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25 Feb 2009   ·   0
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading: The Happy Minimum and Plastic Costs More Than Cash

::I totally concur with Trent in his post The Happy Minimum: "You'd be shocked how much less you can use during the day without sacrificing any quality." Read the full post here.

::Meredith's post, Using Plastic Costs More Than Cash, was spot-on. We've certainly experienced the same thing: it's much easier for us to swipe a debit card than to part with cash. So by using cash-only for the majority of our purchases, we not only stick with our budget, we spend a lot less money.

24 Feb 2009   ·   100
Money Saving Mom

Homemade Pizza (in Less Than 30 Minutes)

We love homemade pizza at our house. It’s filling, inexpensive, and easy-to-make! Best of all, though, in our opinion, it’s so much better than carryout or frozen pizzas!

I’ve tried many different pizza crust recipes and this one is not only our favorite, it’s also one of the quickest to make. The pizza, from start to finish, can be ready to pop in the oven in less than 30 minutes.

Do you make homemade pizza at your home? If so, what are some of your favorite toppings?

21 Feb 2009   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: The camera-less edition

My camera batteries died a few days ago and I've yet to get any new ones, so this edition of Super Savings Saturday will require you to use your imagination to picture. 🙂

We only did a quick shopping run this week for groceries and I spent about $47 at Dillons. My friend also found Libby's canned pumpkin at Wal-Mart reduced to $0.25/can so she picked up 24 cans for me! I was very excited about this deal as I love cooking with pumpkin and I have never in my life gotten Libby's pumpkin for that inexpensive!

I'm envisioning more than a few batches of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffins and Pumpkin bread in the very near future. And wouldn't those be great to add to my ever-growing After-the-Baby freezer stash? Methinks so.

In other bargain news this week, we also went shopping for a "coming home" outfit for the baby. We discovered, in going through our baby clothes boxes recently, that we have no newborn outfits aside from a few gender-neutral onesies. I guess the girls wore all their few newborn things completely out (and I suppose you could say that is one downside to only having a few outfits–especially when you have babies like mine who grow slowly–there aren't many hand-me-downs!)

At any rate, since we know what we're having this time and we had some extra cash in the clothes money envelope, we thought it'd be fun to go out and do a little bit of baby shopping. We noticed Gymboree was having a big sale so we decided to check it out. I really didn't expect a "big sale" at Gymboree to be much of a bargain when their normal prices are far above what I'd ever consider paying.

But was I ever surprised! They had a number of racks of clothing priced at $5.99 and under with an additional 20% off that clearance price! So we ended up buying a few teensy-tiny little baby things for just a few dollars each.

(By the way, it's probably a good thing my camera batteries aren't working because otherwise I'd be extremely tempted to post pictures of these absolutely adorable baby things. And then that would totally spoil the secret we've been closely guarding for the last 10 weeks–whether we're having a girl again or not!)

———————————-
Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week, if so, be
sure to post about them and leave your link below.  **To make it easy
for everyone to navigate quickly through
the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday
post.**

20 Feb 2009   ·   25
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Why I Enter Sweepstakes

Guest Post by Cathy of Chief Family Officer

I've never been one of those people who always win something. Buy me a raffle ticket and I guarantee you've wasted your money.

But I've discovered that one of the wonderful things about the internet is that it really is the great equalizer and provider of opportunities. There are so many contests and sweepstakes out there that even I win sometimes.

I hold out no hope that I will ever win the $100,000 grand prize or trip to Disneyworld. But I do expect to win when the odds are pretty good.

For example, prior to the Super Bowl, Kraft had a sweepstakes where the prize was $15 worth of coupons. That's the perfect prize for someone like me, who loves to use coupons. It was a daily entry sweepstakes, so I entered every day after I found out about it. And not only did I win, I won twice and received 6 coupons for free Kraft products. That's $30 of products that I'll be using to get my total purchase past the $75 mark so that I can use a $5 off $75 purchase at Ralphs (our Kroger affiliate).

There were 43,000 prizes in the Kraft sweepstakes. That makes sense, since the value of each prize is relatively small. But $30 worth of free product coupons was worth the minute it took to enter the contest every day for a couple of weeks.

