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9 Apr 2009   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

100 Different Ways to Save $100 This Year – Part 5

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If you missed the first parts of this series, you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Here's the fifth installment in this series of ideas of ways to save $100 or more this year:

20) Brown Bag It. If you're willing to put in a little time to plan ahead so you have the necessary food on hand and then to take a few minutes every evening or morning to put together a sack lunch, the return on this small investment of time can be quite remarkable.

In fact, I figured out that most of the lunches I've packed for my husband cost anywhere between $0.75 to $1.50 each (remember, that's mostly because I shop the sales, use coupons, and stock up on items when they are at their lowest prices!). A lunch at a fast food restaurant is likely going to cost at least $4-$5 at a minimum.

Based upon these calculations, it is very safe to say that packing a lunch has saved us at least $3 per day. Over the course of the year, that's $750 saved! And that's a very low figure. If someone is eating out at nicer restaurants most days and spending $7-$12 per lunch, the savings are significantly higher!

In addition to the savings, there's also the added benefit of homemade lunches also often being much more healthful for you as well–especially when compared with fast food meals.

21) Utilize PaperBackSwap. My husband and I are both avid readers and books are something we could spend a fortune on–if we had that kind of money to spend! In order to stick within our meager budget when Jesse was in law school, we put ourselves on a self-imposed book-buying moratorium. Our rule was that any book we read had to be checked out from the library, borrowed from a friend, or given to us as a gift.

Then, I discovered PaperBackSwap. For the cost of shipping out a book via Media Mail (usually somewhere around $2-$3 maximum), you can choose from a constantly-changing selection of hundreds of thousands of books.

Not only do I love the concept of passing along books you no longer need or use to someone who will appreciate them, I love the fact that you can acquire books you really would like to own so inexpensively through PaperBackSwap

I'm especially appreciative of PaperBackSwap now that we've moved to a town where the libraries aren't much to speak of (at least not compared to our beloved neighborhood library in Kansas City where we could put hundreds of books on hold at a time without ever paying a dime!). Instead of mourning the loss of a wonderful library system at our disposal, we're building our own home library now, courtesy of PaperBackSwap!

(By the way, PaperBackSwap also created a site in the last few years for swapping DVDs: Swap-a-DVD.)

22) Exercise at home. I'm a big proponent of staying fit and healthy but I don't think it needs to cost you an arm and a leg to do so. The gym memberships and fancy workout clothes are great, but they are not necessary to stay in shape. If you have a little personal self-discipline and some accountability, you can be very successful at a fitness program right in your own home.

My husband bought an elliptical for me off of Craigslist two years ago for $100. It was in like-new condition when he purchased it and I have spent hours on it and its still going strong. A similar product purchased brand-new would be around $300-$400. So not only did we save $200 to $300 at the outset by buying it barely-used, but it was a one-time investment which I can use again and again and again. It doesn't require a monthly fee to use, I can work out at any time of the day or night, I don't have to drive to another location to use it, and I don't have to worry about childcare.

I also have found SparkPeople.com–a free nutrition and fitness tracker–to be enormously helpful to me in maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically fit. This was especially helpful to me in getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight after my second baby was born and I'm anxious to begin another weight-loss regimen as soon as Baby #3 makes his or her arrival.

If you are interested in other ideas for frugal weight loss and fitness, I've written more of my thoughts and what has worked well for me here.

photo by Refracted Moments

8 Apr 2009   ·   35
Money Saving Mom

Get Your Finances in Line in 2009: Monthly check-up

It's April and guess what that means? It's time for our monthly financial check-up. How did you do in March?

After not making a lot of headway on our savings goals last month, we were determined to kick it up a notch in the savings department–especially since the end of March would mean we'd be a fourth of the way through the year.

So my husband and I sat down and had a "money meeting" of sorts and determined what areas we could squeeze a little more from our budget, possible things we could give up, and ideas for cutting corners. Here are a few significant changes we made as a result:

1) We didn't fund our envelopes for a month, outside of groceries. We had leftover money in all of our envelopes from previous months and there was nothing we needed to purchase which couldn't wait another month or couldn't be purchased with what we already had in the envelopes. (If you are unfamiliar with how the envelope system works, check out this post here.)

2) We skipped grocery shopping for two weeks and held an Eating From the Pantry Challenge instead. This was a fun challenge to take on and it not only helped clear out some groceries and pantry items we needed to use up, it also allowed us to put some extra money into savings.

3) We had a monthly Restaurant Night instead of a weekly Restaurant Night. We usually budget to go out to eat once a week as a family but we decided to skip three of the four weeks in March in order to have a little more money to put into savings.

I'll admit that this was probably the hardest for me as I enjoy the luxury of having dinner out once per week. However, it is definitely not a necessity–we lived without restaurant food for months when my husband was in law school!–and it's certainly something we can easily live without. So it was good to make the commitment to make dinner every night. I'm definitely thinking this is something we could do more often–especially once this pregnancy is over and I have a little more energy!

