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19 Sep 2011   ·   44
Money Saving Mom

7 Ways to Save Money and Stay Organized When Shopping for Christmas Gifts

Guest post by Misty from The Frugal Family

I know, it’s 75 degrees today. The corn stalks are swaying and it’s not even really fall yet! But, if you’re a smart shopper, you’re going to start early!

Take it from me. My husband and I buy gifts for about 35 people and any of those people get multiple gifts from us. Yes, I know, it’s insane. Good thing I know how to shop, huh?

Here are a few things I do each year to get started:

1. Make a complete list of everyone you buy for.

If you don’t make a list, you’re going to end up with several people you forgot on December 23rd and you’re going to have to run out and find something, most likely paying more than if you had strategically planned. Don’t forget Sunday school teachers, classroom teachers, the mail man, or the paper delivery guy. Those are the ones that sneak up on me!

2. On the list of all the people you buy for, plan out gift ideas.

It never fails. My dad and father-in-law are the hardest people to buy for. Every year Andy and I scratch our heads trying to decide what to buy. This year we already have gift ideas on the list next to their names. That way, if we come across something that’s a great deal and it’s on our list, we can scratch it off!

3. Keep your list with you.

Who knows when you might be in the mall and find a clearance section that has items at 75% OFF! “Wait, did I already get him a gift or not? I can’t remember…” This is why you carry your list with you. If you find a great deal, you can just pull it out and you’ll know if you need to purchase the item or not.

I used to be bad about this. I would pick up things throughout the year for my nieces and then it would be time to wrap gifts and they’d have 10 gifts because I forgot all the other little things I’d picked up for them here and there. Keep a list, keep it with you, and keep it up to date.

4. Don’t be afraid to cut back.

This was a huge problem for me. I love giving people gifts. It’s honestly one of my favorite things to do so I hated the thought of not spending as much as I used to on the people that I loved. I had to realize these things:

  • Not everyone expects expensive gifts.
  • When you buy someone an expensive gift they often feel like they have to buy you an expensive gift which they can’t always do. It can make them have to spend more than they needed to.
  • You can still give fantastic gifts by shopping smart.
  • There are many gifts you can give that are free or almost-free! Look for free Photo Gifts, Canvas Prints, Photo t-shirts, calendars, and more. And, you can always give the gift of service. There aren’t many moms that would rather have a candle or body spray over free babysitting for a night.

5. Give gifts of time.

Like I just mentioned above, giving of your time is costs you nothing out of pocket. You can always make a nice gift certificate on the computer and give free babysitting, lawn care, baked goods, house cleaning, and more. The ideas are endless.

6. Start saving now.

If you have craft skills, find some local fall festivals and sell your goods there. You can sell things you make on Etsy or Ebay. You could also give sewing, piano, or music lessons if you’re good at what you do.

Another idea is to take surveys and earn cash or gift certificates. I did this last year (surveys) to make extra Christmas money and ended up with several Amazon Gift Certificates in return which helped to save me money on Christmas gifts! I’ve also sold hair bows and chocolate popcorn at local vendor fairs to make extra cash.

7. Watch the ads.

Last year I was able to score several (seven, if I’m remembering right) Milton Bradley board games for around $1.20 each after coupons and rebates. Keep your eyes open. Deals like these will come and you need to be ready to grab them!

Misty is a wife and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to her three small children. She loves, loves, loves to save money and get a good deal!  Misty has a great desire to serve God and finds joy in sharing her money-saving tips and the deals she finds on her blog, The Frugal Family.

photo credit

19 Sep 2011   ·   62
Money Saving Mom

10 Weekly Goals (+ 5 Ways to Guarantee Success at Anything)

Here’s some sage advice from Have a New You By Friday that I thought might encourage some of you in your goal-setting (or just with life in general):

5 Ways to Guarantee Success at Anything

1. Set a goal.

2. Keep your goal reasonable (Don’t bite off more than you can chew.)

3. Don’t second guess yourself.

4. Don’t listen to the naysayers.

5. As Winston Churchill said during a time of war, “Never give up.”

-from Have a New You By Friday, Kevin Leman, page 202

It’s simple, but profound advice. Now what are you waiting for? Go set some goals and start chipping away at them!