Another example is the Winter Match game from Pampers Gifts to Grow. It's a game that you can play three times per day, and if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you can enter without using any Gifts to Grow points. There are 3,700 prizes. I'd obviously love to win the year of diapers, but I probably won't–and that's okay. I've already won two Shutterfly prize packages, giving me a total of 58 free prints with free shipping. In a few months, I'll order the free prints and give them to the grandparents and great-grandparents for Mother's and Father's Day.

The matching game takes a little more time than the Kraft sweepstakes did, but I play it in the morning in between checking my email and Google Reader. In fact, I've made entering sweepstakes a part of my daily morning routine. It takes less than five minutes to enter four or five in quick succession.

A few words of caution: It's always a good idea to read the fine print, and have an email account that's dedicated to sweepstakes and contest entries. You can usually opt out of additional emails from the sponsors, but you'll inevitably get some messages. And you might forget to opt out once in a while. Having a dedicated email account will keep your inbox from being flooded. (It's easy to get a free Gmail account.)

I don't win all of the time, but I win often enough to make the effort more than worthwhile. My favorite resource for finding out about sweepstakes is Freebies for Mom. Heather regularly posts about winnable sweepstakes. I don't enter every one, because my time is precious, but I do enter the ones with lots of prizes that I could definitely use. And so should you!

Cathy of Chief Family Officer writes daily about family finances, parenting, cooking, and more.

Note from Crystal: Do you find Sweepstakes worth your time? Why or why not? I'd love to hear!

19 Feb 2009   ·   50
Do you have a baby on the way, but you're worried about your finances? Read this encouraging series on how to have a baby without breaking the budget! TONS of great tips!

Having a Baby Without Breaking the Bank: Prenatal Stockpiling (Guest Post)

Do you have a baby on the way, but you're worried about your finances? Read this encouraging series on how to have a baby without breaking the budget! TONS of great tips!

Guest Post by Jessica Fisher from LifeasMom.com

When my first son was born, I was teaching high school full-time. Living on two incomes had allowed us to live pretty luxuriously. However, we knew that I was going to stay home for at least the first year, so we began to economize during my pregnancy to pay off my student loan and to create an emergency fund. That was a nice cushion for a time, but things were still tight living on one income.

One year has become twelve and one child has become six. I’ve been more than blessed to be home with my children. Yet, with each new addition to our family, I have felt a little squeeze of pressure. Or should I say, our budget felt the squeeze? How could we accommodate one more mouth to feed? And though the births of each child has always been surrounded by happy moments, I often became stressed by the vast amount of supplies that were needed, particularly in the early weeks. How was I going to fit diapers, wipes, and extra feminine products in the budget?

Now twelve years and five children later, we still try to economize. But I am pleased to report that with the birth of our sixth child last summer, I did not feel the squeeze. Neither did our budget. Did we have a huge income in comparison to years past? Did we win the lottery?

Quite the contrary. I simply applied what I knew about stockpiling to the purpose of preparing for a new little one. Not only did I spare us some change but I also saved time and energy in not shopping for these items in the busy hormone-induced daze after the baby arrived.

Here are my suggestions to help you ease the squeeze on your budget.

— Put out a call for coupons. Let friends and family know that you are looking to collect coupons for baby and other post-natal products. Keep your eyes open for coupon fliers in all the free stuff you receive from your doctor’s office or hospital. Keep these coupons with you at all times in an envelope in your purse or wallet. You never know when you’ll find a good deal; coupons will make a good deal great. Don’t limit yourself just to baby items. Consider the other needs a new mom has, such as feminine pads, Tucks, Advil, etc. and collect those coupons as well.

— Learn to play the Drugstore Game. I learned almost everything I know about CVS-ing from Money Saving Mom® and following along with other bloggers who report here every Saturday. Drugstores like CVS or Walgreens often feature great prices on baby and feminine products as do Walmart and Target. Choose a drugstore that is close to home and learn how their sale system works.

— Keep track of prices. In order to stockpile effectively, you need to know what a good deal is. You already know that Money Saving Mom® regularly reports on great deals. Baby Cheapskate also keeps track of diaper and formula prices each week. Check to see where the deals are so that you’ll know a good one when you see one.

— Buy low even if you don’t need it right then. This is key to creating an advance supply before your baby is born. Keep your eyes open for good sales and clearance opportunities. Last Spring I happened to find jumbo diaper packages for $2.25 each because the manufacturer was changing their packaging. I bought all that I had room in the budget for and that kept us in diapers for quite some time.

