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3 Dec 2010   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

Do-It-Yourself: Make a gift bow from a magazine page

Did you know you can skip buying bows and instead use magazines pages (or any paper of your choice) to make your own gift bows?

If you’d like a different look, Oh Amanda gives a tutorial for using wrapping paper to make a bow.

Do you have a fun and frugal Christmas DIY idea to share? I’d love to hear about it! Read the submission guidelines and submit it here.

2 Dec 2010   ·   170
Money Saving Mom

A Shiny New Car is Not Always All It’s Cracked Up to Be

As most of you know, we finally replaced Old Blue Van and paid cash for a new-to-us car recently. We’ve never had a car with less than 60,000 miles on it (most of ours have been purchased at closer to 100,000 miles!) so buying a less-than-three-year-old car was a pretty monumental purchase for us.

When Jesse brought the car home, we were so excited for him to have reliable transportation. But I have to admit that we both were excited about more than the reliability of the transportation: we liked having such a beautiful car in impeccable condition.

A few nights later, we drove it to an event and when we parked and got out, a random stranger hollered from a few parking stalls over, “Nice car, man!” I looked over at my husband and said with a huge grin, “I bet that’s the first time someone’s ever said that about your car, isn’t it?”

However, our big bubble of pride was just about ready to be burst.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard Jesse pull into the garage but he didn’t come in the house like usual. Instead, he called my phone.

“This is weird,” I thought. “Why not just walk in and tell me instead of calling me from the garage?”

After answering the phone, I heard him say in very upset tones, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it!

I started getting worried at how frustrated he seemed. It’s very rare for him to get upset and he was really worked up about something.

But my heart went up into my throat when he said, “I just shut the garage door down on the back of the car!”

It was my turn to be upset now. “You what? How could you have done that?? Please tell me the car’s not ruined!” I exclaimed in harsh tones without waiting for him to answer.

The car’s back bumper was no longer in impeccable condition. Instead, it had an indentation and gash from our garage door imprinted on it.

I was angry at my husband. He was angry at himself. And we were both sick that our beautiful car was now marred.

After 30 minutes of huffing and puffing over it, we both finally stepped back and realized how stupid we were being. Here we were all upset over a dent on a vehicle when people all over the world are wondering where their next meal is going to come from or how they are going to pay the medical bills for their child with cancer. A dent in our shiny new car is very microscopic in comparison and it’s certainly not worth having a fight over or losing sleep over.

This incident has taught us a very important lesson: when you buy nicer things, it’s easier to become more attached to them. If we had shut the garage door down on Old Blue Van, we would have laughed and let it go because it would have just been one more flaw to add to the van’s character.

But our reaction was completely different when it came to our new car — and it made us realize how we’ve wrongly become too attached to this car. Three months ago, we were content to drive a clunker. But, after buying a new car, we were all of a sudden getting angry over a dent in the bumper!

It was just the reality check we needed to jolt us out of our selfishness and pride and remind us that things are just things. We can’t take them with us and they are all God’s anyway.

We likely can get the dent fixed on the car, but at this point, I’m not so sure we will. It’s serving as a constant reminder to us that it’s just a car. There are much more important things in life than driving a shiny new car in impeccable condition.

1 Dec 2010   ·   75
Money Saving Mom

Enter to win my favorite Grain Mill!

If you’ve been a regular reader here for awhile, you know that I buy my wheat in bulk and grind it myself. There are so may advantages to doing so — and it saves us a lot of money, too!

So, for my Christmas Gift Guide post this week, I’m giving away my very favorite Grain Mill so that one of you can also enjoy the benefits of milling your own flour, too. Go enter to win it!

1 Dec 2010   ·   81
Money Saving Mom

Vlog: My Very Simple Homemaking Binder

I was first introduced to the concept of a “Homemaking Binder” when I first started reading blogs almost seven years ago. I read about all these incredible and massively-detailed binders other women had put together and thought, this is it! This is going to solve my homemaking issues and help me have a beautifully organized home and life.

