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9 Apr 2010   ·   174

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Everyone Should Use Coupons

Missed the first posts in this series? Read them here.

I’m going to make a bold statement: I believe everyone should use coupons.

There. I said it.

Wait. I take my statement back. If you are one of the .0002 people in America who have never touched food unless it was grown in your own yard, you make toothpaste out of tree bark and use cloth toilet paper, then I’ll exempt you.

But the rest of you? You’re non-exempt.

And I know some of you are making excuses right now and explaining why you’re the exception to my rule. Well, give me a chance to address your excuses and see if I can’t change your mind just a tiny little bit.

Excuse #1: I Don’t Eat Processed Food

Newsflash: Coupons are not just for junk food.

In fact, there are often coupons available for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, flour, baking soda, toothbrushes, razors, toilet paper, and light bulbs.

Like I said earlier, unless you literally grow all your own food, make all your household products from scratch, and you use cloth instead of disposable for all paper products, there are likely at least 10-15 items you routinely buy which you could get for much less if you used coupons.

In addition, once you become adept at using coupons, you will usually regularly happen upon deals which give you overage. Even if your family doesn’t use the item which gives overage, you could buy it to donate and then use the overage to purchase items your family does use.

Excuse #2: I Tried Using Coupons and Didn’t Save Any Money

If you buy your Sunday paper, clip all the coupons and then use them all on your next shopping trip, you’re not going to save any money. Instead, you’d probably end up buying  a lot of over-priced items you won’t use or wouldn’t normally buy and end up spending a considerable amount more than you save.

That’s not how to use coupons.

Using coupons wisely requires strategy and patience. In most cases, it involves waiting until an item is at its rock-bottom price and then pairing it with a coupon (and perhaps even a catalina deal!) so that you get it for pennies on the dollar–or even more than free!

Excuse #3: I Don’t Have Time to Use Coupons

Life is busy and there are constantly a hundred demands pulling us in different directions. The thought of adding in something extra like clipping coupons might be overwhelming–but it doesn’t have to be.

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

One of my favorite ways to evaluate whether a money-saving idea or technique is worth my time is to evaluate it in terms of an hourly wage. For instance, if it saves our family $30-$50 and requires an hour’s worth of work, it is totally worth my time.

Coupons are worth my time because when I put in an hour’s worth of time, I’m usually saving $40-$75 for doing so. That sounds like a pretty good hourly wage to me!

Yes, it takes a bit of time to learn the ropes. Don’t expect that you’ll go out tomorrow and save 90% off your grocery bill if you’ve never used a coupon in your life.

However, it doesn’t have to take hours of your week. In fact, I think that you can see significant savings by committing to spend an extra hour each week to checking the sales fliers, making a menu plan and grocery list, clipping coupons, and mapping out your shopping route.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing tips and techniques for obtaining, organizing and using coupons effectively to make the most of your time and maximize your savings. Slowly implement the ideas I share, find out what works best for you and reap the rewards of money saved!

Do you think everyone should use coupons in some way, shape or form? Why or why not?

Get the latest coupons delivered right to your door for
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8 Apr 2010   ·   220
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: How do you save on pet care?


Emily emailed in the following question:

I’m writing because there is an area of our budget I haven’t been able to trim: pet care! Our dog was our first “baby” and we got him when we were both employed. Since that time, I got laid off from my job in sales and chose to stay home with our two small children.

While we’ve adjusted our food budget, as well as most other areas of our finances, I’ve yet to adjust our dog food. We raised the dog on Iams, which is good food but quite pricey. We’re hesitant to switch, as dogs normally don’t fare well during the switch. And some cheaper dog foods are just JUNK!

I’d love suggestions on where to find high-value coupons or how to cut our spending on dog food. Thanks so much – Emily

While we don’t have any dogs–yet!–I do know that My Pet Savings is a great blog to follow if you have pets of any kind. You’ll find lots of ideas, coupons, freebies and more for pets there.

Aside from that, I’m pretty clueless when it comes to saving money on pets. But I have no doubt that my readers are a wealth of wisdom when it comes to this subject.

So chime in with your great ideas on saving money on pet food and how to trim the budget when it comes to pet care without sacrificing quality.

Have a question you’d like me to pose for our weekly Ask the Readers feature? Email it to me and I’ll be glad to consider doing so.

8 Apr 2010   ·   43
Money Saving Mom

Clear Out the Clutter Challenge: The Kitchen and Stockpile

How’s the decluttering going at your house? We’re making good headway here!