These were just a few examples of ways we freed up some extra cash in the month of March. There were a myriad of other little ways, too.

The good news? All of the cutting of corners paid off because at the end of this month we were able to put enough into our house savings to push us past 40% of our goal!

We're beginning to get excited as we're starting to little by little see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to paying 100% down for a house. (If you're new here and are wondering why we've made this goal, you can read more on that here.) We've been looking at houses in the area just to get some ideas as to what is out there and we're realizing it's very possible we might be able to get something for less than what we were hoping to pay.

Armed with this knowledge, we've decided that as soon as we hit 70-75% of our goal, we'll be able to start seriously looking at houses. We plan to only look in the price range we currently have saved and then as we are able to save more, we'll continue to bump up our price range until we find a house.

So our current plan is to continue saving in earnest for the next six or seven months and then see where we're at. Depending upon the housing market, it's beginning to look possible we just might make our big goal of paying 100% down for a home in 2009.

It still seems very far off, but we're excited at the traction we're making and invigorated to keep on cutting corners, pinching pennies, and forgoing little non-necessities (and big non-necessities!) in order to make faster headway. It certainly can't hurt anything!

To recap our March progress:

We began the month at 37.5% of our house savings goal. We ended the month at 40.5%!

We're excited to see what April brings!

——————————————–
How did you do in March? Whether
or not you posted financial goals for 2009, please take a moment to
post about your financial successes and failures in March and, if you'd like, the areas
you hope to improve in April. Then, come back here and leave your link
below. If you don't have a blog or would rather share anonymously, feel
free to leave your update in a comment. Let's all keep each other
accountable to be better stewards of
our resources!

7 Apr 2009   ·   6
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading: Clothing Exchange and Frugal Fashion

::I loved this post on HeavenlyHomemakers about hosting a Clothing Exchange. Our church does something similar and it's been such a fun way to share our extras, find things we need ourselves–without spending a dime!–and declutter our homes at the same time. I'd definitely recommend trying this out in your community, too!

::My friend, Jen, is doing a fabulous series on Frugal Fashion over on her blog. If you've ever thought that its impossible to look chic and put-together on a budget, you certainly need to check out her posts. The first two are here and here.

3 Apr 2009   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: My Dillons and Aldi shopping trip

Have noticed I've been a little missing around here this week?

No, I didn't have the baby–not yet, but I'll be "full-term" next week so hopefully I'll have some good news to share on that front pretty soon! Instead, I've been preoccupied with details surrounding my brother's wedding tomorrow, including spending lots of time with out-of-town guests and relatives.

Needless to say, blogging has been almost last on the list of priorities this week. I've missed you all, though, and look forward to jumping back into the swing of things once the wedding celebrations are over around here.

I did make it to the store this week. In fact, I had quite the trip to Aldi and Dillons. After going over two weeks without stepping foot in a store, I made up for it on this shopping trip!

Here's what we bought:

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I was so happy to be able to snag so much high-quality ground beef, a roast, chicken breasts, produce, staple products, lots of dairy products, cereal and granola bars for $0.50/box and much more. Our cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer certainly look a bit more stocked now!

However, I did something completely uncharacteristic of myself when I was shopping this week and I don't know that I'd recommend it: I didn't use a calculator. I did sort of calculate the totals in my head (I guess it's impossible for me not to do this somewhat!) but I honestly didn't know how much my total was going to be when I went up to check out.

Since I had two weeks' worth of grocery money ($120 total) to use due to our not shopping for the last few weeks, I thought it would be a fun experiment to see what would happen if I didn't keep a running total as I put things in the cart.

The final verdict? I splurge more when I don't calculate. I could have guessed this, but it was good to be reminded of why I use a calculator. I'm pretty sure that I could have shaved $10 off my grocery bill had I been calculating totals and not doing a little bit of impulse buying.

That said, I still stayed quite a bit under budget. In fact, my total was just shy of $80. So in spite of the bit of "impulse buying", it was still a pretty good trip.

And now I'm off to the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. I'll be back tomorrow evening (hopefully!) with the usual CVS and Walgreens deals and am excited to get back to more consistent blogging around here beginning next week.

In the mean time, 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.

Note:
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.

3 Apr 2009   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Being Generous While Living on a Budget

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photo by jek in the box

Guest Post by Katie from Three Blondes and a Redhead

In these uncertain economic times, it's wonderful to see how many people are finally accepting the benefits of budgeting. I still remember many of the frustrations I felt when we transitioned to living on one income in preparation for our first child.

One of my biggest challenges was reducing the ability to generously give gifts to friends and family. After nine years of marriage to a very frugal accountant, I've wised up about the money dedicated to "gifts" in our budget, I have learned how to get creative when giving and am quite proficient at stretching our dollars. 

