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15 Oct 2008   ·   17
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Decorating on a Dime

Guest Post by Nichole from Being Frugal Is Fabulous

We each want to have a lovely and inviting home. However,
decorating our homes can be very expensive. Here are
some of the tips and tricks that I have used to decorate my home on a
budget.

1. Paint. I love
painted walls, and nothing spruces up your house more for less money
than paint. You can even get reject gallons of paint from your local
Home Depot or Lowe’s really inexpensively. We did this with our master
bedroom. We took a couple of reject colors and mixed them together and
we got a very lovely shade of taupe.

2. Make your own toss pillows. Toss pillows are a great way to add a little flair to your
room. I am not much of a seamstress, but pillows are something that I
can definitely make myself. You can see my tutorial on making toss pillows here.
Even if your only experience with sewing is the sewing class you took
in 8th grade, you can make a simple toss pillow for very little money.

I made the striped pillows above from a shower curtain I didn’t need anymore.

This pillow is made from some old sheets.

3. Shop the clearance racks and stores like Ross and TJ Maxx.
Or even better, shop the clearance rack at TJ Maxx. This is my
fruit bowl that I love, love, love. I paid $5.98, on clearance, for it
at TJ Maxx. With clearances, and discount stores, you must be patient and flexible.
Sometimes
I watch for things to go on clearance, and I may miss them before they
get down to my price range. But if you are patient, something else will
come your way.

4. Think outside the box for wall decor. I can’t take credit for this idea. I found this fabulous wall hanging idea on the fabulous blog How About Orange.

Remember that shower curtain that I made the toss pillows out of? I also used the rest of it to make this wall hanging.

4. Refresh old furniture with a coat of spray paint. We
do not have a matching bedroom set. What we have are: some old end
tables that were given to us that we use as night stands; an old head
board that was also given to us; and a mirror that was given to us.
Each of these pieces were free and each were different styles, colors
and types of wood. With a little sanding and $12 worth of black
spray paint, they now all coordinate.

5. Live with less.
My home decor style is very minimalist. Maybe it is my cheapness, or
maybe it is the fact that I grew up in a home with wallpaper on every
wall (no offense mom and dad, it was the era!), but I don’t like to
have a lot of stuff. If you walk into my home, you are not going to
think that you just walked into the home of an interior designer, but
you will think that you are walking into a nice, inviting, family home. To me that is what is most important.

Nicole is a wife and a mother to four children ages seven and under. She enjoys reading, cooking, and being a savvy shopper. She blogs at Being Frugal Is Fabulous.

14 Oct 2008   ·   136
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Do you use your crock pot?

Crockpot

Patti emailed in:

I would like to buy a new crock pot, especially since there is a terrific
coupon in the October All You magazine, but I have not been successful
in finding recipes that my family enjoys and I hate to make such large amounts
of food only to discover they hate it. Do you or any of your readers have
other uses for their slow cookers such as cooking up meats or beans for use in
other meals? Or recipes that are not so full of fat and carbs?  Any
ideas would be greatly appreciated as I ponder this purchase.

When I'm not in the middle of morning sickness and pretty much avoiding the kitchen (!), I'm an avid fan of the crock pot. Since I'm more of an "experimental cook", I love to make up a pot of soup in it by just throwing in some veggies, cooked beans, potatoes, onions, spices, salt, pepper, garlic, and cover with water and cook on low all day long. Or we often make beef sausage, onions, potatoes, and carrots in it. Another favorite use for our crockpot is making applesauce in it. So easy and so good!

I've also made Mexican dishes, lasagna, oatmeal, breakfast casseroles, and even cake in my crockpot! There are thousands of recipes out there and many of your family favorite can be adapted to be made in the crock pot. I'd encourage you to check out the Fix-It and Forget-It recipe book series or other similar crock pot recipe books from your library for some inspiration.

I also highly recommend the blog: A Year of Crockpotting. The blog's author is using her crock pot everyday in 2008 and her recipes and ideas are mouth-watering. If you weren't a fan of the crock pot before reading her blog, you'll likely be motivated to pull it out and try using it after a visit there!

What about the rest of you? Do you use your crock pot on a regular basis? If so, what are some of your favorite ways to use it? Any scrumptious recipes to pass along? (If you've posted them on your blog, feel free to leave your links in the comments section.)

14 Oct 2008   ·   7
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: The Beauty Of Simplicity

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photo by tourist on earth

Guest Post by Jennifer Duenes from Life From the Roof  

I distinctly remember a moment when I was working as a teacher in a poor region of Uzbekistan. I had received an email from a friend asking me if there was
anything I needed.

