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12 Dec 2008   ·   38
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Creative and Frugal Ideas for Gift-Wrapping

Guest Post by Monica from The Homespun Heart

Aside from the usual 90% off roll of Christmas wrap, my favorite gift
wrap has become brown kraft paper and simple hardware store twine. The
brown paper is on sale for $1 a roll frequently at Walgreens and twine
can also be purchased for $1 at dollar stores and Big Lots.

Here
are some ways I've dressed up simple brown paper with odds and ends
of crafting supplies. I've found that pages from old books, mini clothespins, magazine
pictures, felt scraps, sticks from the yard, buttons, ribbon and sewing
notion scraps are all wonderful things to work with!

(Click on any of the images below to see a larger and detailed version.)

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Those are just a few of my ideas, what about you? What are your favorite creative and frugal ideas for wrapping or embellishing gifts? I'd love to hear!

Monica enjoys blogging about the simple pleasures of faith, family, and home over at The Homespun Heart.

10 Dec 2008   ·   56
Money Saving Mom

Reader tip: Ask for mark-downs

Susan emailed me yesterday with her experience in asking for a mark-down:

I went to Kroger today to get a few
things and I really needed some organic milk. I can often find some
marked down, but today there was none marked down. However, I found they had some
Horizon milk that had a sell-by date of Dec 12 (4 days away).

I found someone who worked at Kroger and asked them if they could tell
me what days they mark down dairy products. When they told me that it was no no specific
day but just every so often, I asked if the milk could/should be marked
down since it expires in 4 days. They said "sure"!

The nice lady
asked how many gallons I wanted, and marked them down and give them to
me, and then marked down the rest of them too! I was so excited that I
got my organic milk for only $2.75/gallon! It never hurts to ask!

Have any of you asked for a mark-down before on items which were nearing their expiration date or produce which was going bad? I have done this very successfully at Aldi before–sometimes even scoring free produce!

9 Dec 2008   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Saving Time and Money With Amazon.com

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Guest Post by Davonne Parks, executive editor of Pierce My Heart

With the holidays approaching, many of us are trying to figure out how
to purchase nice gifts on a limited budget. While there are many ways
to do this, I have personally found that Amazon.com
is a great place to save time and money.

Why Amazon.com?

I have yet to search for an item on Amazon.com which I wasn't able to find.
I've purchased books, bikes, a projector screen, and much more from
Amazon.com for a fraction of the price I've found in stores.

The items we
purchase most from Amazon.com are books. I'll regularly see a book at a
book store for $20, then go home and search for it on Amazon.com, and find
the same exact thing, brand new, for $6 including shipping. This is a
great way to make the most out of every dollar when purchasing gifts
for other people!

Start By Choosing An Item

Do a simple search on Amazon.com for the item you desire. After searching,
you will probably find several versions of the same item. The easiest
way to go through these is to right click on the item you’re interested
in, then left click on “open link in new tab.” This will open the
desired link in a new tab without moving you from the page you were
already on, so that you can continue opening the other items in a new
tab too.

When choosing between similar items, you will want to take special note
of the price, product description, and costumer reviews. Then you can
easily go through each tab, one by one, and X out of the items you
decide against, thus eventually narrowing it down to your final choice.

Amazon.com vs. An Individual Seller


Once you find your desired item, you will need to choose between
purchasing the item from Amazon.com itself and purchasing from an individual
seller who is listed on Amazon.com.

Many items sold by Amazon.com have free
shipping on orders of $25 or more (Super Saver Shipping). I usually
have a list in mind when I purchase from Amazon.com and I wait to purchase
until I have a $25 order so I can take advantage of the free shipping,
since that's generally a little cheaper than the seller price after
adding the seller's shipping charges.

If you do choose to buy from a seller, there are a few ways to ensure a
positive transaction. Click on “new” or “used” to the right of the
product image and browse those selections. They're usually listed from
cheapest to most expensive for buyer ease.

