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23 Feb 2011   ·   121
Money Saving Mom

Mortgages, Paying Cash and Goal-Setting Run Amuck

I finished sharing our story of paying cash for a house two weeks ago and but I promised I’d follow it up with a few thoughts on mortgages and paying cash. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about writing this post last Wednesday, so I’m finally getting it done this week. Thanks for your patience!

While being debt-free is a wonderful thing, I want to stress very clearly that it’s not the be all, end all. Paying cash for a house doesn’t make you a better person than someone who is barely struggling to make ends meet and doing good to pay the utility bill and grocery bill.

We all have different families, different backgrounds and different situations, so our financial stories are all going to look quite different. And that’s perfectly okay! I want to give you ideas, inspiration and encouragement here, but then I hope you’ll take it and go find how to best steward the resources God has given to you.

With that said, if you are considering the benefits of paying cash for a house versus getting a mortgage, here’s what I’d encourage you to think about:

1) What are the costs of housing in your area?

Don’t just believe what everyone says about how much houses cost where you live. Go research it out yourself. All real estate is local. The prices in one area will be different from another, even if in the same city with comparable cost of living. For example, if you live in an area where most houses cost $400,000, you very well may be able to find a fixer-upper for $200,000 in a decent part of the other side of town.

Since we live in the Midwest, housing prices are really affordable, compared to many parts of the country. In fact, with some looking and patience, you can buy a very decent relatively new starter home for around $100,000 to $110,000. (Some of you who live in high cost of living areas just had to pick yourself up off the floor, I know!) The low housing prices is one reason we moved here and one of the big factors in our decision to save to pay cash for a house.

2) How much can you save each month?

This is not meant as an exercise in frustration, but as a reality check. Look at your written budget and see if there are any areas you’d be willing to cut or downsize for a time period in order to free up more money to go to savings.

Our family decided to keep our grocery budget low, have a moratorium on spending, not have any monthly subscriptions, delay college and retirement savings and downsize in rental home in order to free up more money to put toward savings. We also were blessed with a good income from both of our businesses, so the fact that we kept our expenses as minimal as possible and didn’t have any debt allowed us to be able to save a sizable amount of our income each month towards a house.

3) What do the numbers look like in ten years?

Once you have a good understanding of how much you can expect to pay for a house and how much you can save each month, you’re ready to run numbers and calculations to determine what is the best plan of action for your family. Figure out how much you could potentially save over the course of the next ten years if you were to live on as little as you can, rent and save as much as you can.

Then, calculate how much you’d have in equity in a home in ten years if you were to instead save aggressively for a great down payment (at least 20% down, maybe even 40%+) on a 15-year fixed rate mortgage on a very modest home, buy the home and then throw everything you could at the mortgage payment to pay it off early.

Running these numbers can give you a very helpful gauge to decide what is the best course of action for your family.

Don’t Get Too Focused and Miss Out On Life

My husband and I are very focused, driven and stubborn people (well, it’s probably just mostly me who is stubborn!). These can be wonderful qualities when exercised in balance.

Unfortunately, we didn’t exercise a lot of balance while saving for a house. Since we’re both self-employed and our income is based a great deal on our productivity, we became work-a-holics with a single-minded focus of earning enough to make our monthly house savings goals.

Instead of pacing ourselves and allowing ourselves margin, we sprinted and ran ourselves ragged. We accomplished our goal, but not without it taking a major toll on our family, friendships and health.

I’m grateful that God was gracious, our friends and family were forgiving and we survived the grueling months of hard work. But neither my husband nor I would recommend that you follow in our footsteps.

Just in the last year, we’re finally feeling like we’re beginning to learn to know our limits, have our priorities in better order and have more margin in our life — and we are happier and healthier for it.

So please, go right ahead and set big goals and work hard, but pace yourself and give yourself grace and breathing room.

23 Feb 2011   ·   290
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Is a chest freezer worth the investment?

Today’s question is from Corrie:

I am thinking of purchasing a chest freezer. I have a family of six and the refrigerator in my apartment is so small. In fact, it is shorter than I am and I can only fit enough food in it for one week. I wish I could get a bigger one but the cabinets above it won’t allow anything larger.

