when the July heat sends everyone, wilted and whining, inside. My kids like to tuck a sheet in to the top bunk and let it hang down, but draping sheets over the dining room table is good, too.

Sidewalk Chalk

I know, your children have probably grown tired of drawing pictures on the driveway, but have you tried the bathtub? We have tiled bathtub walls and spend hours playing phonics games (shh, don’t tell the kids they’re learning), drawing pictures, or just scribbling.

The chalk wipes right off the tiles and then the kids enjoy wiping the tiles clean with a washcloth. Whenever I get around to cleaning the tub, perhaps next January, I will just scrub off the chalk ring on the tub with baking soda.


When school starts, we all get busy. Summer is the perfect time for lolling around on the couch reading. One excellent one to check out from your library is Roxaboxen, a short picture book about children who build an imaginary town with just the trash around them. It will give your children lots of imaginative ideas of “building their own Roxaboxen” in the backyard. They will probably use more of that string and duct tape to do so.


Okay, technically not a toy, but I believe that if your children don’t have time to be bored, they won’t have time to be creative. Children need time at home, lots of it, great gobs of it, to lie around in, and think of things to do. If anyone says “I’m bored” at our house, I say, “Great! I have lots of work you can do!” and they’re out the back door.

The best thing: these toys are good all year long and no batteries are required. Have fun!

Charity Hawkins is the author of The Homeschool Experiment, a hilarious and authentic novel about one mother’s first year of homeschooling – through dinner, diapers, meltdowns, and math lessons. The book is due to be released in 2011. (Charity Hawkins is a pen name that the author used for the book. The real author has a real husband and three real children and really does homeschool in Oklahoma.)

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20 Jul 2011   ·   38
Money Saving Mom

How to Make Money Blogging: 5 Tips for Selling More Sidebar Ads

Last week, we talked about how to maximize your affiliate earnings. Today, we’re delving into a another way to make money blogging — by selling sidebar ads.

While selling sidebar ads yourself does require more work and effort, it can really pay off in the long run. Plus, it’s a great option for blogs in every genre. And if you don’t want to use an advertising network because you don’t have as much control over the ads they run (we’ll talk more about advertising networks soon), selling sidebar ads yourself allows you to have complete control over what is running on your blog at all times.

Here are five tips to help you sell more sidebar ads:

1) Make It Obvious

You know the number one reason most people don’t sell as many sidebar ads as they’d like to sell? Because they aren’t making it very obvious and conspicuous that they even offer advertising in the first place!

Most people aren’t going to take the time to dig through your site and try to figure out how to advertise on it. In fact, some people will never even realize there’s an option to advertise unless you clearly let them know you have advertising spots for sale.

Put an advertise tab in your header that links to your advertising page. This page should include details on your traffic (advertisers typically want to know pageviews and unique visitors), your demographics, a few details on your site, advertising options, advertising prices, and testimonials from former (or current) advertisers. You could do an elaborate downloadable media kit like Michael Hyatt has, or just stick with a simple page like Life as MOM has.

Whatever you do, make a compelling case for why someone should advertise on your site. Don’t be bashful; a potential advertiser needs to know clearly why advertising on your site is going to be a great thing for their business.

2) Run a Half-Priced Special

If you’re just getting started offering sidebar ads, get things off with a bang by offering a half-priced special on your sidebar advertising. Write up a post highlighting this special pricing and approach companies you’ve worked with to run giveaways in the past letting them know you are offering a limited-time advertising special.

With some effort and enthusiasm, you should be able to get at least a few advertisers to bite. And once you have a few signed up to advertise, you’ll find it’s usually easier to find more advertisers — especially if you make it obvious that you offer advertising (see point 1).

3) Offer Discount Packages

It’s great to start out with selling simple sidebar ads, but people will be much more interested in all-inclusive discounted advertising packages. For instance, instead of just selling a sidebar ad for $25 per month, offer a three-month package that includes a sidebar ad, a post write-up about the company, a giveaway from the company, and a text link in your email feed — all for the discounted price of $150 total.