As long as you will use it in the next few months or so, it is probably worth buying multiples of an item, provided that you can pay cash for it and still meet your other household needs. If you’re going the disposable diaper route, you know you will be using them. Buy diapers, wipes, and baby toiletries at low prices and store them up.

— Protect your investment. Your stockpile is not just worth what you paid for it. It also represents time and energy spent to hunt and capture the good deals. Don’t leave it where it can be damaged. Paper products should be protected from excessive temperatures and rodents. So, be wise where you store these items. Top closet shelves and under beds and cribs are great places to keep your stock safe.

There is so much joy in welcoming that new little one–live it to its fullest, without being worried about how you’ll pay for it all. With a little clever maneuvering, you, too, can have a baby without breaking the bank.

Jessica Fisher, happy wife and joyful mom of 6, regularly writes about fun, frugality and the pursuit of a clean house at
Life as MOM. Join her on “the Road to Joyful Motherhood”–because no one wants a crabby mom.

From Crystal: We have lots of soon-to-be new mommies reading here who have asked me for specifics on diaper stockpiling. If you have some experience in this area, I’d love to have you share your thoughts on how many diapers (and in which sizes) you would recommend stockpiling ahead of time, how long you think it takes to build up a good stash, and where you find the best diaper deals. In the near future, we’ll have a counterpart post and discussion on cloth-diapering.

18 Feb 2009   ·   85
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Health Insurance

I am wondering if you or any of your readers
have any advice about health insurance. My husband’s company does
provide our health insurance–at least, they obtain it and then put a
certain amount towards the premium each year and we pay the difference (it is an
HMO policy–optical insurance and dental insurance are not offered).

The
premium went up last year, and my husband was just informed that it may
increase again this year–by between 20-60%. We are beginning
to research alternate forms of insurance for our family. Do you have any
experience with Samaritan Ministries?  We contemplated using them last year,
however, my husband was concerned (and still is) about what would happen if we
should have a major medical expense arise (such as a major surgery or cancer
diagnosis). -Wendi

We personally have private health insurance through Humana (PPO-HSA). We shopped around quite a bit to find a policy which not only had an affordable monthly rate for a family plan (we pay $347/month) but which had the kind of coverage we were wanting.

Since we have a fully-funded emergency fund, we are able to have a higher deductible which, in turn, allows our monthly rates to be lower. Currently, under our plan, we have a $5000 deductible per year and 100% coverage above that. For me, I like the assurance of knowing that were we to have a major medical expense, we would be covered.

We've seriously looked into Samaritan Ministries and other such insurance alternatives but found we felt our current insurance plan was better suited for our family's needs.

I would recommend knowing what is important to you and your family in an insurance plan, knowing what you can afford as far as a monthly payment and a deductible, and then taking some time to really shop around and see what various plans and options are out there.

I'd love to hear from the rest of you on health insurance. What do you have? What kind of rates do you pay? And do you have any suggestions or input for Wendi and her family?

14 Feb 2009   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

Finally back from shopping

Kathrynne and I had a fun Mommy-Daughter Date shopping this morning. She loves to go shopping–especially when it's just with me. And I feel like I'm on vacation just taking one little one with me to the store. 🙂

We hit Dillons, the health food store, and Aldi. We mostly just bought the sale items and mark-downs at Dillons and then got some staple items and produce at Aldi.

Since we had the time, we stopped in at the health food store to pick up a few sale items, and was I ever glad we did! Unbeknownst to us, the health food store was having a special "Customer Appreciation Party" today and there were samples galore, freebies, and a 10% discount on everything in the store. We had quite a fun time going around to booth after booth and sampling all sorts of yummy and healthful goodies–all for free!

Here's what we ended up buying for this week:

004

All totaled we spent $61.45–and I'm still under our $60/week budget allotment for this month. I'm so thrilled to be stocking up our pantry and freezer in preparation for the baby all the while staying under budget. Who knows? We might just go a number of weeks after the baby comes without even so much as stepping foot in the store except for milk, produce, and eggs. We'll see!

14 Feb 2009   ·   3
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday… my picture is coming in a little while!

I didn't get to the store on Friday as I'd planned. After a busy morning, I opted to stay home and rest in afternoon instead of shopping. (I seem to be opting to rest more and more these days–guess that's part of being close to the finish line with this pregnancy, eh?!).

However, I have my grocery lists planned and my coupons organized so I'll hopefully be hitting the store on Saturday and will post about my shopping trip after I do so.

