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1 Jul 2011   ·   16
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash: A New-To-Us Sectional

We paid cash!

A testimony from Jennifer

From the time my husband and I moved into our house 4 1/2 years ago we dreamed of replacing our garage sale chair and freebie sofa with a sectional. While waiting for our dream to come true, we settled on purchasing slip covers for each to at least make them match.

My husband and I are both planners by nature and try to think long-term —  especially when making decisions that will cost us a substantial amount of money. We didn’t want just any sectional, we wanted one with a chase lounge (for me), pull out sofa (for when our guest room inevitably becomes another kid’s room), and recliner (for my husband).

So our search began in the most logical place: Craigslist! At first I was a little grossed out about buying a used sectional, but quickly got over it when we realized the price of a brand new sectional. We looked and looked and looked but couldn’t find what we wanted.

Fast forward three years, two dogs, our first child, and a lost job later our dream was still alive, but just barely. Losing a job can really make you think out of the box — and that’s exactly what we did. We sold all the large items in our basement (stereo system, couch, chair, elliptical, and coffee table) on Craigslist and made $475!

We now had $475 burning a hole in our pockets, and the hunt was on again for our new-to-us sectional. We were blessed to find exactly what we wanted within a week, which surprised me since we had been looking for three years and never found anything! I didn’t waste any time, we contacted the seller, went to take a look at the sectional. It turned out to be perfect in every way!

The sectional belonged to an older couple with grown children who have only had it a few years and took great care of it. The pull-out bed had never been used (a huge plus for the gross out factor!) and their home was immaculately clean. To top it off it was a Lazy-Boy. I never dreamed we would actually get a name-brand sectional!

The price listed was $425. We were able to pay cash for it and have enough leftover to rent a truck to move it.

At the end of the day we were able to get our dream sectional without touching our bank account or credit card (which are now all paid off!!) It just took a little time, a lot of patience, and some clever thinking.

Jennifer Willis lives in Olathe, Kansas and runs an in-home daycare. She has a son named Henry who is 1 1/2 years old and another son on the way! She has been married to her husband, John, for 4 1/2 years.

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

30 Jun 2011   ·   64
Money Saving Mom

Frugal Fail: The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Waffle Experiment

My dad gave an illustration in his sermon last Sunday and part of it referred to “his daughter who never follows recipes and is known for making up all sorts of interesting concoctions as a result.”

My husband turned and looked at me during the sermon with a smirk on his face. He knows all too well about my “interesting concoctions”.

Back when I was living at home, my poor family was subjected to all sorts of my failed experiments and to this day, I think they are afraid to eat my cooking. However, I have improved over time and, gratefully, mishaps are fairly rare occurrences these days.

This week, though, I think my waffle experiment topped some of the worst kitchen fails I’ve had in my history of cooking. Yes, it was bad.

The recipe looked so simple and delicious. How could you go wrong with brownies and bananas in waffles?

Well, let me tell you, you can go wrong with brownies and bananas and waffles. Very, very wrong.

It started off on a bad footing when I decided to substitute the Homemade Baking Mix in place of the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. I added in the cocoa powder, cinnamon, and wheat germ, then I mixed together the milk, bananas, and eggs.

That was when I got stumped. You see, the Homemade Baking Mix has coconut oil already in it. So I realized I probably didn’t need the oil.

But after I mixed the wet ingredients in with the dry ingredients, I noticed big chunks of coconut oil in the batter. And it struck me that that could be a problem.

Not easily deterred, I pressed on, heated the waffle iron, and poured some batter on it. The batter looked unlike any other waffle batter consistency I’d seen before and I became a little concerned.

The first waffle wouldn’t even come off the waffle iron without lots of effort — and it ended up breaking into a hundred pieces in the process. “Oh well, the first waffle is always the worst,” I told myself.

But then I decided to taste-test it. It was disgusting.

I thought maybe it just needed more sugar, so added more sugar and poured more waffle batter on. The second waffle was even worse — and it still tasted gross. There were white chunks in it (coconut oil?) and it fell apart in dozens of pieces while I tried to get it off the iron.

