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31 Mar 2011   ·   65
Money Saving Mom

Fun & Frugal: Water scooping and pouring

After my post on Bean Scooping, a couple of you suggested I try something similar with water for Silas.

Silas loved the water (as did Kathrynne and Kaitlynn!) I just laid down a towel on our kitchen floor, gave him some measuring cups and spoons and various bowls and tubs.

I added a little dish soap to the water to make it bubbly and he had at it.

Yes, there were a few puddles on the kitchen floor after he was done, but it kept him quietly and cheerfully occupied for 15 minutes while I cleaned up the kitchen, so it was every bit worth a little mess.

What kinds of fun and frugal activities have you been doing at your house recently? I’d love to hear your ideas!

30 Mar 2011   ·   41
Money Saving Mom

The Best Way to Save Money

Amy (who is my real-life friend and who also helps set up all the private advertising and giveaways here on MoneySavingMom.com) has an excellent post up today on the best way to save money:

Clipping coupons is great, but not if you spend 2 hours clipping and sorting to save $5 on items your family doesn’t like to eat.

Purchasing that cute shirt at a discount seems rational, until you get it home and realize it doesn’t fit… and then you never bother to return it.

Dining out with a free meal deal is fabulous, unless you have to spend outside your budget for the rest of the meals to get one “free.”

Read her full post.

photo credit

29 Mar 2011   ·   109
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: Should we finance our car in order to keep more money in savings?

If we can afford the payments, is it smarter to finance part of the vehicle to keep our savings, or should we go ahead and pay cash (keeping $5,000 to $6,000 in our Emergency Funds still)? -Leah

First off, congratulations on building your savings to afford paying cash for the vehicle! Having just purchased a newer car for the first time last year after years of driving old and hand-me-down vehicles, I can empathize with how nice it is to have the money set aside.

If I were in your shoes, I would make sure that your Emergency Fund is enough to cover at least three months’ worth of expenses if something happens to your income. If you have enough after that is set aside to buy a vehicle with cash, I would go ahead and pay cash for the vehicle.

Is it “smarter” to make the payments and finance the vehicle? I would say, in short, no. You will be paying more for the car with interest payments over the next five years than you would if you just paid cash outright.

Also, touching on another discussion for another day, I think we have some serious inflation coming down the pike within the next few years. If you spend the cash now, I believe the money will be worth more now than it would be sitting in savings at a later date when you would use it to pay the interest payments over the next five to seven years. So, not only would you be paying more money due to the interest payments, you potentially could be paying more due to inflation.

Additionally, if you use cash, there is a greater potential at having your money go further by being able to negotiate a better deal. When I bought my car last year, I may not have saved that much money upfront by paying cash, but paying in cash allowed me to go an unconventional route and expedite the process.

After extensive research, I ended up getting my car through a dealer who got the vehicle at a dealer auction. The car was off-lease and had been wrecked and had hail damage but the dealership repaired it as good as new under the lease. The car I bought still had the original sticker in the glove box and we ended up paying half of the value of the original price for a three-year-old vehicle. The previous owner took the hit on depreciation and we were able to get a great deal. And going the cash route allowed us to finish the deal rather quickly.

If you can afford the payments now when you have everything saved up, I would go ahead and use the already-saved money to buy a vehicle. Then, I would take the money you would have been paying for a car payment and set it aside for your next vehicle purchase or another savings goal. When setting aside money for something, I’ve found it helpful to already mentally “spend” the money while it is being set aside. Then, when it is time to write the check, it does not hurt as much. 🙂

What about the rest of you? Would you recommend paying cash for a vehicle or would you finance a vehicle and keep more money in savings?

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.

The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.

28 Mar 2011   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

Five Ways to Give on a Budget

Guest post by Sia Hills at Centsible in Seattle

Even more than frugality, I love generosity. When there are opportunities be frugal and generous, I get really excited.

Opportunities exist to get something for free, while giving to another. Others provide great leverage for your dollar: when you purchase something your money will be doubled and you will get product.

