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11 Nov 2008   ·   7
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading: Queen of my Trailer and Freezer Cooking Co-op

::I stumbled across a fun blog last night titled, Queen of my Trailer. It doesn't appear the blog is updated very often, but there were some interesting and inspiring posts on making the most of a trailer living.

::Monica over at The Full Table is doing a series on hosting a successful freezer cooking co-op this week. I found myself motivated to see if I could do something like this in our area (anyone want to join me?). It sounds like such a great (and fun!) way to fill your freezer quickly and fairly inexpensively.

10 Nov 2008   ·   20
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Earning Money With a Bag of Balloons and a Balloon Pump

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Guest Post by Irina Patterson from My Life and Art

I know way too well myself how to live on a limited budget. Raised in Russia, I grew up with a few possessions. And when I came to America in 1992, I had a hard time to find my first job.

Looking back, I wish I knew what I know today. If my story inspires at least one person to create a job for herself, I will be very happy.

For the last four years I have made my living as a balloon artist and event entertainer. I work mostly weekends and I set my own schedule and my pricing. Depending on the area and experience, a balloon artist can make from $50-300 per hour. (I wish someone told me about this opportunity when I was working at $5 per hour at a copy shop, night shift in 1993!)

Granted, being an event entertainer is not for everyone. You can't be shy and you have to be somewhat good with your hands and enjoy interacting with people. Still, it is a good opportunity to know about. If you are in great need of some cash quickly, you'd be surprise what you can overcome.

Believe it or not, I had never even seen a balloon animal until about four years ago. I don't have children and I don't go to the malls so I saw balloon animals for the first time at a private party and totally fell in love with the process and found the bright colors of the balloons not only cheer me up, but cheer many others up as well!

I studied art in my teens and those balloons just awoke a sleeping artist in me and showed me a way how to be a practicing artist and make a living at it. I couldn't believe how easy it was to earn by twisting balloon art. If I didn't experience it myself, I would not believe it!

When I first started doing balloon art on the side, I was working in a good-paying job at a public relations firm. I found balloon art was so much more exciting that after six month of doing balloon art as a side gig, I left my day job for good.

My ballon art business was profitable from day one. I think I spent $100 on supplies and administrative fees. When I started, I practiced at home for about a week. Then I went to a mall and paid a $75 monthly fee in order to do balloon art there for tips. I ended up making that $75 in tips right back on the first day!

I only paid that $75 fee for two months because I quickly learned you can find places where you can make balloon animals without rental fees. In fact, many restaurants will pay you to entertain their customers. Where I live, in Miami, restaurants usually pay $50-100 per 3-4 hours on a weekend plus most customers will give a tip. So you can easily expect to make about $150 for about 4 hours as a restaurant balloon artist.

However, the best part is this: while you are entertaining at a restaurant, you are also marketing your private party entertainment. Private parties will always give you better return on your time. In Miami,
on average, a balloon artist can earn $100-200 per hour at a private event. And you are usually booked for more than one hour.

If you are just starting out as a balloon artist, you'll want to invest a little money in balloons and a small balloon pump. I recommend you take a class, if there is one in your area. If not, make friends with someone who is already an established entertainer. They are usually very friendly. You can find an
entertainer in your area by searching for your zip code here.

Start out by volunteering to do balloon art at community events. Get some practice under your belt and get comfortable with working with people and creating balloon art and then start calling local restaurants and offering your services as a balloon artist for tips. Have business cards handy and make it known that you're available to do private events. Pretty soon, you'll likely have plenty of good-paying business!

Many people think that to be an event entertainer you need to go to a circus school or have some other special training. But all you really have to do is want to do it. The cost of minimum supplies is $10 and you can learn the basics in about two hours.

If you want to learn advanced balloon art, all the power to you. But if you have bills to pay and need money now, grab a bag of balloons and a pump and get busy!

Irina Patterson, aka The Russian Queen of Balloons, is based in Miami. She twists balloon art at events worldwide. She finds her job enjoyable and financially rewarding. To learn more, visit her blog, My Life and Art.

10 Nov 2008   ·   0
Money Saving Mom

Need some encouragement to get your home in better order?