So I tried to make up an elaborate system but quickly discovered there was one major problem: The system wouldn’t work unless I worked the system! And because I had bitten off more than I could chew and was trying to make someone else’s system work for me, it left me more frustrated than ever. To be honest, I even felt like a failure when I just couldn’t make a Homemaking Binder work for me and it seemed it worked flawlessly for everyone else.

Over time, I’ve learned that it’s okay to do what works for me — even if it’s much different than what works for other people. So instead of trying to conform myself to another person’s system, I’ve set out to create my own.

This video tutorial walks you through what I’ve been using for the past four months. It’s working really well for us right now, though I can’t promise that it will be what I use for the rest of my life. I’m learning that tweaking and overhauling things as seasons and needs change is what works best.

But I share this in hopes it might inspire some of you. Please don’t copy mine — because it likely won’t work for you! — but I’m hopeful maybe those of you who are struggling with home management might be able to glean a few ideas from it.

By the way, all of the pages I use in my binder can be downloaded for free here. You can also read more details about our daily schedule here.

Do you use a homemaking binder or another system to keep your home and life in order? I’ve love to hear what works for you!

Next Monday, I’ll share the final installment of the Time Management series and then I’ll be posting at least 10 incredible guest posts on time management from readers here who are in different seasons and situations of life than me.

30 Nov 2010   ·   19
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: Should We Use Our Emergency Fund to Start a Business?

There have been a lot of questions coming in recently which I don’t feel qualified to answer as they involve topics which aren’t my areas of expertise. So I’m so excited that my husband, Jesse, has kindly offered to occasionally tackle these questions in my place on Tuesdays! -Crystal

We have been thinking of making the transition to my husband becoming self-employed for a while and are currently looking at all the ins and outs of that. We have no debt, a paid-for car and house, the capital needed to start up the business he is thinking of and an emergency fund which will last us 5-6 months of living expenses.

Part of me thinks that this choice to transition to self employment, isn’t really an emergency, and so we should build up another fund to allow for that transition to happen rather than using our emergency fund. On the other hand, that is going to take us literally years at our current savings rate and the potential to rebuild our emergency fund (or top up whatever we have used from it) when my husband is self-employed is greater.

What is your perspective? What should (and shouldn’t) emergency funds be used for? -Karen

Starting a business from the ground up is always an exciting and daunting prospect at the beginning. You have the thrill of realizing you can work for yourself and make your dream into a reality, accompanied by fear of the unknown and of providing for your family. How will it all work?

Well, I certainly don’t know all the answers, but what we have learned from our experience and observation, the key to starting any business is to start small. And grow when you can afford it.

Granted, this is not the make money hand-over-fist, get rich quick answer, but it is what will create staying power in this economy. We have started three businesses with $2000 each, with each succeeding business stretching that money farther each time.

Bear in mind, also, that, unless you have created a market for your business to succeed, you will probably not make a living wage after expenses and for a couple of years. This is why it is generally a better idea to start the business on the side while being employed full-time.

I know one man who did this for 10 years before jumping out on his own. He worked several nights a week and on Saturday mornings until the business was at a place where it could support his family and any new employees who needed to be hired in the transition. If your husband can at all squeeze even an hour at night or a few on the weekends and put that time into starting a business, you will be in a much better position administratively and financially to jump onto the self-employment band-wagon a few years (or months!) down the road.

As far as using your emergency fund is concerned, I would not touch it if I were in your shoes. The emergency fund is a necessary cornerstone of any financial plan, one that should not be lightly moved or reduced.

You are in a great position right now as you are debt free and have a steady, full-time income and a good cushion in savings. If you were to remove that cushion to finance the business and remove the steady income, you will have added stress and unnecessary risk that will potentially put your paid-for assets on the chopping block should the business not take off.

