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19 May 2011   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

It’s the Simple Things

Guest post by Brandy Chandler at Team Chandler

It seems in this hurried world that we rush from this activity to that, making sure our children are “well rounded” and have the opportunity to have fun and to make new friends. Even if we don’t spend money on lessons or sports, we might still find ourselves spending gas money taking them to and from the park or spending buying lunches at McDonalds while they play in the playzone.

I’m guilty! Guilty of trying too hard to provide my child with various opportunities without just giving him time to be a kid. Time to just play.

Recently, we had a “family night”. Typically, this would involve a special (yet quick) meal, movies, games and maybe a special treat. While I pride myself on keeping this way under budget, it hit me: “Family night” isn’t about a well-planned time with one another; it’s about embracing the time to do something spontaneous (yet frugal).

When I asked my 5-year-old what he wanted to do for family night, his simple answer “Play hide and seek”, “watch Wild Kratts with me”, etc. I was given a gentle reminder that sometimes what we, as parents, value as important may not be all that important at all.

It’s about that undivided time with our children doing things they want to in the moment. It’s about saying “Yes” to that 10th game of tic-tac-toe when the dishes need to be done. It’s about saying “Yes” when asked to read that favorite story again when you are ready to drift to sleep. These are the memories that will last. The memories of a mom and dad who were there for the little things.

That is priceless.

Brandy is a work from home mom of two who spends her time homeschooling her oldest child, training for half marathons, couponing and blogging about her families adventures at Team Chandler.

Photo Credit

18 May 2011   ·   87
Money Saving Mom

How to Make Money Blogging: 5 Tips for Writing Top-Notch Content

photo credit

If you missed it, be sure to read: 5 Necessary Traits of Successful Bloggers (Part 1) and 5 Ways to Set Up Your Blog for Success (Part 2).

1. Be You

One of the greatest hindrances to successful blogging is trying to be someone else. You are not someone else. You will never be someone else. You are you!

You are unique and one-of-a-kind. You have amazing gifts and talents that many people don’t. You have a perspective on life that no one else in the whole wide world does, because no one else is you. Learn from other bloggers, but figure out who you are and be you.

2. Be Confident

It’s easy to become discouraged and to feel completely inadequate when you see other bloggers who seem to have more creativity, a cuter blog, a more-frequently-updated blog, more traffic, more comments, more Facebook followers and on and on it goes. You can spend so much time worrying about not measuring up that you completely lose sight of what you have to offer as a blogger.

As I used to tell a dear friend of mine who often felt incompetent as a blogger (and who has now gone on to create a wildly successful blog), “Don’t be mouse-y!” Any time spent sitting and sulking about your lack of ability or worrying about what people will think of you is time that is wasted.

3. Be Engaging

Interact with your readers and respond to their comments and emails as much as you can. Ask your readers for their advice and input and listen to what they have to say. Your readers want to know that you value them. And you should, because without them, you’d have no audience to write for!

Don’t be afraid to try new things — even if they fail. Don’t always post the same things in the same way. Throw in some off-topic posts, photos or videos every now and then. Occasional surprises and unexpected posts will help keep things exciting.

4. Be Real

Readers aren’t looking for perfectionism, they are looking for real-ness. We all make mistakes and we all have our areas we struggle with. Don’t try to pretend that you have all your ducks in an alphabetized row.

Be honest, be open and be vulnerable (when appropriate). People will connect with authenticity but they will run from hypocrisy.

5. Be a Perfectionist

This might seem to fly in the face of being real, but I’m not talking about being perfect as a person, but about being thorough and detailed as a blogger. Frequent typos and blatant grammar errors are irritating.

Sloppiness will never get you far. Always proof your posts at least twice before publishing them. Constantly seek to improve as a writer. Read books and blogs written by good writers. Critique your writing and ask others to do the same.

Please, please, please do not use massive paragraphs without paragraph breaks. This is one of the easiest ways to turn people off from reading your blog. Blog paragraphs should be no more than a few lines long so that people can read them easily on a computer screen.

Three more don’ts: Don’t center the text. Don’t use exclamation points, all caps or ellipses excessively. Don’t use multiple fonts.

Use paragraph headings or points in articles that are longer than a few paragraphs. Include graphics and/or photos on most posts. And did I mention how important it is to proof-read your posts before hitting publish? 🙂

Bonus Point: Be Careful

If you share something in a public forum like your blog, you can never completely take it back. Always assume everyone in the whole world may read what you write.