Making your home a haven button

If so, consider joining me over on my other blog this week as I follow along with Monica's Making Your Home a Haven Challenge.

Lord-willing, I'll be sharing my daily to-do lists, before and after pictures of areas I clean and organize, how I involve the girls in my daily tasks and make it fun for them, and just a general peek into our everyday lives.

Want to come along? Then go here to read more. I'd love to have you participate in the challenge, too!

8 Nov 2008   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Kroger, Aldi, and pears

We spent $39 at the store this week. Here's what we bought:

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You can read more of the details of this trip here.

My sister also stopped by Wal-Mart on Thursday and picked up five pounds of bananas for us at $0.19 per pound (another grocery store offers bananas for $0.19/lb. on Thursdays so she just price-matched at Wal-Mart since it's right on the way to our house).

So our total altogether was $39 for groceries this week–including diapers! You can see our menu for this week here, in case you're interested.

We also saved money by creatively using two grocery sacks of pears which were given to us. Read more about what we did with those here.

Those are a few ways we saved money this week. 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.**

5 Nov 2008   ·   136
Money Saving Mom

Input requested: Ideas for using pears?

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My family has a pear tree and lots of extra pears this year so my mom shared two big grocery sacks full of pears with us this week. I've been having fun coming up with creative ways to use them.

I've already made some pear sauce and am thinking of pear muffins or pear crisp, but I'd love to hear any and all ideas you all might have for ways to use the abundance of pears I have on my hands right now. I'm especially looking for very inexpensive, fairly simple ideas which are also nutritious.

Any input? I'll share what I end up doing with them in a post soon!

4 Nov 2008   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

Our $40 menu this week

You can see the groceries we bought this week here for $38. Of course, we're not just using those to make the following meals; many of the ingredients are coming from things we already had in our cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer.

The beauty of bargain-shopping is that stocking up on sales enables you to have a variety of ingredients at your fingertips at all times. With our move and my break from shopping while in my first trimester, our stock was somewhat diminished. However, I'm hoping to quickly replenish it all the while sticking to our grocery budget. Follow along with my shopping trips over the next few weeks to see if I'm able to do that!

BREAKFASTS
Whole wheat waffles (From the freezer–I made a batch of these during breakfast one morning and froze them.), homemade yogurt, grapefruit
Whole wheat toast, scrambled eggs, apple juice
Homemade granola over homemade yogurt with strawberries
Whole wheat pancakes (from the freezer), yogurt, orange juice
Cold cereal, apple juice
Banana muffins (from the freezer), yogurt, strawberries
Fruit smoothies, whole wheat toast

LUNCHES
Mixed green salad with hard-boiled eggs and shredded cheese
Beans and rice with cheese, steamed veggies
PB&J on whole wheat, carrot sticks
Baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli
Egg salad sandwiches on whole wheat, apples
Leftovers
Soup in the crock pot, mixed green salad, whole wheat bread

DINNERS
Lasagna, steamed veggies, whole wheat bread
Snack foods (We're going to an election watch party where food will be served so I'm just feeding the girls some snackie foods before we go to tide them over.)
Taco pie, steamed veggies, grapefruit
Goulash, steamed veggies, whole wheat bread
Meatloaf, cooked carrots, baked potatoes
Dinner out
Leftover (Sunday night)

SNACKS
Yogurt with fruit
Cheese
Banana muffins
Carrot sticks
Apples

3 Nov 2008   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Today’s shopping trip: I used e-coupons!

Ya'll, I have entered a new level of couponing as of today: I used e-coupons. You know, those hi-tech, new-fangled coupons that you load onto your card and can't see or feel, you just have to believe that they are there and believe that they will work? Yep, those.

And contrary to all my fears, they actually worked. Every single last one of them.

Okay, so I only used four, but still, it felt like a major victory. Almost as good as when I went in and tried CVS-ing for the very first time.

Lest you think I did it all by myself though, I have to tell you that Lorrie was at the store, too, and she held my hand through the whole process. If it weren't for her, I would have never tried them in the first place.

I think I'm hooked now, though, as they worked beautifully and saved me some extra money! Yay!

