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9 Dec 2010   ·   25
Money Saving Mom

Make Christmas Clutter-Free With Experience Gifts

Guest post by JessieLeigh at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles

It’s too easy to find ourselves buried in clutter if we surround ourselves with too many things. For our family, with children who have December and January birthdays, the Christmas season can become overwhelming and, ultimately, lose meaning and even fun. Believe it or not, it’s not fun to be surrounded by piles and piles of stuff.

But I love to give gifts. I love to surprise and delight my children. I can’t help it.

Still, while I’m not above buying one or two very special toys for them, I remain determined to keep Christmas clutter-free. I do this through three types of gifts: consumable, charitable, and experience.

Today, I’d like to share some fun “experience gift” ideas:

1. Travel

This could be as big as those dramatic “We’re going to Disney!” commercials or as small as “We’re going to check out a museum!” (in a neighboring town). It’s fun to go new places — near or far.

2. The Arts

Give the gift of creating or discovering. Whether it be painting a plate, taking a music class or seeing a ballet, exploring the arts and creativity can be a wonderful experience to treasure and reflect on throughout the year.

3. Get Moving

Last year, my son received karate lessons as a gift. It has been fantastic! Classes are great. So are trips to an indoor gym/discovery center. Going on a family hike, boat ride or fishing trip are other great ways to get active together and make it something special!

4. Some Pampering

When my mom asked for a “big” gift idea for my five-year-old daughter, I suggested she would enjoy having her hair or nails done and getting prettied up. What girl wouldn’t enjoy that?

Well, some might not, but pampering can take on many forms… some people feel pampered by not having to cook, others by having someone do the vacuuming for them. This type of gift is a great opportunity to show just how well you know the recipient. And that’s pretty special.

5. Fun With Friends

Give your husband tickets to a ball game. Give your girlfriend a gift certificate to a pastry shop. Give your children tickets to a matinee of a kids’ movie — one for him and one for a friend. The options are limitless. Spending fun, quality time with people whose company we genuinely enjoy is a beautiful gift to give or receive.

Having a meaningful, special Christmas complete with gifts doesn’t have to mean digging out of a giant “stuff” pile come January.

How do you like to keep Christmas special and clutter-free?

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.

photos by Ernst Vikne

8 Dec 2010   ·   3
Money Saving Mom

Frugal & Meaningful Christmas Gift: Chocolate Memories Basket

I loved this gift idea from Blessed Femininity! She put together a gift basket for her Grandma in the nursing home with a special memory or word of encouragement tied to bars of chocolate.

This gift is similar to The Question Jar in that you likely won’t have to spend much at all out of pocket (except for the cost of the chocolate!), but it will mean so much to the recipient.

8 Dec 2010   ·   29
Money Saving Mom

Taming the Teenage Schedule

photo from Pottery Barn

Guest post by Elizabeth at Ordinary Time

Life with many children is busy and I have found it just gets busier as those children get older. They each have their own interests, activities and friends and trying to keep track of all the comings and goings of these not-quite adults can make a mother go gray even faster than she already is.

To try to save my sanity, I have come up with a game plan that keeps my busy older children happy while allowing me to keep track of what everyone is doing. Some of the key items of that game plan include:

1) Using a family calendar

We have a large, write-on calendar hanging in our kitchen. Everyone is required to write their activities and commitments on the calendar. If they aren’t on the calendar, they don’t exist.

I make sure to put family activities on the calendar so when my children are scheduling their lives, they know what to avoid. Our general rule of thumb is that whatever makes it on the calendar first takes precedence.

2) Making family dinners a priority

Our older children know that it is the very rare activity that can take precedence over family dinners. And really, it has become such a habit that it is not an issue. Sometimes, dinner time is the only time our family has to visit together. We believe that this is important to our family’s well-being and we make it a priority.

3) Planning “enforced family fun”

As children get older and their schedules get busier, sometimes we have to schedule our fun. If my husband and I want to do something as a family, we make sure to pick a date and get it on the calendar. Our children know that it is a non-negotiable activity.

