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13 Oct 2010   ·   180
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: How do you save money when you work outside the home?

This question comes from Amy:

I have an outside my home job that requires 40 to 50 hours per week. I try very hard to save money. We use coupons, cook at home (most of the time) and various other things to save money. I would like to hear from other moms who work outside their home on how they get it done.

I rarely have time to go to the store more than once every couple weeks, so I can’t really plan around sales. I try to go to Walgreens over my lunch hours, but I would like to know if anyone else has tips for how they get in on the deals and stay organized enough to cook dinner every night. Thank you! -Amy

12 Oct 2010   ·   180
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: Do you ever just buy free items?

I have a question that might seem silly but I’ve wondered about it a few time. Do you ever go to a store and only get items for free and not pay anything at the register? For example, I might want to go to CVS to get crackers that are on sale for $1 and I have a $1 off coupon. But I feel really awkward not paying anything so usually grab something else that is small to buy when I check out. Do stores even let you just get the free items and walk away? -Liz

There are no silly questions, Liz! I’m pretty sure that plenty of others have wondered this, as well.

And the answer is that I have no problem at all only buying free items. In fact, I think it’s really rather exciting to go up to the register and have ten items end up ringing up for less than $1 after coupons! Usually, the cashier is a little speechless and says “How did you do that?”

Since they are reimbursed for the value of the coupons plus $0.08, stores are rarely losing money by people using coupons. In the case of a loss leader sale or a store coupon, it is possible that they are losing money, but it’s their prerogative to determine what sales they offer and coupons they release.

Where we live, there is sales tax, so it’s near impossible to have a $0 total, but there have been occasions when Dillon’s has had an instant discount sale running and, after my coupons, my total was actually negative. In those cases, I just add something onto my order to get it up past $0 and then checkout.

So as long as you are using coupons ethically (not copying coupons, not using coupons for items they weren’t intended to be used, not following a store’s coupon policy or using more than one manufacturer’s coupon per item), you can be completely confident in your couponing and check out without an ounce of guilt — even if your total ends up just being pennies or even $0!

What about the rest of you? Do you ever just get completely free items in a shopping transaction? If so, does it make you feel awkward or triumphant?

12 Oct 2010   ·   113
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: How We Save $20 in 15 Minutes

The following tip was submitted by Melanie G. from Buffalo, NY:

My husband and I are both employed full-time out of the house. We don’t have any kids yet, but we are planning for that day and already
have savings mechanisms in place so we can make the transition easier from spending for two to spending for more!

One of the easiest and quickest ways we have found to save money is by bringing our own lunches to work. On days that we don’t, we easily spend $10 each on lunches that probably aren’t very nutritious and don’t really even provide leftovers for another meal.

Our solution to this problem is to take 15 minutes (or less) every night after dinner to pack our lunches for the following day. Even on nights that we are just so tired or can’t think of what we would like to eat the next day, we realize that it is totally worth the effort to take the time right then to save us $20 the next day. If we didn’t do this, we could easily spend $400 per month on lunches out during the week, money we would much rather put towards becoming debt free!

One easy meal solution for us is to make twice as much dinner as we need, then take leftovers for lunch the next day. Another oldie-but-goodie standby is to make sandwiches. I always make sure to have bread and deli meats available. -Melanie

What are your favorite quick and easy sack lunch ideas?

photo by Kusine

11 Oct 2010   ·   81
Money Saving Mom

Nine Fun & Frugal Wedding Ideas

Guest post by Amanda

The wedding industry has become a beast to be reckoned with. I recently pulled off my entire wedding for less than $2,000. It can be done!

My Advice

Be prepared to have an army helping you! We could not have done it without so many people offering their services and their time.

Prioritize what you really want and be prepared to make tough decisions. Do things because you and your fiancé want them, not because they’re expected.

1. Our Invitations

Frugal Wedding Invitation

We got 100 invitations from Vistaprint.com for less than $35. Formal invitations didn’t fit our not-so-fancy wedding, and we liked that we could customize the postcards. The purpose of invitations is to give people information — they don’t have to be a piece of artwork!

2. The Flowers

The only flowers we had were bouquets, which we got at Kroger for less than we would have spent at a traditional florist.

3. What We Wore

Frugal Wedding Dresses

I was lucky enough to find my dress (which I loved!) on sale for $99 at David’s Bridal.