Some things to notice are the shipping rates (listed directly below the
item cost), and the seller's information. Their basic information is
listed to the right of the item price.

It's important to look at how
many sales they've had and their percentage of positive responses. A
rating, or response, is what the costumer gives after receiving his/her
product (this is similar to the eBay system). I generally only buy
items from sellers who have had several hundred transactions, and at
least 98% positive feedback.

You can click on “positive” underneath the
seller's name and read the reviews. This will allow you to see why they
received any negative responses, and you can decide if it's worth
buying from that particular seller.

Making The Purchase


Once you've selected an item to purchase, click on “add to cart.” From
there, you can continue shopping (repeat above steps) or click on
“proceed to checkout.”

Amazon.com will then guide you through the steps of creating an account and
completing your order. After you enter your information once, Amazon.com
saves it for future use, so after the first transaction the checkout
process will be much faster. (For a list of accepted payment methods, go
here.).
You can also set up one-step checkout at this time, which will save
time in the future by setting a default address and payment method that
will automatically appear the next time you place an order.

Additional Helps

The Movers and Shakers
page
on Amazon.com lists items that have been selling much faster than
normal, which usually means they're having huge sales on those items.
For more tips on maximizing your savings on Amazon, check out this post by Pro
Bargain Hunter
.

Amazon.com has great deals for every taste and budget, so learn to maximize your
savings by shopping online, and you just might find you'll rarely have to fight the crowds
at the mall again!

Davonne is the executive editor of Pierce My Heart, an online Christian magazine for young women. December’s Pierce My Heart theme is on giving. She also helps run her husband’s computer business while her daughter is in morning pre-school, and she is learning how to coupon and CVS efficiently.

8 Dec 2008   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Thrifty Evergreens

Guest Post by Monica from The Homespun Heart

Every year, I enjoy getting a load of
free clippings from our local Lowe's Home Improvement store. We
always buy our tree at Lowe's and I'm happy to give them my business
when the tree is a good value and I get all the free clippings I
want! If you don't have a Lowe's nearby, check with any local place
where Christmas trees are sold to see if you might be able to pick up some of the extra tree clippings for free.

I recommend that you head to Lowes at a busy time so you are sure
there will be lots of clippings! Beginning right after Thanksgiving,
weekends are a perfect time to stop by and pick up some free greens. I've found it's helpful to stop at the tree trimming
spot on our way in and say we'd like a load of clippings and then
go pick out our tree as I've had employees start a pile for me and have
it ready when I come out.

Remember that each customer is entitled to their own tree trimmings so don't take someone else's until you are sure they don't want it. And also, be willing to share; you'd be
amazed how far you can stretch a small pile of clippings! 

The following projects I've made from our free evergreen clippings are extremely versatile
and very inexpensive. I hope you will find one or two that you'll
enjoy using to decorate your home this year.The only other supplies you need are
completely up to you and your taste. You might use fabric scraps or ribbon, twine,
pine cones, interesting antiques in holiday colors, or whatever else suits
your family!

Gather some limbs together and wire to a
coat hanger. Glue on pine cones and wire on an item of visual and color
interest–in this case, a red lantern! Add a fabric bow and you have
a great look on your door for free:

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You could decorate your mailbox:

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Or, float evergreens in a jar with cranberries:

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[A note on the cranberries: you can
get these anytime they are on sale and just pop the entire bag in
your freezer. I usually assemble my jars on Christmas Eve and enjoy
them for a few days. You can either place the jars in your fridge
to extend the life of the berries or dry the berries off and refreeze
them for next year! I have made a bag of berries last for two or
three years by doing this!]

Or, decorate a rocking chair or porch swing:

Misc 112

Here are just a few more ideas:

::Put extra greens in a cute pail or bucket on your porch or hearth.

::Tie greens onto a gift bag.

::Use evergreens inside on a windowsill, on top of a cabinet or over a mirror. I've even hung them in the windows!

::Tie a few greens onto your little one's stroller or wagon and make your winter walks more festive!

::Make place card using the extra greens. See details here.