When our children were younger, it was easier to be spontaneous, but as our children have aged, we have had to give up a bit of spontaneity in order to have family activities. It is worth the trade-off.

4) Teaching our children how to schedule their own time

Part of being a functioning adult means being able to plan and schedule on one’s own. As our children get older, we give them more responsibility with their own time management. We offer advice and guidance and sometimes help with the inevitable crisis as our children learn this valuable skill.

We begin when they are about 11 or 12, making daily schedules with them and as they get older, we contribute less and less. The most difficult aspect of this for me is to try not to remind as much as they get older. It is hard to watch your child get into a bind, time-wise, but sometimes it is the only way they learn.

Raising children through their teen years can be challenging for many reasons, but having a plan to keep the scheduling aspects of life under control can make it more enjoyable. Not only does is help keep life a bit more manageable, it can also help to strengthen family ties by allowing families to continue to spend time together.

Elizabeth Curry is a homeschooling mother of 9 children, ages 17 to 17 months. When she isn’t busy raising her children, she writes, sews, reads and blogs at Ordinary Time.

If you’re a mom of a teenager, I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for time management! Share them with us in the comments.

7 Dec 2010   ·   91
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: How did you cover health care costs in law school?

During the law school years, how did you cover health care costs, particularly with having babies. Were you able to be on an insurance group plan somehow?

This subject has been weighing heavy on my mind as my husband lost his job a year ago, and I have only been able to find part-time work. Because of health histories, buying a private plan is out of the question, and our COBRA runs out in a few months. If we cannot obtain a full-time job that provides insurance, we are going to be in trouble.

Just wondering how you did it! -Tara

I think it ironic that they refer continued health care coverage after leaving a job with health benefits as “COBRA.” It is a monstrous plan with numerous exclusions that raises its head once a month when it takes a huge bite out of your monthly budget.

Needless to say, health insurance is one of the most hotly discussed topics today. It was not as much of a hot-button issue when I went to law school but it was a need that we definitely wanted to address in our budget.

When I was in undergrad, we took advantage of a low-cost major medical insurance plan offered to students of the university I attended. When I transitioned to law school, we went the same route, choosing to save a little each month towards paying for minor visits out of pocket.

Also, any doctor visits were to the university physician. We also made an effort to ask for samples when we were given prescriptions because it cut down on medication costs. And we just didn’t go to the dentist or eye doctor, aside from one time during law school, which we paid for out of pocket (we called around and found which dentist offered the best new patient special and went with that one).

At one period during law school, we even briefly considered doing away with with health insurance coverage completely for a short time and saving our premium because we did not use the insurance coverage much at all and funds were really tight. However, I knew it would be foolish to do, as one major medical event could land us in dire straights. So we stayed with the student plan.

We had Kathrynne during school and were blessed in that our student insurance plan did cover most of our maternity. We went to a free-standing birth center, which only charged around $4,000 for the entire birth and pre- and post-natal care, making our out-of-pocket costs very minimal.

A few years ago, I decided to get an individual plan for our family, as the group plan where I was working really stunk and was costly. We settled on an HSA (Health Savings Account) offered at our local bank, and purchased a qualifying high deductible health insurance plan with a major health insurance company.

This arrangement is similar to what we did during law school, as the plan is a major medical plan, but the plan now covers 100% after the deductible. Also, the savings no longer goes into a bucket in my budget but goes into an HSA, where the contributions are tax deductible and the growth and all withdrawals for health purposes are tax free. Nothing like a triple whammy! For the self employed, I believe this is one of the best ways to go. (By the way, many employers’ health plans also offer the HSA option.)

If another option comes along that is better than this, I will gladly consider it, but this seems to work for us for now.

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.

7 Dec 2010   ·   82
Money Saving Mom

Time Management 101: Home Management (Part 2)


If you missed the first part of this series, be sure to read it here. You can see a video of my Homemaking Binder here.

4) Clear the Clutter

You know one surefire way to add more time to your life? Get rid of excess stuff. I truly believe that the less you have, the less time you have to spend on upkeep, maintenance and cleaning. Either you control the clutter or the clutter will control you.

