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1 Nov 2010   ·   6
Money Saving Mom

Join the 30-Day Giving Challenge

During the month of November, a group of my blogging friends are banding together to host the 30-Day Giving Challenge. This challenge will run for the month of November and you are encouraged to participate by giving in some way every day during the month of November.

The team of ten bloggers who are hosting this challenge will be sharing ideas and inspiration related to giving for the next 30 days. I know you’ll be blessed by following along.

Truly, “it is more blessed to give than to receive”!

29 Oct 2010   ·   40
Money Saving Mom

Help for an Overwhelmed Newbie (Part 3)

If you missed it, be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

5. Make Simple Budget Cuts

Once you have streamlined your life, set goals, gotten your home in order and created a budget, you’re ready to get more intense about looking for ways to cut your budget in order to free up extra money to pay off debt or save money towards your financial goals.

I suggest you start with simple things that will make a significant impact: Do you have memberships or subscriptions you’re currently paying for but not really using? Can you renegotiate some of your bills to get a better monthly rate? Could you cut back on costly regular expenditures or come up with creative alternatives?

After examining your regular expenditures to see if there are things you can cut or renegotiate, if you’re still struggling financially and need to come up with more breathing room, I’d suggest that you consider doing things which might be more extreme (click on that link for a list of 28 things we’ve done to stay out of debt).

I also encourage you to start slowly adopting a “Never Pay Retail” philosophy. Living frugally or on a budget doesn’t mean you never buy nice things or never pay for anything new again (though buying used is definitely a smart choice in many instances), but you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year just by committing to use some coupons for items you’ll already be purchasing, planning ahead and buying items you will need soon when they are at their lowest prices and looking for creative ways to get discounts on items you plan to buy.

For instance, if you have room to include a “Dates and Eating Out” category in your budget, you can stretch your budgeted money farther by watching for restaurant coupons and deals and purchasing restaurant vouchers through Groupon or Restaurant.com to local restaurants you like.

A Word of Caution

Don’t feel like you need to cut your budget down to such a barebones level that you don’t have any wiggle room or that you can never splurge on anything. If you’re planning to live a frugal and simple life for the longhaul, you must give yourself some grace. In fact, I say that you should budget for splurges. It doesn’t have to be anything costly, but choose a few things which you really enjoy and budget for them so that you can enjoy them without guilt.

For instance, we budget for eating out once a week, we budget for vacations and special family outings and we budget for me to get my hair done. Some people might argue that these things are incredibly extravagant of us, but these are things are family has decided we enjoy and choose to spend our money on. So we budget for these expenses and then we splurging guiltlessly!

Living on a budget doesn’t mean you have to eat beans and rice for the rest of your life or be misers. It just means that you are telling your money where to go ahead of time so that it’s not just passing through your fingers like sand!

6. Remember to Take Babysteps

As you start looking for ways to reduce your outgo and cut costs, it’s easy to get carried away and try learn and do everything at once. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself completely overwhelmed trying to menu-plan, stockpile, print coupons, clip coupons, organize coupons, shop at multiple stores, play the Drugstore Game, sign up for freebies, read great blogs…  and on and on it goes.

My advice: take babysteps! Pick one new skill to learn per month and don’t feel guilty over what you haven’t learned or aren’t doing yet.

7. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other People

Sadly, sometimes we can spend a lot of time worrying about what other people are doing or not doing and base what we do or don’t do upon that. If there’s one thing I can not re-iterate enough, it’s this: don’t compare yourself to other people.

We’re all in different families and situations and locations. We all have different goals, different needs and different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, what works for one family isn’t necessarily going to work for another family.

Maybe your family has food allergies which mean you can’t eat certain things and you need to have twice the grocery budget that your frugal friend without food allergies has. Or maybe you enjoy going out to eat more often so you have a higher “Dates and Eating Out” budget, but you buy your clothes at the thrift store.

Perhaps you like to travel so you budget more for that, but you don’t spend much on food because you grow a lot of it yourself. You might have a really busy schedule due to caring for a disabled family member and working two jobs, so you don’t even bother with using coupons and you hire someone to clean your home but you save money by biking to work and re-purposing everything you can.

Whatever the case, determine what works for your family and what goals and priorities your own family has and then create your financial goals and plan based upon this. If other people don’t understand or possibly even criticize the decisions you’ve made, it’s okay.

Do what works for you and don’t worry about what other people think!

photos from Shutterstock

29 Oct 2010   ·   96
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash! :: Disney Vacation

We paid cash!

Testimony from Brandi

Two weeks from today my husband and I will be taking our four children to Disney World!