Here’s last week’s goal list:

Mothering Goals

1. Finish reading Davy Crockett: Young Rifleman aloud to the children. {With the garage sale last week, we didn’t do any extra reading outside of the assigned school reading. I aim to remedy that this week as we missed our leisurely afternoon read-aloud time!}

Personal Goals

2. Run 12 miles (total).

3. Go to bed by 10:00 p.m. or before every night.

4. Get up by 6:00 a.m. every morning.

5. Finish reading What Women Fear and When I Lay My Isaac Down. {Still working on All the Money in the World.}

Home Management Goals

6. Make Homemade Oxy-Clean.

7. Go through our house from top to bottom for our garage sale on Thursday.

8. Finish knitting the dishcloth I’m working on.

9. Start working on a rag quilt.

Business Goals

10. Shoot video for 31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget series. {Hopefully this will happen this week!}

My finished dishcloth (Experienced knitters: you have my permission to laugh, I’m still working on learning to follow a pattern correctly and not twist my stitches! However, I’m just happy that I actually finished a knitting project. Usually I start them with great intentions and then get frustrated when I mess up, take a bunch of stitches out, and never actually finish it. So the fact that I actually finished this is a big accomplishment for me. Now I just need to work on perfecting the basic stitches! :))

And here are my goals for this week:

Mothering Goals

1. Finish reading Sarah: Plain and Tall aloud to the children.

2. Take children on a field trip.

Personal Goals

3. Run 12 miles (total).

4. Finish reading All the Money in the World and Tribes.

5. Finish embroidering quilt block for my sister’s baby quilt.

6. Work on Rag Quilt.

Home Management Goals

7. Spend 10 minutes picking up/cleaning our bedroom/bathroom every day (I’ve really been working with the children on keeping their room/bathroom cleaned and I realized that I’ve not been setting the best example for them!).

Business Goals

8. Shoot video for 31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget series.

9. Finish putting together talk for a speaking engagement next week.

10. Put together a list of speaking topics and speaking page.

How did you do on last week’s goals? What are your goals for this week? If you feel comfortable doing so, I’d love to have you share your progress on last week’s goals and your goals for this coming week in the comments. Let’s cheer each other on to live purposeful and productive lives!

You can download a free customizable weekly goal-planning sheet here.

photo credit

17 Sep 2011   ·   35
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking in an Hour: No Bake Energy Bites, Crispy Southwest Chicken Wraps, Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

I didn’t get this posted on Thursday, as usual, since we were busy with garage sale stuff all day long and then I had a fun evening with Stacie from The Amazing Mess and Motherhood on a Dime and Jenae from I Can Teach My Child. And Friday we had the garage sale, plus I helped some friends with cleaning a house they bought and are remodeling, and then Jesse and I went out on a date.

At any rate, my life has been full of a lot of wonderful things but blogging’s been low on the priority list. However, here’s a little peek into my freezer cooking session this past week:

Silas helped me mix up the Peanut Butter Banana Muffins. He’s all into cooking and “helping” right now. I love his spirit–even if sometimes it means he makes more mess than actually helping. 🙂

The mixture for the Crispy Southwest Chicken Wraps. These were fun to make and oh-so-good! We served some for dinner and I froze the rest.

And the final results of about an hour’s worth of work:

No Bake Energy Bites — these were fabulous and actually didn’t last a full 48 hours! I promise I wasn’t the only energy-bite-eating culprit, though. 🙂

Crispy Southwest Chicken Wraps — these were a hit and I’ll definitely make them again!

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins — these were just so-so. If I stuck some chocolate chips in them, the children would probaby be more excited about them, though.

