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10 Jun 2011   ·   146
Money Saving Mom

Monthly Financial Check-up

Our Family’s Financial Goals for the Summer of 2010 through December 2011

1. Significantly increase our giving to needs in our community and around the world. This is an ongoing goal, so we’re keeping it uncrossed off from the list.

2. Pay cash for a replacement washer and dryer for our very used set.

3. Pay cash for a replacement for Old Blue Van.

4. Pay cash for a couch for our basement family room.

5. Pay cash for bunk beds for the girls.

6. Fully fund our IRAs.

7. Bump up our retirement savings to 10% of our income.

8. Fund our children’s educational savings. Kathrynne’s is funded and we made some good headway on Kaitlynn’s this month. We hope to have both Silas and Kaitlynn’s funds done by July or August. We’ll see!

9. Double our Emergency Fund Savings (Instead of having around six month’s worth of expenses set aside, we’re planning to set aside a year’s worth of expenses.)

10. Save 40% towards our real estate investing goal.

We’d love to hear about your recent financial goals and successes! You can post about it on your blog and leave your link in the comments. Or, just share about your progress/goals in the comments. Let’s all keep each other accountable to be better stewards of our resources!

9 Jun 2011   ·   83
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking in an Hour: Baking Mix, Asian BBQ Chicken, Baked Oatmeal

We had friends over for lunch and part of the afternoon yesterday, so by the time we got our afternoon chores and projects done, it was almost 5:30 p.m. when I finally started doing my Freezer Cooking in an Hour session.

5:30 — Open my laptop tabs to the recipes, turn on Josh Groban on iTunes and start making the Amish Baked Oatmeal. Go to melt the butter in the microwave and hear loud popping noises coming from the coils or something at the top of the microwave. Decide to forgo the microwave idea lest I catch the kitchen on fire and instead use the stovetop.

5:35 — Oatmeal is almost done and the children are already getting antsy. Give them a pre-dinner snack and hope it won’t ruin their dinner, try to remember to be calm and patient (!) and get back to work.

5:45 — Jesse calls and is on his way home from work. Must hurry so the kitchen isn’t a disaster and dinner is finished by the time he comes home. Stick the tilapia and vegetables in the oven to bake for dinner. Finish the oatmeal and start the Asian Barbecue Chicken.

5:55 — Ouch! Squeezing lime juice is not fun when you have dry, cracked hands (remind me to use lotion after washing the dishes; I always seem to forget and then pay for it later!).

6:00 — Two bags of chicken are done. The noise level in the house is rising. Must pick up the pace. Measure out the flour that I ground earlier in the day while our friends were visiting. Realize I am out of cream of tartar. Oh well. I can add it in later.

6:15 — Finally done — in less than an hour! Tidy up the kitchen quickly, pull out dinner and Jesse walks in the door — perfect timing!

The final results of my 45 minutes’ worth of work:

4 bags of Homemade Baking Mix

2 pans of Amish Baked Oatmeal

2 meal’s worth of Asian Barbecue Chicken

9 Jun 2011   ·   57

Homemade Baking Mix Recipe

Doreen emailed me her baking mix recipe almost a year ago and I’ve had it in my file ever since to try. I finally got around to making it during my Freezer Cooking In an Hour session this week.

It was so simple to whip up and I’m excited to see how it works. I’ll be posting four different recipes using this mix in the next few weeks as I try them. In the mean time, here’s the baking mix recipe:

8 Jun 2011   ·   96
Money Saving Mom

How To Make Money Blogging: 10 Ways to Build & Increase Your Readership (Part 1)

photo credit

1. Produce consistent, quality content.

People visit a blog more often if they know they can count on it being updated regularly. Consistently commit to post at least three times each week and you’ll be well on your way to building your readership.

2. Make it very simple for people to subscribe.

If someone subscribes to your blog’s feed or email newsletter, they are much more likely to remember about your blog on a regular basis. Plus, they are less likely to unsubscribe once they’ve taken the effort to sign up.

Make it very obvious where and how to subscribe on your blog’s sidebar and occasionally remind your readers of the ease and benefits of subscribing (giving a little something away as a reward for subscribing doesn’t hurt, either!)

3. Comment on other blogs.

A great way to encourage people to check out your own blog is to leave interesting comments on other blogs. If people like your comment, they are very likely to click on your name and wander over to your blog.

Please do make sure your comment adds value to the discussion, though. Don’t just say “great post!” and then leave your link. Comments that sound like an infomercial for your blog or that serve no purpose other than to try and get people to click over to your blog are not something bloggers or blog readers appreciate.

Amy has some great tips on how to effectively make use of your time when commenting on other blogs.