The Background

I am a work-at-home mom of four amazing boys ages 7, 6, 3 and 2. My husband is a sales rep for a wholesale distributing company. We have purposed to live within the means that the Lord provides for us and are so thankful for His blessings. With four boys, it requires creativity, sacrifice and sometimes plain old miracles to make that happen!

By the blessings and grace of God, we are debt-free except for our mortgage. We have six months of living expenses saved and are contributing a very modest amount to my husband’s 401K.

Our Goal

With medical expenses and just “life”, vacation has never made it to the top of our priority list. We decided at the first of the year that we would really love to be able to take our boys on a nice vacation and began to ask the Lord if He would allow us this extra but certainly not necessary blessing.

I’m so happy to say, He has allowed us to save all the cash needed without touching our savings or going into any sort of debt!

How We Did It

  • We are participating in a time-share presentation in exchange for free lodging! (I told them upfront that there is no chance of us buying a timeshare but they still want to give it a shot. Bless their hearts!)
  • We had a yard sale and made $500.00.
  • I sold an old kitchen table on the internet for $200.00.
  • I bought $250.00 worth of restaurant gift certificates for $18 on Restaurant.com.
  • We will be buying groceries and eating in the condo for breakfast and lunch each day.
  • I saved $600 out of our monthly budget over the last four months by couponing, searching sales, freezer cooking and just plain saying “no!” to things. That $600 was the hardest part because we only have a monthly budget of $400 for groceries, eating out, clothing, toiletries, etc.

We Paid Cash for DisneyWhat We Gained

This has been an awesome way for us to teach our children about delayed gratification. We explained each time we had to say no to something that even though we were sacrificing now, the blessing of our vacation was going to be much greater.

We actually saved the cash in a bag so the boys could see it and when we sacrificed something they could see us add to the cash. This has been a great character and faith-building experience!

Brandi Johnson is wife to Brandon and mom to Taylor, Luke, Caleb and Zachary.

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

27 Oct 2010   ·   63
Money Saving Mom

Help for an Overwhelmed Newbie (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of this series here.

3. Get Your Home & Life in Reasonable Order

Once you’ve determined to streamline your life and set some goals, now it’s time to crack the whip and make changes in your life. While you might want to jump in and start clipping coupons or chasing bargains — don’t!

If your home isn’t in reasonable order and you already feel like things are spinning out of control, adding more things to your to-do list is only going to create chaos and frustration.

Take a step back and look around your home: what are the biggest areas you are struggling with? Laundry? Piles of clutter? Lack of organization or a plan? Too much to do?

Take inventory of your current time usage: are your priorities in order? Are you spending time enjoying and loving on your family members? Are you getting enough rest? Do you have margin in your life? Are the unimportant things crowding out the important?

If you feel like you are living in complete chaos, you need to do major cutting from your life. Say “no” to outside commitments and responsibilities. Don’t feel obligated to other people. Don’t start anything new.

Instead, stay home, make a simple plan for your days (my upcoming series on Time Management will hopefully be very beneficial in helping you there!) and stick with it. A plan doesn’t work unless you do!

Your home and life didn’t get out of control in one day and they are not going get back under control in one day, but you can make baby steps in the right direction every single day. So, determine what are your biggest problem areas and begin attacking those one at a time.

(There’s much more I could say on this subject, but I’m going to save it for my Time Management series which I’m beginning on Friday.)

4. Create a Workable Budget

Once your home is beginning to start to get in order (and, in most cases, that will take a few weeks), then it’s time to tackle budgeting.

Yes, I said the “B” word. You gotta make a budget.

You know why? Because if you do nothing else when it comes to finances — if you never clip a coupon, never buy used and never eat leftovers — but you devise a simple zero-based budget and you follow it, you’ll benefit a great deal.

A workable zero-based budget is going to take work. It won’t just happen. But if you commit to making it and then following it, it will very likely change your world — and your financial situation!

For more help with creating a zero-based budget, I highly recommend you check out The Total Money Makeover from your library. You can also read Dave’s article on The Truth About Budgeting. And here are some free downloadable budgeting forms to get you started.

If you’ve never had a budget before, expect it to take at least three months to get a workable budget in place. The first few months you’ll likely overfund some categories and underfund others; it’s a work in progress, so don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first few times. You’ll see headway just by trying, I promise!

I also highly recommend that you use cash envelopes for much of your spending categories. This guarantees that you stay within the budget parameters because, with cash, when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on babysteps towards better financial success!