My question is, is it worth it to buy a freezer so I can stock up on sale items?  Am I going to pay the difference in electricity for a five-cubic-square-foot chest freezer?

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

22 Feb 2011   ·   209
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: Milk is cheaper at Indian stores

Sheeba from Desi Saving Mom emailed in the following tip:

I know a lot of moms out there are struggling to pay for milk with prices as high as $3.59. Indian stores here in NJ (Apna Bazaar Cash & Carry) has gallons of milk for only $2.89. It has gone up just $0.10 in price and is cheaper than most stores. -Sheeba

In our area, Aldi seems to consistently have the best milk prices. Though I hadn’t thought to check an Indian store for milk!

How about the rest of you? Where are you finding the best deals on milk right now?

photo credit

21 Feb 2011   ·   106
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu Plan

(Strawberry Smoothies I made for the children for breakfast recently. I’ve found I can hide all sorts of healthful things — like ground flax seeds and more! — in smoothies and the children just lap them up and ask for more!)

I set a goal for myself to try at least two new recipes every week. That might not seem like a lot to those of you who are really adventuresome in the kitchen, but for someone like me, who tends to get stuck in a rut, it’s been a good challenge.

And I’m finding that the more I branch out and try new things in the kitchen, the more I’m enjoying it!

Breakfasts:

Scones, Smoothies
Homemade Granola, Fruit
Raisin Toast, Scrambled Eggs, Fruit
Cold Cereal, Juice
Orange Cream Smoothies, English Muffins
Toasted Bagels, Fruit
Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls, Scrambled Eggs, Juice

Lunches:

Leftovers x 3
Macaroni & Cheese, carrots
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches, fruit
Cheese Quesadillas, frozen veggies
Seapak Frozen Fish, frozen veggies

Dinners:

Dinner Out
Tilapia, Toast, Frozen Veggies, Grapefruit
Brown Bag Burritos (from the freezer), Green Rice Casserole (from the freezer), Fruit
Turkey Chili Taco Soup,* Homemade Bread, Veggies
Whole Grain Chicken Soup With Rice,* Olive Garden Breadsticks,* Apple Slices
Homemade Pizza, Tossed Salad, Ice Cream
Dinner at Extended Family’s House

Extras:

Homemade Starbucks Peppermint Mocha* (I’m going to tweak the recipe some, per instructions that Beth from The Natural Mommy emailed me.)

*Denotes a new-to-me recipe. If any of these become winners, I’ll be sure to let you know. And I promise to post my Homemade Starbucks Peppermint Mocha recipe, as soon as I get it perfected.

By the way, I’m on a restaurant recipe knock-off kick, so if you have any incredible restaurant knock-off recipes (especially Starbucks, Panera or Olive Garden!), be sure to leave the link in the comments below so I can consider trying them.

21 Feb 2011   ·   41
Money Saving Mom

Four Tips for Becoming a Successful Mystery Shopper

Guest post by Mystery Shop Mom

For several years, I have been following frugal blogs to help my family save money. More recently, however, I decided to become proactive and actually help make my family some money. I wanted the extra income but not the extra time away from my family. That is when I delved into the world of mystery shopping. Here are some tips to help you decide if mystery shopping is for you and, if so, how you can get started.

1. Understand the Realities of Mystery Shopping

If you are expecting to put in little or no effort to get paid and receive free goods, you need to adjust your expectations. Mystery shopping does require time and effort but, in my experience, I have been pleased with the reward for my work.

Additionally, you should not expect to get fine-dining and five-star hotel shops in your first months of shopping. You have to prove yourself to the companies with small jobs before you will be entrusted with the more luxurious ones.

2. Decide Your Purpose for Mystery Shopping

Do you need to make some serious cash or are you shopping for a little supplemental income? There are people who have actually quit full-time jobs to full-time mystery shop. I am, however, enjoying a little extra income and the extra space in our food and entertainment budget thanks to the grocery and restaurant shops I have been able to do.