Here's what I got at Dillons and Aldi:

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The Idahoan potatoes were free, thanks to coupons a kind friend shared with me. The Yoplait, oatmeal, and Cottonelle were also free, thanks to e-coupons. The Progresso soup was $0.30/can, cheese was on sale for $1.58/8 oz., butter was $1.88, milk was $2.99, Kashi bars were $1 after the $2/1 coupons and a sale.

We bought eggs and fruit at Aldi, since it's much cheaper there and Aldi is so close to Dillons.

If only the Pampers were free. *Sniff* I'm certainly missing CVS when it comes to free diapers. I considered going back to cloth and/or off-brands almost exclusively but after a few days of severe diaper rash, we switched back to our beloved Pampers. There are just some things you can't skimp on and diapers happen to be it for us right now.

All in all, we spent about $38 total this week to buy all the groceries pictured above. Considering I saved $45 at Dillons and that I also bought diapers, I'm pretty happy with that total–especially since it's under our $40 weekly budget.

I still have a freezer full of meat and frozen veggies, along with lots of yummy baked goods from our Baking Day last week, so aside from picking up some free carrots at Target and some $0.19/lb bananas at Wal-Mart (a nearby store has $0.19/lb bananas on Thursday so I can price-match at the Wal-Mart down the street!), we should be set for this week. I'll post our full menu soon so you can see the specifics of what we'll be eating this week.

3 Nov 2008   ·   99
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Food ideas for a road trip?

Cherilyn emailed and asked:

We are planning a 16+ hour road trip in December with three
adults, two kids, and two dogs – yikes! The decreasing gas prices are a
blessing but we would like to save even more by taking most of our own
food. We don't want to have to stop for every meal. Can you give me
some ideas for inexpensive ideas for eating on the road? Ideas beyond
bottled water, beef jerky, and muffins are appreciated since that is
all I can come up with. Thank you! -Cherilyn

I know many of you will probably be doing some traveling to visit family and friends over the next two months so I'd love to hear any and all ideas for road-tripping on the cheap–especially when it comes to food. What are some of your favorite frugal foods to pack and eat on the road? What ideas do you have for keeping food fresh and tasty while traveling? I'm anxious to hear!

1 Nov 2008   ·   71
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Baking, mark-downs, and not going to the mall

It's Saturday and that means it's time to share the great deals we've gotten this past week and other ways we've saved.

I saved money by having a Baking Day to stock up the freezer and by shopping mark-downs at Dillons. (If you missed those posts you can see them here, here, here, here, and here.) Also, I was struck very profoundly this week with another ongoing way I save a lot of money each year–by not going shopping very often!

You see, yesterday I went to replace my one and only pair of black boots. I've worn these same boots almost every day during the Fall/Winter months for the last three years. To say I've gotten the use out of them would be an understatement! (Being the minimalist I am, I only have two pairs of shoes for the cooler months–classic, versatile black boots and tennis shoes.)

My husband and I opted to go to the mall to look for new boots since we figured we'd have more of a selection of stores carrying decent-quality boots. I honestly can't remember the last time I went to the mall to shop and as soon as I'd been in there for a little while I knew exactly why I try to avoid going there.

Why? Because it made me discontent. When I stay out of stores bombarding me with the latest and greatest in things I "must have", my small little wardrobe is plenty enough for me. In fact, I find it very simplifying to only have a few tops and a few bottoms that I can mix and match with a few pieces of jewelry and a few pair of shoes.

But not yesterday. As we walked in and out of stores, I began to feel the "need" to expand my wardrobe, update my styles, and–you guessed it–buy more stuff. Stuff I've lived happily without for years and stuff I don't need.

While I did get the perfect pair of boots at a great price, I left the mall feeling like I'd not purchased enough–like I would have been much more satisfied if I'd have also purchased those cute tops I saw or bought an additional pair of shoes.

And then it hit me: this is so silly! None of that stuff is going to make me any happier or more content. In fact, probably the more money I'd spend in there, the more I'd feel the need to spend.