4. Write guest posts.

Many, many blogs (including this one!) readily accept well-written, relevant guest posts and it’s one of the most effective ways to introduce your blog and your writing style to a new audience. As an added benefit, if the blog you guest post for has a lot of traffic and ranks high in search engines, having a link or two to your blog on that blog will increase your search engine rankings, too.

When submitting a guest post, make sure that it follows that blog’s guest post guidelines and carefully proof-read it before you send it (you wouldn’t believe how many guest posts submissions we receive that are riddled with glaring typos!). If it gets rejected, don’t take it personally (I’ve rejected many fabulous guest posts over the years, usually because I felt they were better suited for a different audience than mine.), submit it to another blog for consideration instead.

5. Participate in weekly memes.

Blog memes are the weekly link-up opportunities many blogs host, such as Works-For-Me Wednesday. There are thousands of different memes out there and this provides a great opportunity to get new visitors to your blog.

I recommend that you try participating in one to two different memes each week when you’re first starting out. Track your traffic after you participate to see which ones are most successful and bring the most visitors.

And just my personal opinion here: don’t link up to 25 different memes in one post. It looks tacky and I believe it waters down your post’s effectiveness.

Next week I’ll share five more ways to build and increase your readership.

If you’re a blogger, what have been your most effective methods of building your readership? Tell us in the comments.

8 Jun 2011   ·   142
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Budget for Decorating?

Today’s question is from Rebecca:

I am wondering if and how your readers budget for decorating. Meaning, how do you work it into the budget?

I don’t mean anything extravagant. I am just wondering about simple things like candles, picture frames, new sheets, etc. Our budget is dialed in so tightly that there really isn’t any wiggle room, so I am curious as to how others pay for those “extras”. Any suggestions or ideas?

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

7 Jun 2011   ·   133
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: How do you find time to read?

Becky from Our Peaceful Home asked on my book review post last month:

Crystal, I am intrigued about how you manage to read so many books and still do all you do with your blog, homeschooling, etc. Do you have any tips on finding time to fit in all the reading that you do? — Becky

Great question! I learn so much through reading: it challenges me, inspires me and educates me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today were it not for the myriad of meaningful and challenging books I’ve read over the past 29 years of my life.

I especially enjoy reading “non-fluff” books. There’s nothing wrong with reading for entertainment, but if you want to improve yourself as a person, I highly encourage you to choose books that will help you get closer to your goals and shape the way you think and live your life.

Here are some ways I’ve found to find time to read:

1. Make Reading a Priority

In most every case, you can make time for what you truly want to have time for. I read this quote in Honey for a Child’s Heart yesterday and thought it was so good:

“A busy schedule is the enemy of reading. Agreeing in principle with all the benefits of books, you may at this point simply sigh and say, ‘I wish we had more time for reading.’ But the fact remains that we arrange time for what we think is truly important.”

2. Always Have a Book Handy

I keep a few books I’m working on reading through different parts of the house. That way, if I have a few minutes of extra time, I have a book handy to pick up and read.

When I’m headed out the door for an appointment, when I’ll be riding in the passenger seat instead of driving or when I’m going anywhere that there’s a potential I might have some “dead” time, I bring a book along. Sometimes, I don’t even get to crack it open. Other times, I end up having unexpected waiting time and finish the entire book!

3. Read First Thing in the Morning

In the past six months, I’ve made reading a higher priority in my life as I feel like reading good books is one of best ways I can improve as a writer and blogger. One way I’ve carved out more time for reading is by doing it first thing in the morning.

On a usual morning, I get up early, take my shower and get dressed and then I spend 20 minutes in Bible reading and prayer. As soon as I’m finished with that, instead of opening up my laptop, I set the timer for ten minutes and read from whatever book I’m currently reading through.

I can usually read at least a chapter in that 10 minutes and I’ve found it’s a great way to start my day off. Plus, if the day ends up being very full and there’s no extra time for reading at any other time of the day, at least I’ve read one chapter of a book!

4. Turn Off the TV

I know this might not be a popular opinion, but I think you’ll get a lot more out of a good book than you ever will out of the majority of television programs. If you usually spend 30 minutes watching television every day, challenge yourself to devote half of that time to reading instead.

Since I watch very little television (most weeks go by without me watching any), that may be one of the reasons I have more time to read than many people. I’d choose a good book over television any day!

5. Turn Off the Computer

There are so many amazing blogs and sites and articles to read online, but sometimes it can become noisy overload. I prefer to just follow a few blogs and read books instead. I seem to focus better and get more out of books I can hold in my hand rather than reading articles on a computer screen.

6. Listen to Audiobooks

There are many of you who don’t have the luxury of a fairly relaxed schedule like me. You work full-time, you have a gaggle of children and your days are packed from sun-up to sundown and beyond. If snatching a few minutes of reading time seems beyond comprehension, consider audiobooks instead.