After you sign up with companies and see how much shops pay, set monthly goals for yourself. Decide how much time you want to put into finding jobs, shopping and writing reports to determine how much income you would like to have per month.

3. Sign Up With Numerous Legitimate Mystery Shopping Companies

Most legitimate companies will be members of the MSPA, the international Mystery Shopper Provider Association. Currently, scammers have caught on to the names of legitimate companies and are using them in emails they are sending. You should never sign up with a company through a link you receive in your email.

Most importantly, you should never pay a company a fee to shop for them!

Resources exist to help you sort through these companies. I have compiled a list of companies that I have shopped and name some resources on my blog Sense to Shop. Always go directly to the legitimate website and sign up that way. The more companies you sign up with, the more opportunities you will have.

4. Branch Out of Your Comfort Zone

When you first sign up, you are probably not going to immediately get offers to shop your favorite restaurant or retail store. Be willing to take some jobs that involve some different locations or tasks than those to which you are accustomed. I have found some of my favorite shops by doing just this!

Mystery Shop Mom is a behavioral therapist turned stay-at-home mom of two amazing children ages two and six months. She enjoys spending time with her wonderful children and husband and partnering with him in ministry at the church where he is Associate Pastor.

21 Feb 2011   ·   2
Money Saving Mom

Time Management Without a Schedule

My friend, Jessica, over at LifeasMOM, shares how she’s learning to manage her time without a schedule:

Remember the love-hate relationship I have with schedules? Well, a few months ago I gave it a go. I really did. I wrote up a schedule and I ran it through the paces.

And ya know what? It really didn’t support what the players on my team were doing. It wasn’t good for morale. It really rankled the coach. So, I cut it from the team.

Yes, yes, I did.

But, am I throwing all caution to the wind? Have I thrown in the proverbial towel? Have I given up in the last quarter of the game? No, no, I haven’t. But, I’ve found a way to manage my time without an hour-by-hour schedule.

And it. is. amazing.

Read the full post.

photo credit

19 Feb 2011   ·   95
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: The “I-Didn’t-Cook-Clean-or-Shop” Edition

Those who are frequent readers here may have noticed I was rather absent last week. That’s because I spent all week with my husband on a cruise!

As I’ve mentioned before, we purposefully chose to go on a very inexpensive honeymoon because we knew Jesse was going to be going to law school soon after we got married. We’d both agreed that if we made it through law school debt-free and paid cash for a house by the time I was 30, we’d save up to go on a cruise. But I’d sort of assumed this was just one of those dream vacations which would never actually become reality.

So I shoved the idea to the back of my brain and pretty much forgot about it.

But Jesse didn’t and near the end of 2010, he completely shocked me by telling me he had a big surprise for me. I was baffled as to what it could be and totally giddy when he presented me with two different cruise vacation options.

Since we’d never traveled outside the U.S. before, never been on a cruise ship and never left all of our children, this was a really big deal (you moms with young children can likely empathize). In fact, just to make me feel better and more at ease, we actually left our children in December for two and half days as a trial run while Jesse and I went to Branson together. They survived beautifully and we truly had a wonderful time.

So, early last Sunday morning, we boarded a plane for Florida, leaving our three young children in the able care of our wonderful mother’s helper, and took off for our “Second Honeymoon” Cruise.

While I missed the children so much, it was really wonderful to be away with my husband — by ourselves. With no phone and little internet access, no dishes to wash, no meals to make, no diapers to change, no laundry to do, no children to wake us up in the night and basically no agenda but to just have fun and enjoy one another.

It was absolutely wonderful, though very weird. I realized that I hardly know what to do with myself without a long to-do list (not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing)! We experienced all sorts of firsts and we soaked up every minute of it, got lots of time to talk through goals and areas in our lives we want to improve, we took hundreds of pictures and we laughed harder than we’ve laughed in a very long time.

We are so thankful to our mother’s helper, Jesse’s assistant and the wonderful MoneySavingMom.com team who covered all the bases at home so we could be gone this past week. We’re indebted to each of them and could never have had such a relaxing vacation without their help!

And now, back to reality and our regularly scheduled programming here. 🙂

__________________

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.