If you cannot run a small portion of the business on the side in the wee hours, I would suggest taking the next year to save up as much money as you can in addition to your emergency fund. If you have enough saved up so you do not have to touch that money, and can reasonably foresee being able to get the business off the ground (with a lot of sweat equity, mind you) and taking advantage of today’s technology and free internet tools, then come and jump on in. The water is nice!

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

29 Nov 2010   ·   62
Money Saving Mom

Time Management 101: Home Management (Part 1)

I wanted to end this series on Time Management with some thoughts on managing your time when it comes to homemaking. I’m still learning right along with you, so I hope you’ll chime in and share some of your tips and ideas, too!

1) Streamline Your Homemaking Routines

Most of you know that my mantra is, “Keep it simple.” There’s no need to have an elaborate system if something really basic works for you (though, if an elaborate system works for you, more power to you!).

And there’s no need to feel like you have to scrub every little nook and cranny of your house all the time. Give yourself grace to let some stuff go.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stick with the basics. In our house, if we have clean laundry, sufficiently picked up rooms, clean bathrooms, the dishes are loaded into the dishwasher and the floors are swept, I consider things to be in pretty good shape.

I aim to complete the tasks on my Daily, Weekly and Monthly checklists, but I don’t always get to all of them. However, I’ve found that if I shoot to get them done, even if I skip a few things every few days, the house stays in pretty good shape. It’s never perfect, but it’s usually 45-minutes to Company Ready. And I’m satisfied with that at this point in my life.

2) Take Time to Plan

I touched on this before, but I’m going to talk about it again. Without a plan, you don’t know where you’re supposed to be going. You’re aimless and purposeless and you’ll usually be more apt to just run around in circles putting out fires.

Planning one cleaning project to do each day and actually doing it, is much better than waking up with 447 projects in your head you feel you really should do but you’re so overwhelmed that you end up doing nothing.

I encourage you to set aside time in your schedule each week to make a simple plan of action as well as goals for the coming week. I usually make out this list for the upcoming week on Saturdays and then try to review my list the following Saturday bumping whatever didn’t get accomplished during the previous week to the next week.

Reviewing this weekly list of goals is always so encouraging to me because even on those weeks when it feels like nothing really got done, when I review my list at the end of the week I’ll realize that yes, I really did accomplish some things — despite what it may have felt like!

I use a list similar to FishMama’s (above), only mine’s not so detailed. It just has sections for Home, Jesse, Children, Personal, Ministry and Blogging. I try to set 3-5 goals for each section each week.

In the home section, I might write an extra organizing or cleaning project and two cooking projects. In Jesse’s section, I might write to set a goal of writing him one note, doing something fun with him and a specific prayer request to pray for him daily. In the children section, I might set a goal to finish a book we’re reading together, do an extra craft project and plan one fun outing.

In the personal section, I usually set goals for Bible memory work, a book I want to finish and some other area I’m working on improving in (such as going to bed on time!). For the ministry section, I might set a goal to have a friend over, write a card to someone and make food for someone. And in the blogging section, I’ll usually set goals for whatever posts or projects I’m hoping to finish that week.

Now obviously, I don’t always do everything in every section every week. In fact, some weeks I only get a few things off my list done. But planning these at the beginning of the week and then referring to my list of goals as I make out my short daily to-do lists helps me to be a lot more purposeful in living my life.

3) Involve the Family

My husband and I are firm believers in families being a team. No one person in a family was designed to carry the load of everything; it should be shouldered by each individual member to the level of their ability.

Now, I know I am very, very blessed to be married to a man who doesn’t shirk when it comes to work — whether that’s in his professional role as an attorney or when he’s at home changing a dirty diaper. He works from sun up to sun down and then some and I’m constantly challenged by his discipline and work ethic. [I often tell him, “Would you stop making me feel so lazy?!” :)]

My husband and I are a team through and through and we both contribute to our family economically as well as keeping up our home, training our children and doing the myriad of tasks, errands and chores which must be done to keep a home and family humming along. While I know our particular family dynamics wouldn’t work for everyone, I do encourage you if you feel like you are shouldering too heavy of a load to talk openly with your family members about how to shift some of that load elsewhere so that it doesn’t crush you!