Don’t use names, photos or other identifying information without thinking carefully about the potential ramifications. It’s better to be safe, than sorry.

What about you? What are your best suggestions for creating top-notch content?

Next week we’ll talk about five ways to increase your blog’s readership.

18 May 2011   ·   67
Money Saving Mom

Save Money and Have Fun By Starting a Frugal Club

Guest post by Jennifer

In 2009 some friends and I found that we were like-minded and wanted to try new ways of saving money. We all especially enjoy using more natural products and thought we could make some of them inexpensively ourselves. So we started Frugal Club and have tried to meet most months and work on a variety of projects.

Recently one of our members was interviewed by our hometown magazine, Rochester Magazine. Now more people in our town have asked us about the club!

How to start your own Frugal Club:

*Find friends who are interested in a frugal lifestyle.
* Get together and talk about what everyone is already doing to save money.
* Brainstorm ideas of what you would like to do to save money/get ideas from Money Saving Mom.
* Have someone volunteer to lead or organize each project you decide to do.
* Have people bring what they already have for the project and divide the cost of what needs to be purchased.
* Get together and try some of the projects.
* Rotate homes for hosting and bringing treats.
* After finishing a project, evaluate if the project was beneficial and if it saved money.
* Have fun!

Projects we have done as part of our Frugal Club:

* Made and then exchanged seasoning/mixes (taco seasoning, chai tea, popcorn seasoning, oatmeal packets).
* Traded items we didn’t need or wanted to re-gift (see this post on a Stockpile Swap Party for more ideas).
* Made personal products (facials, shampoo, deodorant, cocoa lip balm).
* Made greeting cards from scrap paper and magazines.
* Had a holiday cookie exchange.
* Shared a CSA vegetable box together.
* Made window cleaner, laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent.
* Made dish scrubbers out of onion mesh bags.
* Went to garage sales together in the summer
* Discussed freezer meals/cooking in bulk/purchased meat in bulk and split it.
* Made homemade air fresheners.
* Discussed frugal baby things (cloth diapers, cloth wipes).
* Exchanged or lent books we already own.
* Made fire starters for camping.
* Rented an aerator and did multiple yards.
* Shared packets of seeds for our gardens.
* Hauled our own trash/recycling.
* Exchanged coupons.
* Picked strawberries.

Projects we plan to do in our Frugal Club:

* Try our hand at home haircuts and go to a cosmetology school for inexpensive hair cuts.
* Make candles and lotions.
* Wash each others’ windows.
* Help each other with time consuming yard work (trimming bushes)
* Plant herbs.
* Make “sandwich bags” out of cloth.
* Make soap when we visit a goat farm in May.

Jenny and her friends/current Frugal Club members: Jill, Beth, Carla, Kristy & Dana all live in Rochester, MN. In our group we have five nurses and one librarian. We enjoy learning from each other and of course talking! In the last year, three babies have joined the Frugal Club so our meetings are a little different than they used to be! 🙂

18 May 2011   ·   86
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Is it a better deal to buy disposable batteries or invest in rechargeable batteries?

Today’s question is from Heather:

I’m curious to know if anyone has done a cost comparison over time with buying batteries (using coupons, of course!) to using rechargeable batteries. We have three children and we go through a Costco-sized batch of batteries within a couple of months. I’m considering investing in rechargeable batteries but wondering if that would really save any money. Thoughts?

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

17 May 2011   ·   175
Money Saving Mom

2011 Do-It-Yourself Experiment #4: Homemade Powdered Laundry Soap

A few years ago, I attempted making liquid laundry detergent. The entire recipe bombed and I ended up throwing it out.

Ever since then, I’ve been leery of trying homemade laundry detergent again. But, after all the rave reviews many of you have emailed in, I worked up my courage to try again. And I’m so glad I did because I had a much better experience this time!

I used the recipe I found from DIY Natural. It only takes three ingredients and seemed pretty fail-proof!

Homemade Powdered Laundry Soap

Shave or grate the bar of soap.

Mix the rest of the ingredients together. Thoroughly stir together for about five minutes.

Yields 32-64 loads, depending upon whether you use one or two Tablespoons per load. I’ll report back soon to let you know if I think this would work for our family long-term. It seems promising!

In case you missed it, here’s the list of the 12 Do-It-Yourself Projects I Plan to Try in 2011:

January: Make From-Scratch Chai Tea

February: Make Homemade Dishwashing Detergent

March: Make Homemade Hamburger Buns

April: Make Homemade Laundry Soap (I did attempt this one time before, but it was with a pre-made mix someone gave me. So I’m going to try again — this time completely from scratch!)