I sat there for a minute, racking my brains. Surely I needed something.

My wardrobe consisted of a mere few skirts,
tops, and dresses. I only had a shelf of books to my name. My living
room was sparsely decorated in Central Asian style: a low-lying coffee
table with floor cushions scattered around, a small television in the
corner of the room, and a buffet-style cabinet that housed extra goods.I truly couldn’t think of anything I needed.

Today, I constantly going around with a mental list in my mind that
is ever-growing. Hmmm… I think to myself, with all of those great
picture printing deals I am getting, it would sure be nice to get some
quality frames to put them up in.

The duvet cover I have is extremely
soft and in great condition, but I am bored with it, and feel like it’s
been "ages" since I had a new one. In my mind I think of how much more
efficient I would be at life in general and especially blogging if I
had a nice over-stuffed Manhattan leather chair to sit in.

And then there are the sales. "50% off!  No, 75% off!" they
decree. "Hurry in, before this deal is gone forever and you are
sitting in your pitifully undecorated, unorganized home one day wishing
you had taken advantage of this deal!" 

A sense of anxiety begins to
pervade my heart as I hear of the deals springing up right and left. A
sense of impatience fills my spirit as my trusty little digital camera
is gasping its last breaths after 6 years of usage, and I have to
recharge it more often than normal.

A sense of embarrassment settles on
me subtly as I have worked for wealthier families as a nanny, and drive
my Honda 92 Accord with its bumper cracked and patched up with duct
tape and park it behind their brand-new Sienna with rear-view camera
and DVD player options.

Sometimes people ask me if life was harder in Uzbekistan. In some
ways, it was. Having to heat a bucket of water on the meager gas flame
on your stove to take a bucket bath in an ice-cold bathroom wasn’t
fun. Nor was it when you constantly felt that, as one of the few
Americans living there, people were always asking you for favors, and
you never knew who really just wanted to be your friend.

But in other ways, it was so much easier because of the simplicity
of life there. There wasn’t a Sunday paper that came laden with ads
urging you to get to their stores as soon as possible. There were
people with the "latest" fashions walking around, but because many of
our friends were poor and had very little, it felt like a slap in their
faces to always be buying something new. 

It was an inconvenience to
not have things like Starbucks or fast-food places, but after a while,
you settled into a slower pace of life where you drank your tea and
Nescafe pseudo-coffee at home and in contentment with other friends
bearing the same hardships you did.

The "rest of the world" that we often refer to who doesn’t live in
the excesses we do was a reality for me for five years. They were
friends, second families, and I am forever grateful to an experience that simultaneously purged from me my need for the newest thing,
and enriched me with what could truly nourish: camaraderie, mutual
suffering, and sacrificial love.

Jennifer Duenes is a homemaker, wife to Michael, and proud
mother to one-year old Elijah. She lives in the San Francisco Bay
Area, and despite living on one income with the high costs of living
associated with that area, she enjoys finding creative ways to save
money and thrive. She attributes part of her ability to save and
appreciate the important things in life to her experiences as a teacher
in a poor region of Uzbekistan for five years before getting married. For more on her insights from life in Uzbekistan and tips on making the
most of your resources in high-cost urban areas, check out her blog at
www.lifefromtheroof.wordpress.com.   
14 Oct 2008   ·   0
Money Saving Mom

Quick note: I’ll be scarce this week, but the posts won’t be

We’re moving in five days and there’s lots to do between now and then, including a two-day trip out-of-town to secure and clean our new rental home. We also will be without internet service for a day or two while we’re getting things switched over to the new place.

Because of this, I’ll not be around here much for the next week or so. I will do my best to check in once or twice a day to moderate comments and let you know about any can’t-miss deals, but no promises since I don’t know exactly what this week holds.

That said, just because I’m not around much this week doesn’t mean there won’t be new content on this blog. Quite the contrary! I have a whole slew of excellent guest posts lined up to run this week. I think you are going to find them interesting, insightful, and thought-provoking. In fact, I’m guessing you’ll enjoy the guest posts so much, you’ll probably not even want me to come back when the week is over! 🙂

But don’t worry, I will be back sometime early next week–just as soon as I find my way out from under the piles of boxes! Until then, have a great week and snag lots of bargains in my place!

13 Oct 2008   ·   26
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Making Your Own Household Cleaners

Cleaners

Guest Post by Michelle from Leaving Excess

When I first started making my own household cleaners, I was
looking to save money. And did I! Making your own cleaners does involve a
small upfront investment for ingredients and containers, but over time, you
will enjoy a tremendous savings over continuing to purchase commercial cleaners.