What would be your top tip or piece of advice for someone who is feeling like their life and home is chaotic and disorderly?

photo by Muffet

27 Oct 2010   ·   78
Money Saving Mom

Tell Your Time: The method which has revolutionized my time management — only $7 today!

Six months ago, I was overwhelmed, overworked and over-committed. I was exhausted, I was stressed, and my family, marriage, health and home were suffering.

I’d been praying about hiring an assistant and God just kept bringing me back to Amy. While she’d never worked as a virtual assistant before, she had the skills and the heart I was looking for. So I offered her the job, she accepted and my life is forever changed.

Not only has Amy taken over a lot of the load of the behind-the-scenes responsibilities which come along with running a blog with a lot of readers, but Amy has helped me get my personal life back in order. And this has brought incredible peace back into our home and family.

I waited four months after implementing these life-changing things before sharing them with you, because I wanted to make sure they were lasting changes, not just something I started and raved about on my blog and then ended up falling off the bandwagon after two weeks.

The changes and calm have stayed… for four whole month!

Just a few of the changes which have come as a result of implementing the things Amy shares in her book:

::I’m spending much less time online.

::I’m spending more time in God’s Word and prayer.

::I’m spending a lot more time loving and enjoying my husband and children at a leisurely pace.

::We’re more involved in our church and community.

::I’ve been reading a book every other week or so.

::I’m exercising for at least 45 minutes to an hour almost every day.

::We’re eating more healthfully.

::We’re reading and praying together as a family on a very regular basis.

::We’re delighting in learning together and exploring more new places, people and concepts in our homeschooling.

::I’m actually keeping up with the laundry and cleaning — most days!

::And believe it or not, I’m getting around 7-8 hours of sleep almost every night.

Now, please don’t get any impression that we’ve got all our ducks in alphabetized rows around here. I’ll be sharing my journey towards becoming a better manager of time beginning on Friday of this week and I have a feeling I’m going to disappoint every one of you because you’re going to learn once and for all that I am not superwoman. I’m actually doing a lot less, so that I can focus on what really matters.

I’ll be fleshing out a lot of the things Amy shares in her book and how we’ve applied the principles in our own lives. But I want to go ahead and encourage you to buy a copy of Amy’s brand-new ebook, Tell Your Time: How to Manage Your Schedule So You Can Live Fulfilled.

It’s priced at an introductory rate of only $7 through Friday, November 5, 2010 when you use coupon code MoneySavingMom at checkout. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, over-committed or just plain exhausted, I think you’ll find the tips and tricks in this ebook to be revolutionary. At least I know they’ve changed my life!

So, what are you waiting for? Go buy your downloadable copy of Amy’s ebook for only $7! Just use coupon code MoneySavingMom at checkout to get this deal.

26 Oct 2010   ·   87
Money Saving Mom

Help For An Overwhelmed Newbie (Part 1)

I’m a brand-new mom of a 4-month-old and I work at home part-time. I’m also a disorganized and a recovering procrastinator and money-waster. I’m thrilled to have found your blog, but I discovered it at a time in my life when I hardly have a free minute to spare.

I desperately want to change, but being so new to this lifestyle, so set in my bad habits and so extremely busy, I have no idea how to go about it. Do you have any suggestions for an overwhelmed newbie? Thanks in advance! -Deanne

Excellent question, Deanne! I was hoping to answer it in one post, but as I started outlining the post on paper (as I usually do with lengthier posts), I realized there was no way I could cover everything I wanted to cover in just one post.

So I’m going to do a series over the next few days with some step-by-step help for you and others who have just discovered this blog and are feeling overwhelmed at where to start in getting your finances in order.

1. Streamline Your Life

Saving money is going to take some time and effort. There’s no way around that. If it were effortless to live beneath your means or save 65% on all your grocery bills, everyone would be doing it!

It doesn’t have to take hours and days of your week, but if you want to change your finances, you first need to be willing to commit to put forth the time and effort required.

It will be worth it, but it won’t always be easy. However, the long-term benefits of short-term sacrifices can be amazing.

You can’t do it all. When you say “yes” to one thing, you must say “no” to another.

So if you really want to see some significant changes in your finances but you’re feeling completely overwhelmed and busy with your current responsibilities, you’re going to need to cut some things out of your life in order to make time to spend getting your finances in order.

2. Set Short-term and Long-term Goals

Once you’ve decided to streamline your life and put forth some effort when it comes to getting your finances in order, it’s time to get down to business! The first thing I recommend is to set goals.

Take a few hours during a quiet afternoon to sit and think (I highly recommend doing this exercise with your husband for those who are married). Where do you hope to be in five years and ten years from now? Don’t be intimidated! Just write down whatever comes to your mind. It’s okay to dream big dreams — even if they seem impossibly out of your reach.