17 Sep 2011   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: My Azure Standard order + a quick health food store shopping trip

So, I’m pretty much in love with Azure Standard. I’d heard about it for a long time from my friend, Laura from Heavenly Homemakers. However, I’m a little chicken when it comes to trying new things–especially things that require forking out a monetary investment.

However, my local friend, Angie, researched out how it all works and what the best deals were, and she held my hand through the whole process. She even let me order with her so that I didn’t have to worry about the $50 minimum (though I actually ending up ordering a little over $50 when it was all said and done). And then we split the 20-pound box of apples.

I am so glad I took the plunge to try something new. Not only was it really quite simple and uncomplicated to order and pick up our order from the delivery truck, but I am so happy with what I ended up buying.

Azure Standard Order

5 lbs. of organic Azure Farm popcorn — $4.95

1 gallon bulk raw clover honey — $30.40

10 pounds organic Akane apples — $9.50

10 pounds organic rolled oats — $4.90 each

I also stopped at the health food store today and bought some organic bananas that were marked down to $0.39 per pound and some eggs that were marked down to $0.99 per dozen.

Earlier this week, Jesse stopped by Dillon’s and Aldi for me and bought lettuce, cilantro, cheese, honey, flour, milk, peanut butter, chocolate chips, tortillas, black beans, and lemons/limes. In the hubbub of preparing for the garage sale, I didn’t get a picture taken. He spent a little over $22 total.


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.

17 Sep 2011   ·   3
Money Saving Mom

Weekend Giveaway: $50 credit from Phebe Sky (3 winners)

Phebe Sky offers handmade children’s clothing at affordable prices. They offer pillowcase dresses, tutus, and other handmade girls’ clothing items in sizes newborn to size 7.

They also offers a selection of pajama pants and hand knitted hats. Every piece is designed and created with love. They strive to keep their prices low while also offering well-made, quality items.

They sent Kaitlynn a pillowcase dress and I was very impressed with the thoroughness of the sewing and quality of the dress itself. Plus, it was just very cute–especially for my little dresses-loving girly-girl!

To enter to win a free $50 gift certificate to Phebe Sky, just click on the link below and type in your name and email address. This giveaway ends Sunday, September 18, at 11:59 pm, CST.

Enter the Giveaway

16 Sep 2011   ·   50
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash: How we saved enough cash to start travelling the world

We paid cash!
A testimony by Erica from Super Steals

I used to have a credit card habit–-a bad one. Before I got married, if I needed something that I didn’t have the cash for, it went on the card.

Needless to say, that habit eventually racked up a significant amount of debt. The first project that my husband and I took on when we got married was working on getting rid of that debt, or at least lowering it. Little by little, we paid off most of our cards and whittled it down to student loans. (I wish that was still true, but now we have a mortgage!)

While we were in the process of paying things down, we also decided that we wanted to save up for some exotic vacations. So, we sat down, made a list. It looked something like this: Egypt, Greece, Italy, baby.

Our plan was to go on three big trips and then start a family. My Mom is a travel agent, so finding out how much a trip to Egypt would cost was easy. Saving that amount, however, was not as easy! She said we needed about $6,000 to make it happen.

I remember feeling overwhelmed by that number. How were we going to come up with $6,000?

I turned to coupons.

In just one year, we cut our spending on groceries, dining out, and shopping so dramatically that we were able to save the $6,000 needed for the trip and about $1,500 in spending money to take with us.

Long story short: we paid cash. Yes, cash. Imagine that! No credit cards–just straight out of our bank account.

We flew to Cairo in June 2010 with a couple of friends, visited the Pyramids of Giza and Sphinx, sailed down the Nile on a cruise and spent a few days at a beach resort on the Red Sea. We even visited Mount Sinai and saw what is believed to be the burning bush. It truly was an incredible experience.

Six months later, when the holidays rolled around, we decided to use some more of our coupon savings and fly to Paris for a few days. What a beautiful city and the perfect place to spend Christmas and New Year’s with the love of my life!