In addition to saving money, I have discovered that there
are other benefits to making my own cleaners:

::My kids can help me clean and I don’t have to
worry about them being around toxic chemicals.

::Our house is free of chemical cleaners; my allergies
have improved greatly since I cut own commercial cleaners.

::Making my own cleaners simplifies my life. I don’t
need to put the cleaner on a list, get to the store, bag it, unpack it and so
on. I just take out a few simple ingredients and make it myself when it is
convenient for me.

::Making cleaners is much better for the environment. No
more chemicals going into the water supply, no more empty containers being
tossed.

Ingredients

The basic ingredients for making your own cleansers are
baking soda and white vinegar. Both can be purchased in bulk at discount
stores like Target and Wal-Mart, as well as wholesale clubs such as Costco and
Sam’s Club. If you just want to give a cleaner recipe a try, odds are
pretty good that you have enough on hand to make one or two cleaners.

Other
key ingredients will be soap (either dish soap or liquid castile soap–found in
health food stores), olive oil, club soda, glycerin (look in pharmacies or
health food stores for vegetable glycerin), and sometimes borax (a powder
laundry aid found in the laundry aisle of your local store).

I prefer cleaner recipes that use essential oils. Tea tree
oil has antiseptic properties, scents like lemon, eucalyptus and lavender add a
lovely, clean scent and disguise the smell of the vinegar. You can add oils to
any cleaner recipe; the general rule is about 10 drops for a 16 ounce bottle,
but feel free to experiment. You can even mix scents. 

Purchasing essential oils will be the
bulk of your initial investment. These are available at health food stores and
some natural/health sections of large grocery stores for about $5 a bottle. The bottles are small, but you use only a few drops per recipe, so a little
goes a very long way, I promise! I have been making my own cleaners since 2000
and have only replaced three bottles of essential oils.

The book that I turn to again and again for cleaner recipes
is Clean House, Clean Planet:  Clean your house the safe, nontoxic way for
pennies a day
by Karen Logan. Check your library or PaperBackSwap for this book. It has over 100 recipes for just about any
cleaner you could need, including pest control. You can also find a lot of
recipes online by searching for  ‘homemade cleaners’ or ‘nontoxic
cleaner recipes’ on your favorite search engine. Tipnut.com also has come great cleaner recipes
and cleaning tips.

Once you have the basic ingredients, it is time to find
containers to store your cleaning supplies. I used basic Spray Co bottles
found in the gardening section of Wal-Mart. I have also heard that stores such
as Fleet Farm or Home Depot have spray bottles as well.

I like the 16-ounce
bottles, as these are the most comfortable size for me to use and my kids can
use these as well. I mix my recipes right in the containers. No mess, no
fuss! For the first few years I just tried to get the ingredients into the bottle
from the measuring instruments, but I have found that using a funnel is easier.

Here are three of my favorite cleaner recipes, all are from the
book Clean House, Clean Planet

Club Clean Glass Cleaner–This is one of the easiest recipes around! To make glass cleaner, simply pour club soda into a spray bottle and put the
lid back on. Yes, it is that easy! I use this cleaner on windows, TVs,
computers, the washer and dryer tops, etc. You can wipe it off with a paper
towel or a microfiber cloth. 

Go Spot Go! Laundry Stain Remover–This cleaner smells so good! To
make it, simply put ¼ cup liquid dish detergent into a spray bottle. Add in ¼ cup vegetable glycerin and 1½ cups water and shake well before each
use. 

Diaper Pail Deodorizer–Just put some baking soda into a container, add about 3
drops of an essential oil, and stir with a fork or shake. Sprinkle this into
the diaper pail when you change the baby (especially after a really messy
diaper) to keep the smell from taking over.

To find more cleaner recipes and more cleaning tips, you can check out these other posts on my blog on bathroom
cleaning
, kitchen
cleaning
, carpet
cleaning
and polishing
your furniture
.

Once you start making your own cleaners, you will realize
how useful the main ingredients to these cleaners really are and how much you
can use them to make a lot of household and personal hygiene solutions for
yourself. I hope that you will give making your own cleaners a try soon!