We’re also in the process of training our children to also be assets to our family. While we very much want them to enjoy their childhood and just revel in that carefree state, we also feel like one of the greatest gifts we can instill in them is a strong work ethic.

No matter where you end up in life, a hard-working, persevering attitude is always going to be a huge benefit. Plus, I believe it is so much more fulfilling to live a life of service, rather than a life of selfishness.

We have found that modeling hard work and servanthood before our children is one of the best ways for them to learn, as well as encouraging them to work alongside us from an early age. And we give them age-appropriate chores to accomplish each day, as well as encouraging them to take initiative in helping outside of their daily chore list. (By the way, you can download some fun and free printable chore lists here, if you’re interested.)

We are still learning the practicalities of imparting this to our children in a Godly and balanced manner, so I won’t give you any tips for what works. But ask me in about 25 years from now, and hopefully I’ll have some words of wisdom to share. 🙂

On Wednesday, we’ll talk more about clearing out clutter, taming the laundry monster, simplifying meals and letting go of the myth of a perfect balance. If I have time, I’m also going to do a little video blog tour of my extremely simple homemaking binder for those who are looking to set up a simple home organization system.

How do you encourage your children to help around the house and develop a strong work ethic? I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions!

29 Nov 2010   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

Make Christmas Clutter-Free With Charitable Giving

A guest post by JessieLeigh from Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles

I love Christmas! I love the decorations, the music, the wrapping, the anticipation…I love it.

What I don’t love? Clutter.

So I love giving consumable gifts. It’s fun for children to have things to unwrap and it’s nice for me to know that once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Another way I like to cut back on clutter and help my children learn a little about giving is through gifts of charitable donations.

But how can we make this, well, more fun for our kids? How can we hold on to the joy and elation of surprise on Christmas morning while making the real gift something for others?

Here are a few tricks that help keep it exciting even for toddlers and preschoolers:

  1. Double up. Rather than purchasing a new, trendy game, pick up two copies of an old classic. Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, Hi Ho Cherry-o, etc. often go on sale for $5 each during the holidays. Wrap them both together for your child to open and he gets to keep one, the other gets donated to a child in need.
  2. Give a small toy that represents the charity. Want to give to an animal shelter? Wrap up a little stuffed dog or cat. Is this the year you donate to the March of Dimes? Give your child a small baby doll. Let your little one know that while she takes care of her new treasure, your donation will help take care of even more in need.
  3. Give them a gift card. Children have amazingly giving spirits. They also love to get to choose things and to be “in charge”. Consider giving your child a ten or twenty dollar gift card to a local supermarket and letting them choose canned goods for a local food pantry. The adventure of getting to shop is as good as a new toy for many little ones!

Those are my three favorite ways to keep Christmas clutter-free and encourage a giving heart all while making sure there’s something to open under the tree.

Do you have any tricks for making charitable giving fun for children? Share it in the comments!

JessieLeigh is the mother of a former 24-week micropreemie and two full-term blessings as well. She is a determined advocate for the tiniest of babies, including the unborn, and a firm believer in faith and miracles. She shares about raising such a precious, tiny baby over at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles.

Do you have an idea for a guest post? I am always looking for high-quality, original (i.e. not published anywhere else online) content with tips and ideas Money Saving Mom® readers can use. If you would like to submit a guest post, please follow the Guest Posting Guidelines.

photo by Fearless

25 Nov 2010   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m taking the day completely off from blogging today to enjoy time with family, extended family and friends. I’ll be back tomorrow morning at around 4 a.m. CST to be sharing the best and hottest online Black Friday deals in an effort to help you get some great deals on items you need to buy.

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to make a list of things you need to buy as well as to determine your budget for your Black Friday shopping. This will help you to be prepared to only purchase those things which are good deals for you. Because, as I always say, just because something’s a great deal, if you don’t need it or you can’t afford it, it’s not a good deal for you.