But I didn't want to keep the rest of you waiting on me since I'm running slow this week. So, if you snagged some great deals and bargains this week, be sure to post about them and leave your link below.  **To make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through
the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday
post.**

10 Feb 2009   ·   13
Money Saving Mom

Celebrating a Frugal Valentine’s Day

top photo of graphic provided by Paper-Pixie

Valentine’s Day is Saturday and many of you have requested I share some ideas for celebrating this holiday without spending a lot of money. I briefly considered writing an article, but I have to tell you that we’re pretty plain Jane folks when it comes to Valentine’s Day. In fact, we don’t usually do much outside of a nice meal at home or maybe decorating some Valentine’s cookies.

However, even if I’m not bursting with creative inspiration when it comes to February 14th, the frugal blogosphere certainly is. In fact, there are more great ideas floating around out there then you could probably do in a lifetime of Valentine’s days.

Here are just a few great links I found:

Sarah at Fiddledeedee has some unique ideas and yummy recipes posted including one for chocolate fondue.

Centsable Momma walks you through making homemade chocolates.

Amy at The Finer Things in Life encourages you to celebrate big without spending big.

Thrifty Mommy gives you ten ideas of ways to save money this Valentine’s Day.

Claire from Choyster Cash suggests an inexpensive date idea and Mercedes shares tips for having a fancy dinner on a budget.

Probably my most favorite idea of all came from The Happy Housewife. She and her husband celebrate with a Valentine’s Day challenge:

First decide to
celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 19, 20, 21, or whenever, just as
long as it is after the 14th. Then decide on a set amount of
money, for example $10. Now for the challenge part, see how much candy,
or trinkets, cards, and other treats you can get for $10 or less. Most
stores have everything marked down at least 50% on February 15 and the
prices keep dropping as the days go on. Then on your Valentine’s Day,
you and your spouse can trade gifts and admire each other’s frugality.

———————
Do you have some great ideas, recipes, tips, or inspiration for those of us seeking to celebrate a frugal Valentine’s Day?
If so, post about them on your blog and leave your link below. (Please remember to keep it family-friendly and to leave a link to your direct blog post on this subject–not your blog’s home page.)

 

6 Feb 2009   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Our $66 shopping trip

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I was really happy with this week’s shopping trip. As you may recall, I didn’t go shopping last week, so I had quite a bit of extra grocery money to spend. But I decided to challenge myself to try to stay quite a bit below the budgeted amount I had available to spend (we budget $60 each week for groceries right now and since we only spent $10 last week plus I had some left over from January, I had quite a bit I could have spent).

I went to both Aldi and Dillons and spent a total of $66!

My best bargains were the three bags of Gala apples on sale for $1.19 each at Aldi, and free Suave lotion (priced at $0.99, used $1/1 coupon), toilet paper (priced at $0.99, used $1/1 coupon), Johnsons’ Buddies (priced at $0.99, used $1/1 coupons), and Yoplait (marked down to $0.99, used $1/1 coupon) at Dillons.

I was also very excited to get more diapers for $3.99 (used the $3/1 coupon on Kroger.com), toothpaste for $0.07 (marked down to $1.07, used $1/1 coupon), toothbrushes for $0.44 (marked down to $1.44, used $1/1 coupons), and Honey Cheerios and Multi-Grain Cheerios for $0.67/box (on sale for $1.67, used $1/1 coupons).

All in all, it was a great trip and our refrigerator is now well stocked again!

How’d you do this week? Post about the deals and bargains you
were able to snag this week or other ways you saved money on your blog
(with pictures, if possible!) and then come back here and leave your
link below. **To make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through
the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday
post.**

6 Feb 2009   ·   93
On a budget with baby on the way? This list of essential baby items is SO helpful! Aside from lots of love and nurturing, these are the only 5 things you truly NEED!

Having a Baby Without Breaking the Bank: List of essentials

On a budget with baby on the way? This list of essential baby items is SO helpful! Aside from lots of love and nurturing, these are the only 5 things you truly NEED!

Last time in this series we discussed how having a baby really doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. If you didn’t get a chance to read it yet, be sure to go here and do so. The numerous comments left on the post were incredibly insightful–you all are one great bunch of wise people!

Today I want to talk about what I see as the basic essentials one needs to have and care for a baby. Obviously, there are variety of opinions out there when it comes to “must-haves”. I’m not an expert, just a mom who has raised two young vibrant little girls without spending a lot of money to do so.