Michelle is a CPA turned stay-at-home mom to four. She challenges the excesses that society tells us
we need and experiments with living a simple, uncluttered life on her daily blog,
Leaving Excess

11 Oct 2008   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Banquet winners and our solution to avoiding take out for moving week

First things first, the winners of the Banquet Select free frozen dinners are:

Kate (katerascoe@)
Tamra (tmg_1979@)
Amanda (mandalyn927@)
Dawn (dawniemom@)
Samantha (scarv083@)
Tieshia (sillygoose37@)
Heather (hrleonard@)
Sarah (sarahclubine@)
Rebecca (rebeccakatzer@)
Christina (maneys@)

Each of you should have received an email from me with more details. If you did not for some reason, please get in touch with me so I can get your free dinners to you!

*************************
Moving week is here–ready or not! There are a lot of last minute details to attend to and in between caring for our little girls, traveling for a few days to secure and clean our new rental, and my continued struggle with morning sickness and tiredness, it will be a busy week.

Since I knew that we would be too busy to spend much time on food preparations this week and that it would be easy to fall back on fast food or take out, my husband and I decided to devise an alternative plan.

We looked through our cupboards and refrigerator to what food we still had left in there (we’ve been doing our best to whittle it down over the last month so that we’d be down to the bare-bones by moving day) and came up with a list of some very quick and simple meals and snacks we could put together with what we already had on hand and a few additional ingredients at the store.

Here’s the list we came up with:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Quesadillas
Cold cereal
Oatmeal
Beans and rice
Pancakes
Granola bars
Turkey and cheese sandwiches
Fruit/Veggies
Chips and salsa
Scrambled eggs with hashbrowns and cheese

The best news of all, was that we were able to stick within our $40/week grocery budget yet again this week! Now obviously, this is not what we usually subsist on and I don’t know that it exactly qualifies as a "balanced diet", but it will be much cheaper and likely healthier than eating a diet of fast food. And hopefully soon I’ll be back to baking and cooking from scratch again.

So that’s one way 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.** 

10 Oct 2008   ·   15
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Family Fun Night

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photo by Ella’s Dad

Guest Post by Katie from Cincinnati Cents

After a busy week of school, work, and extra-curricular activities, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine cramming another activity into an already-packed schedule. However, taking the time to purposefully plan a block of family time together is worth more than every quiet moment we could ever possess.

Picking one evening every week (or every other week, as your life may dictate at the time) as a “family fun night” allows families the ability to reconnect on a weekly basis, ensuring no one is lost in the shuffle of the daily routines of our lives. The night chosen is immaterial, as is the exact amount of time allotted to the event. It is crucial, however, that the activity chosen is enjoyable for all, and that every member of the family feels included. The focus should be on the family unit as a whole, and not on one particular individual.   

There are always a few more popular choices around our house for a family evening together. In the winter, and during inclement weather, our children love having a picnic in the living room. We spread blankets out over the entire floor (which not only creates a “picnic” atmosphere, but protects the carpet as well!), and enjoy our picnic dinner together. We often put on our family movies, recapturing the kids’ younger moments together. They laugh together at each others’ antics and marvel at how small they once were.

Cooking together is another fun choice for families. One of our favorites is making homemade pizza. The smell of warm yeast quickly gathers everyone around the kitchen counter, and eager hands rapidly knead the dough. Once the dough has risen, and is rolled out to the desired shape, children enjoy choosing their own toppings, and “decorating” their pizza. It is simple to make personal sized pizzas, allowing each child to become a master chef for the evening.

A family game night is an inclusive choice for families with children of varying ages. Older children can pair up with younger siblings for more challenging games, thus allowing co-sibling teams to be formed. On the flip side, younger children delight in playing their favorites with older family members. If every family member chooses one game, no one feels excluded. But, of course, who chooses first? Put numbers in a bowl and allow everyone to choose. This not only ensures a fair order, but also assists younger children in easy number recognition (as a homeschooling mom, I can’t resist those “teachable moments”!).

As odd as it sounds, we have also made family cleaning into a fun evening on more than one occasion. We have a master list of weekly chores that we highlight as we go along. When we choose this “divide and conquer” method, every child picks a few jobs out of each category. We then divvy up washcloths and cleaners (or spray bottles of water for our younger ones), put on some loud music that we all enjoy, and dive in. Afterwards, the kids tend to find a treat that has mysteriously appeared on the counter– usually ice cream!

The possibilities for a planned day or evening together are endless. The end result however, is priceless. Everyone goes away with such a feeling of connectedness–a sense of belonging that cannot be recreated outside this integral family unit. These moments are worth more than any number a price tag could bear.

Katie is a homeschooling mother of four. She blogs at Cincinnati Cents,
where she shares money-saving ideas, deals, and frugal activities to
enjoy as a family.