Compared to many, my wardrobe might be small. I might not have all the latest styles or name brands, but I'm content with it and it serves my needs. And having only a few items of clothing–all of which I like– makes it so easy for me to choose what to wear in the morning. It saves me so much time and effort (and money, too!) to keep it simple.

While I still think I have a long way to go in learning to be truly content, I do think that staying out of the mall as much as is possible is a huge help. And next time I need new boots (which hopefully won't be for another three years!), I think I'll skip the mall and go straight to a shoe store.

Do you find that shopping less or avoiding certain stores or shopping malls helps you be more content with what you already have? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Those are a few ways we saved money this week. 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.**

31 Oct 2008   ·   68
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: How do I make a fresh-baked breakfast without spending an hour each morning to do so?

Stephanie emailed me yesterday with this question:

I just read your Baking Day entries. I have a question that I hope you can answer. I see where you are baking things to last for a couple of weeks and was wondering if you have any suggestions about how to save time when someone like me has a very picky husband and 15-year-old son who only like fresh stuff (pancakes, muffins, etc.)?

Do you have any suggestions on how to make my "fresh baked" things any more time-saving? Would the pancake batter or muffin batter still taste the same if I refrigerated it the night before and just put it in the oven the next morning at 4:30 a.m. (my husband leaves for work at 5:30 a.m.)?

First off, I'd encourage you to perhaps discuss with your husband/son the possibility of making some fresh stuff and some frozen and re-heated stuff each week. Maybe that's not an option, but maybe you could come to a happy medium that works for everyone?

Secondly, there are many batter recipes which can be prepared ahead of time, refrigerated, and then used in the morning. I'd experiment with some of your favorite muffin, pancake, waffle, and french toast batter recipes and see how they work. You might even try make a double batch up and using it for two mornings. (See some muffins recipes here to get started with ideas.)

Other recipes which work well being made ahead of time and refrigerated overnight are coffee cakes, french toast, and breakfast casseroles. You might also consider using your crockpot.

To further speed up the preparation of these recipes the night before,
if you have a block of 30 minutes sometime, you might consider putting
together baking mixes with the dry ingredients from your favorite
muffin, pancake, coffee cake, and waffle recipes. If you know you like the recipe
and you'll be making it a lot, you might as well mix up a bunch to have
on hand!

Personally, if I were in your shoes and my husband left for work at 5:30 a.m., I'd likely come up with a plan where some mornings we'd do cold cereal, some mornings we'd do toast and eggs, some mornings we'd do something like waffles or coffeecake that I'd made up the night before. This way, we'd be having a nice variety of breakfasts–some which were fresh-baked–but I wouldn't have to get up an hour ahead of time or more to get them on the table!

Those are just a few of my ideas, I'd love to hear other readers' helpful input on Stephanie's question. Perhaps some of you are in a similar situation and can give some practical advice as to what has worked for you? Or if you have any delicious recipes which can be made overnight and refrigerated, please do share those as well!

30 Oct 2008   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 4

The beans and rice are cooled and divided into bags, the pancake mix is made to have on hand for later, the two packages of chicken breasts are boiled and diced and frozen, and the double batch of whole wheat pancakes is finished and in the freezer. And whew! I'm wiped! I poured myself a glass of orange juice and made
myself a fruit salad and I'm putting my feet up until Kaitlynn's nap time is over.

Here's the end result of all of our baking/cooking/kitchen work:

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It really doesn't look like all that much, but having the makings of a number of breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners already on hand and in the freezer is so helpful. If you've never tried baking ahead or cooking up meat and freezing it, I'd highly encourage you to test it out. You might find, like me, that it's a huge time-saver, money-saver, and life-saver.

There were a number of questions left in the comments section of the Baking Day posts, many which were answered by other commentors. However, I wanted to specially answer two of them since they were directed at me:

Oooo, I hope you post about the
pot of beans. It sounds silly, but I haven't a clue how to soak and
cook beans, and then how to incorporate them into yummy recipes. I'd
sure love to learn, because it sounds a LOT cheaper (and more
healthful) to not use canned beans for everything.-Katy


To be honest, it's not hard so don't be intimidated! I just take a bag of beans, dump it in a big pot, run water over it and swish it around, then drain the water. I refill the pot with enough water to cover the beans and put them on the stove to boil.