If you feel overwhelmed with clutter, don’t throw your hands up in despair. Instead, create a realistic plan of attack. Take one room at a time and commit to working on it for 15 minutes five days each week until it is thoroughly gone through and then start on the next.

I’ve written quite a bit on this topic before, so I encourage you to go read my posts on Dealing With Toy Overload and Five Ways to Cut Down on Clutter.

5) Tame the Laundry Monster

While I might be pretty good at keeping on top of most of the clutter in our house, I struggle with keeping up with the laundry. In fact, after my third child was born, for a few months, there was almost always a massive pile of clean laundry in our room waiting to be folded.

I never seemed to have the time or energy to tackle it. So, truth be told, most of the time it didn’t get folded and put away; we just took the clothes straight out of the pile and wore them. (Does that make me Worst Homemaker of the Year?)

I constantly felt guilty about this and overwhelmed by laundry. It just seemed I could never come close to staying on top of it. And finally, I decided enough is a enough. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life overloaded by laundry. So I devised a plan (with my husband’s help!):

::Do a load of laundry from start to finish every day. My goal is that there is never a clean laundry pile of any sort in our room. This isn’t always the case, but if I aim to do a load every day from start to finish (wash, dry, fold put away), I usually stay mostly on top of the laundry.

::Get help. I mentioned before that, after our third child was born and I was struggling with postpartum depression, we hired a girl from church to start coming over once a week and helping out. One of the tasks she often helps with is doing a few loads of laundry.

It is such a huge relief and blessing to know that, if I get behind on laundry, someone else is going to help me get caught back up so I don’t fall hopelessly behind and we resort back to piles of laundry in our room again. I’m also teaching the children to help with laundry and we have a time block in our schedule where we all help fold and put away the laundry.

Maybe these solutions won’t work for you (or quite possibly, you don’t struggle with staying on top of the laundry like I do!), but I encourage you to evaluate areas in your homemaking which you struggle with and work on coming up with possible solutions. It might take you a few tries to find a solution, but you’ll likely hit on something which works well in the process — or which at least helps you see some noticeable improvement!

6) Simplify Meals

You know my mantra is “Keep it simple.” There’s no need to over-complicate life any more than it already is.

If you love making six-course gourmet dinners and you have time to do so, than go for it! But if you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed with life, can I encourage you to give yourself freedom to keep meals simple?

In fact, if your family is okay with it, you might find it helpful to just have two weeks’ worth of go-to quick and easy meals that you rotate. Or, you might consider taking one day a month to prepare most of the food for your main dishes for the next month to stick in the freezer.

We stick with really basic meals around here and it works well for us at this season of our lives. Breakfasts are cereal or oatmeal, lunches are leftovers, sandwiches, salads or macaroni and cheese, dinners are some type of meat (fish, chicken or beef), some type of carb (bread, rice or potatoes) and a veggie. Most meals can be put together in 15 minutes or less, with pretty minimal clean up, too.

Having this simple plan and giving myself the grace to not feel like I needed to be making more than this (unless I was inspired and had time!) has really provided me a lot of freedom from guilt — and it’s saved me a lot of time and energy, too!

7) Let Go of the Myth of a Perfect Balance

I’ve shared a lot of thoughts and tips on time management in this series, but I want to reiterate to you that, while things are so much better in our lives and my priorities are in order much of the time now, please don’t get the impression that I have found a perfect balance in my life. There are still those days when I don’t get enough sleep, the house looks like a tornado came through, I stay in my pajamas all day and Jesse brings home dinner.

As I’ve given myself grace and sought to put the “big rocks” in first, I’ve realized that it’s okay if everything isn’t perfect or even close to perfect. Life is full of disruptions, messes and curveballs.

At different times in your life, you’re going to need to put more energy and effort into some things while other things are going to slide or be put on the back burner for the time being. Something’s always going to be somewhat out of balance… and I believe that is perfectly okay!