From Crystal: What are some of your family’s favorite ways to celebrate a night of fun together without spending a lot of money? I’d love to hear!

9 Oct 2008   ·   26
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: How to avoid a good deal gone bad

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photo by timparkinson

Guest Post by Amy from Spin the Deal

There’s nothing worse than that sinking feeling that sometimes occurs after scoring a great deal. You know the feeling–that tiny nag that rapidly evolves into a gut-wrenching ache as it swoops in and bursts your post-bargain bubble of bliss.

You hastily scan your receipt only to find that your $5 coupon–the icing on the cake–was never credited on your receipt. Or, you’re all set to submit a rebate for reimbursement, when suddenly, after a frantic search, you realize that you’ve lost the receipt.

It’s happened to the best of us. Whether you are a novice coupon-clipper or a seasoned deal hunter, getting burned on a deal is inevitable. Here are 7 tips to help prevent getting burned followed by some advice on how to remedy good deals gone bad.

1. Read Coupons Carefully: When using coupons, make sure that you are following the purchase requirements (brand, quantity, size) to the letter. Not doing so can cause the register to beep upon scanning the coupon, and the cashier to either reject it, or to simply go on to the next coupon without noticing, thereby causing you to lose out on the value of the coupon.

2. Understand the Details of a Catalina Deal: Catalinas are coupons that generate at checkout based on purchasing qualified items and can be used on your next store purchase. Before purchasing items that generate a Catalina, be sure you know the details behind the Catalina deal (qualifying item, quantity, offer period). Also, check that there is a Catalina machine at the checkout. Some stores may only have Catalina machines at the front registers. Finally, after the Catalina generates upon checkout, make sure the cashier notices the Catalina and hands it to you before you leave the register.

3. Review the Rebate Terms: When purchasing items for a rebate offer, read through the terms of the rebate before making the purchase. Make sure it is worth your time. Some rebates are straightforward to redeem, while others require laborious efforts. Certain rebates require removing UPCs from products that can only be removed after consumption of the product. In these cases, make sure that you will be able to consume the product, or transfer it into another container, before the rebate redemption period expires. Also, whenever possible, assemble the rebate submission (cash register receipt, proof of purchase, rebate form) shortly after making the purchase, take a photocopy, and then mail it out before there is time to lose any of the submission pieces.

4. Know the Store: Having a good understanding of a store’s coupon policy is key to not getting burned on a deal. Find out in advance whether the store accepts Internet coupons, expired manufacturer coupons, or limits the number of identical coupons redeemed per transaction. Also, when shopping at stores like CVS or Walgreens, which match number of items to number of coupons, make sure that you purchase enough items so that when combining store and manufacturer coupons, the register allows all coupons to scan without beeping or manager intervention.

5. Check the Expiration: Whether using a coupon or doing a rebate, check the expiration date to make sure that the coupon or offer is valid. Most rebates have a specific purchase period as well as a separate redemption deadline.

6. Be Attentive at Check-out: Although it pays to be friendly and get to know the store cashiers, when you are working on a complex deal, it’s important to stay on top of your game and focus on the transaction. Simply flash the cashier a friendly smile followed by a warm "hello," and then get ready to focus. This tip is particularly important when you have a large quantity of items and/or coupons. It’s easy to get distracted with chit-chat or digging through your purse for your wallet, but focusing on the transaction ensures that you receive credit for everything you are entitled to. Watch prices closely as items are scanned, and watch that every coupon scans successfully and lowers your total.

7. Be Friendly: Didn’t I just mention that we need to curb the friendliness? Well, yes, and no. Being friendly to the cashier increases your chances for a positive outcome on a complex or questionable transaction.

And, finally, here are some tips on how to overcome a good deal gone bad:

1. Check your Receipt IMMEDIATELY: Before leaving the store, it is critical to check your receipt. Make sure all discounts were applied as expected. Verify that all coupons were deducted from your total. Ensure that you have your Catalinas in-hand. If anything looks incorrect, go back to the cashier, manager, or service desk for an immediate adjustment.

2. File your Receipt: Select a specific pocket in your purse or a section in your wallet to file your receipts as soon as you receive them. This prevents them from getting lost or thrown away by accident, and makes them easily accessible for returns or rebates.

3. Make Photocopies: Lastly, when sending in rebate submissions, take the time to photocopy everything in the envelope. If there is trouble with the rebate, your photocopies will serve as backup proof of purchase.

Scoring the perfect deal isn’t always easy, but being prepared and vigilant can go a long way towards making every deal, a good deal.