Today’s assignment is a bigger one–at least for me! Take a few days to finish it, if you need to:

Clear Out the Clutter Assignment #2

::Go through your kitchen cupboards, pantry, under the sink, stockpile shelves and any other closets or cupboards which reside in your kitchen and then ruthlessly clear out any and all clutter and unnecessary items you find. Consider passing on extra food and household items to friends or donate these to someone in need.

::Tally up the approximate amount of items you’re getting rid of and input it into the Items Decluttered Tally Form in order to be entered to win some fun prizes!

I’ll post my pictures and accomplishments later on today–once I finish this fairly mammoth task! Looks like I have my work cut out for me:

Are you blogging about your Clear Out the Clutter accomplishments and progress? If so, leave your direct link to your blog post below (with pictures, if possible!) so we can visit your blog, cheer you on and be inspired!

8 Apr 2010   ·   26
Money Saving Mom

Clear Out the Clutter Challenge: Share how many items you’ve decluttered to enter to win a prize!

Are you participating in the Clear Out the Clutter Challenge? If so, you can enter how many items you’ve decluttered in the form below in order to enter to win a prize!

Here’s how it works:

::Participate in one or all of the five Clear Out the Clutter Challenge Assignments I’m be posting over the next week.

::Get rid of stuff and tally approximately how many items you’ve gotten rid of.

::Fill out the form below with the number of items you’ve decluttered (you can enter up to five times per person since there will be five different assignments).

::Once the Challenge is over with, I’ll tally up the results and randomly pick five winners from all those who’ve entered.

The five winners will receive one of the following prizes of their choice, donated by me: a $15 iTunes e-gift card; a $20 Barnes & Noble e-gift card; or a $20 Target e-gift card.

Happy decluttering!

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7 Apr 2010   ·   103

Five Ways to Cut Down on Clutter

You’ve heard the saying before: “A place for everything and everything in its place.

Now, as you can clearly see from my house, I’m not a perfect homemaker. I have three young children and I’m not always as self-disciplined as I’d like to be. However, I do make a concerted effort to keep my home clutter-free and organized.

Here are five things which help me:

1) Ongoing Garage Sale Boxes

I have a designated spot in our home for garage sale boxes. In our current home, this is under the stairs. As I find things we no longer need or use, I start filling up a box. When one box is full, I fill up another. And so on.

Instead of moving an item around from one room to the next when we aren’t using it anymore, I pitch it in the garage sale boxes and it’s out of our way. This method makes preparing for a garage sale quite simple since I already have a huge head start on collecting stuff to sell.

Thinking of having a garage sale? Check out my 10 tips for having a successful garage sale.

2) Annual Clutter Elimination

Once or twice a year, I go through my home from top to bottom and am ruthless about eliminating clutter. Every nook and cranny is cleaned out and every item is evaluated. By doing this on a regular basis, no area of our home ever becomes unmanageable. Rooms or closets might be messy or unkempt at times, but they never get so overwhelming that I can’t deal with them.

3) The No-Pile Rule

Except for my husband’s dresser and our laundry basket, we try to strictly adhere to a no-pile rule. I’ve found that a small pile quickly grows–without any effort. So if you don’t start a pile in the first place, you can avoid a lot of disorganization.

4) In the Door, In Its Place

Instead of piles of paper around from place to place until you have time to deal with them, take care of them immediately. When the mail or other papers come into our home, I go through it right then and there and throw out everything that we don’t have to keep.

Bills go on my husband’s dresser, magazines go in my top dresser drawer to await the next doctor’s appointment, freebies go in the household product stockpile closet, coupons go in my coupon box, and junk mail goes in the trash. Within just a few minutes, the mail is completely dealt with

5) Avoid Clutter-Collecting Furniture

I’m a minimalist, if there ever was one, and I’ve found my utilitarian nature helps avoid heaps of clutter. How? Because we don’t have furniture which tends to be clutter hot-spots for others. This might come as a shock, but even though I have a home business, I don’t have a computer desk. I have a top dresser drawer that I keep a few business-related items in and we have a small filing cabinet–and that’s it.

I’ve found that when there’s no place to collect piles, you are much less apt to make them.