Here are some of my tried-and-true bargain shopping methods:
 

::Develop a Gift Stash–I've always kept some generic gifts on hand. It began in the form of a box of picture frames, bath soaps, and candles. Gradually, it transformed into a small shelf in my linen closet and is now a large under-the-bed storage bin full of gifts for adults and children of all ages.

One of the things I've noticed over the years is that last-minute shopping can cost 2-3 times as much as you could have paid had you planned ahead. Having small items available at a moment's notice for a hostess gift or a birthday celebration can save you time, money, and stress.

I remember the days when I would actually decline a birthday party just to avoid buying a $10 gift that wasn't in our budget. But now, as long as the schedule allows, my kids get to attend many of the parties we're invited to because I try to have a couple of gifts in my stash for boys, for girls, and some which could be for either gender.

::Shop the Clearance Sales–One particular Super-Target location in our area always seems to have the best clearance sales. Whenever I am near that side of town, I plan a trip to that store with the sole purpose of roaming the end caps.

They often have toys marked 75% off, so I can grab $20 gifts for upcoming birthday parties for $5. In the past, when I've tried to find a $5 gift at the last minute, it's usually something junkie and I end up paying a premium for a bigger gift that I know the receiver will actually enjoy.

The key to shopping clearance sales is to think ahead. Plan for Mother's Day, Father's Day, and any upcoming birthdays and baby or wedding showers.

::Think Generic–Don't get hung up on buying a Hello Kitty present for little Sally Sue because you know it's her favorite. If you know that Sally Sue's birthday party is coming up and you see a Hello Kitty item on sale, by all means, get it!  But don't feel trapped into individualizing your gift purchases. You can be generic, while still keeping it thoughtful. 

There are lots of easy ideas for generic gifts for kids of all ages including: art supplies, puzzles, dress-up items and board games. I also like to stock up on nice picture frames to fill with our annual family picture and give them to my extended family for Christmas. It's amazing how much they appreciate a 5×7 picture I printed for $0.50 in a pretty $3 clearance frame!

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photo by allerleirau

::Shop After-Holiday Sales–Personally, I don't go nuts with this, but I do try to hit a few clearance sales after Christmas each year. Why pay full price for a Christmas ornament in early December when you can pay one-fourth of the price in early January and hold onto it for a year?

Again, keep your eyes open and think ahead: Does your office have a White Elephant gift exchange each Christmas? Would your parents appreciate a picture of your child in an ornament frame? As always, don't buy clearance items just because they're a good deal. Give it some thought and have a recipient in mind when you make your purchases.

::Shop Throughout the Year–We had no income this past Christmas because my husband had recently been laid off so I was very thankful that I'd stashed a few particular items away throughout the year for our families. I'd found a great doggie gift in July for my brother-in-law at 75% off that I hid under our bed until Christmas, I took advantage of some free photo book offers in September and made books for each set of grandparents, and I had a pair of earrings for my mom that I'd found at a bargain a few months back. 

However, don't forget that you bought items for certain people once the holiday arrives!  I suggest putting a sticky note on the item with the recipient's name and the intended time frame you want to give the gift.

::Keep a Small Stock of Cards and Gift Wrapping SuppliesI save gift bags from presents I receive and store them in one giant
gift bag near a standing box of wrapping paper and ribbons that I've bought
on clearance.
In addition to keeping stocked on wrapping supplies, always have a stack of greeting cards handy.

Before I learned to make my own cards, I used to go to Hallmark every few months with a list of upcoming birthdays and buy several $0.99 cards to have on hand. You can also buy a set of 8 or 10 blank note cards and write "Happy Birthday" inside. No one says you have to buy a card with a poem that someone else wrote!  Let's be honest: people usually throw away their greeting cards, so don't spend too much money on them.

::Build it into the Budget–This is so important! None of these ideas will work for you if you haven't built a line item in your budget specifically for "gifts." Pretty much everyone buys gifts, whether they can afford them or not. Why not write down an amount that you'd like to spend on certain people for holidays and put it into the budget?

If you use the cash envelope system, put a little money in the gifts envelope each month so you have a pool to pull from when you find a great sale.  If your budget is strictly on paper, take some time with your spouse to write out who you plan to buy gifts for in 2009 and the amount you'd like to spend.

Having a $50 bouquet of flowers delivered to your mom for her birthday will likely seem excessive once you see the grand total of your gift-giving budget at the end of the year. You can buy her a beautiful bunch for $10 and deliver them by hand and save yourself a lot of money.

Are you beginning to see a common thread here? Plan ahead! Put money aside for gifts, intentionally keep your eyes open for good deals, and pretty soon you'll find you're able to give generously while staying within your budget!

Katie is a Christian wife and a stay at home mom to a 4-year-old son, a 2-year-old daughter, and a new baby due in October. She blogs about managing her family, frugal living, cooking, organizing, and all things homemaking at Three Blondes and a Redhead.