May: Make Appliqued Flower Tee

June: Make Homemade Hummus

July: Make Freezer Jam

August: Make Homemade Soap

September: Sew a Rag Quilt

October: Make Homemade Apple Butter

November: Make Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

December: Make Homemade Marshmallows

Have you attempted any new do-it-yourself projects recently? I’d love to hear how they went!

17 May 2011   ·  
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: What financial aspects should I consider when becoming a stay-at-home mom?

I have been thinking about becoming a stay-at-home mom. I have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old. I am going to start my budget to see if we can afford to live off of one income. My parents informed me that I would not be able to contribute to an IRA since I would have no income. What other things should I take into consideration when making this decision? I know I will be saving on gas, work clothes, daycare, etc. What else am I missing? Thanks so much! -Lori

Staying home and devoting your life to nurturing and raising the next generation is a wonderful thing. That said, many who want to make the jump from working outside of the home full-time to working inside the home full-time are realistically not financially able to do so.

If you are thinking you may be able to do it, what I recommend you do is to first sit down with your husband and create a written budget based upon his income alone. You may need to cut back, eliminate or restructure some of your budget categories and expenses in order to accomplish this.

Then, continue working while you attempt to live only on your husband’s income and see if you can pay for all your necessary expenses. If not, go back through your budget and see if there are other areas you can cut or expenses you can reduce.

While you continue to work, bank everything you earn towards an Emergency Fund. This will not only provide a training session on how to make it on one income, it will also give you a good savings cushion for you to draw against if you need to once you quit working.

Now, pertaining to the IRA contributions you would supposedly miss out on, non-working spouses can still contribute to an IRA through the special spousal contribution allowance even though they do not have have an earned income. SmartMoney Magazine has a good piece explaining the contribution limits to IRAs for non-working spouses as well as the deductibility of the contributions to traditional IRAs. Here’s a snippet of the obviously-outdated article:

A nonworking spouse can make a deductible IRA contribution of up to $5,000 for 2010 ($6,000 if age 50 or older as of 12/31/10) as long as the couple files a joint return, and the working spouse has enough earned income to cover the contribution. However, the deductibility of the nonworking spouse’s contribution for 2010 is phased out for couples with adjusted gross income (AGI) between $167,000 and $177,000, provided that the working spouse is covered by a qualified retirement plan (via a job or self-employment). The working spouse’s ability to make a deductible contribution for 2010 is phased out between AGI of $89,000 and $109,000.

Contributions to ROTH IRAs are not deductible because they are made after tax; as such, you do not have to pay taxes on the back end when getting money out.

If you’ve transitioned from working outside the home to staying home full-time or part-time, I’d love to hear your story on how you did that.

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the 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.

17 May 2011   ·   63

Reader Testimonial: Our Most Sucessful Garage Sale Ever

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Amy emailed in the following testimonial which I thought many of you would enjoy reading:

I just wanted to let you know that we just had our most successful garage sale ever after reading your Ten Tips for a Successful Garage Sale post. For starters, our philosophy was different because we realized we had already gotten our use out of each item and so were not holding onto the “but this is what we paid for it new” syndrome.

After the sale, we also realized that a clean and empty garage is definitely worth our efforts to have the sale. (The garage had been full after our move back to Texas two years ago. We began to realize if all that stuff had not been used in that long, we really do not need it.) I think this sale proved a successful teaching tool for all of us in the blessings of minimalism. We all love jumping around freely in the newly-emptied garage!

How We Did It

We started the sale on Friday, so Thursday night we listed the sale on Craigslist. My husband created a public map on Google Maps, with directions to our house from the nearest major cross-roads. In the description of the Destination (our house), he posted sale hours and a long list of items we had for sale. It was the same text that was in the Craigslist post, but including the link in the post made it very easy for folks to find us.

We also posted signs like we had in the past, but most people said they heard about us and found us because of Craigslist and the map we placed in the ad. Very effective, indeed.

The second day of our sale we updated our Craigslist and Google Maps postings and stapled smaller, brightly colored signs to the original signs that said, “50% off Sat. 7:30 a.m.” Wow! That worked!

We sold most the remaining big stuff within minutes of opening the garage door. All the little stuff was sold off in steady streams until about 10:30 a.m., at which time we had our children take turns holding up a sign at our street corner saying, “90% off — many items FREE!”