I decided to give up on the waffle idea and began wracking my brain to see what I could instead turn this icky batter into. “Pancakes!”, I thought. “I’ll make pancakes with it!”

But the pancakes I tried to make with it were gooey and crumbling and tasted terrible. The kids wouldn’t eat them — even with coaxing. And I’m guessing if we had a dog, he wouldn’t have eaten it either.

I finally gave up and threw out all the waffle and pancake pieces as well as the batter. It was a lost cause.

The good news? The Double Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins I made during that same cooking session (and, of course, tweaked the recipe for) actually turned out beautifully and delicious.

So I think there still may be hope for this experimental cook, but I know it’s going to take me a few months to work up the courage to try experimenting with a waffle recipe again!

30 Jun 2011   ·   82
Money Saving Mom

Do-It-Yourself Experiment #5: Homemade Hummus

Before I tell you about June’s Do-It-Yourself Experiment, I first promised an update on the Homemade Laundry Detergent. I don’t love it, but it’s working alright. I’ve learned that I have to put it in, turn the water on and let it run and dissolve before putting the dirty laundry in to wash.

It washes just fine, but the clothes don’t quite seem as fresh or smell as great as they do with regular laundry soap. At this point, I don’t like it enough to use it full-time from here on out, but I would definitely use it if I can’t get great deals on laundry detergent.

And now for the hummus experiment… can I just say how amazing I felt to make homemade hummus using homemade tahini and chickpeas I boiled? Yes, I know, I’m weird like that.

But seriously? Making every bit of this from scratch was exhilarating.

I used this recipe here for the tahini. I ended up roasting the sesame seeds just a wee bit much and this gave it a very strong roasted tahini flavor. Not sure I’m a huge fan of tahini — especially roasted tahini — but it was still cool to make.

The hummus was super simple to make (I used the recipe from Simply Recipes). I ended up doing it in my Vita-Mix and that seemed to work well. Except I was a little worried I was going to burn the motor up since the hummus was definitely thicker than the smoothies we usually make. It began steaming and got very hot, but the Vita-Mix pulled through without a hitch.

The end result was pretty good. I’m very sure it was not the best hummus I’ve ever tasted, but the strong roasted tahini may have had something to do with that. 🙂 I definitely plan to try more hummus recipes in the future and hope to find one that is just amazing.

Have you tried any new do-it-yourself experiments recently? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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

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

30 Jun 2011   ·   43
Money Saving Mom

Fitting Hope Into Your Budget


Guest post by Lauren Bonk

The fact that you’re reading this means you’re part of an army. An enormous, world-wide army of people who want to be wise stewards of their money.

Each of us wields our own weapons: Some carry scissors to cut coupons, others have hawk-like eyes that can spot a deal a mile away. I, personally, arm myself with a budget.

There are symptoms that go hand-in-hand with a long battle. It’s amazing, but when we fight long and hard enough, it’s not uncommon to forget exactly what it is we’re fighting for. Fortunately, the antidote to our affliction can be found in a pretty simple word — hope.

Hope is essential, but requires maintenance and tending. That can be hard to pull off when you’re drowning in financial difficulties or setbacks. Our family has only been budgeting for six months, but it’s been long enough to learn some tricks to help keep our hope afloat.

1. Keep your goals visible.

Literally. Sure, you can say, “Hey, honey, remember, only a few more years of this and we’ll be in Greece!” Sometimes, though, words just don’t cut it. We have a “Greece Fund” piggy bank. Every time we drop in our change, we’re reminded of the vacation we can’t wait to take.

Ask yourself, “Why?” Why are you working so hard? Find your answer and make it tangible.

Are you working toward financial freedom? Try stenciling the word FREEDOM on something decorative and hanging it above your sink — or whatever it takes to give you a little dose of hope.

2. Allow rewards.

Anyone who’s worked in a thankless job knows how effective a reward can be. Rewards not only make you smile, but also give you a little taste of the ultimate goal.