Now I’m off to finish my Thanksgiving food preparations and enjoy some extra time with my family! Have a wonderful, peaceful, blessed day.

And by the way, one of the things I’m especially thankful for this year is you all. Thank you for your encouraging emails and comments, the wonderful guests posts and other submissions you contribute, the great deals you send my way and for reading here. You all bless me day in and day out — thank you!

24 Nov 2010   ·   118
Money Saving Mom

10 Things We Don’t Spend Money On

I know I’ve been sharing lots of deals on products and stuff recently. I’m trying to stick with the best deals to help you save money on Christmas gifts and other things you might need to buy this season.

However, I thought that it’d be good to offset all these posts with a link to Simple Organized Living’s post on 10 Things We Don’t Spend Money On. I love how she shows how they are choosing not to spend money in areas, so that they can put their money where it matters to them.

What things do you not spend money on?

22 Nov 2010   ·   20
Money Saving Mom

How to Get More Done in Less Time as a Blogger (Part 3)

If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, be sure to read them first.

6. Work Smarter, Not Harder

I’m a minimalist at heart and believe there’s no reason to make blogging any harder than it needs to be. So I’m constantly looking for ways to be more efficient and work smarter, not harder.

A few things which I find helpful:

::Use Google Calendar — I find it very helpful to have a plan, but I rarely stick completely to the plan. With Google Calendar, I can map out the posts I’m planning to run during the upcoming week, but if something else comes up and they don’t end up running, I can quickly and easily drag and drop things to another day or week or month.

Google calendars are also really helpful for planning out series, giveaways and blog projects. In addition, we use them for our family calendar and my husband’s work calendar. It helps to be able to see both of our schedules at a glance!

::Use Email, Rather Than the Phone — Advertisers and other people often want to set up conference calls to discuss potential opportunities. I’ve found that you can spend a lot of unnecessary time on the phone only to discover that the opportunity isn’t a good fit.

If a company contacts me and wants to set up a phone call, I email back and say that I prefer to correspond by email and if they give me more details on the proposal, I’ll be glad to see if it’s something I’m interested in. In most cases, they will send back the proposal and instead of having to have a 20-minute phone call, it will instead only take me two minutes to review and respond.

I only set up phone calls when it is really merited and I feel like it’d be more productive and efficient to hammer out details by phone.

::Set Up WordPress Templates — I just recently discovered Article Templates, a WordPress plugin, and I’ve been blown away by how much time I’ve wasted by not using these!

Since I post a lot of deals on my blog, I often have the same photos and wording in some posts each week. For instance, every Saturday evening, I post the best deals at CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens for the upcoming week. I used to have to upload the image into the post and copy and paste the information about linking up at the bottom of the post.

Not anymore. I now have templates set up for Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid and with just a click of a button, the photo is uploaded and the wording for the link-ups is there and I just have to add in the new deals for the week and the post is ready to go.

If you have regular features on your blog, this can be a great timesaver for you!

::Have a Weekly Planning/Writing Retreat — It’s been said that one minute of planning saves you five minutes in execution. And I’d pretty well agree with that statement. Making time to plan ahead, instead of living by the seat of your pants is critical if you want to manage your time well.

So I set aside a block of time on Saturday to have a mini “Planning Retreat” while my husband takes the children out to to run errands or doing something fun. During this time, I plan out our upcoming week, map out my blog posts for the next week, tie up any loose ends on projects, place online orders, clean out my email to-answer file and just generally get things in order so that I can rest on Sunday and start with a clean slate on Monday. Taking this time to plan makes a world of difference in all areas of my life!

Next Monday, we’ll talk about Time Management when it comes to homemaking, laundry and household chores. And then I have an amazing line-up of guest posts from women in all different walks of life to share with you!