2 Apr 2009   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: Save Money by Buying “Scratch and Dent” Appliances

Mail.google.com

Melissa, from The Inspired Room (a blog dedicated to sharing inspiration for creating a beautiful life and home on a budget), recently wrote and shared this tip with me:

If you have ever thought about updating a kitchen, you know the price tag of new appliances could stop you in your tracks. But did you know there is a way to get a brand new appliance for as much as half of the retail price?

When I remodeled my kitchen a few years ago, I was pinching every
penny. I wanted all new appliances in addition to some cabinetry, so
the remodeling bill was adding up fast. As I wandered through the maze
of options at a local appliance store, I ended up in the back room
where I discovered a great selection of "scratched and dented"
refrigerators.

Imagine my glee when I found the exact stainless steel bottom drawer freezer model I was looking for at one-half of the retail price! The refrigerator was brand new and came with a full warranty. The
small ding near the bottom of the freezer drawer was barely noticeable.
And the reality is, we put our own dent in the refrigerator a few
months later.

Being willing to accept that small imperfection saved me around
$700! If you want to get the most bang for your buck in a kitchen
remodel, it definitely pays to shop around for discounted appliances.

1 Apr 2009   ·   187
Money Saving Mom

Planning a Wedding on a Budget

198462342_45c08920d8photo by Forbes Creative

I will be getting married in the spring of next year, and, needless to say, I am very overwhelmed by the exorbitant amount of money that can be shelled out for a wedding. We have a very limited budget, and I am adamant about not going into debt to have my “dream wedding.”

While most people tell us that we’ll never be able to afford a wedding with so little money, I am determined to do so. I was hoping that you would be able to provide some tips on planning a wedding with a limited budget and ways one can be frugal without the end result looking cheap. -Angel

First off, congratulations on your upcoming wedding! Wedding planning and preparation for life as a wife is such an exciting time. Also, I’m very impressed with your desire to stay within budget and not go into debt for your wedding. Starting off a marriage with mountains of wedding debt is just plain unwise in my estimation.

I’m no wedding expert, but I have helped plan a few weddings on a budget — one of which was my own. From those experiences, I’ll share with you a few thoughts. Take them or leave them as they are useful to you in your situation:

1) Plan ahead and start looking for deals now.

We had 5 1/2 months to plan our wedding and this afforded us the necessary time to get everything we bought on sale — mostly at 50% or more off the retail price.

By planning ahead and figuring out what we needed and how much of it we needed, we were able to capitalize on the deals and sales over the months leading up to our wedding. Instead of buying everything all at once, we patiently waited until the item went on sale (which most items do over the course of a four-month period) and then we bought it at a discount.

I bought the majority of the items we needed at Hobby Lobby during their regular 50% off sales. Every week, I’d check the ad online and then check it against my list of items I needed to buy. Hobby Lobby also often offers 40% off coupons which you can print out online and use on any item which is full-price. These came in handy for those items which didn’t routinely go on sale.

We bought all of the tulle for decorating and fabric for sewing the bridesmaid’s dresses when it was on sale at 50% off or using the 40% off coupons we got in our fabric store fliers. We were able to get dozens of yards of tulle and all the fabric and notions very inexpensively this way.

2) Shop around for the best price.

Whether it’s cake decorators, florists, or photographers, don’t settle on the first one you contact. Get at least three different price quotes before making your final pick. The prices can often vary quite a bit and many of them will work with your budget if you ask them to.

I found that it was best to tell them your budget upfront. For instance, “I only have $150 to spend on personal flowers, what can you do for that?” It often surprised me what they could pull off while working with my budget!

However, do not just make your decision based on price alone. Make sure the person or company you are hiring is not only qualified for the job but that they will get it done well. Sometimes it’s worth it to pay a little more for something in order to guarantee the end result is what you want.

For supplies you need to buy, think outside the box. Don’t overlook dollar stores, overstock stores (such as BigLots) or online websites. I found that a number of things were less expensive if I ordered them online — even when paying shipping and handling — than I could find in any of our local stores.

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photo by sifu renka

3) Put your money where it matters to you.

Just because someone else thinks it’s important you have a stunning dress or an elaborate cake, doesn’t mean you need to. Focus on what is most important to you and invest the most time and money there.

Since I’m a minimalist by nature, many of the traditional wedding things didn’t matter to me. And Jesse’s the same way. We didn’t particularly care whether we had hundreds of incredible wedding photos, we just wanted to have a few pictures of us and our families on our wedding day. So, with this in mind, we chose one of the least-expensive photography services we found whose personalities and photography work we liked.

On the other hand, having fresh and beautifully-arranged personal flowers, were more important to me, and so we spent a bit more there (even though it was still quite inexpensive by most people’s standards!).

4) Keep it simple.

As I alluded to above, I like to keep things simple. I like things to be efficient and streamlined and organized. And our wedding was no different. We cut costs in a lot of ways because of this. Just a few examples:

::I wore my mom’s wedding dress. No, it wasn’t any incredible dress and yes, it was dated, but it fit and it was special for me to be able to wear. Best of all, we saved a chunk of money and headache by me doing so.