Regardless of your budget, there are opportunities for everyone to give. Here are a few of my favorite ways to give:

1. Read a Book. Give a Book.

At WeGiveBooks.org, you choose a book to read online. You then select a charity to donate a free book to a child in need. My girls love this program, and it teaches them about giving at a young age.

2. Donate Extra Items From Your Stockpile

You can donate items to your local food bank or homeless shelters. Check out Feeding America for a food bank near you.

Do you ever wonder what you might be able to do with all of that free soap and shampoo you have stockpiled? Send it to Clean The World and recycle your soap to save lives. Diseases like Cholera are addressed best with soap and water. Your extra soap and shampoo can save a life. Work with others you know to combine your stockpiles and share shipping costs.

Another great option is to fill a shoebox with with school supplies, small toys, toothbrushes, etc. for the children in need in poor areas of the world through Operation Christmas Child.

3. Purchase Coffee For a Cause

If you’re a coffee lover, be sure to check out OneCup.org. For every $11 in coffee you purchase, $11 will be donated to help humanitarian aid work in Africa.

In addition, Doughnut Girl Coffeeprovides an opportunity to get coffee and help another. Pay $9 for coffee and 100% of profits go to Salvation Army.

4. Buy Handmade Items from Entrepreneurs in Third World Countries

Heavenly Treasures, one of my favorite sites, offer the opportunity to purchase items that have been handmade by an entrepreneur in a poor country. These are recipients of Micro Loans, and you are supporting the growth of their business. They offer unique and affordable one of a kind gifts (many start at around $5).

5. Buy a Pair of Shoes, Give a Pair of Shoes

For every pair of shoes purchased, Tom’s Shoes gives a pair of shoes to a child in need. What is great about Tom’s Shoes is that they work from a replenishment model: the child who received the first pair will continue to get a new pair as they grow out of them or wear them out. Besides the comfort of wearing shoes, it has a significant impact on health issues for the children that receive them. The shoes are not cheap, but your purchase will impact a child’s life!

Sia Hills is a wife and mother of three, who in addition to blogging works in the humanitarian world. She loves to share money saving opportunities, as well as ways to give and live generously. Her blog, centsibleinseattle.net, focuses on sharing savings opportunities available in the Pacific Northwest.

What are your favorite ways to give, even on a limited budget?

28 Mar 2011   ·   239
Money Saving Mom

A secret project I’ve been working on

I’ve been working on a secret project since the beginning of January. I’m no good at keeping secrets, so I’ve been bursting at the seams to tell you all, but I had to wait until a bunch of details were in place before I could do so.

And the day has finally come.

The secret? I’m writing a book!

How it all came about was a crazy, bizarre set of circumstances and I’m still pinching myself that this is really and truly for real.

Writing a book has long been on my list of “things I hope to do someday”, but it was one of those big dreams which seemed very much out of reach right now. So, the idea’s been tucked into the back part of my brain and left there. I figured once my children were older, it’d be something I might pull back out and pursue.

Well, God had other plans. In November of 2010, a vice president at a publishing company happened to stumble upon my blog. He emailed me the same day and asked me to call him about a book deal.

When I got the email, I wondered if it were a fluke or a prank. But no, investigation showed he was the real deal. I was incredulous that anything would come of it, but Jesse and I decided to go ahead and call him.

I was shocked when I called him and he basically said, “We’d like to offer you a book deal. What do you want to write on?”

He was very thorough in explaining how it would work, what they were expecting from me and the time frame they were thinking. I just sat on the other end shaking my head. This can’t be for real.

But it was real and I had to face reality and decide whether I wanted to take the plunge into a completely unknown world. It was daunting and I was scared.

Jesse and I spent the next few weeks praying about it and seeking the counsel of people who know us best. I was a lot more hesitant than Jesse as I could only imagine what effort would be required to write a 50,000-word manuscript in a short time frame. But Jesse continued to assure me he thought I should do this and that he would be right by my side as my biggest supporter and cheerleader (which he totally has been!)