What is the perfect reward for you? We allow for a “date night” column in our budget spreadsheet. I can’t begin to tell you how nice it is to indulge ourselves without worrying about our bank accounts.

Maybe ice cream, a new pair of shoes, or a long-awaited CD is what you need. No matter what you choose, rewarding yourself every once in awhile will be good for your morale (and your soul!).

3. Appreciate Progress.

This may be the most important one. It can be daunting to look at the big picture and sometimes we need to narrow our focus.

If you’ve only been budgeting for two weeks, don’t look at how far you have to go to reach your goals, look at how much progress you’ve made already. In this instance, the simple act of knowing exactly how much money you have in your account can be a huge accomplishment; I know it was for us.

We’re only human, friends, and we can’t accomplish all our goals in one day. Take a look at the progress you’ve made, and allow yourself to feel good about it.

Do you have any other great ideas for nurturing hope? Remember, we’re all fighting on the same team, and we’ve got to stick together.

Lauren Bonk is a certified baby wrangler, word enthusiast, and scatter-brain extraordinaire.  She owns fifteen copies of Wuthering Heights and happily resides with her family in Nebraska. Read about her budgeting endeavors, food obsession, and mostly-chipper musings at LaurenBonk.com.

photo credit

29 Jun 2011   ·   191
Money Saving Mom

Q&A: How do you manage homeschooling and homemaking without the house falling apart?

How do you manage to homeschool, take care of your house and have young children without the house looking like a toy store, art store and grocery store blew up? -Jessica

Great question, Jessica!

I think many people have this unrealistic picture that I just sit around in this perfectly clean and organized home and do geography lessons, hands-on science experiments and read for hours on end with my three children with nary an interruption or mess.

Truth be told, we have plenty of messes. There are days when I never make it out of my pajamas and it seems like while I’m cleaning up one mess, the children are in the other room making an even bigger mess.

I love being a mom. I love homeschooling. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Not by a long stretch. There are days when I want to pull my hair out. There are many days when I feel so overwhelmed with the responsibility of training and raising three children. There are days when I just want to give up and give in.

But, I’m slowly learning and growing as a mom. Learning what works and what doesn’t work. Learning to rely upon the Lord more. And, most of all, learning to let go of my expectations and my perfectionism.

There are many moms who are much farther along in their mothering journey who likely have much more wisdom to share, but here are a few things I’ve found to be tremendously helpful:

1) Accept the Fact That It Will Be Never Perfect

One of the quotes from The Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family that I loved was, “Embrace the Chaos”. This has helped me so much.

Children are being raised, trained and nurtured in our home and this means that it’s not going to be perfect — or even close. Messes, spills, sticky peanut butter fingerprints are inevitable. When I let go of perfectionism and accept that this life of mine isn’t going to be all neat and tidy all the time, I’m a much more relaxed and cheerful mom.

2) Ask God for Patience

Many days, I feel overwhelmed and incapable of doing this mothering thing. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it forces me to my knees on a very regular basis to ask the Lord to help me. I try to start each day with time reading God’s Word and praying asking the Lord to please give me patience, love and joy as I teach and care for my children. I need His help and grace every moment of every day!

3) Have a Plan

I’m not a fan of rigid, regimented schedules. They just don’t work for this fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl.

A routine, however, is a lifesaver for me. Having on paper set blocks of time for our main priorities in each day has been very beneficial to me. We get more done, life is more organized and instead of having to worry about what we’re going to do next, we just do the next thing on our routine list.

We’re always tweaking our routine (and that’s the beauty of it!), but here’s how our summer schedule currently looks for us:

I wake up sometime between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. I read my Bible, pray, read for 10 minutes from my current book, exercise, blog for a bit, take a shower and get dressed.

Our day “officially” starts at 8 a.m. Sometimes the children wake up before then and, if so, they have free time until 8 a.m. At 8 a.m., we have breakfast, read our Bible devotional together and work on our Bible memory verses.

8:30 all the children take baths, get dressed and get their hair fixed.