18 Feb 2011   ·   61
Money Saving Mom

Books Read in February: Organized Simplicity, Pour Your Heart Into It, On the Banks of Plum Creek

I was excited to read Organized Simplicity by my friend, Tsh, from SimpleMom.net. I’ve long followed and loved her blog.

Truthfully, though, I figured the message of this book would probably be something I was well familiar with. And I figured the book would be filled with  ideas I was mostly already living out.

Well, I was wrong.

In fact, it’s hard for me to describe in words how reading Organized Simplicity impacted me. The beauty of the book drew me in, but the message of the book convicted me more than I ever imagined it would.

(Me reading Organized Simplicity while on a trip with my husband this week — more on our special getaway tomorrow! Chapter 7 was my very favorite chapter of the entire book.)

As many of you well know, I love simplicity and I strive to only have a things we love and use in our home. But in the last few months, consumerism and busyness has inched its way into my heart and life — without me even realizing it.

Reading Organized Simplicity was a wake up call for me. It forced me to examine my life, stuff and to-do list in a whole new light. I realized that maybe I wasn’t as much of a minimalist as I thought I was — especially if you were to open some of my closets and cupboards! 🙂

I usually go through our whole house from top to bottom twice a year and aggressively eliminate things which we no longer love and use. And while this book inspired me to do another total house overhaul, more than just eliminating stuff, it caused me to dig down deeper and examine my heart and what simple living really means for our own family.

Tsh’s thoughts in chapter seven on streamlining your life so you can savor the moments that matter especially hit home for me. Life can become so busy. Organized Simplicity really challenged me to be purposefully intentional and prioritize my life so I don’t miss out on those precious fleeting moments.

Want to get a copy of Organized Simplicity for free? Go here to enter to win one of ten copies.

(Pages of notes I took from Organized Simplicity)

Also read in February:

Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time — This was an interesting book written by the CEO and Chairman of Starbucks on how Starbucks was born and the company philosophies and practices which have made it so successful. It’s a story of hope and perseverance and one which I found inspiring, though the book did drag a little at times. (Note: There is a little bit of language in the book. And I know some disagree with me, but I always find four letter words in books bothersome because I feel like they are unnecessary and crude.)

On The Banks of Plum Creek — Finished reading this next Little House book aloud to the children. We loved this book, though, after a few weeks of cold and snow here, I cannot imagine what it would be like to live without modern conveniences in the long, cold winter blizzards!

24 Books I Plan to Read in 2011

Business and Financial Books I Plan to Read and Review This Year:

January — 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
February — Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living

March — Becoming a Person of Influence
April — Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking
May — Life on the Wire: Avoid Burnout and Succeed in Work and Life
June — Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents
July — Have a New You by Friday: How to Accept Yourself, Boost Your Confidence & Change Your Life in 5 Days
August — Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
September — America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money
October — Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
November — Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet
December – Personal Investing: The Missing Manual

Other Books I Plan to Read This Year:
January — Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment
February — Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

March — The Possibilities of Prayer
April — The Blessing of Boundaries
May — Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
June — Honey for a Child’s Heart
July — One With Christ
August — A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning
September — Womanly Dominion: More Than A Gentle and Quiet Spirit
October — The Rose Conspiracy
November — Disciplines of a Godly Woman
December –Benjamin Rush: Signer of the Declaration of Independence

What books have you read recently? Any you’d highly recommend?

18 Feb 2011   ·   8
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash! :: Two Master’s Degrees

We paid cash!

A testimony from Jenae

My husband and I both recently received our Master’s degrees in our individual fields — his in Business Management and mine in Education. Our educational pursuits came at a time of great transition for our family and wouldn’t have been possible without a financial decision made early on in our marriage.

The Background

My husband and I were married three and a half years prior to our first child being born. After lots of prayer and discussion immediately after we were married, we felt it was the best thing for our family for me to stay home (at least part-time) once we had children.

I finished up my last year of college that first year of our marriage and we were used to living on just my husband’s salary. After graduation, I was offered the wonderful opportunity of teaching first graders — a job I truly loved. Once those monthly checks came in it felt like we had tons of money!