::Use the extra greens as a filler in mailing a box! Go here for more details.

This
is just the beginning! There are so many fun ways to use these free and
beautiful branches! Do you decorate with greens? What is your favorite
way to bring this inexpensive decoration into your decorating?

Monica enjoys blogging about the simple pleasures of faith, family, and home over at The Homespun Heart.

Note from Crystal: Be sure to check out Monica's blog for much more fun and frugal Christmas inspiration! Also, one of my other favorite bloggers, Catherine, has shared how she used her free tree trimmings to decorate her home for Chrstmas this year here and here.

6 Dec 2008   ·   10
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: This week’s ~$40 shopping trip

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I shopped the mark-downs at Dillons and then got fruit, frozen veggies, and other staples at Aldi this week. My total after coupons was $38.49!

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 Dec 2008   ·   0
Money Saving Mom

It’s Frugal Friday!

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It's Frugal Friday and you'll want to stop by my other blog to check out all the great links from frugal zealots around the blogosphere. I'm sharing about how much fun my daughter and I are having with free Betsy McCall paper dolls.

Oh and speaking of having fun with my daughter, if you've not checked out my new blog, Mom of Littles, you might enjoy doing so, if you have a chance. I posted yesterday on a somewhat-typical day at our home and our homeschooling adventures.

4 Dec 2008   ·   27
Money Saving Mom

Smart Shopping Tips from Ellie Kay: Part 2–Milk Your Money

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In continuing on with our series looking at Ellie Kay's Smart Shopping Tips, here are some of her tips on milking your money with a few of my thoughts thrown in as well:

Go on the Cash System –One consumer trend I have seen revitalized is the idea of shopping with cash. When my husband and I were first married, we had $40,000 worth of consumer debt and sometimes didn’t have enough money for groceries. That’s when we went to the cash system by taking out the budgeted amount for groceries in cash and putting it in an envelope. We had a visual reminder of how much was left for the week, it helped us stay on budget, and we didn’t go further into debt by using our credit cards. –Ellie Kay

I can't even begin to tell you how much money we save by shopping primarily with cash. There's just something about handing over green stuff which makes you more aware of just how much you're spending.

We once did an experiment where we paid almost exclusively with our debit card for a few months all the while attempting to stick to our usual budget. We found, to our surprise, how much easier it was to spend a "little here" and a "little there" without even so much as realizing until it came to the end of the month and all of these little purchases were added up.

If you've never tried going cash only for purchases like groceries, clothing, gifts, eating out, etc., I'd highly encourage you to try it out for at least a few months and see if it makes any difference in how you spend and how you consider whether or not a purchase is necessary. You just might be surprised! Plus, it's a whole lot easier to stick to a written budget if you only have cash from an envelope to spend instead of a card to swipe!

Play the Price Matching Game –I’ve worked 40+ hours a week for years with a house full of kids, so I don’t have time (or energy) to drive all over town to shop various sales. I can benefit from all the sales though, by going to a store that matches the lowest price. I save gas, time and money by going to a store that will match competitor sales. –Ellie Kay

While I've found it's more cost-effective for me to shop at two stores (Dillon's and Aldi) rather than price-matching at Wal-Mart, I definitely think everyone should consider going the price-matching route–especially if you'd prefer to keep it simple and only shop at one store. 

As always, I think it is very important that you factor in the time involved in bargain shopping. After all, time is money, too. So be careful to evaluate the return on your investment of time as well as money. If you've been bargain shopping for a few months and you're taking four hours per week to plan your shopping trip, clip your coupons, and shop at various stores and you're only saving $20 or $30 for that time spent, it's likely not worth it. I personally think you should work up to saving at least $30-$40 per hour and buying things you truly need or have a good use for, for it to be worth your while. (Of course, you are free to do whatever floats your boat, I'm just sharing what my rule of thumb is!)