Bridesmaids wore blue dresses of their own choosing. I’ve been a bridesmaid six times and know how expensive it gets. My girls looked great and each of their total outfits was less than $40.

Frugal Wedding Suits

The guys wore black pants and white shirts, and matching ties from a discount online tie shop.

4. The Cake

Frugal wedding cupcakes

We decided to do only one small cake and supplement with cupcakes. I made a “tower” for the cupcakes by covering boxes with white wrapping paper and accenting with orange ribbon.

5. The Cake Table

Just Married Sign

I found a template for a “Just Married” sign online. We ran string above our cake table and secured the letters with clothespins.

The total cost of this was less than $10 and it looked great!

6. Instead of Centerpieces…

We didn’t do any centerpieces for our reception tables. I struggled for weeks trying to think of an inexpensive idea, but even at $5 a table, the cost really adds up. I finally decided that centerpieces weren’t necessary, and they definitely weren’t worth the stress!

I searched online for a crossword puzzle template and made one themed around Dave and I. I used them as placemats and they also served as a fun activity for guests.

7. Reception Decorations

Frugal wedding decorations

I made tissue paper flowers to hang from the rafters. These were inexpensive and added a great pop of color and dimension to our space.

Don’t be afraid of plastic serving ware! Our color was orange, so I wrapped orange cutlery in a white napkin and secured it with orange ribbon. I also made contrasting ones of white cutlery in orange napkins with a white ribbon. So cute!

8. Our “Guestbook”

We made a homemade “photobooth” by hanging a sheet where guests could take pictures with my digital camera and leave a note on a card made from scrapbook paper in leiu of a traditional guest book.

9. Be You!

Keep things simple and do things that reflect who you are. Dave and I had volleyball at our wedding because we both love it. And people didn’t think it was weird — they loved it!

Our wedding was definitely a reflection of family and community, which made it all the more fun.

Amanda Ungleich lives in Knoxville, TN with her husband Dave. They both work two jobs and are going back to school, so they know the value of saving a dollar!

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.

11 Oct 2010   ·   272
Money Saving Mom

How many loads of laundry do you do per week?

Last week, after I posted my Minimalist Wardrobe vlog, a number of you asked how many loads of laundry we do at our house each week.

Gulp.

Do I have to admit that in public? Because methinks we probably do more than average. {Update: After reading the comments, you all are making me feel so much more normal. Thank you! :)}

I wish I could tell you that I have perfected the laundry system and we do two loads per week for our family of five. But alas, that would be very far from the truth.

In fact, most weeks we do an average of seven loads. This includes bedding and towels and spill rags and the like (which usually comprise at least two whole loads per week). But it still sounds pretty pathetic that we somehow produce a whopping five whole loads of clothing which need to be washed between the five of us each week.

I really do try to encourage the children to wear and re-wear stuff. But in reality, they are children. Which means they spill things, get into peanut butter, dig in the dirt, experiment in the kitchen… and get their clothes awfully dirty. And I still haven’t gotten over my perfectionist tendencies enough to allow them to wear mud-caked clothes all day, so it’s not uncommon that they go through more than one outfit each day.

How many loads of laundry does your family do? Do you have any tips or suggestions for how to reduce the dirty laundry output in order to save time, energy and wear on our clothes? I’d love to hear!

photo credit

9 Oct 2010   ·   64
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Free clothes for Silas!

Just last week, I realized that cold weather is almost upon us and Silas was going to need clothes to wear since all he had currently are shorts, t-shirts, polos and the pair of jeans I bought him last week. I had planned to head to Target to see if I could find some good deals but life got busy and it didn’t happen.

Well, earlier this week, I lost my phone and ended up having to “tear apart the house” to find it (I eventually discovered one of the children had put it under the front seat of the van!). In the process, I found six pair of pants for Silas! I had been given these from friends last year and had stashed them away and completely forgotten about them.

I was so thankful I hadn’t gone shopping yet. If only I could buy some brain cells at the store, though. 🙂

Then later in the week the week, I was able to pick up four items for Silas — for free! — at our church “giveaway”. (Our church has a twice-yearly “giveaway” which is basically a big swap meet with the families in our church. We all bring items we no longer need or use and take home items we can use from what others have brought. The extra items are then donated to a local ministry for low-income families. Not only is this great incentive to clean out our homes and clear out clutter, but it’s also a way for us to save money and help one another out in the process.)