I knew I’d have to delegate some of my other responsibilities in order to devote time to writing a book (I’m not superwoman!), so I prayed that if God wanted me to accept the book deal, He would provide an assistant for me. It was a tall order because I was looking for a very specific skill set in a person as well as a certain type of personality and I was really not sure anyone in our area would fit the bill.

God’s pretty amazing at answering “tall orders”, though. That very same week, God brought Megan into my path. She had all the skills and qualifications I was looking for, she was already considering a job change and she and I just “clicked”. I hired her in January and she’s taken a huge weight of responsibilities off my shoulders so I can focus on writing, blogging and being a wife and mom.

With all the lights staying clearly green to us regarding the book deal, I accepted the publisher’s offer in January and embarked on this new adventure. Truly, I’ve loved almost every moment of it, even if it has been a little grueling at times.

My manuscript is due to the publisher on May 1, 2011 — yes, about five weeks away. Needless to say, it’s crunch time around here and I hope you’ll bear with me if you email and don’t hear back from me until after May. I promise I’m not ignoring you personally, I’m just pretending my email is not piling up so that I can focus on cranking out this manuscript. 🙂

In addition, for the next five weeks, I won’t be posting weekly menus, likely won’t be sharing details and pictures of my shopping trips and will most probably not be posting quite as much. I’ll still be sharing lots of deals, great guest posts and reader tips and writing posts as I’m able, but if you don’t see updates quite as often or I don’t have a chance to respond to your comment, you’ll know why.

Never fear, once May 1 arrives, I should be back to my usual posting schedule. (And you just might hear a big sigh of relief coming from this part of the country!)

Thank you, in advance, for your patience. And if you think of me, I’d so appreciate your prayers as I finish up this project.

If all goes as planned, the book will be available for sale in January 2012. All of my profits from the sale of the book will be donated to Compassion — a ministry our family whole-heartedly believes in and is thrilled to support.

26 Mar 2011   ·   41
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday

Other than shopping at Dollar Tree this week for bread, I didn’t do any other shopping.

Jesse stopped by the store to pick up milk, chocolate milk, three bunches of bananas and cereal. Plus, we bought three dozen farm-fresh eggs from my brother.

But that was it for our shopping this week. What about you?

_________________


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.

26 Mar 2011   ·   39
Money Saving Mom

Books Read in March: Becoming a Person of Influence, The Possibilities of Prayer, ReWork, By the Shores of Silver Lake


I feel like so many of the books I’ve been reading recently I’ve dubbed “excellent”. It’s becoming a bit redundant or overused, but seriously, Becoming a Person of Influence is yet another superb book.

I was inspired to listen more, encourage others more and go out of my way to build up and believe in other people. While I love to motivate people, I sometimes can become so focused on my projects and to-do list that I don’t make people as much of a priority as I should in my life.

This book challenged me in many ways. The biggest? If I want to make a difference in others’ lives, I have to take the time to invest in their lives.

I look back at some of the people who’ve had the greatest influence on me and I know it was because they weren’t too busy to listen, to help, to encourage and to take time for me. I want to be that kind of person for others, as well. This book truly inspired me to do so and gave me ideas for how to practically implement this.

Also read in March:

The Possibilities of Prayer — I’ve read a few of E.M. Bounds’ books before and have always been blessed by them. While this wasn’t my very favorite book of his and I disagreed with some of the theology, it was full of encouragement regarding the necessity and blessings of prayer.

ReWork — Hands down, this is one of the best business books I’ve ever read. In fact, if you know me well in real-life, you’ve probably heard me blabber on about it the past few weeks since I loved it so much. I read it in one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down.

The premise? Break all the rules of the “experts”. Think way outside the box. Be a teacher: if a business idea works well for you, share your secrets and people will respect you more. Stop worrying about your competition and start being a trend-setter. Keep your company small for as long as you possibly can. Don’t grow until it hurts.