If you want to take this idea a step further, put together three different package levels at three different pricing points. A potential advertiser might not want to pay for your top-tier advertising package that’s $500, but they will be more apt to go for the $150 package versus just paying $25 for a simple sidebar ad.

You can also offer discounts for advertisers who purchase three months’ or six months’ of advertising at a time. Not only will the discount appeal to them, it will save you time and effort in having to go out and secure another advertiser for that slot every month!

4) Throw in Some Extras

You know how fast food restaurants always try to upsell you? Well, you can do the same thing with your sidebar advertising — only you can do it for free! Think of other options you could throw in to seal the deal such as: a free mention of the company on Facebook, a free mention on Twitter, and/or a free mention in a blog post when they purchase a sidebar ad.

5) Keep Your Advertising Spots Filled — Even If They Aren’t Sold

Want to know one of my biggest sidebar advertising pet peeves? When people have a big blank box on the sidebar that, instead of being an ad, says “Advertise Here”.

This screams, “My advertising space isn’t valuable enough for people to want to buy so I instead have this big blank box!” That’s not the message you probably want to convey to potential advertisers.

Put the advertise tab in your header that links to your advertising information page and link to this in a small text link underneath your advertising spots, but don’t have a big blank box. If you don’t fill all your advertising spots every month, either replace the empty spots with an affiliate ad or give a free ad to a friend.

How Much Should You Charge?

How you price your advertising will depend upon many factors — your blog’s traffic, your blogging niche, where the ad will be placed, how many ad spots you are selling, and the demand. I always encourage people to start out with lowball prices and gradually move up from there.

Advertising is usually priced per thousand pageviews (CPM), so I suggest starting with $0.50 – $1 per thousand pageviews and working up from there. This means that if your blog currently gets 10,000 pageviews per month, you could start out charging something like $10 per month for a small 250×250 sidebar ad that is located near the middle of your sidebar or higher. As your traffic increases and the demand for sidebar advertising increases, you can slowly raise this price.

I’d suggest selling no more than six to eight sidebar ads maximum. If you have too many ads running, their value decreases. It’s easier for you and better for the advertiser if you have a few higher-paying, larger ads on the sidebar than a bunch of small ads all over the place.

If you’ve sold advertising on your blog, I’d love to hear what has and hasn’t worked for you.

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20 Jul 2011   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: How I saved $200 per year on textbooks

Lana emailed in the following tip:

One of the ways that I survived the high costs of textbooks through my five years as an undergraduate was by using CampusBooks. The website was suggested to me by my dorm floor’s Resident Assistants in their “welcome” sheet, and saved me at least $200 each year.

CampusBooks allows you to enter the title, author, or ISBN of any book. It then compares the cost of the book between all online sources who stock the title. This makes it really easy to know where the best deal is.

Also, the breakdown shows previous editions, which are often much less expensive than the most current version of the book a professor requires. Many instructors are fine with students using older editions, but it’s always best to ask first.

On top of the initial savings that CampusBooks provides, the same database that shows how much you’d pay for the book is also available when you want to sell your textbooks back. Simply click “sell,” rather than “buy,” and enter the ISBN, title, or author. All of the online sources who I’ve sold books to have provided postage free labels for shipping, and paid at least 50% more than the campus locations.

One semester, I made back $90 of the $140 I’d spent on textbooks, simply by using this single website’s database! It certainly beats
paying $400 every four months for texts that the campus bookstores then pay $35 during buy-back season.

Plus, the money paid for books is already “gone” from my budget, so the money that I get from selling the books back gives some unexpected funds when things are always tightest. Having an extra $50-$120 at the end of the Fall term has made Christmas much more relaxed, and the extra money at the end of May has made a considerable difference in my Summer budget. -Lana

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(Note: The link in this post is my referral link. Read our disclosure policy here.)