::We didn’t have a flower girl or ring-bearer. I know some people think these are absolute essentials, but since I didn’t have any little nieces and nephews to fill the part, we decided to just skip this altogether.

::Instead of a fancy multiple-tiered cake, we opted for sheet cakes and a simple little two-tiered cake for the center of the table. Sheet cakes are much less expensive and since the cakes are going to be consumed anyway, I figured people wouldn’t care whether they came from a fancy multi-tiered cake or a simple sheet cake. Honestly, I don’t think anyone even noticed!

::We only had a cake reception. I know in some parts of the country, only having a cake reception is like a travesty, but in the Midwest it’s quite common and much more frugal than serving a big dinner to all your guests.

::We kept our wedding party small. Simple is good, remember? We were actually going to just have one attendant each, but we changed our minds halfway through in order to include our younger sisters as bridesmaids. As a result, we had three attendants each.

::My sister made the three bridesmaid’s dresses. By doing this, we were able to get all three dresses for less than $100 total–which is often the cost of just one bridesmaid dress.

5) Borrow things from others.

My philosophy: if you’re only going to use it for one day, why go out and buy it if you know someone else you can borrow it from?

We borrowed a number of things for our wedding — many of which were actually offered to us and we gladly accepted. Some friends of ours had recently married off two of their daughters, and had had very large weddings for both. They asked if we wanted to borrow any of the leftover decorations and tulle they had from those weddings and that’s where the majority of our decorating supplies for the reception hall and the sanctuary came from. It saved us another big chunk of money and no one could tell they were “recycled.”

6) Utilize friends and family.

If you know someone who is great at decorating cakes, arranging flowers or photography, don’t hesitate to ask them if they might be willing to help out with your wedding. Likely you could work out a great deal this way and save a bundle of money in the process.

Just be sure ahead of time that whoever you ask really and truly is experienced in the area and not just someone who hasn’t much of a clue but generously offered anyway. You don’t want to create a huge headache if the supposedly “wonderful cake decorator” who is also your aunt ends up ruining half of the cakes while attempting to decorating them the morning of the wedding.

Those are just a few of my thoughts on the subject of planning a wedding on a budget. I’d love to hear from the rest of you who have experience in this area. Any words of wisdom or practical ideas for Angel or others who are in the midst of wedding planning right now?

31 Mar 2009   ·   16
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: The Little Things Make a Big Difference

Guest Post by Beth from Recipes and Deals

Do you ever sit down to pay bills and think, “Where did the money go?”

That used to be me every month. I was nervous to have anything automatically withdrawn from our checking account because I didn’t want to write a check and not have money to pay a bill, yet I felt like all I did was pay bills!

We had recently made the transition from two salaries to one and we found it to be a big challenge. Plus, we had two children 20 months apart. Both were in diapers for awhile and both have food allergies which necessitate the purchase of more expensive grocery items.

After several attempts at setting budget and falling behind we finally took advantage of our church’s class offer of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. We began a hard, long, and ongoing conversation about where our money was going and we’ve learned a number of things along the way. Here are just a few of the things which have made a big change in our finances:

1) Always use cash when possible. Making the change to pay with cash
as opposed to using a debit or credit card has made such a huge
difference for us. We use the Envelope System outlined here. When the
envelope is empty, it’s empty.

2) Look for extra ways to make money. I am a certified swimming instructor and now that our boys are older, I’ve been able to slowly begin teaching again part-time in the Summer. The extra money goes to our emergency fund or other extra expenses we have. 

I sell our children’s clothing to a local consignment store and have made a few hundred dollars doing so. In addition, we have a garage sale once a year. Throughout the year, as we outgrow things or find we no longer need them, I price them and add them to our garage sale boxes in the basement. In the past 3 years, I’ve made over a thousand dollars selling old furniture, baby items, and clothes at our yearly garage sale.

3) Find an accountability partner. This is vital! My sister-in-law and I are of the same mindset. With children 4 months apart in age, we are in the same life stage, and have the same desires to be good stewards of our money and bodies. We talk several times a week, exchange recipes, coupons, and tips. Most importantly, we celebrate each other’s successes and encourage each other in the frustrating times.

Since October, we have been aggressively paying down school debt and have been committed to paying cash for all expenses. As of April 1, we will have approximately $7,000 less debt than we had in October! We have truly seen how often it’s the little things which make a big difference in the long run!

Beth is a stay-at-home mom and lives in a small town in the Midwest. You can see her weekly menus, recipes, and deals at her blog.

31 Mar 2009   ·   9
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading: Bread stores and bath towels

::Meredith's post here on buying bread from bread/bakery outlets was very helpful. I've done this myself many a time and found the prices to be almost unparalleled. Now if I could just find a bread outlet which was close to my usual shopping route so I could do this again!