9:00 is chore time. This is when I do the bulk of the house cleaning. I have daily chores that I do on a daily basis (clean the kitchen, wipe down the counter tops, clean up my room, etc.) and day-of-the-week chores that I do once a week.

The girls are responsible for their room and bathroom, plus they help out with emptying trashes and vacuuming. Once they get their chores done, they can play until 10:00.

10:00 is homeschooling time. We do My Father’s World, Math, Reading and Penmanship (we’re already finished with History, Art and Science until the fall) around the kitchen table.

Kaitlynn and Silas listen in and work on busy bags, coloring, bean-scooping, etc. I have a big tub with activities that I rotate for them to do. They usually only stick with one activity for 10-15 minutes, so I stop and get them set up with something else as needed.

Kathrynne usually doesn’t finish up all her work during this time so she’ll work on finishing it up after lunch.

11:00 is read-aloud time (during the school year, we bump this time to the afternoon and continue homeschool time here). I read a few picture books and then a few chapters from our current read-aloud book. The children often play with Legos on the living room floor while I read. I’ve found that they seem to listen better when their hands are busy.

11:45 the children can go outside to play in the backyard while I switch the laundry, make lunch and check in on blogging stuff.

12:30 is lunch time. If we’re still in the middle of an exciting part in our read-aloud, I’ll often read again during part of lunch.

1:30 is quiet time. Silas goes down for a nap, Kaitlynn reads books in her room (usually falling asleep) and Kathrynne reads or plays quietly (or finishes up her school work). I do most of my blogging during this time. In the fall, Kathrynne will be working on finishing up her homework during this time, plus reading.

3:00 (or whenever Silas wakes up) is snack time. If the children have all their chores and Kathrynne has all her school done done, they are free to play until dinner. They sometimes play very nicely, other times, it’s complete chaos… we’re still working on that. 🙂 I get dinner made, pick up, fold and put a load of laundry away and finish up any blogging/computer tasks if I have time or need to.

6:00 is dinner time. We usually take our time around the table, talking about the day, getting into rousing discussions, etc. Dinner sometimes lingers until 7:30 or later. After dinner, we quickly clean up, the children get their jammies on and teeth brushed and then we have our family Bible Time. After that, the children go to bed.

8:30 is our time as a couple. Sometimes, we have an “at-home date night” complete with a movie and some sort of treat. Sometimes, we both have projects to work on so we’ll just hang out in the same room with our laptops (the glamorous life of both being self-employed!). Other times, we just talk.

10:30 to 11:00 is typically lights out. Yes, we’re “early birds” like that — and sometimes I konk out soon after the kiddos go to bed! (I’ve always wished I could be one of those people who thrives on 5 1/2 hours of sleep. But alas, I’ve learned need at least 6 1/2 to 7 hours every night — preferably a little more! — to function well.)

4) Focus on One Habit at a Time

It’s so easy to want to change our homes and selves overnight. But that’s entirely unrealistic.

We all have areas we need to grow and improve in. We all have things we want to instill in our children. But none of us can do it all at once.

One thing I’ve found to be very helpful is to make a list of all the areas I want to work on and then just choose one area to focus on for three months. Instead of trying to get up earlier, make healthier meals, exercise, read more and learn how to knit all in the same month, pace yourself and pick the highest priority goal first. Once you feel like you’ve somewhat mastered it, add in something else.

Slow and gradual improvements tend to be much more long-lasting — and much less exhausting!

5) Give Yourself Grace

Superwoman is a myth. No woman does everything and every woman has her areas she struggles with.

Having a plan for our day has helped me tremendously, but nothing ever goes perfectly according to plan. There are always unexpected interruptions, messes, children with bad attitudes and many, many disruptions to each day.

I used to beat myself up that I wasn’t as organized and efficient as I wanted to be. But I started realizing how unproductive this was as it only served to discourage me.

I’m slowly learning to give myself grace. When I’m tired, I’m learning to choose sleep over a spotlessly clean kitchen. When I’m feeling burnt out, I’m learning to let myself not worry about blogging or laundry for a few hours and just go do something fun with the children, with my husband or with a friend.