Remembering our desire for me to stay home once we had children, we decided we would to continue to live on just my husband’s salary and elected to have my salary directly deposited into a savings account (that way we wouldn’t be tempted to spend it). This might have been the single best financial decision we have ever made.

After being a first grade teacher for one year, I soon realized that the only way to increase my salary was to receive more education, so I decided to enroll in a Master’s degree program at a nearby university.

During this time, my husband worked for a company that reimbursed 100% of tuition fees for a Master’s Degree program. My tuition, however, was our responsibility. Thanks to our decision to save my income, we had built up a nice nest egg and were able to pay cash and still have money left over in savings.

I graduated with my Master’s degree just three months after our first son was born and resigned at the end of that school year — a choice that wouldn’t have been possible without three years of saving! Even though I resigned immediately after graduation and have yet to receive any monetary incentive, I know that I will return to the classroom someday and will continue to reap the rewards — both monetarily and in knowledge. Plus, it helped prepare me to be able to start my blog with learning activities for parents of young children called I Can Teach My Child!

No More Paid Tuition!

A year after our son was born and right in the middle of my husband’s MBA program, he was presented with a new job opportunity. This new position had better pay and benefits, but no longer offered tuition reimbursement.

After prayerful consideration, we decided it was in his best interest to go ahead and finish, even though the cost was steep. This was quite a stretch for us, since we had gone from two incomes down to one, but we felt convinced it was the right thing to do.

Kevin graduated this past May with his MBA and we didn’t go a penny into debt in the process! We are so thankful for our decision to save all of my income for three years — it has allowed me to stay home with our two children and paid for both of our Master’s degrees!

Jenae is a wife, mother of two boys’ ages 2 ½ and 11 months, and former first-grade teacher. She loves spending time with her family and sharing fun and educational activities for young children on her website I Can Teach My Child.

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

18 Feb 2011   ·   62
Money Saving Mom

How Living Abroad Taught Me to Simplify Life

Guest post by Tsh at Simple Mom.

Our family recently lived overseas for nearly four years. We’ve been back for one year as of this month, and in setting up a new home stateside, I’m reminded of several practical things I learned during our time living abroad:

1. You really don’t need that many clothes.

We never had closets when we lived in the Middle East, and many homes outside North America don’t have built-in closets, either. Wardrobes and armoires seriously — and conveniently — limit your clothing allotment. I was fine with one sweater, two pair of jeans, one pair of shorts, a few short and long-sleeved shirts, and about five skirts. My husband had even less than me.

My kids were fine with about a week’s worth of clothing. We stored their off-season clothing or the next size up in the top shelves of their wardrobes.

I was surprised as anybody that we were perfectly content with just these items, and I need to remind myself daily, now that we’re back in the States, that I really do tend to wear the same ten items, regardless of my myriad options.

2. Simple, healthy, in-season food is best. So is walking.

Farm-fresh food was in abundance in our host country, and we enjoyed a farmer’s market right in our neighborhood every Wednesday and Sunday. It took time, but eventually I learned a basic menu planning system for our family — simple meals using in-season ingredients, rotating every two weeks.

Eating the same meal twice in one month is no big deal. I was over-complicating my cooking process by thinking I needed to whip up elaborate meals all the time. In reality, my family is fine with semi-monthly pasta primavera. Simple recipes are easy to repeat.

Plus, we walked everywhere. Our family of four (plus one on the way) didn’t have a car until our last few months abroad when we borrowed one. Even then, gas prices at $12 a gallon meant we still rarely drove. Walking most everywhere helped us live frugally and more healthy.

3. Save your money for what really matters to you.

Living cross-culturally meant we simply weren’t as tempted by little everyday “gazingus pins” — lattes, magazines in English, shoe sales, and high-quality ice cream were so unbelievably expensive that they weren’t even an option, save a few times per year.

This made it easier to save for more meaningful experiences. To celebrate our becoming debt-free and saving up our fully-funded emergency fund, we went to Paris for a week. It was incredibly expensive, but because we paid 100 percent cash, we could merely laugh in wonder at the $100 dinner bill instead of panic.