What are your best tips for saving time and staying organized as a blogger? I’d love to hear as I’m always looking for ways to streamline and be more efficient!

photos from Shutterstock

22 Nov 2010   ·   39
Money Saving Mom

3 Ways to Use Leftover Turkey or Chicken

Guest post by Liz from Simple Italian Cooking

The secret to using leftovers is to use them as part of a different recipe. Here are three ideas to help you get the most out of your leftover meats:

1. Pasta with Vegetables and Meat

Combining pasta with meat is a great way to get both your carbohydrates and protein. Simply heat a pan over high heat with a little olive oil. Chop or slice your meat and add to the pan along with a few cloves of garlic, chopped bell pepper, sliced zucchini, cherry tomatoes halved, thinly sliced onion and some chopped basil and parsley.

Heat over medium heat while your short pasta is cooking. Keep in mind, this is just a generic list of vegetables. Use whatever you have on hand.

Once the pasta is finished, add it to the vegetables and chicken/turkey mixture.Toss and serve with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

2. Pizza

Another way to use leftover turkey or chicken is to add them to a pizza. You can use shredded meat with any kind of pizza — thin, thick, with a red sauce, or without a red sauce. The options are endless.

For example, you can create a chicken pizza by following the example of one of the pizzas at California Pizza Kitchen which uses sautéed garlic, spinach and roasted artichokes. Add some freshly shredded mozzarella along with some grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Instead of using their spinach artichoke sauce, drizzle the pizza with extra virgin olive oil, add a dash of salt, and bake in the oven as you normally would.

If you do not have any pre-made pizza crusts, you can easily make your own in under 3 minutes using a bread machine or a food processor with a pizza dough setting. Processing by hand will take longer – approximately 10 minutes.

A basic recipe consists of three and a half cups of flour, two Tablespoons olive oil, one Tablespoon salt, a package of dry active yeast and one cup warm water. Simply combine the water, salt and yeast and let sit for five minutes. Then add in the flour and knead with your hands until a stretchy but not sticky consistency is achieved.

3. Fajitas/Wraps

One of the easiest ways to use leftover chicken or turkey is in a fajita. Saute some sliced tomatoes, the meat, zucchini, mushrooms, garlic and onion over medium high heat in some olive oil. Once cooked down, place a fajita wrap on the vegetables until it is warmed. Then transfer to a plate, add in the vegetable mixture, fold over and top with sour cream, salsa and some guacamole.

With a little creativity, and some frugality, it is possible to economize your meals while still providing a good tasting recipes for you and your family.

Liz is publisher of Simple Italian Cooking, where she shares her favorite easy homemade Italian recipes.

What are your favorite ways to use up leftover turkey? Tell us in the comments section.

photo by tuchodi

21 Nov 2010   ·   35
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: A freezer full of meat

A few weeks ago, there was a Groupon for Kansas City Steaks. I had accumulated some Groupon referral credits (thanks to some of you who ordered through my referral link!), so I bought five $50 vouchers to Kansas City Steak Company for $25 each (well, they were free with my Groupon credits). And then we worked it out so that our orders totaled less than $0.50 each shipped.

We ended up spending less than $2 out of pocket for a freezer full of meat which included lots of steak burgers, beef hot dogs, steak and more:

And just for fun, here are a few pictures which give you a little peek into our week:

Not too long ago, we went through one of Jesse’s boxes from his childhood things and the girls were delighted to discover his soccer shirts. They are one of their favorite things to wear now! Early this week, the girls decided they all wanted to dress up in soccer shirts and have me take their picture, so I obliged.

We also took a field trip to a nearby museum which re-creates what some of the buildings in our county would have looked like in 1865 to 1880. The children thoroughly loved it.

The girls loved the schoolhouse, log cabins and general store as we’re reading through the Little House on the Prairie series together at lunch and these were similar to the ones in the Little House books.

The tree swing was a favorite!

Silas tried his hand at the hoop ‘n stick. Can you tell this boy has some personality?! Since it ended up being colder than we were expecting, I turned my scarf into a sort of head wrap for him to bundle him up a little more. So he was sporting quite the interesting look. But he didn’t care; he was having a blast!

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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.