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8 Jul 2011   ·   66
Looking for easy, FREE ways to keep your toddlers busy this summer? Check out these GREAT ideas!

8 Activities For Tots That Won’t Cost You Anything

Looking for easy, FREE ways to keep your toddlers busy this summer? Check out these GREAT ideas!

Looking for some ideas to keep your tots busy this summer? Here are eight ideas that you can do with items you probably already have on hand:

Water Painting

Bean Scooping

Water Scooping & Pouring

Apple Stamping (we’ve also done this with potatoes)

Ice Cube Boat-Making

Ice Cube Painting

Pudding Finger Painting (you can also make your own edible finger paint)

Peanut Butter Playdough Fun

What are your favorite no-cost activities for tots? Tell us in the comments!

7 Jul 2011   ·   87

Build-Your-Own Haystacks Recipe

This recipe is so flexible and forgiving; we adapt it based upon what we have on hand and what we get on sale. It’s been a favorite of ours for many years!

Growing up, we served this more times than I can count when we had a big group of guests over. It’s great paired with a fruit salad and Green Rice Casserole.

By the way, if you’re the kind of person who prefers exact measurements, I found this recipe on AllRecipes that is similar to the one we make.

7 Jul 2011   ·   36
Money Saving Mom

4 Free Educational Sites for Young Children

(Kaitlynn when she was 22 months old. Isn’t she precious? I can’t believe she’s already 4 years old now!)

If you’re looking for free children’s educational sites, here are a few I recommend:

::DLTK Crafts for Kids features a variety of printable children’s crafts, coloring pages, worksheets and projects for holidays. The site covers almost every subject and holiday and would be great for preschool, homeschool, or afterschool educational activities. (Thanks for the link, 1 All Natural Mommy!)

::HomeschoolShare is a site I go to often when I’m planning out themed units for our homeschooling. You can search by subject and there are many free lapbooks, unit studies, printables, and more.

::Preschool Palace offers free daily lesson plans, song lists, activities, monthly calendar, book suggestions, craft ideas, and worksheets plus hundreds of free printables. The lesson plans are only released one month at a time for free during the school year, though. (Thanks, Deanna, for suggesting this site!)

::Starfall is one of my girls’ favorite sites. When I was very sick with morning sickness during the beginning of Silas’ pregnancy, the girls and I spent a lot of time exploring this site. There are lots of simple phonics games and more to teach young children the basics of reading.

Find many more free educational ebooks, downloads, and worksheets here.

What are your favorite free children’s educational sites or blogs? Tell us in the comments.

6 Jul 2011   ·   45
Money Saving Mom

Breaking Writer’s Block

Note from Crystal: I’m taking a break from the How to Make Money Blogging Series this week to let my friend, Jon Acuff, share a post on breaking writer’s block. I think many of you who are bloggers or freelance writers will enjoy his post. And be sure to stop by his blog — it’s one of my favorite blogs on the planet!

Guest post by Jon Acuff from

“Oh the irony, you can’t think of an opening sentence for a blog post that’s supposed to help people beat writer’s block!”

That’s the first sentence that came to my mind as I sat down to write this post. And as such, it had the honor of breaking through all that deafening white space on my laptop.

That’s something I do sometimes. I recruit whatever sentence is in my head to go first, to throw itself on the blank page grenade. To take one for the team and be that brave, often ugly sentence standing alone in that ocean of nothing. That big, often terrifying maw of blank that is waiting for you to fill it. With words and ideas and creativity and it’s just so empty.

You’ve got writer’s block. And maybe the “first sentence in my head goes first” approach doesn’t work for you. I’ve had writer’s block, too. In the last two years, I’ve written three books, dozens of freelance projects, and around a million words on my blogs.

I had writer’s block writing my new book, Quitter. I had writer’s block writing the content for the Quitter Conference. I’ve had 100 bouts with writers block. I will have 100 more.

Here is one way I’ve learned to beat it: Ask future you to be awesome. Whether you’re a writer or a car mechanic, the fear of perfectionism often talks us out of doing the things we’re called to do.