You can listen in the car, while you’re folding laundry, while you’re exercising… any time your hands are busy but your mind is free. I’ve only just begun listening to audiobooks at the encouragement of my husband and I’ve truly enjoyed this extra way to fit in more “reading”.

7. Read Aloud to Your Children

If you have children, reading aloud to them is one of the greatest ways to get reading in. Sure, you don’t necessarily read aloud books to them that you’d have on your personal book list, but it’s still so enjoyable to all share a book together.

We typically read aloud for 30 minutes to an hour every week day and it’s truly one of our favorite parts of each day. The girls almost always beg for “another chapter” when I’m finished — and I usually oblige because I’m enjoying the book so much myself!

How do you find time to read (if you do!)? I’d love to hear your ideas!

7 Jun 2011   ·   180
Money Saving Mom

Today’s Target trip (and why I paid over $2 for a box of bandages)

I took a meal to a friend today who lives over by Target, so made a quick stop at Target to see what deals I could pick up. Here’s what I ended up getting:

Nexcare children’s bandages (20-count) at $1.68
Used $1/1 Target coupon (there’s also a $0.55/1 Nexcare coupon from the 4/3 or 6/5 SmartSource insert that I didn’t have)
$0.68 after coupon

Up & Up Hair Detangler — $1.34
Used $0.75/1 Up & Up Hair item coupon (no longer available)
$0.59 after coupon

Nivea Body Wash – $3.04
Used $1/1 Target coupon (from the Beauty Bag)
Stacked with $2/1 any Nivea Body Wash coupon from the 6/5 RedPlum insert
$0.04 after coupons

Seattle’s Best Coffee — $6.04
Used $1/1 Target coupon
Stacked with $2/1 printable
$3.04 after coupon

Mead Flashcards — $1.79
Used $1/1 Target coupon
$0.79 after coupon

Band-Aids — $2.19

After coupons, I paid $8.94.

Now, if you’re wondering why on earth I spent $2.19 on a box of Hello Kitty Band-Aids, it’s because Kaitlynn has been talking about the Strawberry Shortcake bandages I was planning to buy ever since she saw me print this coupon out. She was so excited I was going to buy them that she asked repeatedly if she could come shopping with me on this trip.

She held onto the Nexcare bandage coupon the whole drive and kept talking about buying the bandages. (Yes, for some reason bandages — especially character bandages — are one of my children’s favorite things right now. Don’t ask me why!)

When we got to Target, they were completely sold out of all Strawberry Shortcake bandages. I could see how disappointed she was when I tried to explain this to her so I decided to let her choose another box of character bandages instead.

Was it frugal? No. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I spent $2 on a box of bandages.

But it made my little girl’s day. And while I believe strongly that a parent shouldn’t give a child everything they want, I think it’s wonderful to occasionally let go of the frugality and buy something just because it will brighten someone’s day.

It was a $2 well spent.

7 Jun 2011   ·   138
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: “Stockpiling” clothing saves us money and effort

Kristin emailed in the following tip:

With six children (and another on the way!) the cost of new clothing and shoes can really add up! I think ahead to what sizes/seasons of clothing and shoes will be needed within the next year, then scour yard sales and thrift stores for what we need. Out of season/size clothing is stored in labeled totes until they are needed.

I normally pay about $1-3 per pair of shoes, $2-3 for a pair of brand name jeans, $1-2 for dresses and $1 or less per pair of pajamas.

Recently our oldest son had a growth spurt and needed new pants. Instead of having to run out and purchase a new pair, I simply pulled
out a tote and unpacked his pants in the next size up. -Kristin

photo credit

6 Jun 2011   ·   43
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu Plan

French Toast Casserole (from the freezer), fruit
Steel Cut Oats with raw sugar and milk
Breakfast Burritos, fruit
Strawberry-Banana Maple Smoothies, toast
Waffles, scrambled eggs
Amish Baked Oatmeal, scrambled eggs

Egg salad sandwiches, cantaloupe, peas
Annie’s Mac & Cheese, carrot sticks, Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches, carrot sticks
Beans & Rice with cheese, peas, fruit
Leftovers x 3

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Bananaberry Freeze

Marinated chicken, cooked carrots, wild rice, fruit salad
Burritos, steamed veggies, fruit salad
Steak on the grill, frozen veggies, rolls, fruit salad
Tilapia, barley, steamed broccoli, fruit salad
Asian Barbecue Chicken, rice, tossed salad
Dinner out
Dinner at extended family’s house

Freezer-Cooking-In-An-Hour Plan (I’ll share pictures/details on how this goes on Thursday!)
Homemade Whole-Wheat Baking Mix (recipe coming Thursday)
Amish Baked Oatmeal
Asian Barbecue Chicken

What’s cooking at your house this week? Feel free to leave a link to your menu plan or any great new recipes in the comments.