We also saved another $6,000 this year and went to Greece in May. We spent 17 days touring the mainland and the Greek islands. On some days, I felt like I was living the movie Mama Mia. Greece is so rich in history and culture–and it just has this magical feel to it. I honestly did not want to leave!

We also spent a weekend in Madrid, Spain, where we celebrated my 28th birthday. That part of the trip meant a lot to me, because my great grandparents were from Spain.

Now, we’re saving for our next adventure–Italy. We plan to spend time in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Sorrento. I am so excited. We now have our couponing and saving down to a science, and it has gotten much easier than it was at first.

Yes, sometimes it’s a lot of work. Yes, sometimes I feel like giving up and just spending money on whatever I want. But I saw a quote on Facebook the other day that made a lot of sense. It said something along the lines of: “Don’t sacrifice what you really want for what you want right now.”

That quote hit home for me, because saving for these vacations–and saving in general–is sometimes a challenge. Couponing and being frugal sometimes feels like a second job. But, when it comes down to it, traveling with my husband is what I really want, and couponing made it happen.

Erica Rodriguez is a full-time PhD student at the University of Florida and part-time TV news reporter. She lives in Ocala, Florida, with husband Steven Kight and their two rescue dogs Mili and Max. She blogs at Super Steals.

16 Sep 2011   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

4 Ways to Save on Homeowner’s Insurance

Guest post by Jennifer from Savviest Girl

As a former real estate agent living on an island in coastal South Carolina, I am far too familiar with the quirks of Homeowner’s Insurance. Exclusions for mold, separate wind and hail policies, and insurance not written during a named storm are just a few of the interesting issues I’ve come across.

Here are a few ways to save money:

1. Raise the Deductible

Some insurance policies have deductibles as low as $500, but raising the deductible may be the better choice in the long run. Consider putting the money saved on the policy into an emergency fund.

2. Look for Discounts

Are you a member of the military or a member of a union? There may be discounts available for you. Fire hydrants, nearby fire stations, generators, and a security system can also add up to big savings in the form of discounts on the policy.

I had a Certified Wind Mitigation Inspector check my home for wind mitigation items such as certain framing techniques and impact resistant glass. I paid the inspector $50 dollars and saved 20% off my policy! Ironically, the qualifying discount items were code for homes built in 2008 or after. While this may only apply to people living in coastal areas, it is worth exploring any discounts available.

3. Shop Around

Don’t be afraid to shop around. A few phone calls may save hundreds of dollars!

All insurance policies are not created equal. Be careful to consider not only the price, but also the deductible, exclusions, and various itemized amounts such as loss of use or content value. Consider discussing “loyalty” with the insurance agent for an additional deduction.

While saving money is important, it is also comforting to know how an insurance company will handle claims. Talk to friends, family, and neighbors about their experiences with insurance companies before making a commitment.

4. Bundle

Do you bundle your utilities to save money? This is the same idea. Talk to the insurance companies about combining policies for vehicles, homeowner’s, and other policies in order to maximize the discounts.

Other suggestions:

  • Confirm exclusions, and get extra insurance if necessary (flood, wind & hail and earthquake).
  • Upload a video inventory of the home’s contents to a secure location.
  • Know the difference between replacement costs versus value. The house should be insured for what it would cost to replace it if it were destroyed. Remember, in the event of a major natural disaster, building supplies and labor costs will increase.

Jennifer Bell, a former teacher and a former real estate agent, is a wife and mother of four children.  She recently started Savviest Girl–a blog that focuses on money-saving and money-making information for young adults.

photo credit

16 Sep 2011   ·   44
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: I make around $12 per hour writing for

Here’s a quick tip submitted by Mary:

I’ve been earning money by writing articles for It’s really easy to get started with them; you sign up with your email address and a password and then you have to submit a short writing sample. They “grade” your writing (Levels 1-5), and your payment per word is determined by your writing level.

As you submit more articles, your writing level can change based on what the editors think of your writing. I’m at level 4 (Level 5 is for “professional writers” only) and get 1.5 cents per word.