Once you’ve scribbled down a lot of big ideas, choose which ones you really want to shoot for. I say to pick no more than three long-term goals. If you’re not out of debt, that should be at the top of your list. It’s hard to get any financial traction if you’re dragging the bondage of payments around with you wherever you go!

Now, break these big long-term goals down into smaller, bite-sized pieces. For instance, let’s say you have $12,000 in credit card debt and you’d like to have it paid off in two years. That means you need to have a goal of paying $6,000 off per year which translates to $500 per month, or about $125 per week. So there you have one of your concrete goals: you need to find an extra $125 in your budget each week in order to have all your credit cards paid off within two years.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll be sharing some tips and ideas for maximizing the mileage of your limited time and money!

Readers: What suggestions do you have for Deanne or other brand-new readers here who are feeling overwhelmed with where to start? I’d love to hear what has helped you!

photo by Katie@

25 Oct 2010   ·   61
Money Saving Mom

The Relevant Conference: Humbling, inspiring… life-changing

Left to Right: Courtney, Kristen, Kimba, Alyssa, Jessica, Dana, Melissa, Angie, me, Sarah, Jen — I enjoyed all the speakers so much but I especially loved getting to know Angie and Melissa. And what’s amazing is that they make me look tall, which is something that rarely happens seeing as I’m 5’4″! {Photo by QuatroMama}

After all of our flight complications, we finally made it to The Relevant Conference location on Thursday evening just 15 minutes before I was supposed to be in the ballroom for the Speaker’s Round Table Dinner. I was still in my dirty-diaper-blowout-soaked clothes, so we lugged the suitcases up to our room as quickly as possible and then I changed into the outfit I was planning to wear.

I had spent money (well, actually a Groupon!) and had my sweater and skirt dry cleaned for the occasion, seeing as I didn’t want to distract everyone while I was speaking with my wrinkled rayon black skirt (because I’m usually too cheap to dry clean it!). When I went to put the sweater on, I realized the dry cleaners had pressed the collar wrong so it stuck out all funky. And I do mean funky.

Um, not gonna work.

So, I dug through my suitcase and put together a Plan B outfit in the three minutes I still had left. (I almost put my skirt on inside-out in all the commotion; wouldn’t that just be like me to look down when I’m up on stage and realize I have this big white tag sticking out on the side because my skirt was on inside-out?!).

With the one minute left, Jesse and I prayed together and then I bounded downstairs, laptop in hand, praying all the way down that God would calm my nerves.

I got into the ballroom and dinner was already just starting, but I had to meet with the tech guy for him to check my laptop to make sure the adapter cord would work and allow my slides to show up. While I was hashing out details with him, Myra came up out of nowhere, hugged me and told me she was praying for me.

She had no idea how much that meant to me right then. God just flooded me with peace again and I went to sit down at my assigned table.

Dinner was spent mingling with the attendees (the speakers had assigned tables and we rotated them every 15 minutes) and God just helped me to keep my calm and be able to focus on these amazing women and their incredible stories. I even managed to sneak in some bites of salad and chicken, too!

All too soon, dinner was almost over with, and I stole away to the restroom to try and compose myself and pray for two minutes in the bathroom stall (I can’t believe I just confessed that on my blog!).

A week ago, I’d planned to get at least two really good nights of sleep before the conference started. Instead, I was running on a total of about seven hours of sleep in a 48-hour period because I’d been up with Silas.

A week ago, I’d envisioned I would spend the last three days before the conference going over my speech with a fine-toothed comb and doing a complete run-through of it with the slides at least five times. Instead, I’d only gone over the entire speech with the slides one time — and that was late the night before and peppered with interruption after interruption.

We’d booked our flights planning to get into the hotel in the early afternoon so that I’d have time to decompress, pray and prepare. But instead, I barely arrived at the hotel in time to change my clothes.

If there was ever a time when I needed God to step in and undertake for me, it was now. I was about to go up and speak for an hour in front of 240 women — many of whom were women I’d long admired from their blogs — and I was exhausted and terrified.

Back in the ballroom, I discovered my computer wouldn’t work with adapter cable and I’d need to run the slides on another computer. By now, it felt like we were about on Plan W, having long ago tossed out my well-laid out Plan A, B and C.

We finally got the slides to pull up on the screen on the borrowed laptop and then the live-streaming wouldn’t work. We were delayed by another ten minutes or so while trying to get that to pull up (all the while I was secretly hoping it maybe was in God’s plan that my talk wasn’t going to be live-streamed!).