::Marie walks you through a helpful tutorial here on how to make a hooded bath towel. If you're a little bit savvy with a sewing machine and are able to find a great deal on towels, this could make for a very inexpensive gift. We've been given one of these for each of our children and I personally just love them!

28 Mar 2009   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: The final day of our Eating From the Pantry Challenge

It was our final day of our official Eating From The Pantry Challenge and here's what we ate today:

Breakfast: Grape-Nuts and milk (We made some extra powdered milk up last night and stuck in in the refrigerator overnight. I couldn't really even tell the difference on cereal this morning!)

Lunch: Baked potatoes with butter and cheese

Snacks: Tortilla chips, organic toaster pastries, no bake cookies

Dinner: Chicken noodle soup, tuna sandwiches and fried egg sandwiches, carrot sticks

(Um and yep, nevermind the fact that we're sorely lacking in the fruit and veggie eating department today! I had plans to incorporate the last of what we had on hand, but time and energy slipped away from me.)

Well, I made it–15 days without stepping foot into a grocery store! I do believe that's almost a record for me and it was a nice change of pace. I've often skipped a week of grocery shopping, but usually that was when we were very well stocked. It's not very often that we go this long and let things get this bare. However, we had plenty to eat every day and we certainly didn't go hungry!

We didn't have as much of a variety in our meals, we didn't eat as much protein as we usually do, we ate more of fewer things, and we certainly didn't eat as healthfully as we usually do, but we made it through the Eating From The Pantry Challenge just fine.

In fact, I found it rather invigorating to concoct new recipes, ideas, and meal creations with what we had on hand. And it was also nice to take a complete break from using coupons or snagging deals. I'm anxious to jump back in now!

The best news is that we didn't touch any of the After-The-Baby Stash either, so we're plenty stocked for the coming months! We also used up a number of odds and ends of foods which would be going bad soon, too.

All in all, it was a great challenge and I'm so glad we did it! I'm especially glad that so many of you participated, too! That made it much more enjoyable. Maybe we'll have to do it again sometime soon, eh?

We took the $120 we'd usually allot to groceries for the past two weeks and split it–$60 is going into savings and $60 is staying in our grocery envelope to give me a little more wiggle room for buying items to replace our rather-depleted stock.

So it looks like not only was this challenge a great exercise in creativity and ingenuity, but we were able to save a nice little amount of extra cash while still having plenty left over to pay for groceries for next week. I'm hopeful that after a good shopping trip or two and our cupboards, refrigerator, and pantry will be well-stocked again. We'll see!

Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save in other ways? If so, be
sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below.

Note: 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.

27 Mar 2009   ·   39
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: How I Dress My Children for Free

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photo by loop oh

Guest Post by Melissa from Lake Michigan Treasures

When my son was little, I went to garage sales to buy all of his clothes. I did find some adorable clothes, but I also found many that were out of style, stained, and missing buttons. As he got older, it became harder to find clothes that looked good, and I wanted some good outfits for church, pictures, and other special events.

I began selling on eBay when he was about a year old in an attempt to make enough money so I could stay home with him. About 6 months later, I discovered Gymboree and found I loved their clothes!

However, I did not love their prices. Yet, when I went to the back of the store, I found some clothing that was discounted as much as 80%. Pants that would normally cost $28.00 were marked down to $6.99.  As I frequented Gymboree more, I learned ways to save even more which I wanted to share with you all:

::Buy only clearance items and always use coupons. (Many magazines such as Plum and Parenting Magazine offer 20% off coupons. I subscribe to the Gymbohaven Newsletter to learn what magazines are currently offering coupons.)

::Buy during Gymbucks earning time, but only buy items that are on clearance. If you purchase $50 worth of clothing during Gymbucks earning, they will give you a voucher for $25 off your $50 order during Gymbucks redemption. If you purchase $100, you will receive a voucher for $50 off your next $100 order. 

Gymboree offers Gymbucks about six times a year. Typically Gymbucks earning periods run about 6 weeks long and redemption periods run about 10-14 days. During the Gymbucks earning period, it is not unusual for Gymboree to have sales where they drop the price of shirts to $3.99, pants to $6.99, dresses to $6.99 to $9.99, and shoes to $4.99. If it is at the end of a season, I always buy my son clothes for next year in a size up from what he is currently wearing.

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::Use eBay to make money back on your kids used Gymboree clothes. Even though it is possible to dress my kids (now I have a newborn daughter to dress in their adorable clothes too), for a fraction of the cost of retail at Gymboree, it is still not that frugal until eBay is added in.

For the last few years, once my child has outgrown his Gymboree clothes, I sell them on eBay, usually for the same price I bought them for or sometimes more than I paid! For instance, when my son was two, I fell in love with a pair of black corduroy overalls with a train on the front. I bought those and a matching turtleneck and socks (both with the train image on them) and spent approximately $22 on this outfit, and he wore it for his pictures, for Christmas, and to church.

After he had outgrown it, I sold it on eBay for $24.95! Basically, he wore this adorable outfit for an entire Winter and then I got all of my money back. I dressed him for free!