Amy (a.k.a. The Deal Diva) is a mother of two young boys who loves the thrill of bargain hunting and teaching others how to spot deals and save money. Her passion for writing and deal hunting come together in her new blog.

8 Oct 2008   ·   26
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Dinner on a Budget–Mexican Tortilla Skillet

Guest Post from Meal Planning Mommies

This recipe is one of our new favorites. Not only is it simple to make, but it is absolutely delicious. Plus, it won’t bust
your budget–and who doesn’t love that?

Mexican Tortilla Skillet
Serves: 4
Cost: Approx. $1.25/serving (if ingredients are purchased at Aldi)
Prep. Time: Less than 30 minutes


Ingredients needed:

1 lb. browned ground beef
1 can tomato soup
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup salsa
12 flour tortillas (burrito size)
1/4 cup water


Place tortillas on a cutting board. Use a pizza cutter to cut tortillas into 1-inch strips.


Rotate cutting board and cut tortillas again so that you have 1-inch square tortilla pieces.


Combine all
of the ingredients into a skillet and cook for 5 minutes over medium
heat. Sprinkle cheese on top and let cook until the cheese melts.

This meal
is perfect for a quick, frugal family night dinner. Instead of begging
for dessert, our kids beg for more! We like to serve this dish alongside applesauce and corn.

Visit Meal Planning Mommies for weekly meal plan ideas and frugal recipes with step-by-step pictures.

8 Oct 2008   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

Gifts in a Jar: A fun and frugal gift

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One of our favorite gifts to give for Christmas or other occasions is baking mixes. It’s such a versatile gift–so long as the recipient has basic cooking/baking skills, they will be sure to enjoy it! I especially love the concept of baking mixes in a jar; the presentation of the ingredients in layers makes decoration of the jar almost optional.

Good deals on jars are pretty easy to come by. Keep your eyes peeled at garage sales and thrift stores throughout the year (maybe you could even snag some for free from FreeCycle!) and begin saving them to use for gifts. You can also re-use large mayonnaise jars or smaller jars (like pickle jars) for miniature mixes.

Near Thanksgiving and Christmas-time, most staple baking ingredients like flour, sugar, baking chips, etc. go on sale at almost every major grocery store. Stock up then and you can make yummy homemade gifts in a jar quite inexpensively!

Recipes for Gifts-in-a-Jar are plenteous on the web:

::Organized Home–recipes for brownies, cookies, bean soup, bath salts, and more. Includes pre-made tags you can print and cut-out to use. How easy is that?

::AllFreeCrafts–recipes for soups, hot cocoa, cake mix, and more.

::CraftBits–recipes for biscuits, mocha, cornbread, muffins, and even some recipes for gifts-in-a-mug!

::Nestle–recipes for cranberry bread, pumpkin muffins, and more. Includes printable gift tags, too. You’ll need to log into your Very Best Baking account to view these. (Thanks, Jaycie!)

And if none of those look appetizing to you, just do an internet search for "gifts in a jar" and you’ll come up with hundreds more recipes!

7 Oct 2008   ·   54
Money Saving Mom

Our little “coupon queen”

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I’ve been having Kathrynne, our three-year-old, help with clipping coupons in the last few months and she’s getting quite adept at it. There’s only one problem: she thinks so long as we have a coupon for something, we can buy it. So as she’s cutting out the coupons, she’ll excitedly point to the granola bar coupon she’s clipping and exclaim, "Yesss!! We get to buy granola bars this week!"

Last week, she snagged the grocery sale fliers before I had a chance to see them. I found her in the kitchen studiously pouring over them (Hmm, I wonder where she learned to do that from?) and when she saw me she let out a little whoop and holler, "M&M are on a good deal this week, Mommy!"

Sure enough, they were advertised in the flier and in her mind that meant that of course we could then buy them. I’m glad she’s learning all about looking for sales in the flier and clipping coupons, but I’m afraid she has a little ways to go in learning what constitutes a "good deal". Oh well, she’s only three so hopefully she’ll get the hang of it eventually!

7 Oct 2008   ·   29
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Living Frugally and Pleasantly in an Apartment

Guest Post by Katey from Having Fun at Home

Our family is living in an apartment
right now, and we often find there can be a temptation to pine away for the
home we hope to own someday instead of making the most of where we are right
now. There are, however, a lot of benefits to living in an apartment, and I want to try to enjoy them to the hilt. With that in mind, here are 13 tips I’ve learned for living frugally and pleasantly in an apartment:

1. See if you can share a wireless
internet plan with one of your neighbors
. Half of an internet bill is a
whole lot more better than paying the full thing, and apartment dwellers usually live
close enough to one another to make it work! [Note from Crystal: I’d recommend you check with your internet service to make sure this is alright with them before going ahead with it. Thanks to those of you who wrote to mention that!]

