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26 Jul 2011   ·   94
Money Saving Mom

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

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

Hi, Paula!

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

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

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

1) Get on the Same Page with Your Husband

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

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

2) Create and Follow a Budget

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

3) Whittle Your Budget Down to the Barebones

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

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

4) Put Every Penny You Can into Savings

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

5) Stockpile Food & Household Items

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

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

6) Experiment with Side Income Streams

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

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

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

26 Jul 2011   ·   127
Money Saving Mom

Honest Frugality

Guest post by Caroline Allen from The Modest Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 Jul 2011   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu

my lunch today

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

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

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

Snacks
Banana Almond Smoothie
Toaster pastries
Banana Cocoa Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Fruit/Veggies

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

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

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

24 Jul 2011   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

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

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

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

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

Dillon’s Shopping Trip

2 heads of lettuce marked down to $0.75 each

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

Total: $3.81 with tax

Dollar Tree Shopping Trip

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

Sea Salt — $1

Total: $4.29 with tax

Aldi Shopping Trip

2 bags of shredded cheddar cheese — $2.99 each

Baking soda — $0.49

Straws — $0.99

Carrots — $0.99

Colored pepper pack — $1.79

2 packages of sweet corn — $0.99 each

4 packages of tomatoes on the vine — $0.99 each

Total: $17.36 with tax

Health Food Store Shopping Trip

10 cartons of Almond and Rice Milk for $0.99 each

2 organic Toaster Pastries at $0.99 each

6 mangoes at $0.33 each

4 lbs. of peaches at $0.79 per lb.

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

Blueberry yogurt marked down to $0.99 each

Brown cow yogurt marked down to $1.99

Total: $24.11 with tax

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

Find

Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

22 Jul 2011   ·   4
Money Saving Mom

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

We paid cash!
A testimony from No Debt MBA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit

22 Jul 2011   ·   114
Money Saving Mom

Why to Have a Well-Stocked Pantry

Guest post by Heather at Fake-It Frugal

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

My rules in keeping a Well-Stocked Pantry are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 Jul 2011   ·   36
Money Saving Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 Jul 2011   ·   42
Money Saving Mom

Cheap or Free Toys for Kids

Guest post by Charity Hawkins

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

Duct Tape

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

Duct tape is best complemented with a generous supply of…

String

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

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

Sheets

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

Sidewalk Chalk

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

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

Books

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

Boredom

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

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

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

photo credit

20 Jul 2011   ·   38
Money Saving Mom

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

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

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

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

1) Make It Obvious

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

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

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

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

2) Run a Half-Priced Special

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

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

3) Offer Discount Packages

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

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

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

4) Throw in Some Extras

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Should You Charge?

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

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

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

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

photo credit

20 Jul 2011   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

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

Lana emailed in the following tip:

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit

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

19 Jul 2011   ·   98
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: Advice for first-time renters?

My husband and I will be selling our home soon and relocating for his job. We plan to rent until we know for sure if the new position will be permanent. Neither one of us has ever rented. Do you have any advice or tips for first-time renters? We have two small children so we envision a house or condo.

Would you recommend a storage unit for items not used everyday or a home with enough storage to accommodate those items? We would appreciate any advice you can give us. Thank you! -Beth

Hi, Beth!

A lot of people give renting a bad rap, but personally, I think renting can be a great financial move if you are just moving to a new city, aren’t in a position to put a large down payment on a home, or only plan to live in the same area for around two years or less. We rented for the first seven and a half years of marriage and my husband and I both have no regrets about our decision to do so.

Here are a few things I’d encourage you to consider as a first-time renter:

1) Make Sure You Have a Good Landlord

Whether you’re renting an apartment, house, duplex, or condo, your landlord can either make or break your renting experience. We’ve had great landlords and we’ve had really pathetic landlords (one who made many false promises and took over a year to deal with issues).

When you’re considering a potential house or condo, do a search online to see if there is any information on the landlord or property management company. If we had thought to do this in one of our housing situations, it would have saved enormous headache.

If you’re renting an apartment or condo and there are on-site property managers, make sure you feel like they genuinely have your best interests at heart. They are the go-between for landlord and tenant, so if they truly care about their tenants, you’ll likely end up with much quicker service if your hot water tank breaks or your plumbing is clogged.

2) Consider Your Surroundings

For us, this was especially imperative because we had young children. You might love the house, apartment, or condo, but if there’s no place for your children to go out and play, it can become very difficult — especially if you’re squeezed into a cracker box house.

If possible, drive by the house, condo, or apartment at night and during the day to get a feel for what the neighbors and neighborhood is typically like. Also, ask your landlord or property manager what their policy is on loud or obnoxious neighbors. You definitely don’t want someone blaring their music in a room right next to yours at 3 a.m. in the morning if you have young children trying to sleep!