People came in droves after that! We got rid of just about everything very quickly. It was all said and done by about 12:30 p.m..

Lessons Learned

We included our children the sale and let them set up a table of their own. One of our sons was originally miffed because he sold some of his things for way less than he wanted to, but he quickly learned the art of strategic marketing! So, all was good in the end.

The children also sold donuts and bottled waters. Those were a huge hit — and a big profit-maker, earning a dollar per donut or bottled water. They made a good return for their efforts, and were very happy about it. They learned effective salesmanship and how to talk with a variety of people.

Afterward, we had a long talk about rejoicing and giving thanks for the 90% God lets us keep from our earnings and we were able to give a much larger than usual tithe on Easter Sunday morning which gave us all so much joy! -Amy

16 May 2011   ·   82
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu

Smoothies for our breakfast and reading time… Kaitlynn’s such a ham!

We have a busy week this week, so I’m keeping dinners very simple. And I’m thankful our freezer is starting to fill up which relieves me from having to cook as much!

Cantaloupe Strawberry Smoothies (This was a crazy smoothie creation I came up with on the fly this morning. Everyone drank them, but they weren’t a big hit!), Hard-boiled eggs
Cereal, Pick-Me-Up Smoothies
Waffles (from the freezer), scrambled eggs, fruit
Steel Cut Oats with raw sugar and milk
Breakfast Burritos, Fruit
French Toast Casserole (from the freezer), Fruit

Leftovers x 3
Apple Peanut Butter sandwiches, carrot sticks
Beans & Rice with cheese, peas, fruit
Mac & Cheese, carrot sticks
Cheese Quesadillas, fruit

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Marinated chicken, wild rice, frozen veggies, fruit
Steak on the grill, frozen veggies
Tilapia, rice, steamed broccoli, fruit salad
Barbecued meatballs, sweet potatoes, frozen veggies, fruit
Dinner at church
Dinner out
Dinner with extended family

Freezer-Cooking-In-An-Hour Plan (I’ll share pictures/details on how this goes on Thursday!)
Breakfast Burritos
Southwest Roll-Ups
Lighter Chocolate Chip Pancakes

(You thought my floors weren’t too bad? Well, take a peek at my countertops before I’ve cleaned the kitchen in the morning. They always need serious help after breakfast!)

What’s on your menu this week?

16 May 2011   ·   21
Money Saving Mom

How to Budget on an Irregular Income

Guest post by Jenae at I Can Teach My Child.

As a family of four, we live on my husband’s income only. He is currently an Administrator in Long-Term Care, a job he absolutely loves. I consider his job a ministry to the elderly and he truly has a gift for encouraging this neglected population.

His income, however, is largely bonus-based and therefore is quite irregular depending on the center’s performance in meeting budget, accounts receivable, census, etc. My husband is a high-achiever and does great with this type of compensation, but it certainly makes budgeting quite tricky!

Here are just a few suggestions we have found helpful for budgeting on an irregular income:

1. Look to the past.

Look back to the last few years and make note of overall compensation received as well as any noticeable trends (for example, a large part of my husband’s bonuses pay out in March). Divide your average income by 12 to see what you can expect your monthly income to be.

2. Make a budget.

Once you have your average yearly income, make a budget based on that income and set your financial goals (i.e. paying off debt, mortgage, etc). If you are new to an irregular income, you’ll want to shave off as much excess spending as possible until you are comfortable with the new income situation.

3. Keep a cushion.

In addition to 3-6 months of an emergency fund in an accessible savings account, I would recommend having at least one extra month’s worth of expenses in your checking account. This will help tremendously during those lean months without having to dip into your emergency fund.

4. Watch closely.

Make sure you keep a close eye on all financial transactions to ensure you have enough money to pay your monthly bills (as well as to make sure you’re not overspending). Using cash is always the most reliable way to do this, but we also use for our electronic transactions.

5. Discuss and Evaluate.

Every month, look over your budget and actual spending (with your spouse, if you are married). If you have received a large payout, decide what to do with that money (put it towards the mortgage, paying off debt, etc). If this month is especially lean, look for ways in which you can cut back. Monthly budget meetings are especially important for families with irregular income.

An irregular income can be especially challenging in regards to managing and budgeting money. But it doesn’t have to be stressful nor consuming. Keep an open line of communication with your family members and remember to always keep a cushion to carry you through.