Stephanie came over — out of the blue — and asked if she could pray for me. I remember her praying specifically that I wouldn’t be nervous while at that very moment my knees were knocking together!

Then I was introduced and walked up onto the stage — wondering what on earth the next hour might hold and pleading with God to please guide my mouth and give me peace.

As soon as I started speaking, He did just that.

I’m not sure what all I said, but I felt His presence streaming through every ounce of my body giving me courage, calmness and clarity.

As soon as my talk was over, the most amazing thing happened: People started coming up to me — many with tears in their eyes — telling me of their struggles… thanking me profusely for sharing… talking about how God used it in their lives and convicted them of areas they needed to change.

And I knew that God had shined through in a powerful way. He had taken a weak, inadequate, unprepared person who’d never given a talk longer than ten minutes in her life and He’d used her to impact lives for the glory of God.

It felt humbling and amazing to be His conduit.

The rest of the conference was just incredible. It’s really impossible to put into words, but the best I can describe it is that God moved in powerful ways — healing wounded hearts, inspiring women to do great things for God, encouraging women to recommit themselves to put first things first, changing and transforming lives.

I met so many amazing women. There were many tears shed. Much laughter shared.

And there was authenticity and real-ness and brokenness.

No one was trying to be someone they weren’t. We were ourselves — and we were accepted and loved just as we were.

It was a beautiful thing to be apart of.

Jolanthe from Homeschool Creations, me and Carisa from 1+1+1 = 1 — two women whom I’ve been so blessed and inspired by as a brand-new homeschool mom. They are so fun in real-life that I could have spent all week long with them and we would have never run out of things to talk about! {Photo by Jill from FNA Photography}

For those who might be interested: You can read more thoughts and take-aways from the conference by other bloggers at The Relevant Conference site or at 4Tunate.net.

21 Oct 2010   ·   64
Money Saving Mom

On our way to The Relevant Conference… with just a few bumps in the road!

Have you noticed I’ve been a little MIA the past two days? I cannot even begin to describe the craziness that the last 36 hours of my life has held. Whew!

It included two nights of little sleep as Silas was up with a bad cold. The cold got worse yesterday and I was really concerned with his breathing so I ended up taking him into Urgent Care. I’m so glad that I did as his oxygen levels were quite low and they gave him a breathing treatment almost immediately. He had signs of RSV, but, gratefully, the tests came back negative.

Silas, Jesse and I were planning to leave early this morning for The Relevant Conference, but with how sick Silas was acting, I didn’t think it was going to be possible — and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do as I was slated to be one of the keynote speakers plus speak on three other panels.

Amazingly, Silas perked up a great deal after the breathing treatment, so the doctor thought it would be completely okay for us to go — provided we brought along a nebulizer and some other medications in case Silas had another episode.

So we went home and hurriedly finished putting everything together in order to leave bright and early this morning. We made it through security and on our flight, with just a few minutes to spare and we’re pretty happy with how things were going after all the events of yesterday.

But then, they had us all get off the plane because there were technical issues.

Uh-oh! Not a good sign!

We all had to trek back down to the ticket desk and get moved to different flights and then go back through security again (which is no small feat when traveling with children!).

They boarded the plan and then we ended up having to sit there for 30 minutes while the pilot filled out paperwork. And then we had to sit there some more because they forgot to fuel the plane.

We finally got off the ground and things were going pretty well, but on our way down, Silas had a dirty diaper which leaked on him and me and we had to stand and wait and wait and wait to get off the plane because of some miscommunication issue between our plane and the guys on the ground. All the while the plane continued to wreak more and more of dirty diaper smells!

Once we finally were allowed to exit the plane, I headed straight for the bathrooms to clean up Silas and myself. It ended up being worse than I thought and I had to wash my jacket in the bathroom sink with soap and water (I had brought a change of clothes for Silas but not for me! I thought we were past the days of diaper blowouts!)

When I came back out of the bathroom to find Jesse, he met me with the news that our flight to Harrisburg was full and they soonest they could get us on a flight was 7 p.m.

There was only one slight problem with that… I was supposed to be giving a keynote talk at 6:30 p.m. at Relevant.

I just prayed and asked the Lord to please work out the details and then we walked what seemed like a few miles to the customer service desk. I was overjoyed and relieved when they told us that the initial information was incorrect and they did have us scheduled for the afternoon flight — which would put us into Harrisburg right before the opening dinner at Relevant. God is good!