It’s not super fabulous pay, but I usually choose articles that are really easy to put together without doing much research, and I’m happy with the amount per hour I end up making (about $12/hour or so–though it obviously varies). I don’t think anyone would get rich writing for them, but it can provide a decent little bit of side income. -Mary

Find more Income-Earning Ideas here.

15 Sep 2011   ·   57

Strawberry Oatmeal Smoothie Recipe

We made Strawberry Oatmeal Smoothies for breakfast a few days ago and they were a hit.

I didn’t think they were as yummy as the Pick-Me-Up Smoothies, but the children gobbled them down. (By the way, I’ve found that if I let the children actively participate in helping cut and prepare fruits and vegetables, they are so much more excited about eating them!)

The oatmeal gave it a bit more of a heavy consistency, but I was surprised how little you actually noticed it.

Kaitlynn wanted to pour her own. 🙂

15 Sep 2011   ·   75
Money Saving Mom

Reader Testimonial: Transitioning from credit cards to debit cards

Aimee sent in the following email that I thought would be an encouragement to some of you:

I just wanted to write in and let you know how much I appreciate your continued encouragement on your blog about using debit cards instead of credit cards. I have been a reader for several years now and prior to this year my husband and I always used credit cards for everything. We paid them off at the end of each month, but as a one-income household our finances began to get tighter and tighter.

One of our financial goals for the beginning of this year was to pay off the last month’s charges and stop using credit cards. I am so thankful that we have done this for several reasons.

1) I no longer have credit card bills to dread.

2) It has definitely changed the way I spend. I think more about each purchase because it is coming directly out of my bank account.

3) It has improved communication between my husband and me because we both have to know how we are doing each week and how much money is in the account.

4) We actually have a lower balance in our checking account, which has made me realize the need to stick to a budget.

Just so you know, it has taken me a very long time to transition to debit cards and get my husband on board, but it is such a relief now that we have. I feel like it is one big step in the right direction. Instead of hoping we will have money to pay for something when it is due next month, we are living on what we have right now, and that is a great feeling.

I know most people are happy to use their credit cards, and it’s a hard position to encourage people to use debit instead of credit. Just wanted to encourage you that it is worth it to “live like no one else”, as Dave Ramsey would say. -Aimee

photo credit

15 Sep 2011   ·   65
Money Saving Mom

How to Significantly Increase Your Income Without Working Harder (Part 3)

If you missed it, read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

After you’ve set big goals and changed your mindset about money, now it’s time to have the rubber meet the road

3) Make the Time to Turn Your Goals Into Realities.

While following the principles in this series will definitely put your well on your way to earning more while working less, I want to be clear in reiterating that there’s no shortcut to success. If you want your dream to become a reality, you’re going to have to work hard to make it happen. This may mean short-term sacrifices and more time invested upfront, but keep at it and it will pay off in the long run.

If you’re feeling like you don’t have time to add something new to your schedule, here are some ideas:

::Track Your Time

You may not have time because you’re not managing your time well. Keep a detailed time log for a week or two to see where the 24 hours of each day is actually going. This exercise will invariably be enlightening and possibly disheartening when you realize how much time is being wasted or spent carelessly. Use the information gleaned to make positive changes to that will push you closer toward your goals and objectives.

::Eliminate Time Wasters

As much as is possible, remove time suckers from your life. If you’re spending a lot of time on the phone, set specific phone hours and let the answering machine or voicemail pick up otherwise. If you’re wasting time surfing the internet, impose a time limit for each day and create a plan for how you will spend your time online.

One thing I recently eliminated was my Facebook account. I loved interacting with people on Facebook, but I realized that I was using it as a distraction or time staller. When I should be focusing, I was, instead, checking to see if anyone had updated their Facebook status. I tried to come up with various solutions, but finally just decided I needed to completely disable my Facebook account right now. I figured that the world will still go on, I’ll be a lot more focused on the computer, and my friends can call, text, or email me if they need something. 🙂

::Stop Making Excuses

As long as you keep making excuses that you don’t have enough time, you’ll never get any closer toward your goals. If something is important enough to you, you’ll make time for it.