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

14 May 2011   ·   60
Money Saving Mom

Reader tip: Grocery shopping every two weeks saves us over $1,000 each year

I loved this testimonial that Sharon emailed in:

I’ve been saving between $100 to $120 every month just simply by going grocery shopping every two weeks instead of every week like I used to do. This is not taking into account the money I might have spent in gas either.

In order to shop every two weeks, I have to plan ahead a little more, thinking about any hosting or extra events I may have to cook for in the next two weeks. A few times, I have had to pick up some extras in between my regular shopping week, but I am amazed at how rare it is that I’ve needed to do so. I’ve discovered I can usually plan my menus around what my cupboards, fridge and freezer contain.

I’m finding that the less I see, the less I buy. The less I shop, the less I see.

By the way, not only has shopping every two weeks dropped by grocery bill significantly, but it’s also given me more time to spend on other projects. -Sharon

14 May 2011   ·   18
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday

I’m late in getting this up today because I spent this morning at a knitting class and this afternoon hanging out with my friend, Carolynn, from My Little Bit of Life. At any rate, here’s a rundown on my grocery shopping purchases this week…

I stopped at Walmart last night to get some Ivory soap for the homemade laundry detergent I’m making (I’ll be sharing the recipe and full details on how it goes on Wednesday). Of course, I have been unable to find a $1/1 Ivory soap coupon from my usual coupon sources, so I decided to use overage to my advantage.

Here’s what I got:

1 can Similac formula — $4.17, used $5/1 coupon, free plus overage

1 Nivea Bodywash — $3, used $3/1 coupon, free after coupon

1 3-pack of Ivory soap — $0.97

My total was $0.73 after the coupons plus tax.

We won’t use the formula, but I went ahead and bought it to donate since I had the coupon and it gave me overage toward the soap purchase.

I did the rest of my shopping on Tuesday:

I spent $41.97 at Aldi — see a full list of what we bought and the prices here.

I spent a little over $7 at Dollar Tree.

And I spent $7.11 at Dillon’s — see a full list of what we bought and the coupon match-ups here.

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.

12 May 2011   ·   133

Freezer Cooking in an Hour: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, French Toast Casserole, Marinated Chicken and Waffles

After deciding that this wasn’t the season of life for me to be doing big marathon freezer cooking sessions, I’ve been trying to figure out what might work for me and how I can streamline cooking and dinners around here.

I love having stuff in the freezer to pull out and use. I love not having to worry about making dinner every night of the week. And I love not having to do as many dishes. But I don’t love the upheaval the mega freezer cooking sessions were creating nor the massive mess and exhaustion that always seemed to result now that I have three children underfoot.

So I’m experimenting with another alternative… something I’m calling “Freezer Cooking in an Hour”. Basically, I’m going to set aside one hour one afternoon a week during Silas’ nap time to do as much cooking ahead as I can. And I’m bringing you all along on the ride with me to see how this goes. 🙂

Here’s what I did in an hour (plus a little extra!) yesterday:

3:00 — Start mixing up Pumpkin Waffle Batter. I “cheated” and used a mix I’d gotten for Christmas. I had set out some frozen milk the night before to use.

3:10 — Waffle batter finished and started waffles on the waffle iron. Realized I still had a few cups of milk left. Decided to make some French Toast Casseroles with the clearanced bread I’d gotten at Aldi plus the extra milk.

3:30 — Three French Bread Casseroles made and stuck in the oven, the pile of waffles continued to grow and I moved onto making the Marinated Chicken.

Uh-oh, Silas is up from his nap. I set the children all around the table with my laptop to watch Mary Poppins and dive back into freezer cooking.

3:45 — Chicken is finished and in the freezer, waffle batter is all cooked up, time to start on the Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip cookies. But wait, someone needs a drink. And a snack. Silas needs a diaper change…

4:00 — So much for finishing in an hour! The children are back to their places at the table. I mix the cookie dough and roll it into balls.

4:20 — Finally finished! Well, except for the kitchen. I tidy up, have the children go out to play and survey my accomplishments:

3 pans of French Toast Casserole

4 meals’ worth of Marinated Chicken

3 dozen Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls

Double batch of waffles (Half were eaten for snack. Sigh. How much are these children going to eat when they get a little bigger?!)

Not bad for an hour and 20 minutes!

And truth be told, I think giving myself a shorter time frame encouraged me to really focus and be efficient and productive. I’m looking forward to testing this theory out during my Freezer Cooking in an Hour segments over the next few weeks. Perhaps this method of cooking ahead might be the perfect solution for this time in our lives! We’ll see…