(Note: There is a quite a bit of language in the book and I was disappointed because it somewhat hampered my excitement about the book. And I know some disagree with me, but I always find four letter words in books bothersome because I feel like they are unnecessary and crude.)

By the Shores of Silver Lake — The children and I loved reading this together. We’re almost sad that we’re nearing the end of the Little House series because we’ve enjoyed reading it together so much!

24 Books I Plan to Read in 2011

Business and Financial Books I Plan to Read and Review This Year:

January — 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
February — Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living
March — Becoming a Person of Influence

April — Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking
May — Life on the Wire: Avoid Burnout and Succeed in Work and Life
June — Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents
July — Have a New You by Friday: How to Accept Yourself, Boost Your Confidence & Change Your Life in 5 Days
August — Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
September — America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money
October — Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
November — Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet
December – Personal Investing: The Missing Manual

Other Books I Plan to Read This Year:
January — Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment
February — Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time
March — The Possibilities of Prayer

April — The Blessing of Boundaries
May — Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
June — Honey for a Child’s Heart
July — One With Christ
August — A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning
September — Womanly Dominion: More Than A Gentle and Quiet Spirit
October — The Rose Conspiracy
November — Disciplines of a Godly Woman
December –Benjamin Rush: Signer of the Declaration of Independence

What books have you read recently? Any you’d highly recommend?

(Note: The Amazon.com links in this post are affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy here.)

25 Mar 2011   ·   20
Money Saving Mom

Teaching Your Tot Without Breaking the Bank


Guest post by Jenae

The first five years of your child’s life are vitally important to the learning that will take place for many years to come. Research has shown that children who are immersed in a supportive, learning-oriented, and literature-rich environment greatly succeed later on in school.

Rest assured though, you do not need to spend a fortune on an “educational” program to give your young child a head start. In fact, some of the prepackaged materials can sometimes be detrimental to their learning because of little interaction (both from you and them).

Here are some suggestions for ways to implement educational activities with your toddler and preschooler:

1. Use what you have on hand or what you no longer need.

Not only is this strategy great for the environment, but it also sparks creativity for you and your child!

Many of the activities that my boys and I do together have come from a moment of thinking, “I wonder how I can reuse this?” and a learning activity magically appears.

The possibilities are endless!

2. Learning isn’t just ABC’s and 123’s.

There are essentially seven domains of Early Childhood Development that are important to remember. Running, jumping and climbing are just important for a child as learning the ABC’s!

A child loves to experience both new and familiar things with you and the escalator at the mall can be just as enchanting to a two-year old as Disney World!

3. Utilize your local library.

Surrounding your child with books is very important but this doesn’t mean you need to spend $50 every two weeks at the book store.

Most local libraries have a large assortment of children’s books, including many board books. Plan a trip every couple of weeks to restock with new books. If your children are anything like mine, you’ll be checking out the same books over and over.

4. Stock up on “school supplies” in early August.

Even if you don’t think you’ll use four boxes of crayons and three bottles of glue in the next few months, go ahead and purchase them during back-to-school sales because they are a fraction of the cost that they will be in a month or two.

I bought school supplies for a charity we support last November and was appalled that a box of crayons was over $1.00 when you can get them in August for $0.25.

5. Recruit friends and plan activities.

The friends with whom you surround yourself all have different and unique talents. Plan outings together or a day of activities.

A friend of mine and her sister plan monthly “theme days” where every activity they do is centered around a specific theme.

6. Most of all, give your child the gift of time.

Regardless of what you are doing, spending intentional time with your child will be greatly beneficial to him. You don’t have to spend hours planning special activities, just take 10 minutes to sit down and read a book or get on the floor and play!

Aubrie, from The Buzz 4 Moms, sent me this sweet poem and I think it is absolutely perfect as we reflect on ways to best teach our children:

I tried to teach my child with books;
He gave me only puzzled looks.
I tried to teach my child with words;
They passed him by often unheard.
Despairingly, I turned aside;
“How shall I teach this child,” I cried?
Into my hand he put the key,
“Come,” he said, “Play with me.”