I admit — it’s been challenging to apply these lessons learned stateside. American culture doesn’t make simple living easy. But it’s still worth it. When you don’t allow your belongings to own you, and when you know your family’s core values, you’re free to make small, daily choices that add up to a lot.

Tsh Oxenreider recovers from wanderlust by drinking black coffee, parenting three little blessings, and writing about simple living at Simple Mom. Her book, Organized Simplicity (F+W Media, 2010), shares her story of packing up her home in 15 boxes and moving it 6,000 miles away.

photo credit

17 Feb 2011   ·   59

Orange Cream Smoothie Recipe

I promised I’d let you know how my freezing oranges experiment went. Well, I’m happy to report that it was a success!

I used them to make this Orange Cream Smoothie recipe last week and it was a hit. The children all drank it down and loved it and my sister and brother, who were over at our house, also said it was delicious.

Now, I do have the blessing of owning a Vita-Mix. I can’t say for sure how well the frozen oranges would grind up in a regular blender. If you try this recipe in a regular blender, let us know how it turns out!

17 Feb 2011   ·   49

More Than Double Your Budget with Daily Deal Sites

Guest post by Stephanie at Daily Deals by Brad and Stephanie.

I was skeptical of daily deal sites at first, but I decided to check them out since we’re always looking for ways to save money. In the first three months of using Groupon, I saved $150, with little effort. Now, I’m totally sold out on daily deal sites!

Maximize Your Budget

  • Only purchase deals for something you will use and with money you have in your budget already. For example, we allocate a certain amount each month for dining out. If we only use daily deal vouchers, then we have effectively doubled our dining out budget for that month.
  • If you want to purchase a daily deal voucher for a store or restaurant you’ve never been to, check online reviews (like Urbanspoon and Yelp) first. You don’t want to spend your hard-earned and painstakingly budgeted money on a place that’s sub-par.
  • Consider buying vouchers as gifts. I purchased half of my Christmas gifts from daily deal vouchers. That’s a savings of at least 50%! Plus, sometimes the daily deals give me gift ideas I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.
  • Subscribe to the daily deal sites for other cities that you visit often for work, or a city you are planning a vacation for. Not only will you double your budget, but you will get ideas for new places to visit in an unfamiliar locale.
  • Subscribe to multiple daily deal sites. Often, I have seen the same store or website offering a daily deal voucher on different sites. Usually, one has a better deal. See a list of recommended Daily Deal Sites here.

More Ways To Save

  • Refer your friends. Almost all daily deal sites have a referral program where, for each referral you give, you earn credit at that daily deal site. Some sites offer $10, $12 and even $25 in referral cash.
  • Shop through cashback sites, like Rakuten (formerly Ebates) and ShopAtHome when using online vouchers. Shopping at these sites mean you earn additional cash back on your online purchases. Before using your daily deal voucher, always check these sites first to see if you can earn money on your purchases.
  • Look for coupon codes to stack with your voucher. Some vouchers can be used in conjunction with coupon codes. If that’s the case, check coupon code sites like RetailMeNot for online vouchers or scour your mailers and Sunday papers for coupons to use with local vouchers.

Be Cautious

  • Check prices before you buy. Always check out the website to see what the prices are before you buy. A $20 voucher to a perfume store which you got for $2 is probably not going to be a good deal if the perfume store only sells perfumes which are $100 and up.
  • Find out if shipping is included. If it’s not, check if the daily deal voucher can be used towards shipping. If shipping is not included, you’ll need to factor that into your budget before determining whether purchasing the voucher is a good deal.
  • Can you buy multiple daily deal vouchers? Sometimes buying more than one will further your savings (as long as you’re still staying within your budget guidelines). However, many vouchers only allow you to use one per purchase.
  • Read the fineprint! Most of the daily deal sites have a very clearly marked section for “Fine Print”. Be sure to read it. And remember, never buy something because you feel pressured by the timer. If they do the deal once, they’ll likely do it again at some point.

Do you have any more tips for daily deal sites? Share in the comments below.