We don’t want to start because we’re afraid whatever it is we do won’t be perfect. So we sit and wait, scared to make a single move and write down a less than perfect sentence on our blogs.

What I do in those moments is ask future me to be awesome. I think to myself, “OK, right now, the stuff I write, might not be awesome. So Future Jon, the guy who will rewrite what I write tomorrow, will you please turn this into something awesome?”

And then I write. Future Jon’s got it all under control. That guy is going to do something amazing. Today Jon? His only responsibility is to get something, anything really, down on paper. It’s OK if it’s horrible. His job isn’t awesome. That’s Future Jon’s job.

The funny thing is that often, midway through writing the first few pages, I forget about that little arrangement I’ve made between Today Jon and Future Jon. I’ve never had a moment where hours later or days later, Future Jon has sat down to read what’s been written and thought, “Oh, this Today Jon is killing me. What kind of nonsense is this? How am I supposed to make this awesome?”

Nope, Future Jon is an appreciative fellow. He’s just glad that Today Jon got anything down on the piece of paper because that was really his only expectation.

Maybe that sounds weird to you and it probably should, because I’m weird. So let me say it in a different way. Next time you sit down to write, I want you to say one thing to yourself:

“Later, I’ll be awesome. Today, I’m just going to be productive.”

And then just start.

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? What did you do to get over it?

Jon Acuff is a speaker, author, and launcher. He has written three books including the Wall Street Journal Bestseller Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job and Stuff Christians Like. You can read more of his work on or follow him on Twitter @jonacuff.

photo credit

5 Jul 2011   ·   35
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu

Watermelon Frosties

Jesse’s had a really heavy case load at his law firm recently so he’s been working a lot of extra hours the last few weeks. So we were so happy to have him home over the fourth of July weekend. We slept in and just enjoyed relaxing family time for three whole days. It was so nice — and we were was sad when the extended weekend was over. Now it’s back to real-life again!

Blueberry Pancakes, scrambled eggs
Fruit Smoothies
Scrambled eggs and toast, fruit
French Toast, fruit
Fruit Smoothies
Scones, fruit, scrambled eggs

Lunch out
Salad with hard boiled eggs, bagels, fruit
Homemade mac & cheese, fruit, peas
Mini pizzas, salad, fruit
Refried beans with cheese and rice, carrot sticks, fruit
Leftovers x 2

Watermelon Frosties
Homemade Smoothie Popsicles

Build-Your-Own Haystacks

Dinner with extended family (we brought watermelon)
Dinner with extended family (we brought the meat for grilling)
Build-Your-Own Haystacks, fruit
Pancakes, scrambled eggs, fruit (Jesse’s working late, so I’m making a simple dinner for the children and me.)
Cheese Quesadillas (Jesse’s working late, so I’m making a simple dinner for the children and me.)
Lemon Garlic Grilled Chicken, fruit, Bread Machine Bread Sticks
Steak, fruit, tossed salad, Oven Baked Parmesan Fries

Freezer-Cooking-In-An-Hour Plan (I’ll share pictures/details on how this goes on Thursday!)
Bread Machine Bread Sticks
Lemon Garlic Marinated Chicken

What’s on your menu this week? If you’ve blogged about it, I’d love for you to share your menu plan link in the comments.

5 Jul 2011   ·   18
Money Saving Mom

Today’s Target Trip

I took all of last week off from grocery shopping. It’s always nice to have a break and eat from the pantry, and then it always feels good to get back to coupons and bargains. I can’t stay away from them for long!

Here’s what I bought at Target today:

Shower Caddy — $9.99
Used $10/1 Bathroom furnishing coupon (no longer available)
Free after coupon

Sally Hansen Nail Product – $2.04
Used $1/1 printable (no longer available)
Stacked with $1/1 Target printable (no longer available)
$0.04 each after coupons

Suave Shampoo — $0.84
Used $0.75/1 Target coupon (no longer available)
$0.09 after coupon

Up & Up Pain Relief (24 ct) – $0.99
Used $0.50/1 Target printable
$0.49 after coupon

Ortega Green Chilies — $1.12 each
Bought 2 and used $1/2 any Ortega Products coupon
$0.62 each after coupon

1 jar Market Pantry Pasta Sauce ($1.34) & 1 box Market Pantry whole-wheat pasta ($1.04)
Used $1/2 Target coupon
$0.84 for the pasta sauce & $0.54 for the pasta after coupon

1 round King’s Hawaiian Bread Loaf — $2.99
Used $2/1 coupon
$0.99 after coupon

1 bag mini chocolate chips — $1.79

2 Market Pantry shredded cheese — $2.39 per bag
Used $1/2 coupon (no longer available)
$1.89 per bag after coupons

After coupons, my total was just over $11.