True balance is not spending exactly equal amounts of time on every facet of your life, but it’s making sure that, over the course of a few months, you are giving focused attention to each important area in your life and that the unimportant things aren’t creeping in and crowding out what really matters.

Beginning on Wednesday, I’ll be sharing some excellent guest posts on time management from readers who are in much different seasons and situations of life than me. I think you’ll be blessed and encouraged

5 Dec 2010   ·   30
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Organic bread for $0.99 per loaf!

I scored big time at the health food store this week! They had a cart full of Rudi’s Organic Baker bread and buns marked down to $0.99. I picked up ten loaves/bags and filled up our freezer with enough bread to last at least a month! I also picked up my free bag of Food Should Taste Good chips.

And I stopped by Hallmark this afternoon and used my $5/$5 coupon. They have wrapping paper on sale for Buy One at $4.99, Get a Second Roll for $0.99. So I bought two rolls, used my $5/$5 coupon and got both rolls for $0.99 plus tax.

So those were my best bargains of the week. Can you believe that I actually ended up not buying anything on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? I was planning on possibly getting a few things, but when I took inventory of our home and children’s clothes, there wasn’t anything we needed. Plus, I already have almost all of our Christmas gifts purchased, so I just kept my money.

But I sort of felt like I bought stuff since I had fun finding and posting deals for you. I guess that gave me the same thrill of shopping — without any money leaving my bank account or wallet! 🙂

_____________

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.

3 Dec 2010   ·   14
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash! :: Our Home Renovation

We paid cash!

A testimony from Courtney

After looking for our dream home for several months, we quickly realized that what we had in mind as the home to raise our family didn’t exist on a police officer’s salary. I was working too, as a teacher, but only for another year or so before I quit to become a stay-at-home mom.

We decided to get used to living on one income early by purchasing a home based on my husband’s salary and using my salary to build our savings.

The Background

Finding a home under our budget and fit all our requirements was a difficult and sometimes frustrating process.

We realized if we were going to find a home we could live in for the long-term it would not come without some flaws. We were careful though, and knew we had to find a home at the low- to mid-range end of our budget so we wouldn’t be financially stressed to complete the renovations.

We also decided that we didn’t want to buy a home that needed a kitchen remodel since those can tend to be more expensive.

Having these things decided, we found a home we loved and fit our budget, but needed some cosmetic changes. The kitchen had been remodeled eight years earlier and was in great condition. We just changed the handles on the doors to update it a bit. New hardware for the cabinets and drawers cost us around $60.

What We Did

  • New carpet throughout
  • The hardwood floors in the kitchen sanded, sealed and extended
  • New interior doors
  • New paint throughout

We budgeted $5,000 to get this done and were successful.

We Paid Cash TV RoomWe Paid Cash TV Room After

How We Did It

  • It was hard to be patient when we wanted a new, beautiful house right now, but we saved carefully and did projects as we had the money to — not charging anything.
  • We shopped around and had several businesses gives us estimates on supplies to ensure we were getting the best price.
  • We did much of the labor ourselves. We ripped out the carpet and pads, pulled carpet staples and prepped all the floors. Removing the carpet, combined with a 10% discount my husband gets through his work at a home improvement store, we were able to save almost $2,000 on our carpet, compared to some bids we received.
  • We borrowed supplies and labor from friends, co-workers and neighbors. Professional paint equipment was offered by a co-worker who used to own his own business; my husband’s parents had drills, saws, and sanders we used, and countless friends offered their labor to get the jobs done.
  • Carpet was the only thing we had professionally installed.

We Paid Cash RenovationsWe Paid Cash Renovations 2

It was a long, time-consuming process but definitely worth it to see the finished product and know that we improved the value of our home without going into debt. It’s also a good feeling to know we didn’t finance our renovations with our mortgage so we aren’t paying interest on it either.

Courtney and Blake have been married for seven years and have a two-year-old daughter. They reside in Utah where Blake is a police officer and Courtney teaches seventh grade. They love spending time as a family and doing things outdoors.

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

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.