Go Beyond the List –Most families know that creating a list and sticking to it can save you as much as 30% on your grocery bill. But did you know that as many as 50% of the sales or price rollbacks for the week are not advertised in the sales circular? This means that there may be clearance items throughout the store that are not on your list. Give yourself permission to snatch these up if they are a super good value. One week, I found deodorant on sale when the store was remodeling the antiperspirant aisle. There were a variety of brands marked down to $1, including my favorite brand. I matched my “$1 off” coupons with those clearances to get 16 packages of deodorant for free! –Ellie Kay

I disagree with Ellie Kay a little bit here in that I think you shouldn't bust your budget in order to snag a good deal. My philosophy is that if you can't afford something it's not a good deal. However, if your grocery budget allows no wiggle room for stocking up on unadvertised sales, you might need to raise it a tad or learn to be creative in rearranging your plan of attack at the store.

For instance, I plan our $40 menu each week before going to the store based upon what we have on hand and what's on sale at the store. This way, I know we'll have plenty to eat for the week. However, I often will find a great deal on something while I'm at the store which was not on my list–be it an unadvertised deal, marked down meat or produce, or something on clearance. I often know that I have $3-$5 in wiggle room so I can snag the extra deals without needing to cross another item off of my list. But sometimes I don't have as much wiggle room or the items I found are more than the extra room I have to play with.

When this happens, I usually just consider whether I can re-work the menu a bit or see if there are any non-essentials on my grocery list that I can cross off. If not, then I remind myself of my rule of thumb (if it's not in the budget and I can't squeeze it in, it's not a good deal for me) and pass over the deal. There are always plenty of other good deals to be had later on so it's not the end of the world if I have skip over a few. (Of course, like I said above, you are more than free to disagree with my personal philosophy and do what works for your family.)

I'd love to hear your thoughts, if any, on Ellie Kay's tips above. Do you agree or disagree? What works for your family? To see all of Ellie Kay's Smart Shopping Tips, go here.

3 Dec 2008   ·   60
Money Saving Mom

Smart Shopping Tips from Ellie Kay: Part 1–Brown-Bag It

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Oscar Mayer recently contacted me and asked me if I'd consider taking their two-week Smart Saving Value Challenge by implementing Ellie Kay's Smart Shopping Tips for two weeks to see how much I'd save on my grocery bill. In looking over the tips, I realized that I already have implemented almost all of them into my grocery shopping–which is probably one reason our grocery bill is consistently $40 per week!

Since we have a number of new readers here, though, I thought it might be helpful for me to go through a few of Ellie Kay's tips in a two-part series over the next two days to give some ideas and inspiration to those of you who are just getting started on your journey towards being a better home economist–especially when it comes to your grocery budget.

For those who might not be familiar with Ellie Kay, she is a mother to eight, author of six books, and well-known "America's Family Financial Expert. I've especially enjoyed her book, Shop, Save, Share and would recommend it to you if you are just getting started with saving money at the grocery store.

Here are some of her tips (in bold) on cutting your food budget by brown-bagging it. I've included a few of my own thoughts along with her points:

Bag-up More Variety –“Brown bagging it” can be a great way to save time and money, but make sure you mix it up. You can save an average of $3 per person per day by taking a lunch to work or school, that can add up to as much as $260 per month for a family of four! The key to reaping those rewards? Choose a variety of lunch options your family enjoys—this will keep them brown bagging and keep you saving. –Ellie Kay

Since we've been married, we've saved thousands of dollars alone just by packing sack lunches. While Jesse was in law school and we were living on a beans-and-rice budget, brown-bagging it was a must as there was no way we could afford even eating off the dollar menu on a regular occurrence.

It's often the little things like this that can add up to big savings and doing the math by figuring out just how much money you are saving by taking a little time to pack a lunch can be a huge motivator in encouraging you to follow through with it.