Life is meant to be enjoyed and savored not run through at breakneck speed. Take time to stop and smell the roses, even if it means fewer things get crossed off the to-do list!

I’d love to hear suggestions from the rest of you on balancing homemaking and toddlers (and homeschooling, if you do that, too!). I’m constantly learning and would love to hear your ideas!

29 Jun 2011   ·   136
Money Saving Mom

An incredible opportunity to help those in dire need (even if you don’t have a penny to spare)

The following post is part of a two-part series sponsored by Yahoo! Every time someone clicks here to make Yahoo! their homepage, they’re showing their support for my charity.

A few weeks ago, my advertising agency contacted me about a special promotion with Yahoo! Typically, I turn down most of these opportunities because they aren’t a good fit for my site and it’s not a win-win sort of situation.

But this particular opportunity was different: Yahoo! was offering to give $10,000 to the charity of my choice in exchange for me to ask you to change your homepage to Yahoo! for two days.

$10,000 to the charity of my choice? That was something I couldn’t turn down. Not after Stephanie, Tsh, Lindsey, Shaun, and others blogged about their trip with Compassion to the Philippines.

I’d read their stories. I’d seen their pictures. And my heart was moved.

We already give 100% of all proceeds from private ad sales here to Compassion and Show Hope. Our family sponsors two children through Compassion personally, as well. But I wanted to do more.

My heart was burdened and overwhelmed for these people who have nothing. Who are grateful for the tiniest act of kindness. Who are living in poverty beyond what we can imagine.

No, I couldn’t turn down $10,000 to give to Compassion. If $38 helps feed and clothe and educate one needy child for a month, think with me how far $10,000 would go?

So I’m thrilled to be partnering with Yahoo! today and tomorrow to ask you to change your homepage to Yahoo! It literally takes five seconds to do and by doing this through my link here, you are showing your support for Compassion.

Will you help me help those in impoverished countries? I’d love to have you consider sponsoring a child through Compassion. However, if that’s very much outside your budget, will you change your homepage to Yahoo! for today and tomorrow? Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping these children and families in desperate need.

I usually don’t ask for this, but if you would be willing to share this post on Twitter, Facebook and/or your blog, I’d be humbly grateful. Thank you so much!

photos used with permission from Compassion International, all photos taken by Karen Stephenson

28 Jun 2011   ·   71
Money Saving Mom

Reader Testimonial: Being financially responsible pays off during job loss

Emily emailed in the following testimonial which I thought many of you would be encouraged by reading:

I lost my job at the beginning of April. My former boss told me that he would pay me through the end of May. I figured that would give me enough time to find a job and still live without a worry. I was wrong! I have not received a paycheck since April 15.

Thanks to the advice that I have been reading on MoneySavingMom.com and my frugal ways, I am in a financial position in which I can go at least three months (comfortably) without pay. This support net has lifted a weight off my shoulders.

I spend many hours a day applying for jobs and searching for jobs. Unfortunately I haven’t had any luck yet, but I know that eventually I’ll find something (hopefully sooner than later).

Here are some of the things I have done to reduce my cost of living over the past year:

  • Watch my energy rates and change when I find lower rates.
  • Cut coupons and use them on items on sale, so that I pay minimal.
  • Use free samples I find on MoneySavingMom.com and AllYou.com — I have enough shampoo to last me at least a year!
  • Cook meals according to what’s on sale at the grocery store.
  • Buy meat that is on sale because it’s approaching the ‘sell by’ date (and cook immediately).
  • Cook big meals and freeze leftovers for days that I’m too tired to cook.
  • Call Comcast periodically to see if they have lower rates (I’ve hit rock bottom — $86 for internet and cable).
  • Collect gifts (on sale at stores) in the closet. When birthdays come up, I don’t have to go to the store and spend more money than planned.

Living a conservative and modest lifestyle has already helped me though the past couple of weeks. Of course I still feel very stressed to find a job, but because I’ve lived like this for a while, there is a little less stress and less of a financial transition to make which is great! -Emily