A few tips for selling your children's clothing on eBay:

::When buying at Gymboree, make sure to avoid plain items. For example, I bought my son a blue striped tee shirt and khaki shorts. Even though it is cute, because it is plain, I am having a hard time selling it on eBay.

::If possible, try to buy a set of clothing. Each line of clothing that Gymboree makes has a specific theme. The overall outfit I mentioned earlier was part of a line called “All Aboard.” Because I bought all the pieces with the train on them, they were more valuable for resale on eBay.

If you can find them, try to buy the matching socks or hair accessories (or for a baby, the bib), but don’t pay more than the discounted price for them because it is not worth it to pay full price for these items. I would rather go without the accessory than to pay full or nearly full price for them.

::Be aware that eBay shoppers follow the same seasons as retail stores. So, for instance, in February and March, when it is still cold, shoppers on eBay are snatching up Spring and Summer clothes.

If you try to sell your used Summer items in May or June when kids will actually use them, you won’t make much money because most parents already have their kids’ Summer wardrobe. By July and August, they are moving on to buying Fall and Winter clothes.

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::If you have several kids, consider opening an eBay store. Part of my success comes from the fact that I have an eBay store and can just leave my son’s clothes in my store until they sell at the price I want. However, if you do open a store, there is a $15.95 a month fee, so I would only recommend this for some one who has three or more children with clothing to sell.

::If you do not want to open a store, sell your clothing at auction. Some people believe that if you start your auction at $0.99, you will get more bidders and will sell your items at a higher price. I usually do not find this to be true.

Instead, if you want to make sure you recoup the majority of your purchase price, I would recommend starting with a price of at least 50% of what you paid. So, if you bought a dress for $9.99, I would start the auction for at least $4.99 and offer a "Buy It Now" option of say, $12.99 (assuming the dress is in very good condition). 

If you want to be even safer, eBay allows you to put an item up for auction with only a "Buy It Now" option. You could put that same dress up for auction with only a "Buy It Now" price of $12.99, so you know for sure, if it sells, you will get your money back. Or, you could auction it with a "Buy It Now" price of $12.99 and also allow "Best Offers". (Allowing "Best Offers" means that potential buyers can e-mail you with the price they are willing to pay, and you can accept or reject their offer.)

::Make sure your auction description is precise.
I bought a four-piece set of Janie and Jack clothing (the upscale sister store of Gymboree owned by Gymboree) for my son off of eBay two years ago for approximately $18.00. I got it this inexpensive because there was a small hole in the knee of the pants.

I stitched up the hole, and my son wore this outfit for two Winters. I just sold it a few weeks ago for $12.99 even though I honestly stated in my auction that it had the mended hole in the knee and two small stains on the shirt (compliments of my son). Because I gave an honest description of the item, the buyer left me positive feedback and was pleased with the transaction and so was I. My son wore an outfit for two years and it only depreciated $5, despite the addition of stains.

Gymboree is not your only source for buying Gymboree clothing. I have had good success buying gently used Gymboree clothes from second hand childrens' clothing stores and then selling them on eBay after my son outgrows them. 

If you remember the buying cycle, eBay can also be a good place to pick up used Gymboree clothes, as well. I have purchased several of my son’s Summer outfits in May or June for a very reasonable price because the seller didn’t sell within the correct eBay selling season and there are just not that many buyers for Summer items sold in June.

I hope that these tips and ideas have encouraged you that it is possible to dress your child in Gymboree clothing without breaking the bank. And if you do it right, you can dress your child for free!

Melissa has owned and operated an eBay store, Lake Michigan Treasures, for the last four years. She lives with her husband and two children in the Midwest and is constantly trying to find ways to save money without skimping on quality.

Photos from Gymboree.com unless otherwise stated.

26 Mar 2009   ·   33
Money Saving Mom

Eating From The Pantry Challenge: Day 4

It's been 14 days since I've stepped foot into a grocery store and four days that we've officially been eating from the pantry. I have to say, I'm rather enjoying this challenge and was excited with the meals I came up with today.

The funny thing is, I keep feeling like we have "nothing left in the cupboards and refrigerator" and while they are barer than usual, we keep finding plenty to eat. It just makes me realize how truly blessed we are in the abundance we have. And this challenge has reminded me of this anew.

Here's what we ate:

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Breakfast: Leftover biscuits (from dinner last night) with butter and honey, apple slices, and scrambled eggs with cheese

Lunch: Tuna salad sandwiches on hamburger buns with carrot sticks

Snack: No bake cookies

Dinner: Steak, baked potatoes, green bean casserole, ice cream

If you're eating from your pantry this week, I'd love to hear what was on your menu today!

25 Mar 2009   ·   51
Money Saving Mom

Eating From The Pantry Challenge: Day 3

It's been 13 days since I've been to the grocery store and today is Day 3 of our official Eating From The Pantry Challenge.