And now we’re hanging out at the Chicago airport, waiting for our flight to leave. Since we have a few hours to kill, I’ll be posting a bunch of updates on my blog — unless another unexpected catastrophe strikes! 🙂

By the way, I’m so thankful that Silas has done exceptionally well in the midst of all of this craziness and he seems to be feeling a lot better today! I’m so thankful as it is so hard for me to see my babies struggling.

19 Oct 2010   ·   167
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: What do you do if a business refuses to acknowledge that they shorted you over $40?

My boyfriend ran into a situation about a month ago with Dunkin’ Donuts. He paid for a $2 coffee at the drivethru with a $50 bill. He received $7 as his change and no receipt, so he parked the car and went inside to get the receipt and $40 they didn’t give him. The clerks working said they couldn’t open the drawer because the manager wasn’t there.

He went back the next day to speak to the manager. She said she would watch the security tapes and call him that day. He never received a call. He called her back the fallowing day and she rudely told him to “stop trying to rip them off”.

We are truly honest people. We’ve both worked in retail and know how to handle customers. We’ve contacted Dunkin’s consumer care (three times!) and have received no response. Is there anything else we can do? -Vicki

First off, I’m so sorry about this! What a frustrating situation!

In this case, since there’s no receipt and likely no transaction record — as your boyfriend paid with cash — it comes down to your word against theirs. How far you take it will depend upon how much time you have and how much $40 is worth to you. Here are some suggestions I would have for dealing with this type of situation:

1) Document the Experience in Detail

I had a really bad experience at CVS one time where the manager accused me of stealing and told me rather loudly to never come back to the store. He didn’t incorrectly charge me, as was the case with you, but he did treat me in a very rude manner for using coupons as intended. As soon as I arrived home from the store, I wrote out what happened in very in-depth detail. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget anything in case I couldn’t get ahold of someone at CVS corporate for a few days.

{By the way, CVS corporate was very polite and apologetic and actually wanted the manager to call and apologize to me personally. I told them that wasn’t necessary, but did ask that they clearly inform this particular store’s manager and employees of how ECBs and coupons worked. Apparently it worked, because that store became very coupon-friendly!}

2) Contact By Phone and Email

I see that Dunkin’ Donuts has a contact form and a 1-800 number on their website. I’d contact them through both at least once a day or every other day until you get a response. I’d also call the local store and politely inform them that you are contacting corporate and also reporting this to the Better Business Bureau. They need to understand that this is improper treatment of their customers and will result in consequences for them if they don’t resolve it.

3) Be Polite But Persistent

Don’t give up if you don’t get a response within a few days. Keep trying until you get through to someone. But don’t ever allow yourself to be frustrated or flustered with someone on the phone or through email. Showing common courtesy as well as professionalism will always get you much farther than ranting and raving will.

4) File a Complaint With the Better Business Bureau

If you cannot resolve this with the local store or with the corporate headquarters, I’d suggest filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. There are some good tips here if you plan to go that route.

If this had happened to you, how would you respond? What suggestions or advice do you have for Vicki and her boyfriend?

19 Oct 2010   ·   87
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: Saving Money on Paper and Printer Ink

Feel like you’re going through paper and ink like water with all the coupons you print? Erica from EEEndeavors, emailed in some tips to help you save money on paper and ink:

Reuse Your Paper: Most commonly, three coupons will fit on one 8.5×11″ sheet of paper. If you only print one, clip off that coupon (as straight as possible) and re-insert to print an additional two coupons. If extra wording or graphics printed with your first coupon, make sure to flip to print on the other side.

Reuse Other Paper: Stop and think about how many papers are thrown away from school or the mail. If it has a blank backside, use it! To avoid confusion, it’s a good idea to “X” out the side that has writing but not a coupon.

Change Your Printer Settings: Change your printer settings to print in Grayscale (only uses black ink) and in Fast Draft mode (uses less ink and prints faster). You can always easily change these settings for when you need higher quality prints, but it is expensive and unnecessary when it comes to coupons.

Fill Your Own Cartridges: I don’t suggest this for color cartridges as I think it’s too risky, but it’s hard to fail if you’re just filling a black ink cartridge. It is messy, but practice makes perfect (and reading directions sure helps!). I paid $14 for my last refill kit, which is enough to fill an average of 20 ink cartridges. If you consider the cost of a factory refilled, generic cartridge (usually $12), this is a $226 savings!