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Once they boil, I turn the stove down to medium heat or so–enough to keep them going at a soft boil. As the water evaporates, I add more. Every 30 minutes or so, I check them to see if they're doing yet and continue to add water as needed. I just keep boiling them until they are cooked and then let them cool and fill bags with them. If you like, you can add a few teaspoons salt to them while they are boiling.

I use these in Mexican recipes, in soups, when we have beans and rice and cheese for lunch, or in some of our other favorite bean recipes.

I really do try to involve my kids in kitchen stuff,
and it worked pretty well after my first turned 2. But how can you
manage to be so productive with a 1-year-old around? When I cook dinner
each night, my 1-year-old often tears the house apart. So yeah, I got
something done, but I have to spend just as long after wards cleaning
up. Do you use a playpen? My 4-year-old would be a good helper during
ONE of these projects, but she would lose interest after that and start
fighting with her sister instead or (if I'm lucky) go off and read or
play by herself.

Well, I think the real answer is that Kaitlynn is only 16 months old and she still takes two naps each day–that's usually when I get the most work done here! She is a very busy little girl when she's awake so I must always be near her to make sure she stays safe and nothing catastrophic happens!

This morning, while she wasn't napping, I had her playing in the kitchen with some different toys and objects I gave to her. I also gave her a snack and that kept her preoccupied for awhile. But things did get a little messy–which I fully expected.

Kathrynne (3 1/2), on the other hand, is usually a great help to me. This morning, she helped with watching Kaitlynn, picking up toys, dicing chicken (with a plastic knife, of course!), and making pancakes. With some training and practicing, she's learning to be a real asset to me–which I'm definitely going to need once baby #3 is here!

When Kathrynne wasn't helping me today, I gave her some special things to play with/work on nearby including foil (this is one of her very favorite things in the world to play with!), and crayons and scissors and glue which she used at the kitchen table for a very long time.

My biggest advice to young moms out there is to make sure that you put your children as the most important priority in your day. Expect that your home will look lived in and you will get less done when little ones are underfoot; it's a fact of life!

I've had to learn to lower my expectations a lot since having children. I'd rather get a lot less done in the day and have invested quality time with my children, than have gotten a huge, long to-do list done and neglected my family in the process. They are only little once and I never want to forget that fact!

By the way, if you have little ones and are struggling with how to "do it all", I love the advice given by Jennie Chancey (mom to many little ones) here. Her words and thoughts have been a real blessing and help to me in navigating this incredible (and sometimes overwhelming!) task of mothering!

30 Oct 2008   ·   50
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 3

Your "participation" through comments and emails is making this Baking Day so much more fun! Thanks for joining me! I just finished up making the banana muffins, boiling the pot of beans, cooking the brown rice, and freezing the bananas.

While I had banana bread on the list, I opted for banana muffins at the last minute. Guess it was due to a mood change? 🙂 At any rate, I'm really happy with how the muffins turned out. I used a whole wheat banana bread mix some friends had made up for us along with the organic bananas I bought marked down yesterday.

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I substituted applesauce for oil to cut down on the fat and they turned out beautifully. Plus, they don't have any sugar in them–the mashed bananas serve as the sweetener. These will make for a perfect afternoon snack or quick breakfast.

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I boiled the pot of beans and cooked the brown rice while I was working on these. Both of these need a bit more cooking time and then they'll be done. Once cooled, I'll portion them into bags and stick them in the freezer for easy lunch or dinner additions.

Next, it was time to freeze the bananas. Any time I can get a great deal on bananas, I buy as many as I can afford in our grocery budget and then we eat what we can and freeze the rest. Chopped frozen bananas are wonderful added into fruit smoothies or you can freeze the bananas whole and thaw later for use in baking.

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I'm planning to use these bananas in smoothies, so I chopped them and put them on cookie sheet and stuck them in the freezer. As soon as they are frozen, I'll transfer them to a bag to use as needed.

Now I'm off to make pancakes, bran muffins, and hopefully cook up some meat.