P1090639

2. If you have a porch or patio, hang
bird feeders and grow vegetables like tomatoes and peppers in containers
.
Many birds, especially hummingbirds, will visit even an urban feeder. The garden
will give you a little free produce and will help you feel closer to
the outdoors.

3. Invest in wall shelves for extra
storage
. Stock up when there are good sales (or check your local Craiglist or Freecycle to snag some great deals). This investment has been very helpful and worth the
money for our family.

4. Scatter bay leaves strategically
around your apartment
. That’s right–bay leaves! Apartment complexes are
much more likely to host an infestation of cockroaches. Keep them out of your
apartment with bay leaves; roaches hate the smell! (I was very happy to discover
this solution because, with a small child, I really didn’t want to have to use
chemicals.)

5. Talk with your neighbors about
holding a community-wide garage sale
. It’s difficult to have a garage sale
when living in an apartment complex, but because space is tight, apartment
dwellers, more than most people, need a way to recycle their stuff and pare
down to what is really needed. If you can’t seem to organize a community wide
garage sale, see if there’s a friend nearby who is planning an upcoming sale with whom you might partner for a two-family garage sale.

6. Invest in a cordless vacuum
cleaner
. I received this Shark brand
rechargeable battery sweeper

as a wedding gift and use it all the time. It’s pretty powerful, a lot less
hassle than taking out a big vacuum, and takes up a lot less space in my
closet.

7. If you have to use a coin operated
laundry facility, consider getting a foldable indoor drying rack. Wash
your underclothes in the sink and hang them to dry in the bathroom on your
rack. It saves you money and you don’t have to leave your apartment as often to
go to the facility.

8. Take out the trash every day, and
place a box of baking soda at the bottom of your trash can to absorb odors
.
In a small place, it is much more vital to keep the bad smells to a minimum.

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9. Since there usually isn’t the option
of painting or wallpapering make your own decorations, use homemade photos
and enlarge them
. Get cheap frames at garage sales and hang them around the
apartment. I used pretty satin ribbons to hang these in my baby’s room.

10. Pare down your collection of
pots and pans to the bare minimum
. Not only will this give you more
cupboard space in your kitchen, but it will make it less likely that you will
end up with a mountain of dishes in the sink.

11. Take advantage of the time you
save not taking care of a yard by taking your family on outings to local parks,
zoos, nature centers, festivals, and fairs
.

12. Save counter space by using a magnetic tool strip to hang your knives instead of using a knife holder. This saves space and allows you to be able to see the blades without
picking up the knives to find the right one.

13. Make friends with the
maintenance men and the apartment manager
. Not only is it advantageous to
you for getting repairs done more efficiently, but those are two jobs that are
often unappreciated. Most of what they hear is complaining. Even if you don’t
develop a personal relationship, show appreciation by baking them Christmas
cookies or other holiday treats.

Katey is a
stay-at-home-mom in Austin, Texas. Her
blog havingfunathomeblog.blogspot.com is dedicated to finding ideas for
inexpensive, creative, and wholesome fun at home.

From Crystal: I know many of the rest of you have lived or are living in an apartment or a very small home. I’d love to hear your ideas for making the most of this situation. Please share your input in the comments section.

photos by Katey

6 Oct 2008   ·   78
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Where do you find quality children’s shoes at a great price?

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photo by DrStarstruck

Priscilla asks:

We are a family of 8. Our children ages range from almost 15 to 9 months old. So, every penny we can save does add up.

I was wondering where best to find good quality shoes for the lowest price? Do shoes usually go clearance certain times of the year?
 
Our oldest has gone through shoes faster over the past 2 years and it is becoming discouraging to shoe shop.

Since we only have younger children, I can’t speak from experience on how to get larger sizes of children’s shoes for great deals but I will tell you our secret for getting small sizes for great deals–consignment sales!

I don’t know that all areas have great consignment sales, but in our area, there are regularly large consignment sales put on by groups of moms. We have purchased the majority of our girls shoes at these. I can often find name-brand shoes in very good condition for $3 or less.

I also recommend consignment stores, thrift stores, and garage sales for little kid’s shoes. They seem to be plentiful and cheap. Best of all, you can usually get good brands in great shape.