Stephanie and her pastor hubby Brad regularly compile the best daily deals from sites like Groupon.com and share daily deal tips at Daily Deals by Brad and Stephanie. They love using daily deal sites to buy gifts, stretch their budget and try new places!

photo credit

16 Feb 2011   ·   54
Money Saving Mom

Making Extracurricular Activities Extra Affordable

Guest Post by Sarah at Read Cook Save

Your eight-year old is excited about playing soccer this spring, your six-year old says she wants to take violin lessons and your four-year old has her heart set on ballet. In addition to paying for the classes, you’ll need shin guards and a uniform, ballet shoes and a violin. How are you going to afford it all?

The trick, as always, is planning ahead. Way ahead, if possible. Here are a few tips for making extracurricular lessons both fun and affordable:

The Lessons

  • Know your options. Dance academies and martial arts dojos often require lengthy (and costly) commitments. If your child is new to the activity or if you prefer a more low-key environment, check out community education programs, your parks and recreation department and local YWCA/YMCA. Some churches also sponsor youth programs. Start asking around your community — you may be surprised at what’s available.
  • Ask about trial lessons. Your child may be able to take a trial class for a pro-rated fee (or possibly free). This gives you and your child a chance to make sure the class is a good fit all the way around before committing to an entire class.
  • Understand registration fees. Some programs require a registration fee in addition to class fees. Find out if there is one, if it is for the family or the individual and how often (annually, seasonally, etc.) it is required. Ask if there are circumstances in which it can be waived and see if you qualify.
  • Sign up early. Many programs offer a discount of 10-30% if you register several weeks in advance. Of course, this is more time for something unexpected to come up on your end, so be sure you understand the cancellation/refund policy.

The Equipment

  • Ask when you sign up. Make sure you understand exactly what kind of supplies, equipment or clothing are required and what, if anything, is covered by the cost of the class. Ask where you can buy or rent what you need at a reasonable price. Ask if there are stores in your area that give students in this program a discount.
  • Put the word out. Let your friends know what you’re looking for; if someone has it in her attic or garage she may be willing to lend it or give it to you.
  • Consignment shops. Call the children’s consignment shops in your area and ask if they carry the kind of equipment/clothing you’re looking for.
  • Yard sales and thrift stores (of course!). With some lead time, these can be good places to browse for outgrown leotards and sports equipment. You’re less likely to find a second-hand flute or a pair of size two tap shoes — but you never know!
  • Craigslist and Freecycle. Better if you’re looking for specific brands, sizes or styles.
  • Retail stores. By planning ahead, you can still find bargains. Ask when their sales are, if they give discounts to students in your program, and find and use coupons.

Sarah Barbour blogs about her adventures in new-found thriftiness at Read Cook Save.

photo by Summers

15 Feb 2011   ·   50
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: Less-expensive avenues for creating a will?

My husband and I want to have a will but it seems attorneys are charging a lot of money for this service. Can you suggest any other avenues to create a will? I know there are online tools like legal zoom but it seems so confusing. -Kristen

If you have been following the recent news over federal tax policy at all, you will know that one of the most hotly-debated proposals was the reviving of the estate tax (which was non-existent in 2010). This debate underscores the importance of having proper estate planning to ensure that one’s assets be distributed according to their wishes at death.

One of the most critical aspects of estate planning is having a properly executed will. Whether you have a sizable estate built after years of hard work or are just getting started and want to make sure your young children are cared for, you need a will.

Now bear in mind that a will will not save you in the event the constantly-changing death tax comes back, but it will ensure that you, and not the State, dictate what happens to those you love and care about.

As you would expect, I recommend that you visit with an attorney in your state about your individual needs and desires. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and each state has their own requirements for creating a will.

For instance, some states allow you to write out a will by hand and have it notarized, others do not. Some require you need to have a two witnesses and a self-attestation clause, again others do not. This is why it is imperative that you seek professional advice from someone knowledgeable for your state’s laws on Wills and Estates.

One of the main reasons my wife and I seek to encourage people to get out of debt and get their financial lives in order is so that they can get in the position to personally grow, succeed, give and provide a solid foundation for generations to come. A will or proper estate plan is a cornerstone of that foundation.

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.

The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting, or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.