“Big to Little” Brown Bag Tips –Any time you can divide menu items from a larger quantity to a lunch bag size, you will save BIG! For example, I buy a two pound bag of mini-carrots, then divide them into snack size plastic bags ahead of time. In the morning, I just grab and go, knowing that I’ve saved as much as 40% off buying prepackaged, smaller baggies of carrots. Do this for fruit snacks, raisins, grapes, sweet snap peas, celery, cherries, and anything else your family enjoys! –Ellie Kay

One thing which has helped me in packing lunches is to divvy up serving-size portions of muffins and cookies in baggies and stick them in the freezer. Then, when I'm packing lunches, I can just pull a few of these baggies out to add to the lunch and round things out. Baggies of healthful muffins and cookies are also great to have on hand for when we'll be out and about running errands. Being prepared with our own food means we divert the urge to make a quick stop through the drive thru! 

Brown Bag Assembly Line –With the number of kids in our house, the morning ritual of getting ready for school often felt like a three-ring circus, so I developed a system that saved my money and my mind. When watching TV at night with the family, I got out all the lunch bags and labeled them with the kids’ names, then filled them with non-perishables like drinks and pre-bagged snacks. Then all I had to do in the mornings was create a sandwich assembly line to complete lunch! This also kept me from saying “why don’t you just buy your lunch today?” if I was too tired in the morning to make their brown bagged lunches. –Ellie Kay

I've found that doing sack lunch prep the night before is a huge
time-saver. For some reason, I'm much more motivated and creative at
nighttime than I am most mornings. So I try to take a few minutes after
dinner to figure out what I'll be packing the next morning and even
getting as much as possible ready.

And now I'd love to hear from you: Do you brown-bag-it at your house? If so, what are some of your best tips for pulling it off simply, consistently, and efficiently?

3 Dec 2008   ·   20
Money Saving Mom

Frugal Christmas Idea: Re-Gifting Get-Together

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photo by krisdecurtis

Leisa emailed me with a creative idea:

Today I had a Re-Gifting Potluck Lunch at
my home with 6 of my friends.  We have all received lots of gifts over
the year that don't fit, aren't our style, can't use, can't re-gift, etc. So today my girlfriends each brought a lunch dish to share
as well as all their new-in-box-never-used gifts. 
 
Before we enjoyed lunch together we bartered and traded the items
that we brought!  I gave away several of the way-too-many candles I
have received as gifts,
make-up, nail polish, and other items I just won't ever use.

Among
the great "deals" I got was a DVD for my hard-to-shop-for
18-year-old family member and a collection of green-and-red Christmas
themed items for a basket for my sister-in-law (table runner, candle,
fingertip towels, and Christmas platter, each of which came from a
different friend!). In addition, I also got several small children's gifts that I will
be using when my 4- and 7-year olds are invited to birthday parties.

Everyone went home happy and we have already decided
to do this again next year. I have two more people done for Christmas
for free! You can't beat that for a frugal Christmas!  Of course, it
was also a great excuse to get together with friends.

 

I know some folks aren't too keen on "re-gifting" but if it's something you feel comfortable with, this could be not only a fun thing to do in the next week or two, but it could save you some
money.

In a similar vein, I was thinking that if you have friends who are into couponing and bargain shopping, perhaps you could get-together and do an exchange with some of the extras you might have on hand from sweet almost-free or free deals you've picked up in recent months which would be suitable for gifts or gift baskets.

Have any of you all done something like this? If so, I'd love to hear!
2 Dec 2008   ·   22
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Building an “Emergency Fund” of Food

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photo by bkajino

Guest Post by Hannah and Abby from Safely Gathered In

Syndicated radio host Dave Ramsey advises his listeners to set up an emergency fund that consists of
three to six months of living expenses. The fund is for "just in case"
situations like job loss and medical or auto emergencies–basically a
source of cash for unexpected tough times.

Along this same line of
thinking, it is also smart to consider setting up an emergency fund of
food. Thinking of your long-term food needs is not only for
"gloom-and-doom" situations. By systematically storing food that your
family enjoys eating, you will be able to purchase the food on your
plan when it is at rock-bottom prices, learn to plan and budget better,
and give your family peace of mind.