That’s just what has worked for us so far, where do the rest of you snag shoe deals?

6 Oct 2008   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Finding a Work-at-Home Job

photo by Johan Larsson

Guest Post by Emily Howard from Violet’s College Fund

Two years ago I was a working mom of one with one on the way. All I thought about was staying home with my children. I just didn’t want to miss a single thing that they might do during the day while I was sitting at a desk and they were with a sitter. Not to mention, by the time we paid for two children in childcare it almost wasn’t worth it for one of us to work to pay that bill. Just before our daughter arrived, my job started to change. My husband and I discussed it and decided it was time to make a change.

I know there are so many people out there who feel the same way and you just wish there was an alternative. If you’re like us, simply quitting my job simply wasn’t an option. I had to have some kind of income because we were in debt and my husband’s paycheck simply wouldn’t pay the bills. So I got to work.

The first thing anyone who wants to work at home must do is consider what you can do. What skills do you have? What degree or certifications do you have that may lend itself toward a certain type of work?  What do you like to do?

There are many types of work-at-home jobs that will require specific training or certification, such as scoping, coding, and medical or legal transcription. But there are many jobs out there that will not require anything more than the training the company provides.

You must also consider what your working environment will be. Do you have an office or workspace that is isolated from the rest of the house? Will you be working while your children are home?

These things matter because there are basically two types of work-at-home jobs: those done entirely online and those that
involve phone work. Online positions are more flexible, because it typically doesn’t matter where you’re working. Phone positions, however, often require specific working conditions, including no background noise.

One of the biggest obstacles for those who want to work at home is not knowing where to find the jobs. I suggest forgoing the do-it-yourself search and going straight to the experts. WAHM.com and Work Place Like Home are two very reputable work-at-home websites with message boards featuring people who are actually doing these jobs.

The discussion all day, every day on these boards is which companies people work for, who is hiring and what is a scam. Once you have a general idea of what you’re looking for, visit these sites. I spent every single night for a month on the message boards at WAHM.com and I covered an entire 8.5 x 11 inch paper
with ideas!

While you’re busy looking for companies and positions, you’ll want to dust off your resume. A work-at-home resume will look very much like a typical resume, but you’ll want to tailor it to highlight any skills you have that will make you more marketable
to companies who hire virtual employees. Highlight your computer and technical skills, your ability to work independently, meet deadlines and any experience or specific skills you may have in the field you’re looking at.

Save a copy of your resume in a text format and make sure it looks presentable that way, so you can easily copy and paste it
into website forms and in the body of your e-mail. Often, companies prefer to see your resume in text format in an e-mail and won’t bother to open an attachment. Pay close attention to the company’s instructions for how to apply, whether it’s through their online form or by e-mail.

A few words on scams; they’re definitely out there. Unfortunately, there is probably no one more vulnerable than someone who is desperately seeking a certain type of job so they can work at home.

First, never pay for a job. I always say you would never pay a bricks and mortar company for an interview, so why would you pay a virtual company for the opportunity to work for them? There are few exceptions to this rule.

Secondly, you can often find out information on a company by doing a simple Google search or checking with the BBB. If all else fails, check with one of the message boards I mentioned. The people on those boards can easily smell a scam. If you’re unsure about a company, search there. If you come up with nothing, ask.

There is just one more important thing you should know about working from home. It’s very important to have a plan for
when you will work and be realistic about it. If your children are in school, then finding time to work should be simple. If you have small children and/or homeschool, you should understand that you will not likely be working if they are at home, unless they’re sleeping or someone else is there to care for them.

If you have a newborn, you should know that the sweet, sleeping-all-day phase lasts about 2-3 months. But don’t worry, the beauty of working at home is that it is often very flexible. Many types of work can be done any time of the day or night. I personally work after my children are in bed and on weekends.

Finding ways to be a work-at-home mom (or dad or grandparent) is not impossible. It just takes work. Sure, there are scams and it might be hard to find a position that suits your needs, but a little hard work will produce results. Regular people do it every day.

If this sounds like something that might be a good fit for your family, don’t be afraid of the unknown. I took my full page of ideas and narrowed it down to the ones I wanted to start with and I started off trying two or three different things to find what
worked best for me. I applied, got hired, and I quit my job. I’ve stayed home with my children for two years while doing my work in my free time. I haven’t missed a t-ball game or a swimming class yet!

Emily Howard is a work-at-home transcriptionist and a mom of two. Her blog, Violet’s College Fund, is dedicated to helping other moms find work at home, as well as other ways to make money, save money, and get out of debt.