~Author Unknown~
Poem from The Perpetual Preschool

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

24 Mar 2011   ·   88

Green Rice Casserole Recipe

Whenever I say something about Green Rice Casserole, most people do a double take. “Green Rice Casserole? What’s that??” they’ll ask incredulously.

My mom has made this recipe for as long as I can remember and I’ve always loved it. Since I’ve been married, it’s been fun to introduce it to my own family, too. Everyone gobbles it up and usually asks for more!

It’s the perfect side dish for burritos. Or, you can do as I do, and just eat it as a stand alone.

Because it’s just that good!

By the way, this is in no way a low-fat recipe, so if you’re on a diet or counting calories or trying to lose weight, you just might want to skip over this post. 😉


23 Mar 2011   ·   160
Money Saving Mom

Yesterday’s Dollar Tree shopping trip (and a lesson in finances for the girls)

We’ve been using Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Junior with Kathrynne and Kaitlynn to teach them the value of money and stewardship. In addition to their daily required (unpaid) chores, we also have a list of extra paid chores they can choose to do if they’d like. We want our children to learn that there are chores you do as part of being an asset to our family and there are extra chores you can choose to do and get paid for.

While this is not exactly how it works in real-life, we thought it would be a great way to help them learn the value of work and money on a small scale. So far, they are pretty excited about it — most of the time, at least! 🙂 — and it’s working out well. Plus, it’s providing lots of great opportunities to teach life lessons when it comes to work ethic, why we save, why we want to be givers and so much more.

Last week they had their first “Pay Day” and they were quite thrilled! At this point, we’re letting them choose how they want to spend the money in their “spend” category. So we went to Dollar Tree yesterday and they got to spend their own hard-earned money on a few items of their choosing.

It’s exciting to watch as they begin to grasp the basic concepts of giving, saving and spending.

Please note: We don’t profess to know much about this child-raising thing; we’re just learning as we go. I share this with you as an example of what we’re doing in our home, not setting it up as something you should emulate in your home. Do what works best for your family and your children!

While at Dollar Tree, I also picked up some more Nature’s Own Bread for just $1 per loaf. (Nevermind the fact that one bag is half eaten. We love Cinnamon Swirl bread around here! Yum!)

How are you teaching your children about giving, saving and spending? I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions.

21 Mar 2011   ·   106
Money Saving Mom

31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget Video Series: Storing Your Stockpile

This video gives you a little peek into my household supplies stockpile closet.

I don’t have a massive stockpile like some because I tend to stockpile on a smaller scale and typically don’t keep more on hand than what we can use in a three to six month period (there are some exceptions to this rule of thumb, such as the 31 tubes of toothpaste I “bought” for free last year).

I’d love to hear additional creative ideas you’ve come up with for storing your stockpile, especially if you live in a small house or apartment.

21 Mar 2011   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu Plan

Bread dough and beautiful tulips my husband got for me!

Breakfasts:

Toast, Scrambled Eggs, Fruit
Strawberry/Banana Smoothies
Cold Cereal, Juice x 2
Lemon Cranberry Scones, Hardboiled Eggs, Fruit
Mango Lassi, English Muffins
Oatmeal with Apple Slices and Walnuts

Lunches:

Leftovers x 2
Spinach Oven Omelet, fruit
Tuna sandwiches, frozen veggies, oranges
Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese, carrots, apple slices
Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches, fruit
Turkey sandwiches, fruit, veggies

Dinners:

Lasagna, Bread Machine French Bread, Frozen Veggies, Fruit
Haystacks (build-your-own Mexican dinner), Green Rice Casserole (from the freezer — recipe coming on Thursday!), Fruit
Steak, Sweet Potatoes, frozen veggies, Toast
Tilapia, Mashed Potatoes, frozen veggies, fruit salad
Chili Burgers, Seasoned Baked Potato Wedges, frozen veggies, fruit
Dinner with Friends
Dinner Out

What’s on your menu this week?