::Practice the 5 a.m. Principle

Getting up early and working for 30 minutes or an hour while the rest of the world sleeps is one of the most efficient and simplest ways to make great strides toward your goals. Sure, when the alarm clock goes off early in the morning, another hour of sleep sounds so much better than tackling a project, but I can guarantee that if you faithfully get up and put in that hour’s worth of work, it can pay off big time.

This is how I wrote my book earlier this year. I knew that I didn’t have much extra time in the middle of the day for writing (especially since I have three young children!), so instead, I went to bed by 8-9 p.m. and got up at 4 a.m. almost every single weekday for three months in order to have at least an extra hour of uninterrupted time to write in the morning. I had to drag myself out of bed some of those mornings, but now that the book is done, I know it was every bit worth it to rearrange my schedule and get up earlier in order to accomplish this goal.


At face value, outsourcing might not seem frugal. In reality, it can be a powerful secret in your ability to work smarter, not harder.

For years, I felt like I had to do all of the tasks of running my business myself because it would be extravagant to pay someone else to work for me. However, I finally got to the point where I was working way too many hours and was constantly behind. In short, the business had outgrown what I could handle myself.

As I’ve slowly brought on people to help, I’ve found that not only does it free me up to focus on what I do best, it also makes my business stronger because I’m able to hire on people who are strong in areas where I’m weak. Yes, it has significantly increased my business expenses, but since it has strengthened the business and allowed me to focus on my core competencies the result has been major growth and income increase. In fact, my expenses have only gone up slightly in comparison to how the business income has increased.

Recommended Reading:

The Other 8 Hours — This book is packed with helpful advice and suggestions for how to earn income outside of your day job. If you feel like you don’t have time to start something on the side because you already work full-time, this book will especially be helpful.

Eat That Frog — This book is jam packed with practical ideas for prioritizing your time and life so that you make the most of your days.

Quitter — I loved this book! In his witty style, Jon shares a wealth of advice for getting from where you are to where you want to go.

…to be continued next Wednesday

photo credit

14 Sep 2011   ·   7
Money Saving Mom

48-Hour Giveaway: Starter Kit and 12-Month Refill from Bluapple (10 Winners)

So, as you probably know by now, I’m typically pretty doubtful of claims made by marketing campaigns. So when I was sent these BluApples that were supposed to keep fruit and vegetables fresher, I was not too confident they would actually work.

However, after keeping them in our fridge for the last month, I’ve been pretty impressed. I can keep fruit and veggies fresh for one or two weeks longer than I usually could, thanks to BluApple. Not only does this mean that we have less waste, but it also allows me to buy ahead when I find a great fruit and vegetable deal.

If you’d like more information on how the BluApple works, you can read the explanation here. Or, check out the Frequently Asked Questions here. You can also check out their Facebook Page.

It costs $9.95 to purchase the starter kit. The year supply refill kit is also $9.95. If you eat a lot of fruit and veggies and have trouble with them going bad before you can eat them, it may very well save you quite a bit more to invest in a BluApple. (You’ll want to do the math to determine whether or not it would actually save you enough money to merit paying for it.) If you do end up purchasing a BluApple and you find that it doesn’t live up to your expectations, they offer a money back guarantee.

To enter to win a free BluApple Starter Set plus a 12-month refill, just click on the graphic below and type in your name and email address. This giveaway ends Friday, September 16, at 11:59 pm, CST.

Enter the Giveaway

14 Sep 2011   ·   105
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Tips on shopping and cooking for one?

Today’s question is from Lisa:

I love your site. I was wondering if you or your readers have any ideas about trying to shop/cook for one on a budget? I live by myself and I’m trying to save money and don’t have a ton of time to shop/cook. But I feel like I’m always eating the same things over and over!

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