For more helpful tips and ideas, check out Saving Money on Printer Ink and Save Up to $20 Per Year By Switching Fonts.

photo by Renway2007

18 Oct 2010   ·   79
How to afford special diet foods on a budget

Buying Special Diet Foods on a Budget

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

How to afford special diet foods on a budget

Guest post by Anne from When Food is Dangerous and Quick and Easy, Cheap and Healthy

These days, it seems like everyone has to deal with diet restrictions, either for themselves or a family member. Diets can be restricted by a variety of health conditions. Diabetes, heart disease, food allergies, food sensitivities, bowel diseases, celiac disease and lactose intolerance are just a few reasons some people are forced to change their diet — sometimes drastically.

Making the necessary changes can be daunting, especially when you begin to research the costs for replacements and substitutions. I should know! My husband has ulcerative colitis, a condition that does not allow him to eat either excessively fibrous or highly acidic foods, and my son has multiple severe food allergies.

Learning how to cope with these varied diets on a limited budget has stretched my creativity to say the least. If you are struggling in a similar situation, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

1. Focus On Foods You Can Have

For most people, whole foods are still an acceptable and desirable part of their diet: meats, fruits, vegetables, and certain grains, seeds and nuts. Focusing on those foods will not only make you healthier, but help you stick to your budget. Avoid overly processed foods with long lists of ingredients that could create dietary issues.

2. Make It Yourself

Instead of purchasing items like breads, sweets and snacks, learn how to make them yourself. That way you know exactly what ingredients go into each food item and you can tweak recipes to meet your dietary needs.

I learned early on how to make bread that strikes the balance between my own and my husband’s dietary needs – a mix of whole grains and regular all-purpose flour. For my son, I’ve learned how to make everything from granola bars to fruit leather so as to provide healthy, inexpensive snacks that are safe for him.

3. Find Inexpensive Substitutions

This may require some creativity. My husband can’t have tomato sauce, so when it comes to pizza and pasta, I have learned to come up with a variety of creative sauces. Instead of pizza sauce, for example, I use barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, alfredo sauce, or even just olive oil and some herbs. One of my favorite pasta sauce substitutes is actually pumpkin-based!

4. Research Sources for Necessary Substitutions

When first learning about my son’s allergies, I spent a great deal of time researching both local and internet-only sources for flour substitutions because of his wheat allergy.

I learned that the Walmart Supercenter is surprisingly the cheapest source for rice and chickpea flours. Amazon.com’s Subscribe and Save program is probably the cheapest way to purchase Bob’s Red Mill grains and flours, among other foods. Local ethnic markets can also be great inexpensive sources for things like tapioca starch or other food alternatives. I have found that a locally owned organic market is the cheapest place to buy coconut milk and coconut milk yogurt, which I substitute for regular dairy products in my son’s diet.

5. Forego Unnecessary Substitutions

This one can be very difficult. My husband simply has to live without some foods he used to love, even healthy foods, like spinach and corn on the cob. There just are no substitutes for those foods!

For my son, the choice was a matter of budget. The only “cheeses” and store-bought breads he can eat are prohibitively expensive, so he simply does without. Except for basic food substitutions, like the coconut milk, I almost never buy him specially made and packaged “allergen-free” foods. I either make it myself or forego it altogether because the cost is not worth it to me. And let’s be honest, most of those substitutes taste nothing like the real thing, so what’s the point, anyway?

6. Find Mainstream Foods That Are Safe

This principle applies particularly to food-allergy sufferers, but has useful applications for other diets, like gluten- or lactose-free. You don’t really need to shop from the “allergen-free” section at the health food store, and that should be a relief to you if you’ve ever taken a peek at those prices!

Instead, be a detective, and take some time to browse the detailed nutrition information on packaged foods to find ones that are naturally free of allergens, or whatever food it is you have to avoid. I discovered early on that while my son could not have the traditional Cheerios or Gerber Puffs as a first finger food, Kix were a safe option. As a toddler, he still loves them, and I buy them whenever I can get them cheap on sale and with a coupon.

Similarly, I’ve found a variety of safe snacks and convenience foods — all available in any regular grocery store, and often available for cheap on sale and with coupons — that I keep on hand for those times when making his food myself is not an option, or for when we’re on the road without the usual emergency snack or meal from home. Of course, when dealing with allergies, always proceed with caution when trying a new food.

7. Expand Your Palate

Because of our various diet restrictions, certain foods I used to dislike, or had never experienced, began to creep into my regular menu. For example, I never had much experience with winter squash because my mom never cooked with it. However, since my husband has a limited range of fruits and vegetables he can safely eat, I’ve realized it’s necessary to incorporate all that he can eat, and that includes winter squash! I’ve found some really creative ways to hide it in foods while we adjust ourselves to the taste and texture.