First off, we must start by asking ourselves, “What does it really take to raise a baby?” I believe our society has become so materialistic and consumer driven that we hardly know how to even think in basic terms.

Aside from lots of love and nurturing, here are the essentials I believe you truly need:

–Clothes (For starting out, I think you can get by just fine with around six onesies, six sleepers, a few pair of socks, a few hats, and 4-6 blankets.)

–Bed (unless you’re planning to co-sleep)

–Car seat

–Stroller

–Diapers/wipes (either cloth or disposable)

(And if you are unable to nurse–as I know happens on occasion, or if you are adopting, you would also need to add formula to this list.)

And that’s about it, folks. Seriously. There are other things that are nice to have, such as a swing, a sling (or ERGO), a few nicer outfits for baby to wear out of the house, a diaper bag, and so forth. But none of those things are absolute necessities.

If you have any baby showers at all or get any gifts, you can see how easily you could accumulate the few items you really need for your baby. And that’s why I recommend you don’t buy anything until after your baby showers (if you will be having any). There is no point in buying a lot of items you don’t truly need if you can’t afford them.

That said, if you are going to be buying everything yourself, here are a few of my suggestions for how to buy the necessary items very inexpensively:

There is no need to buy name-brand, brand-new clothes for your child. If they are anything like most little children, they will likely be quickly staining them or growing out of them. So you might as well get them as inexpensively as you can! If someone offers to share their hand-me-downs, willingly accept them.

Sign up for your local Freecycle.org and watch for folks who are getting rid of baby clothes and other items in your area. You can often snag sacks of baby clothing and other baby things this way–all for free!

Freepeats.org is another online baby site which allows members to trade gently used baby and maternity items for free. Sign-up is only $1 right now, so this is definitely something to consider if there is a Freepeats group in your area.

Other great options are thrift stores and garage sales, of course. Also, check and see if there are any church rummage-type sales or consignment sales in your area. These are often goldmines! And if you start looking for items at least a six months before your baby is born, you’ll likely be able to accumulate everything you need for pennies on the dollar this way.

For the record, I recommend buying your baby’s bed and car seat new, just out of safety precaution. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend an arm and a leg. Start looking at least a few months before your baby is born for deals at local stores and online deals. The majority of the time, by hitting an online sale and combining it with a coupon code plus cashback from eBates, you’ll be able to get a pretty good deal.

Also, if you are in the market for deals on new baby items, be sure that you check out BabyCheapskate and BabyGoodBuys. Both are websites dedicated to alerting you to the best baby deals and freebies out there.

Oh and before I forget, The Natural Mommy has a great two-part series up on Reducing the Cost of Birth and Babies which I highly recommend you check out here and here. You might not agree with all her conclusions (just like you probably don’t with mine!) but hopefully it will give you some more food for thought!

That about covers everything on the list of essentials except for diapers. Next week, I’ll talk about saving money by cloth diapering and or stockpiling disposable diapers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think is a list of absolute necessities for having a baby. What are your best ideas for acquiring these inexpensively?

5 Feb 2009   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

A fun coupon box and ideas for finding more coupons

January 2009 6 009

My friend, Monica, just shared about her new coupon box. Check it out here. I love how cute and practical it is! She also wrote a great post here on where to find more coupons.

For those of you who haven't seen how I organize my coupons, here's a post dissecting my coupon box. And here are some more ideas on how to accumulate a nice stash of coupons.

4 Feb 2009   ·   132
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Saving money on tax preparation

As the end
of January nears, my husband gets in a tizzy to get our taxes done so he can plan
ahead. In the past I have bought Turbo Tax every year to do our taxes. After reading your blog for almost a year now, I got to thinking that
there must be some form of less expensive tax preparation software. I hate to
drop $50 on Turbo Tax!  It’s a wonderful program, but very
pricey!  We make more than $50,000/year so we don't qualify for the free programs that out there. Does anyone have a suggestion for a less-expensive solution than $50 for Turbo Tax?
-Amy

Great question, Amy! Since my husband is an attorney and my dad is a CPA, we've never had to pay for tax preparation as they work together on getting our taxes filed. However, I know most people aren't in the same position as us so I'd love to hear what you all do as far as tax preparation goes. Any ideas for Amy and her husband to save money on their tax preparation?