Building
a three month supply of food can seem daunting at first—it is a lot of
food!  But it can be done. The first step is to plan meals you want to
store.
It won't do you much good to just store random food items. 

Make
a menu plan and post it on your pantry door for easy reference. Ideally, you want to plan meals that only use non-perishable items so
your food storage isn't ruined if you lose electricity and your freezer
food thaws. Spaghetti, rice and beans, chicken pot pie, and vegetarian
taco soup are some excellent meals that can be made completely from
pantry (non-perishables) items.

Once your meals are planned
out, write down all the ingredients you need on one "Master List." Each time you visit the grocery store, look at what's on sale and stock
up reasonably on the things from your list.
Or, you can just buy one
extra full meal every time you shop. Soon you will have a week of
extra meals, then a month, and so on.

A supply of food should
be built up slowly according to both your budget and plan. Do not go
into debt building your food storage—that's neither frugal or
responsible. Don't "hoard" food either. Only buy what you need and
what your family will enjoy eating. Then use it when you need it.

The
third important step in creating your emergency fund of food is
rotation.
Even non-perishable food can spoil. This is why it's so
important to "store what you eat and eat what you store."

In order to
avoid wasting the money that you spent purchasing the non-perishable
food items, pay close attention to expiration dates, and devise a
system for rotation. For example, if you have cans of veggies or fruit
in your food storage, eat them. Then, when you replace the items
you've taken out, put the new food in the back so the old food gets
eaten first. Food storage is a constant cycle of buying, storing,
rotating, eating, and replacing.

Do we only serve food storage
meals to our families? Of course not! We like to try new food storage
recipes weekly and we also like to eat a lot of fresh foods in the
summertime. We
rotate our supply, usually eating at least one food storage meal per
week, sometimes more. Because the foods are non-perishable, there is
not any pressure to use them immediately. At the same time, if we don't
feel like cooking what we had planned for dinner, we can fall back on
one of the food storage classics, and no one will complain.

Just
recently, Abby and her family had a tight month financially with some
car issues. The one expense they could confidently cut was their food
budget. She stopped going to the grocery store completely except to get
a few things like milk, eggs, and a little produce. Did they starve?
Not at all! They ate delicious, nutritious meals. In fact, no one even
noticed she hadn't been shopping as long as they didn't look in her
fridge. 

Remember, don't be overwhelmed when it comes to building an
emergency fund of food–take it one step at a time. Start by making
small goals like storing one week of food, then two weeks, and so on 
Then when you hit those bumps in life, feeding your family will be
something you don't have to think about.

Hannah and Abby share recipe ideas, food preservation
tutorials, and more information regarding food storage
at SafelyGatheredIn.blogspot.com.

1 Dec 2008   ·   1
Money Saving Mom

Recommendation: Moritz Fine Designs

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A few months ago, I was searching for a work-at-home mom to design some promotional post cards and business cards for me on a tight time schedule. I was delighted to happen upon Heather Moritz from Moritz Fine Designs.

Not only was Heather a pleasure to work with, she graciously went the extra mile in the design and graphic work she did. I was very impressed with her work ethic, her design skills, and her fast turn-around, but I was especially appreciative of her very reasonable pricing. And the end results were fabulous!

If you're a work-at-home mom or wife looking for someone to design and print affordable business
cards or post cards for your business, definitely visit Moritz Fine Designs. Not only does Heather offer logo design, and custom business cards and post cards, she also has some adorable "Mommy Calling Cards" which would be great for those of you with blogs.

Ever been somewhere and wished you had your blog information on a cute little card to give out to someone who asks? Well, her Mommy Calling Cards are perfect for those occasions! And if you're looking for someone to do holiday photo cards for your family, Heather's got you covered, too. Check out her brand new line of unique holiday photo cards here.

No matter your design needs, Heather can likely handle it and do an excellent job of it. So be sure to stop by her website today; she comes highly recommended by
me!