When I was nursing my son and was therefore on his restricted diet, I found that almond milk was my favorite substitute for cow’s milk, and since then, I’ve learned to buy it when on sale — with coupons of course! — to use as a cheaper substitute for baking and cooking.

8. Look For the Silver Lining… and Give Thanks For It!

This is sometimes difficult for me when I get discouraged by the amount of money or time I spend on making and procuring safe foods for my family. It’s imperative, though, that I keep my mind focused on the blessings to be found in our enforced diets: for one thing, we all eat a lot healthier than we would otherwise! A positive perspective goes a long way in helping me continue to improve my efforts to provide safe, healthy, and affordable foods for my family.

Anne Simpson blogs about living with life-threatening food allergies at When Food is Dangerous, and about preparing healthy foods without sacrificing time or money at Quick and Easy, Cheap and Healthy. She is mentally preparing herself for whatever dietary needs her second son may have when he arrives early next year!

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

photo credits: kaintuckeean; Elana’s Pantry

18 Oct 2010   ·   10
Money Saving Mom

Interview on DaveRamsey.com: Working from home as a blogger

I was honored to recently have the opportunity to be interviewed for an article on DaveRamsey.com about working from home as a blogger. If you’re a blogger or someone considering blogging, you might enjoy reading it.

By the way, once I start and finish the Time Management series, I plan to update and repost my Blogging for Profit series for those interested in earning an income through blogging.

In the mean time, if you haven’t read it, you might enjoy my Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom series.

photo from Shutterstock

17 Oct 2010   ·   42
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: A trip to the Bulk Foods Store

We took a field trip to a Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze on Friday with some other friends.

Kaitlynn’s curly hair turned into “crazy hair” with all the wind! That girl has some volume! 🙂

In addition to the corn maze and pumpkin patch, they had some different play areas set up for the children. I think the favorite of Kathrynne, Kaitlynn and Silas was the hay area.

Since it was quite a drive to get there, we stopped by the Bulk Foods Store which was in the area and were able to re-stock up on turbinado plus buy some other goodies including two pounds of local honey for only $7.34! We ended up spending about $31 on food. Plus, I let the children pick out a few treats to eat on the way home.

All in all, it was a fun day for the children. And I was happy to get in a little bargain-shopping, too!

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Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

15 Oct 2010   ·   40
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash! :: SUV

We paid cash!

A testimony from Amy

In October of 2008, my husband and I discovered we were pregnant. While this baby was not a “surprise” by any stretch of the imagination, we quickly discovered that our world was about to be turned upside down.

The first dilemma was getting from point A to point B with baby. You see, at that time our vehicles were not purchased with a baby in mind. My husband’s car, while very nice, was a four-door Coupe and not the most space-efficient. A car seat + baby + diaper bag would take up most of the back seat.

My car was a “college car.” It was my first car, purchased used when I was in high school. And, five years later, I was still driving it. It was beginning to become unreliable and definitely wasn’t the safest option for our baby. Because of this, my husband and I decided to start saving for an SUV. We started the savings process almost immediately after seeing the positive pregnancy test.

Our goal: pay cash for a safe, used (but still in good condition) SUV all before baby was due in July.

How We Did It

  • Cut back on the budget. We cut down on the money we were spending on groceries. I started shopping sales and using coupons. We saved about $80 a month doing this. We also had more date nights “in” rather than expensive dinners out. We rented movies rather than going to the theaters.
  • We put all of my husband’s work bonuses into a separate savings account — for the car.
  • We spent less on Christmas gifts. I made a lot of gifts and made our own Christmas cards.
  • We put our savings each month into the account for the car.
  • We applied our tax refund to the car account.
  • We sold my car.
  • We bought used baby items and put the money we saved into the account for the car.
  • We bought used.
  • We weren’t picky.
  • We were patient. (This was hard for me!)

We Paid Cash for our SUVMy husband’s uncle is a car dealer. We talked to him early on in the process and told him what we were looking for. Once we had the money saved up (all $13,000!) we gave him a call and he began the search.

It took him about a month and a half, but he eventually (and before baby arrived!) found the perfect SUV for us. It was a 2008 Saturn Vue in great condition.

The carseat fits great in the backseat and we still have room in the trunk for our dog! We will even have room for an extra carseat come January. 🙂

I love my SUV, mostly because I know how hard we worked to pay cash for it, and how much money we saved in the long run by doing so!

Amy is a stay-at-home mom to a little boy with a little girl on the way. Her husband is a computer programmer who works hard to provide for their family. They are striving to live debt-free and set a good example for their kids of what it means to be good stewards of what God has given them.

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