What about you? What are some ways you cut down on clutter in your home?

photo credit: *Ann Gordon


7 Apr 2010   ·   43
Money Saving Mom

Save Up to $20 Per Year By Switching Fonts

Rochelle from Scripture Adventures sent me the link to this fascinating article today. Maybe you all know this, but I certainly didn’t:

MILWAUKEE – Here’s a way you might save $20 this year: Change the font in the documents you print.

Because different fonts require different amounts of ink to print, you could be buying new printer cartridges less often if you wrote in, say, Century Gothic rather than Arial. Schools and businesses could save thousands of dollars with font changes.

Data on the subject from Printer.com, a Dutch company that evaluates printer attributes, persuaded the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to make a switch. Diane Blohowiak, coordinator of information-technology user support, has asked faculty and staff to use Century Gothic for all printed documents. The school also plans to change its e-mail system so it uses Century Gothic.

“The feedback we’ve gotten so far has been positive,” she said. “Century Gothic is very readable.”

The school of 6,500 students spends about $100,000 per year on ink and toner cartridges. Although students and staff can change the default font to something more ink-intensive, Blohowiak said the university expects to save $5,000 to $10,000 per year with the font switch.

When Printer.com tested popular fonts for their ink-friendly ways, Century Gothic and Times New Roman topped the list. Calibri, Verdana, Arial and Sans Serif were next, followed by Trebuchet, Tahoma and Franklin Gothic Medium. Century Gothic uses about 30 percent less ink than Arial.

The amount of ink a font drains is mainly driven by the thickness of its lines. A font with “narrow” or “light” in its name is usually better than its “bold” or “black” counterpart, said Thom Brown, an ink researcher at Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s top maker of printers.

Also, serif fonts — those with short horizontal lines at the top and bottom of characters — tend to use thinner lines and thus less ink than a “sans serif” counterpart.

Read the full article.

photo by Renway2007

6 Apr 2010   ·   105
Money Saving Mom

Clear Out the Clutter Challenge: The Living Room and Coat Closet

So I made a big mistake… I told you all that I’d be posting the first assignment this morning.

I should know by now that having three little children means I can’t make promises like that. But I made the promise and then, when 10 a.m. came and went and I hadn’t posted, I started getting all sorts of worried emails from people.

Oops.

I promise I wasn’t sitting around eating bon-bons. Actually, I don’t think I did much sitting at all!

I went to bed late because we’d had “one of those days” yesterday (you know, the kind where you’re ready to turn in your mom badge at lunchtime? Please tell me I’m not the only one who has those kinds of days!), so then I got up late this morning. Which meant that my planned early morning blogging time didn’t happen.

And then the children woke up and there were diapers to change, meals to fix, baths to give, messes to clean up, and more messes to clean up. I love these children–yes, I do!–but recently they’ve been stretching me to my limits. Now I know why my mom used to say, “I thought I was a patient person… until I had children!”

We’re going to make it through this season, by the grace of God, but I’m not going to pretend that it’s super easy or that I’m floating through it completely unstressed all the time.

At any rate, it’s almost 6 p.m. and I’m finally getting this posted. Thanks for bearing with my tardiness. I must remember in the future not to make promises that might not be realistic.

The good news is, though, that I did get my living room, coat closet and hall closet cleaned out. Here’s proof:

BEFORE PICTURES (Yes, I’m keepin’ it real!)

That’s what things look like when you give a  two-year-old the basket of hats, gloves, and scarves for a minute. We’re still working on learning to pick up what you get out; it’s a novel concept. 🙂

AFTER PICTURES:

(Yes, that’s writing on our walls. In addition to learning how to pick up messes, the children are also learning that walls were not made to practice their latest art projects on!)

And, when it was all said and done, I have a whole box full of stuff from those two closets to add to my garage sale pile!

Clear Out the Clutter Assignment #1

::Go through your living room, coat closet and hall closet (or any other closets or cupboards which reside in your living room area) and then ruthlessly clear out any and all clutter and unnecessary items you find.

::Tally up the approximate amount of items you’re getting rid of. You’ll need that number to enter the giveaway tomorrow!

Are you blogging about your Clear Out the Clutter accomplishments and progress? If so, leave your direct link to your blog post below (with pictures, if possible!) so we can visit your blog, cheer you on and be inspired!

6 Apr 2010   ·   40
Money Saving Mom

Creative Uses for Leftover Easter Candy

Guest Post by Catherine from A Spirited Mind

Between egg hunts with extended family and Easter baskets at church, my three children always wind up with an impressive haul of Easter candy. The kids don’t need that much candy and my husband and I don’t either! To top it off, stores put candy on clearance the week after a holiday, and I often run across bags of sweets for 75-90% off in the course of my normal grocery store and drug store shopping.