3) Look at the Fine Print on the Lease

Make sure you know the exact terms of your lease. For instance, some leases have strict rules about how many children or pets you can have. If you are planning on having another baby or getting a new pet anytime soon, they could require you to move out because you no longer abide by their rules.

Also, look at the details of what is and isn’t your responsibility as a tenant. What utilities do they pay for? What is their typical process if something breaks? Can you get out of your lease, if need be? What shape do they expect the house or condo to be in after you move out (we forgot to ask this once and ended up getting a few crazy things deducted from our security deposit that they didn’t tell us we needed to make sure and take care of before we moved out)?

4) Downsize Your Belongings

If you’re going to be downsizing in home, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a good, hard look at everything you own and see what you can get rid of. The price of storage units can add up pretty quickly, so it will save you money to just get rid of items you no longer love and/or use at least every few weeks.

Not only will this make your move simpler since you’ll have less stuff to pack and relocate, but de-cluttering your home will help you streamline your life and improve your productivity.

What are your best tips and suggestions for first-timer renters to consider?

19 Jul 2011   ·   61
Money Saving Mom

How My Husband is Going to Law School Without Massive Debt

Guest post by Brittany Fowler from The High-Heeled Housewife

My husband is in law school, and we’re surrounded by friends who are going into thousands of dollars of debt to afford a law degree. As graduation approaches, we’re both so glad that we don’t have massive amounts of student debt.

When my husband decided to go to law school, we knew that we needed to make sacrifices. With hard work and some smart decisions, we’ve been able to lessen the financial impact of professional school. Here’s how we did it:

My husband chose a state school where he was offered a scholarship.

I can’t emphasize how important it was to choose the right school at the right price. Of course, the scholarship was a result of my husband’s hard work, which earned him a high GPA and LSAT score. Hard work pays off!

I worked for the first two years.

Although I’m now a homemaker and blogger, I worked for the first two years of law school. Through those years, we lived off of my husband’s summer income and saved every penny I made so that I would be able to stay at home.

We live on a budget.

Since cash flow is irregular, we have planned out our monthly expenses a year in advance. Having a plan gives me assurance for months when we don’t have any income.

We save money whenever possible.

I use coupons at the grocery store, play the drugstore game, and do anything I can myself. For example, I wash and iron my husband’s clothes at home to save on our dry cleaning bill.

In a world where debt is a necessity, it’s still possible to go to graduate or professional school without loans! We’ve learned that the right decisions, accompanied by hard work, will pay off in the end.

Brittany is a 24-year-old stay-at-home wife on a mission to be the best wife that she can possibly be.  She is married to her hardworking hubby, Charles, who will graduate from law school in 2012. You can read more about her homemaking tips & tricks at The High-Heeled Housewife.

photo credit

18 Jul 2011   ·   60
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu Plan

I didn’t get last week’s Freezer Cooking in an Hour post written on Thursday like I’d planned (it was just one of those weeks where I was behind on pretty much everything all week long!), but I did make the Bread Machine Bread Sticks, Lemon Garlic Marinated Chicken, and All Natural No Bake Energy Bites (as evidenced from the photo above).

We didn’t love the Lemon Garlic Chicken, but the Bread Machine Bread Sticks were a BIG hit (notice that half of them are already missing from the picture above?) and I’ll definitely be making them again. The No Bake Energy Bites also went over well and the children had a blast helping me roll the balls.

We’re still experiencing pretty high temperatures, but it’s supposed to cool down later in the week, so I’m hopeful it will be cool enough for me to use the oven a little more. We’ll see!

Here’s our planned menu for the week:

Breakfasts
French Toast Casserole, Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothies (used carob rice milk instead of chocolate milk; this was still very yummy!)
Granola bars, fruit salad
Scrambled eggs and toast, fruit
Blueberry waffles, fruit smoothies
Steel Cut Oatmeal, Fruit
Hard-boiled eggs, toast, fruit
Whole-Wheat Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Lunches
Lunch at church (our church provided lunch for everyone)
Pizza, peaches, All Natural No Bake Energy Bites
Lunch out as a family
Salad with hard-boiled eggs, bagels, fruit
Refried beans with rice, carrot sticks, fruit
Leftovers x 2

Snacks
Banana Almond Smoothie
All Natural No Bake Energy Bites
Fruit/Veggies

Dinners
Dinner at extended family’s house
Crockpot Barbecue Chicken, Crusty Baguettes, green salad, fruit
Lemon Garlic Grilled Chicken, fruit, Bread Machine Bread Sticks
Hamburgers, Oven Baked Parmesan Seasoned Fries, Steamed vegetables, fruit
Build-Your-Own Haystacks, fruit
Asian Barbecue Chicken, rice, steamed veggies, fruit salad
Dinner out

Freezer-Cooking-In-An-Hour Plan (I’ll share pictures/details on how this goes on Thursday!)
Strawberry Freezer Jam
Crockpot Barbecue Chicken
Whole-Wheat Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

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

18 Jul 2011   ·   60
Money Saving Mom

Frugal Organization for Your School Supply Stockpile

Guest post by Danielle Bradbury

It’s that time of year again — back-to-school sales have started! The two questions I used to struggle with the most during this time were, “How much of what do I need to restock?” and “How am I going to keep it organized?”