28 Nov 2008   ·   18
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: I took the week off from shopping (almost!)

Aside from buying ingredients for the various items I cooked for our three Thanksgiving dinners and purchasing a few other staples, I took the week off from my usual shopping. In fact, I didn’t even plan a menu–something that is incredibly uncharacteristic of me.

I’m not even exactly sure what I was thinking. Well, come to think of it, I don’t know that I was thinking at all! Let me tell you, I learned very quickly that skipping menu planning is not a good idea. We ended up going out to eat more than I care to admit and spending some money unnecessarily because of my lack of organization and preparation ahead of time.

We did have some extra money in out “Dates and Eating Out” envelope and we did have some extra money leftover from some other categories that we used to fund these “splurges” this week, but still, I know that even just a little bit of time spent to prepare at the beginning of the week would have saved us a nice chunk of change.

I learned my lesson and I’m hopeful I will remember this week if I’m ever tempted to “play hooky” from menu-planning again. Maybe it can be a lesson to the rest of you all, too. Learn from my mistakes: don’t skip the menu planning–it’s a very important part of keeping the food budget low!

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.**

26 Nov 2008   ·   8
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Frugal Fall Family Fun

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photo by Brian Hathcock

Guest Post by Kate from Cincinnati Cents

Fall is such a magical time of year for children. Trees seem to change right before their eyes, bursting into brilliant hues of red, yellow, and orange. The warm air of summer has subtly been replaced with cooler, crisper mornings. Children are amazed by their power to create a frosty cloud when breathing into the cool fall air. It is a season of change, and with that change, comes a limitless supply of family fun that will last until the first snows of winter.

Pumpkins are wonderfully symbolic of harvest time, and most children have an amazing fascination with them. For young children who are not quite ready for the carving experience, paint is a creative option.  Don an old t-shirt, lay out newspapers on the table (I’m sure we all have plenty lying around), and pour paint into old yogurt cups. Voila! You have the perfect recipe for creativity. Cheerful faces can be painted on to adorn your child’s pumpkin, and their creations will last right through the Thanksgiving season.

For older children, carving a pumpkin is always a memorable experience. From the first cut into a pumpkin, the kitchen is filled with the fresh smell of autumn. The seeds that are scooped out can be washed and set aside for later roasting. They make a yummy treat after the hard work of creating a perfect pumpkin.

The designs for pumpkin carvings are limitless. There are several online sites that offer free downloadable templates, with everything from very traditional pumpkin faces, to popular characters, and intricate scenes. Once the pumpkin is carved to satisfaction, a candle can be placed inside, and you have a one-of-a-kind autumn decoration.

Autumn leaves offer a great potential for creativity as well. Placed under paper, children can create rubbings of the leaves they find. Unpeel the paper from your child’s crayon, and rub the side of the crayon against the paper. Children are often amazed that the texture and shape of the leaf magically appears on their paper. As an added learning experience, older children can then identify their leaves, and label them accordingly.

Colorful leaves can also be torn and arranged on a sheet of waxed paper in the shape of animals or other objects of your child’s liking. Once your child is satisfied with his or her creation, place another sheet of waxed paper on top of the leaf design. Carefully iron the creation on low heat. The leaf project will need to cool for a few minutes; afterwards, punch a hole in the top of the waxed paper, slip a string through, and your child will have a unique fall creation to hang up.

Fall projects can also be created through the use of “puffy paint”. Mix equal parts of white shaving cream and white school glue. Add in various colors to create a multitude of options for projects. I often use Kool Aid to color our puffy paint, as it is inexpensive, and forms bright hues. Children can then use this “paint” to make puffy pumpkins or fall leaves (be sure to use heavy paper, as this paint is very thick).  When finished, glitter can be sprinkled on top to give the project a shimmery effect. These should be laid flat to dry for 24-48 hours, depending on how thick the paint is applied.

Of course, if you do not feel creative this Fall, that’s perfectly alright, too. Grab a rake, pile up a mound of leaves, and turn the clock back a few years. Jump with your children and let the leaves fly. It’s amazing how much fun it is to be a child again!  Enjoy your Fall!

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.