Instead of throwing the candy away and passing up the clearance deals, I’ve found a few creative uses for Easter candy other than simply eating it all out of hand (or, in this case, out of basket). You can use holiday candy to provide treats throughout the year for your family or for others, and to show hospitality inexpensively.

Here are my top three favorite uses for leftover or clearance candy:

1) Substitute chopped candy for chocolate chips or baking chips in recipes.

Many types of candy can be chopped up to use in place of chocolate chips or other baking chips in recipes like cookies, brownies, or Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. In my area, bags of chocolate chips cost between $1.50 and $2, so if I can find about two cups of chocolate candy for less than that, I consider it a good deal.

 Any candy that is purely chocolate, “crunch” type chocolate, or chocolate with nuts will work for this purpose. Do use caution with candies containing toffee or nougat, since those will spread in the hot oven and can make regular cookies too sticky.

A nice mix of chopped chocolate is a good place to hide those cheap generic chocolate candies that always get left at the bottom of the Easter basket until the good stuff is gone! When I bake with chopped candies, I use a little less than the recipe calls for. For example, I usually use a whole bag of chocolate chips when I make cookies, but I would recommend only using a scant two cups of chopped chocolates because the varied textures of the candies can make the cookies come out uneven if you use more.

Once your mix of chocolate is chopped, you can freeze it in two cup portions to use later, or bake up a big batch of something to share with friends, neighbors, teachers or anyone else you’d like to bless with a sweet treat!

2) Use gummi candy to make shapes for decorating.

Instead of letting gummi candies harden and go to waste, you can use them to make pretty gummi butterflies, flowers, or other shapes to decorate cakes, cupcakes, or petit fours. I find that Starbursts, gumdrops and other soft gummis work best for shaping, while hard-shelled varieties like Skittles and jelly beans give mixed results depending on the brand. Feel free to check out my gummi decoration tutorialfor inspiration!

Once you’ve reshaped your gummi candy and dipped it in sugar to set it, you can freeze the shapes to use later if you don’t need them right away.

3) Have a fondue party!

Whether or not it’s well-suited for baking, any type of chocolate can make a fabulous fondue. To make the fondue, melt the candy in a double boiler or a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water and add cream until it’s the consistency you like (the amount of cream will vary depending on how much chocolate you’re using).

You can separate your candy into types first, or make an eclectic mixture. Cut up apples, pears, bananas or other fruit to dip in the fondue, or serve it with some clearance Easter slice-and-bake cookies. Fondue is a fun treat for kids, a romantic dessert for Date Night In, or a fun and inexpensive way to get some friends together. If you don’t have enough chocolate bunnies in your own candy stash to make up fondue for a crowd, maybe a pot-luck fondue party would be a good way for your friends to use up their surplus Easter goodies and have a fun get together besides.

Hopefully these ideas will get your creative juices flowing and make the leftover or clearance candy more useful than you thought. What other fun or inventive ways have you found to use candy after a holiday?

Catherine Gillespie lives with her husband and three small children in a little house on what used to be the prairie. She writes about good books, literature-based preschooling, extemporaneous cooking, faithful parenting and other creative pursuits at A Spirited Mind. You can also find Catherine on Twitter and Facebook.

5 Apr 2010   ·   280
Money Saving Mom

Clear Out the Clutter Challenge: Who’s With Me?

I’m having my yearly garage sale next week so this week I’m hard at work clearing clutter out of our rooms, cupboards and closets in preparation. Since I love to encourage simple living on my blog and because I also believe you save a lot of time and money by being organized, I thought it would be fun to include you all in my Clear Out the Clutter Challenge.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be working through our homes room-by-room in an effort to ruthlessly rid our lives of unnecessary things. You’ll get to see real-time before and after pictures of my efforts (yes, I’m even going to show you inside my closets and cupboards–as humbling as that may be!).

I’ll also be sharing ideas for how to streamline your lives, keep things more organized and clutter-free, and how to make money and bless others with your extra stuff. In addition, I’ll be giving away some of my favorite organization resources and tools to some of you who participate in the Clear Out the Clutter Challenge.

Are you with me? Stay tuned for your first assignments tomorrow morning.