We used up the last of the flour and milk (which was expiring today) in the pancakes this morning. So now it's time to really get creative!

Here's what we ate today:

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Brunch
(We were out late last night at a birthday party so we got around late this morning and had brunch instead of breakfast and lunch!): Whole-wheat pancakes, grapefruit, chocolate milk

By the way, here's my favorite recipe for pancakes:

Whole-Wheat Pancakes
3 cups whole-wheat flour (or a combination of whole-wheat/white)
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 beaten eggs
3 cups milk (you can use buttermilk or sour milk)
6 Tablespoons oil

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. Combine wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Stir together just until moistened. Add additional milk to thin batter if necessary.

Cook on a hot, lightly greased griddle or heavy skillet. Makes approximately 20 standard sized pancakes.

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We were in a baking mood this afternoon so we got creative and found a few recipes to make which didn't include flour and milk. We made these no bake cookies (using powdered milk) and these peanut butter cookies. These bars also looked really good, but I ran out of time and energy before I had a chance to make them.

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Snack: apple slices, cookies

Dinner: Veggie and rice soup (I remade the leftover stir fry from last night into soup adding in some broth and seasonings and extra veggies.), biscuits (made with Bisquick and powdered milk since we're out of flour and milk)

If you're eating from your pantry this week, I'd love to hear what was on your menu today!

25 Mar 2009   ·   25
Money Saving Mom

100 Different Ways to Save $100 This Year – Part 4

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Here are just a few more ways we’ve saved at least $100 per year:

17) Switch to cloth diapers. When my husband was in law school and we had our first child, I was wondering how on earth we were going to afford to pay for diapers. This was a year or so before I discovered CVS and I was still learning how to stockpile and we had a very meager budget to work with (think $17-$30 to spend on groceries and household items each week).

God has always been faithful to provide for us, though, and one of those ways He provided was through some friends giving us a whole stash of Fuzzi Bunz cloth diapers shortly after our daughter was born. Once I’d used up the disposable diapers we’d received as gifts, I switched over to cloth diapers exclusively.

Since we didn’t pay for the diapers, we mostly definitely saved much more than $100 for the two years our daughter was in diapers. However, from the calculations I’ve done, if we had invested in them ourselves, I’m still quite sure we would have saved at least $100 per year–even if I were buying diapers on sale with a coupon. And if you use the cloth diapers for more than one child, the savings really can multiply.

If you are interested in reading more on cloth diapering, go here and here.

18) Buy contacts online. If you’re like me and you much prefer to wear contacts as opposed to glasses, you can save a bundle of money by ordering your contacts online instead of buying them from your eye doctor. In fact, by using the tips I’ve learned below, you’ll likely save somewhere between 20-60% off what you would usually pay at your eye doctor.

Almost every brand of contact is available online. I’ve purchased contacts through VisionDirect.com as well as 1800Contacts.com. Their prices are pretty comparable, but each site seems to have a little bit of variation in what they carry and the specials they offer.

When checking out prices online, be sure to consult RetailMeNot.com or another such online coupon code site to determine what specials and coupon offers are available for that particular online store. You can usually save at least an additional 10-15% off by using an online coupon code when you checkout.

In addition to finding the site which has the lowest price when
using an online coupon code, also make sure and purchase your contacts
through your Rakuten link so you’ll get a little cash back for your
purchase.

Note: In order to order contacts online, all you will need is an
up-to-date prescription. The online site will not process your order if
they can’t verify with your eye doctor that your prescription is valid.

19)
Skip grocery shopping every 5-6 weeks and challenge yourself to use
what you have on hand and put the extra money into savings.
This is something we routinely do, as many of you probably have picked up on from following along with my Super Savings Saturday posts or my Eating From the Pantry Challenge this week.

If you are regularly stocking up on items you’ll use over the next few weeks or months when they are at their lowest price, it should be relatively easy to take a week off from grocery shopping once a month or once every other month. In fact, you may find it’s almost a necessity to do so in order to wisely use what you have on hand!

And just think, if you regularly spend $50 on groceries per week, taking a week off from shopping once every other month will save you $300 per year!

If you missed the first parts of this series, you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

photo by Refracted Moments

24 Mar 2009   ·   34
Money Saving Mom

Eating From The Pantry Challenge: Day 2

It's day 12 of not stepping foot in a grocery store and it's day 2 of our Eating From The Pantry Challenge.

Here's what we ate today:

Breakfast: Baked Oatmeal with frozen strawberries and milk (Recipe is here–this is so easy to throw together the night before and stick in the refrigerator to bake in the morning for a delicious hot and fresh breakfast!)

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Lunch: Scrambled eggs and hashbrowns with cheese, whole-wheat toast with butter, apple slices

Snack: Quaker Rice Snacks

Dinner: Stir Fry over brown rice (concocted with some fresh veggies I needed to use up)

If you're eating from your pantry this week, I'd love to hear what was on your menu today!