The first question is obviously going to differ according to your family size and your method of schooling. However, my solution to keeping my school supply stockpile organized also helps me determine how much of each item I need to restock!

Think “Inside” the Box

My biggest organization “helper” is also extremely affordable — the $1 plastic shoeboxes from Walmart! I have a cheap bookcase that we bought over six years ago filled with those shoeboxes. I write a one- to two-word descriptions of what will be in each box on index cards (pens, pencils, highlighters, paint brushes, etc.) and tape it to the inside of the box’s small end. Then I stack them all up on the bookcase in alphabetical order.

I reserve the top shelf for computer paper, construction paper, file folders, envelopes, and my children’s individual crayon boxes. The second shelf holds Play-Dough and various homeschool games. Since the boxes don’t fill the entire width of the bookcase shelf, coloring books and notebooks can be slide upright into the extra space.

Not only does it keep almost all of our school supplies together, organized, and put away from little hands, it’s also very easy to take an inventory with this system!

An Inventory Checklist Prevents Overbuying and Underbuying

To start, I print out an Inventory Checklist that I created in Word. Then, I simply open each box, take note of how much of the specific supply I have left, how much I would like to stock up on, and what my “max capacity” is for that item. I also take inventory of my various paper supplies and make notes for them as well.

During back-to-school season I keep that Inventory Checklist in my purse. That way if I just happen upon a great deal, I know how much I can safely buy for my family’s personal stockpile, and how much I would need to buy in order to fill boxes for Operation Christmas Child. It eliminates the guesswork as well as the chance of overbuying or underbuying!

When I first started setting up this system, I only purchased two boxes each week (my husband is paid weekly). Eventually I was able to get rid of all the plastic bags my supplies were hidden in, and store them in a much more organized way.

This System is Frugal and Flexible

The best part of this system isn’t just the frugality, it’s also the flexibility. If you don’t have an available bookcase, perhaps you could clear part of your closet shelf, a pantry shelf, shelves above your laundry area, or maybe even space in a basement or attic! Also, if you need more of a supply then what one box can hold, you simply add in more boxes with the same title.

How do you organize your supplies?

Danielle Bradbury lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, son and two daughters. She and her husband are working hard to rebuild their life after bankruptcy. They are also looking forward to starting homeschool with their son this fall.

15 Jul 2011   ·   76
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash: Getting Right Side Up on our Upside Down Mortgage

We paid cash!

A testimony from Jen from Yard Sale Mommy

A year and a half ago I was having hot chocolate with a dear friend over Christmas break, and she told me about this guy named Dave Ramsey and about his Total Money Makeover.  Stop using credit cards, pay cash for everything, never take out a loan, even for a car? We could never do that, I told her.

Three days later we drank the Dave Ramsey Kool-Aid. And I’m so glad we did. In six months, we fairly easily paid off all of our credit card debt and medical bills, built an emergency fund, started giving more to church, and got our debt down to nothing but two mortgages.

Wait… what? Yes, we had two mortgages — one more than we needed.

In 2003, my husband got a new job and we had to rent out our house instead of selling it because we stood to lose money on the sale. Fast forward eight years to 2011 — to sell the house now would mean losing even more money than before. We were underwater on this mortgage, not covering the payment and maintenance with the rent, and facing major repairs in the near future on our twelve-year-old home.

We needed to sell it. But in order to sell it, we had to save and we had to prepare to lose an unknown amount of money.

We put the house up for sale this past February. After three weeks, we were willing to lose five thousand dollars. After six weeks, we were willing to lose ten thousand dollars. After nine weeks, we finally got an offer: $20,000 below what we needed to break even.

I’m happy to say that we were able to bring $19,076.00 in cash to the closing of our upside down mortgage last month.

It took a year to save this much, but I got zealous about buying and reselling things on ebay, spent hours on MoneySavingMom.com learning how to better my grocery budget, and decided that a trip to Target should be an errand instead of an activity.

We cut back and did without and we were able to pay cash to get out of our upside down, underwater mortgage. It feels so good to be free from that extra mortgage!

Jen Wise is a SAHM of three sweet girls and the wife of one handsome engineer!  Every Saturday morning she can be found hitting the yard sales in Raleigh, North Carolina.  You can follow her yard-saleing, eBaying adventures at Yard Sale Mommy.

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