Finally, a friend emailed and said she had a few extra boy clothes and a pair of shoes and could she please send them to me? She wouldn’t even accept reimbursement for postage! I was really touched at her generosity and gladly accepted her kind offer.

So, instead of spending the $30 or $40 at Target I was planning to, by waiting, I now have enough clothes to tide Silas over for awhile and have spent $0 out of pocket!

________________

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.

8 Oct 2010   ·   50
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash! :: Our Kids’ College

We paid cash!

A testimony from Kathi

It was important to my husband and I, as adults with college degrees and the student loan debt to prove it, that our children have similar opportunities for an education with none of the debt.

Given that my husband teaches at a college (not exactly the highest paid profession in the world) and I was a homeschooling mom working part-time, this was going to be a challenge and we were on a time limit because most scholarship money is available the year after one graduates from high school. This was a total family effort!

How We Did It

  1. We, the parents, put away what we were able for their future and grandparents contributed what they were able, but it was minimal given our own financial needs.
  2. Our students started out with getting excellent grades in high school and on standardized tests because most scholarship money is based on those two items.
  3. Both also spent a great deal of time volunteering with not-for-profit groups in their own field of interest. This became vital later on as they were offered part-time jobs paying more than minimum wage at those agencies while they were in college.
  4. When they turned 16, they started working for pay and continuing to volunteer as they could. They banked most of their earnings in anticipation of their college career.
  5. They both did dual high school and college credit at our local two-year college. In some states this is tuition-free but not in ours. It was worth the added investment because taking college classes before graduating from high school boosts both the GPA and the standardized test results! It also puts them on track to graduate from college sooner. Our son earned his BA three years after he graduated from high school; our daughter earned her AA a year after she graduated from high school. Being willing to complete as much as possible at a two-year college will allow scholarship money to go farther too!
  6. We became experts at searching out inexpensive textbooks. Part of that involves being willing to use used textbooks and part of it involves sleuthing! The first resource was other students who had taken the class who were willing to loan, rent, trade or sell a book. If that failed, Barnes & Noble Textbooks and Half.com became our new best friends! They tend to be less expensive than the college book store on used books and will also allow people to sell their no-longer needed books. We were sure to check with the professors to see if older editions of the textbook are usable because they are often available practically for free! We have been most successful with older editions for humanities courses. I also had my first experience buying a textbook from Amazon using gift cards I earned from Swagbucks just this semester!
  7. Decide what is important to your student. Our son decided he would prefer a local college that offered his major and to continue living in our home (saving housing costs) and purchase his car for cash instead of spending the money on living elsewhere. He also realized that riding the Express Bus (free for university students) saved on gas and parking. That allowed him to purchase the computer and cell phone service he desired. Our daughter preferred a more traditional college experience because of the lack of availability of her desired major in our area and will spend the money she has saved the last several years while finishing high school and her AA to supplement her living expenses (she also decided on a less expensive computer and cell phone service).

Kathi Regalbuto is a retired homeschool mom of 2, owner of Penny Wise CU. Visit her at PennyWiseCU.

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

8 Oct 2010   ·   100
Money Saving Mom

October’s Monthly Financial Check-up

I updated you all on our current financial goals a few weeks ago and promised that I’d be bringing the monthly financial check-up back the first week in October. So here’s our progress update:

1. Significantly increase our giving to needs in our community and around the world. This is an ongoing goal, so we’re keeping it uncrossed off from the list.

2. Pay cash for a replacement washer and dryer for our very used set.

3. Pay cash for a replacement for Old Blue Van. The money is now saved, we’re just on the hunt for a good, reliable vehicle with low mileage. So far, we’ve not found one that’s what we’re looking for and in our budget.

4. Pay cash for a couch for our basement family room (Which currently is devoid of furniture while we save for it!)

5. Pay cash for bunk beds for the girls.

6. Fully fund our IRAs.

7. Bump up our retirement savings to 10% of our income.

8. Fund our children’s educational savings.

9. Double our Emergency Fund Savings (Instead of having around six month’s worth of expenses set aside, we’re planning to set aside a year’s worth of expenses.)

10. Save for our next BHAG.

As I mentioned in September, our very used washer quit working and was unable to be fixed. So we bumped up the priority of getting a replacement washer and dryer to the top of the list.

