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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.

15 Jul 2011   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

4 More Favorite Children’s Read-Alouds

Last year I shared 15 of our favorite picture books. We still love those 15, but we’ve added a few new favorites in the last year:
Papa’s Pastries — Every once in a while, we come across a children’s book that we all just love. And that we read over and over and over again — until almost everyone has it memorized word-for-word. Papa’s Pastries is one such book.

Not only does this book have beautiful pictures and an engaging story that our girls have been captivated by, but it introduces children to the reality that so many people around the world are much needier than us. In our affluent and wasteful culture, it’s hard to even imagine what it would be like to not know where our next meal will come from or to be so poor that no one in your family has shoes.

Cousin Ruth’s Tooth — This book has become one of our most-often-requested read-alouds. It’s so much fun to read and all the children love laughing at the funny pictures and silly poem.

Junior Discover’s Spending (Series) — The children have really enjoyed this whole childrens’ series by Dave Ramsey. It teachers practical money management skills in a very fun and engaging manner, plus it’s sparked all sorts of great discussions in our home about wise stewardship. Even Silas (2) loves these books.

Millions of Cats — This is our newest favorite picture book. It’s a fun story about lonely couple who wants a cat and ends up with hundreds, millions, billions, and trillions of cats.

What are your favorite children’s picture books? I’d love to hear as we’re always looking for new books to read!

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

14 Jul 2011   ·   101
Money Saving Mom

How to Make Money Blogging: 5 Tips for Maximizing Your Earnings with Affiliate Advertising

As I’ve been writing this series on How to Make Money Blogging, I know that many of you have been scratching your head wondering if I was ever going to get around to talking about how to actually make money blogging! 🙂 All the other posts I’ve shared will help significantly increase your blogging income, but they won’t make you a penny unless you set up streams of revenue on your blog.

And now that we’ve laid a good foundation for successful blogging, we’re ready to dive into those income-earning streams. The first — and easiest — is affiliate marketing.

For those who may have never heard the term of affiliate marketing before, it’s basically when you are paid to promote another person’s product, coupon, deal, or website. It’s typically CPA advertising — which means that you only get paid per action. In other words, a reader must take some form of action (purchase something, click through your link and sign up for something, download a coupon or ebook, etc.)

You sign up for an affiliate program (I’ll share some of my favorites in a little bit), you promote your unique affiliate link that the company gives you, and then you are paid if your readers buy the item or sign up for the item.

For instance, I promoted Amy’s Tell Your Time ebook earlier today. She has an affiliate program that offers 50% of the sales to the affiliate. Since the ebook is on sale for $2, I earn $1 for every person who clicks through my affiliate link and makes a purchase. So, if 100 people buy the ebook, I’ll make $100 in affiliate earnings.

In many cases, people have to make a purchase in order for you to earn money as an affiliate. However, there are also hundreds of other options that require no purchase. To give you an example, I’m affiliate for Coupons.com, RedPlum, SmartSource, and Coupon Network. If I post a great coupon that is on any of these sites, I earn anywhere from $0.02 to $0.80 per coupon printed (I have different agreements with each network and some pay per coupon printed, others pay a flat fee per print session per user per day).

As you can imagine, since one of the key focuses of MoneySavingMom.com happens to be using coupons, the affiliate money earned from coupons printed is one of the highest revenue earners. However, it is a win-win situation, because I’m sharing a great deal with you, it’s hopefully helping you save money and get a great deal, and then we both benefit from it.

With that background in place, here are my top five tips for maximizing affiliate advertising:

1. Don’t Compromise Your Values for a Quick Buck

Affiliate marketing can be an incredible income stream for bloggers, but there are some definite pitfalls to be wary of. You want to be very careful that you don’t just give something a great review or post about something because you’re earning something for promoting it.

I always stop and ask myself before posting something that includes an affiliate link, “Would I post about this if I were not earning a referral fee from it?”

2. Promote Affiliate Links In Your Posts Instead of Your Sidebar

I’ve found that it’s much more effective to weave affiliate links into your posts, rather than to just put affiliate links on the sidebar. If you’re already going to be writing about a site or product, check to see if they have an affiliate program so you can use your referral link.

3. Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

It takes awhile to learn what works when it comes to affiliate links. Don’t give up if you try it a few times and it doesn’t work or result in any sales or click-thrus. Keep testing things out, tweaking your approaches, and learning what works for your audience.

4. Be Upfront and Honest

In the last few months, I started denoting all posts that contain an affiliate link with a simple note at the bottom letting you know that the post contains an affiliate link. This way, you know exactly what you’re getting here and when I’m getting something in return. Not only have I received a lot of positive feedback from you all about this change, it also helps to keep me accountable in what I post to make sure I truly am following my policy to have your best interests in mind.

5. Remember That Less is More

A few strategically placed affiliate links are almost always going to be more effective than hundreds of affiliate links all over the place. It’s better to wait and only promote affiliate links that really fit within your blog’s mission and purpose than to post every other affiliate deal and opportunity that arises.

Your readers trust your endorsement more if it’s not something you give as often. If you don’t feel comfortable with something, don’t promote it.

My Current Top-Earning Affiliates (listed in order of their average earnings from the past few months):

Amy has a great list of many different affiliate programs here, if you’re interested.

If you use affiliate marketing, I’d love to hear what programs have worked well for you, as well as some your best tips for maximizing your earnings with affiliate advertising.

photo credit

(Note: Some of the links in this post are my referral links. Read our disclosure policy here.)

14 Jul 2011   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

Easy Homemade Lemonade

Note from Crystal: I made this for my family last week and they all loved it. I used turbinado (raw sugar) instead of white sugar and it came out looking a little brown and funny, but it tasted great!

Guest Post by Holly from Sweeter Hours

In our house we always usher in summer with lemonade. It’s usually the drink we serve at parties in a big glass container with a tap or at playdates in sippy cups.

Even with coupons and sales, I don’t love the high price tag of all natural brands or the additives in the cheaper drinks. In addition, most lemonade drink mixes contain yellow food dye and high fructose corn syrup — both things our family tries to avoid.

So instead of buying lemonade, we make it ourselves. It’s not only easy, it is much less expensive and healthier, too! Here’s our recipe:

For Holly Johnson, the sweet hours of life occur when she is practicing the art of mothering and making beautiful things. Sweeter Hours, her blog, chronicles a little bit of making stuff, a pinch of the green life, a whole can of amazing cookery, and of course, beautiful things for life.

13 Jul 2011   ·   138
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Selling a house without a realtor?

Today’s question is from Holly:

We are currently trying to sell our house on our own. In this horrible housing market, we have only had one showing in a month. We would love any tips on how to sell a house on your own. We have a significant amount of money invested in our house, so we don’t want to pay the high realtor fees. We would rather invest that money in our next house. Any suggestions?

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

13 Jul 2011   ·   145
Money Saving Mom

31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget Video Series: 3 Tips for Saving Money on Meat

I know it’s rather comical that I’m doing a video on saving money on meat when I just posted about the 20 pounds of grass-fed ground beef we bought last week. However, for years we ate very little meat as a way to save money. It was a sacrifice we both decided was worth it in order to stay out of debt and survive on a very small income.

The ideas I share in this video might not work for your family, but hopefully they’ll give you some inspiration for ways you might be able to spend less on meat. I’d love to hear your additional ideas and suggestions in the comments.