5 Apr 2010   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

Three Easy Meals from Leftover Ham

Easter is over and there’s a good possibility many of you have quite a bit of leftover ham at your house. Liz from Hoosier Homemade is sharing some delicious recipes today for using up your leftover ham.

The holidays are a great time to buy the meat when it’s on sale. I bought a ham at Aldi last week for $0.99 per pound. It cost me $8.37, and we got 5 meals out of it. Although we love Scalloped Potatoes and Ham, we were a little tired of it, so I came up with some new recipes to make using our leftover ham.

What are your favorite ways to use up leftover ham?

Liz is a SAHM of 3 teenage boys and happily married for 20+ years. She shares lots of homemaking tips including her love for baking, cooking and decorating on Hoosier Homemade. She hosts the Cupcake Tuesday blog carnival with lots of cupcake creations.

2 Apr 2010   ·   49
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: The Final Tally (and come link up your accomplishments, too!)

We finished our Freezer Cooking at 12:30 p.m yesterday! We didn’t quite get everything done on the Master List, but we counted up and had made enough  for 45 dinners for our families! Here’s our final tally:

::Spaghetti Pie x 6

::Barbecued Meatballs x 6

::Baked Ziti x 6

::Southwest Roll-ups x 7

::Chicken and Rice Casserole x 6

::Beef, Bean and Tomato Burritos x6

::Chicken Spaghetti (from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl) x 8

Considering we made all of that in a little over 3 hours, it was a productive morning! And each of us took home enough food to last us at least 3-4 weeks!

A big thank you to my mom for helping with the children while we worked in the kitchen; we couldn’t have done it without her. She also stayed to help clean up so that my kitchen was pretty much in pristine condition by 1 p.m.

Yes, I think I like this joint freezer cooking thing. It’s so much easier and more efficient than doing it alone. Plus, I’m not left with a mound of dirty dishes and a house that’s pretty much destroyed!

_____________________________________

Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blo g post. I’d love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so we can get ideas for our next Freezer Cooking Day! And I’m guessing many others would be inspired as well.

2 Apr 2010   ·   25

Southwest Roll-ups

My sister-in-law brought all the chicken pre-cooked and chopped for the Freezer Cooking Day, which saved us lots of time and effort. We used it to make a few of the recipes–including one of our favorites, Southwest Roll-ups.

southwest roll ups

This recipe is so simple, uses inexpensive ingredients, and freezes really well.

2 Apr 2010   ·   19
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: Making Do in a Small Kitchen

While I worked on grating the cheese, the others got busy chopping peppers, boiling noodles, browning ground beef, and Gretchen started putting together the Beef, Bean, and Tomato Burritos. (I’d love to share that recipe with you, but she made it up on the stop–as the girls in my family are prone to do!–so I haven’t a clue what was in them aside from cheese, tomatoes, taco seasoning, beef, beans, and tomatoes rolled up in tortillas).

Our kitchen is on the small side. It works for our little family of five, but it gets cramped really quickly if you add in more people. However, compared to the crackerbox kitchen we had in our little basement apartment, it seems rather spacious!

I wasn’t sure how four of us were going to cook in the kitchen without bumping into each other all over the place–especially since we’re short on counter space. My sister had a brilliant idea: set up a cardtable! So we added a large amount of work space just with this simple addition to the kitchen.

Someday, I’d love to have a a large kitchen with massive amounts of cupboard and countertop space. But in the mean time, a card table works great when you’re in a pinch for extra countertop space!

2 Apr 2010   ·   74
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: Um, I Think It’s Time to Replace the Cheese Grater

Our Freezer Cooking Day began at 9:15 a.m. yesterday morning. I had planned a Master List of everything that needed to be done and the order it needed to be done. I also tried to equally divide the work up among those of us who were working in the kitchen. We didn’t completely follow the plan, but it was really helpful to have everything thought-through ahead of time.

Remembering how we’d run out of bowls and pots and pans last time, I asked everyone to bring pots and pans and bowls. I also had everyone pitch in on bringing ingredients and that seemed to work well.

The only thing I forgot to ask someone to bring? A real cheese grater.

I have this little half-sized dinky one that I picked up at the store a number of months ago when my much-nicer one got rusted. Let’s just say that it was rather impractical to grate that pile of cheese blocks with my mini cheese grater.

Somehow, I managed to grate them all–but it took me probably five times what it would have taken with a real grater. But I’m all about making do. Next time, though, I’m definitely investing in a better cheese grater!