After all the comments on how the majority of you didn’t like front-loading washing machines, we decided to buy a non-front-loading washer and dryer set which was very simple, large, efficient and economical. We opted to purchase new, instead of used, as we’re hoping this will mean a longer life. My husband went to three stores to check out prices and see what kind of deal he could negotiate. By doing this, he was able to find a store which was willing to give us an additional $100 off plus free delivery because we were paying in cash upfront.

We’d love to hear about your recent financial goals and successes! You can post about it on your blog and leave your link below. Or, if you don’t have a blog or would rather share anonymously, feel free to leave your update in a comment. Let’s all keep each other accountable to be better stewards of our resources!

7 Oct 2010   ·   46
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: Three ways to get children’s books inexpensively

Here’s a tip Ali Kirby who blogs at TheMamaReport.com emailed in:

Since the time my oldest was two, we’ve helped our children stay entertained in the car by keeping a crate of books by their seats. Instead of using special books we’ve received as gifts and risking them falling out of the car, I’ve found three ways to acquire books inexpensively to use in the car:

1. Paperback Book Exchange Store: My husband and I went through our book collection and cleaned house. We took those books to the paperback book exchange store and received in-store credit for them. We used that credit to purchase “new” books for the kids.

2. Secondhand Store: Most of the secondhand stores I have been to have books for around fifty cents each. We’ve found some great books this way — for pennies on the dollar.

3. Garage sales: Most people sell children’s books very cheaply at garage sales. I have paid anywhere from ten cents to fifty cents per book.

Want more ideas? Check out my post on Five Ways to Get Books for Free.

5 Oct 2010   ·   322
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: Is it possible to save money when we’re barely keeping our head above water?

Audrey left the following comment on my post on renting (I’ve edited it a bit for space reason, but you can read it in it’s entirety here):

I know you talk about all these ways to save money, and anyone can do it, but it just doesn’t seem possible for us! I use coupons to save money, but even then we have no wiggle room in our budget for anything. We never have. My husband makes $1400/month (sometimes $1600) after tax.

I guess I just feel discouraged a lot, because we want so badly to save money (we don’t ever want debt), it just doesn’t feel possible. We’ve been trying for four years to save money and it just gets depleted because my husband’s hours get cut (which seems to happen to us a lot, no matter who he works for) and he can’t find more work. Any advice or encouragement for those of us who do rent because it’s cheaper, but have to use up more than half our income on our housing?

We’re paying $900/month here (water, sewer and garbage included). That leaves $500/month to spend on the rest of our bills — phone, electricity, internet, etc. We don’t have cable (for obvious reasons), and we have a great deal on internet and phone, and I use coupons like crazy to save money on everything, but with our two kids (3 and 1), it’s just barely enough to get by (well, it’s not right now, we’re getting behind on bills).

I hate how broke we are all the time (and always have been). Thankfully, the only debt we have is a bill we’re a couple months behind on. But we don’t have a car payment (our old car is desperately in need of repairs though — I’m afraid the tires are going to fall off, but we can’t afford to fix it!), we tithe, we don’t have credit cards, etc. But it just seems impossible to set money aside for big purchases (or even little purchases, like getting the car fixed!).

I have no idea how to remedy this situation. I do odds and ends from home. I clean houses when I can, and that sort of thing, but that brings in an average of $25/month, and my husband is already burnt out working as often as he is. He’s had no luck finding a second job (he’s already working so much already), either. I’m just not sure how to get ourselves out of this hole!

I wish you lived closer, Audrey, and I’d have you over and give you a big hug and sit down with you over a cup of tea to try and encourage you. I know how it feels when it seems like you’re working so hard and getting no traction. You’re wondering how on earth the ends are going to meet at the end of the month or what you’d do if your car breaks down or how you’re going to pay your utility bill.

Five years ago, that’s exactly where we were. And it was really, really hard. I’d grown up being taught to trust in God, but in those first few years of marriage, the rubber met the road and I realized that actually trusting God was a whole lot harder than it sounded.

The lessons we learned during those times of feeling pretty desperate financially were so hard but, oh so good! And we wouldn’t trade them for the world. It strengthened our trust in the Lord, it strengthened our marriage, it matured us as individuals and it inspired us to learn all sorts of creative and entrepreneurial things we never dreamed we’d learn or attempt!

Here are some things which helped us to pull through that time and start making traction little by little:

1) Pray

God delights in providing for those who trust in Him. Claim His promises. Pray His Word back to Him. Cry out to Him for provision, for wisdom, for guidance, for creativity, for open doors. Pray about the little things and the big things; nothing is too small or big for God.

And realize that He will never, never, never, no never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)!

2) Stick To Your Budget

Be very, very vigilant in adhering to your written budget. While it might seem like you’re not getting traction, sticking with your budget will ensure that you’re not sliding backwards or getting any farther behind than your possibly have to.

3) Realize That Your Attitude Can Make or Break the Situation

I wholeheartedly believe that you’re not stuck unless you choose to be. You can always be learning, growing, improving yourself and seeking to improve your financial situation — even if it seems that your actual income is staying the same.

Have a cheerful, grateful spirit. Focus on counting your blessings rather than all the difficult things in your life. And determine, by the grace of God, that you are going to do all you can to make the most of your situation, to stretch your resources as far as possible and to use any extra time you have in your day to increase your income.

4) Set Microscopic Goals To Begin With

No matter your income or financial situation, you can set goals, even if they are microscopic. You likely can’t save $100 this month, but I’m guessing that if you squeezed, you might be able to save $2 or $5 — or maybe even $10. Start there and set this aside in a savings account as your Emergency Fund (or however else you want to designate it) and add to it each month. Over time, you just might be surprised at how it will grow!

In addition, don’t just set goals for saving money, set goals for earning money, too! You said that you’re usually doing around $25 per month cleaning houses. What if you were to challenge yourself to bump that number up to $35 this coming month? And then little bit, by little bit, continue to bump it up.

I also recommend setting goals for improving yourself — such as skills to learn and books to read. Choose things which will help you be able to increase your income, make wise financial choices and which will encourage you in your current situation.

As always: don’t bite off more than you can chew. I’d suggest starting by setting two to four tiny goals each month. Once you accomplish those, add a few more. When you feel ready, increase the goals by a tiny little bit and then a little bit more. Setting goals — even if they are teensy-tiny — and then actually reaching them can give you enormous encouragement and you just might be amazed at the momentum it gives you!

5) Look For Any Extra Cash You Can Come Up With

You mentioned that you clean houses, if you are looking to expand, consider contacting local multi-unit rentals to see if they need someone to clean their units when a renter moves out. Or make connections with realtors and ask them about cleaning foreclosed homes for them or having them recommend you to sellers who want to have their home professionally cleaned after they move out.

Think outside the box of what normal professional cleaners do and you’ll likely land upon some really successful ideas. Contact business owners and offer to clean their office space. Advertise your business on Craigslist. Offer a discount to your current customers if they refer you to others who then end up using your services.

You also said you have a blog and that you’re currently making about $2 per month off it. I’d suggest you try to learn and implement some of the suggestions on BloggingWithAmy.com in order to steadily increase that each month.

While some may disagree with me, I think almost anyone who is willing to put in some time and effort can earn at least an extra $50 to $100 per month by spending three hours of blogging each week. You already have your blog set up and running, so I’d encourage you to work on monetizing it and growing it — if it’s something you enjoy.

6) Improve Yourself

Seek to make the most of every opportunity to learn, to grow, to glean. Always be learning new things, trying new things and coming up with new ideas. Don’t be content with the status quo.

Read good books which challenge and motivate you. As much as is possible, remove negative influences from your life which just suck time and energy. Replace them with things that encourage and inspire you.

7) Don’t Give Up

Finally, do not give up. Your situation will not change overnight; gaining traction is not instantaneous. But if you’re willing to keep working hard, to keep experimenting, to keep setting goals, to keep pressing forward, to keep sticking with the budget and to keep going when the going gets tough, it will pay off.

Don’t lose heart! Keep looking to the Lord and asking Him to provide and guide you — and see Him do amazing things!

5 Oct 2010   ·   302
Money Saving Mom

My Minimalist Wardrobe (vlog)

My husband shot this quick video of me last night giving you a little peek at my minimalist wardrobe, since I’ve received so many questions about my six mix and match outfits. If you’re a fashionista or you like variety, you’ll might be a little horrified (or very horrified!), but it’s what works for me and it saves me so much time and effort to keep it simple!

I was going to include a detailed explanation of how this works and my criteria for choosing clothing and keeping my closet pared down. Instead, I’m going to just post up the video and then if you have questions, I’ll either answer them in the comments or in a follow-up post.

{My apologies that the video is so skinny. I totally forgot that we needed to turn the phone the other way to shoot this. We’re still learning and will eventually get the hang of video blogging… maybe!}