5 Jul 2011   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

How to Organize Using What You Already Have

Guest post by Kaui at Thrifty Military Mommy

I was taught that when you do something, you do it only one way and any other way is wrong. Likewise, if you have a product, you were only supposed to use it for what it was made for (i.e. a towel rack should only be used to hang towels and nothing else).

It wasn’t until we were dirt poor that I realized this kind of thinking was obsolete: we simply did not have the money to be picky about what we used. Even now that we make good money and we’re debt-free I still try to use what I already have on hand to organize before I go out to buy anything since it saves so much money.

Change Your Perspective

Throw all those beliefs out the window that say you need to buy something to help you organize your things. Chances are, you already have something at home you can use that requires just a few or no adjustments.

Our bed system turned into a pantry/bookshelf

Who cares if it’s not beautiful? Far too many people buy things because they’re pretty rather than recognizing that organization makes a home prettier. I get many more comments on how well organized my home is than on the beautiful book cases I have.

You can find many websites and blogs that will show you step-by-step how to make something prettier than it is. Using this method will still save you tons of money, even if you have to buy some paint to repaint your table.

Hanging towel rack turned into an organizer in our kitchen

Same hanging towel rack turned into an organizer in our bathroom

Just about everything we have can be used for multiple purposes. All it takes is a little bit of brain storming and creativity. Check out YouTube (just type in the word “organize” and you’ll get hundreds of videos) and I’m an Organizing Junkie for many great ideas.

It really is fun to transform something you already have into something chic and beautiful. You’re organizing, beautifying and saving all in one! Nothing is better than that!

Kaui Eiklor currently lives in Fort Lewis, WA with her husband and two beautiful kiddos. She stays at home with the kids and enjoys blogging on her website at Thrifty Military Mommy about military life, children, and thriftiness.

1 Jul 2011   ·   90
Money Saving Mom

Books Read in June: Debt-Free U, Honey for a Child’s Heart, The Happiness Project + more

Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents — So many people think it’s almost impossible to go to college without incurring debt. Zac Bissonette debunks this myth and shows you how it’s possible to pay cash for college without having to take twenty years or make six figures (or without parents having to cash in their 401Ks to pull it off).

The book promises it might save you $100,000 and I think it very well could. Despite what some may tell you, college doesn’t have to cost two arms and two legs. I know many, many young people who have gone to college and graduate school without debt and wholeheartedly believe it’s much more possible than most people realize.

Zac does a huge service to families everywhere in this well-written, much-needed book. You might disagree with some of his conclusions or suggestions, but I promise he’ll make you think and re-examine your beliefs regarding college and debt. If you are planning to go to college at some point in the future or have children who are planning to go to college, you must read this book.

Also Read:

Honey for a Child’s Heart — I really enjoyed this book. As some of you know, I’m not a huge fan of fiction for a variety of reasons (mostly because I like real-life stuff and just can’t seem to get into fiction knowing that it’s been made up — especially when I have lots of other books I really, really want to read!). However, this book challenged some of my long held opinions on fiction and helped me think of it in a new light. I didn’t agree with all of the authors conclusions on books we should read to our children, but I was inspired to continue to make reading a big part of our lives and to encourage my children to love good books. I also loved the book lists at the back of the book and added dozens of them to our long to-read list!

The Wounded Spirit — I read this book based upon Ann Voskamp’s recommendation. While I actually didn’t love Peretti’s writing style like I thought I would (I think I’ve only read one other book by him before), this book had some excellent gems in it. I was especially challenged to realize how much my words can effect others and how important it is for me to be careful to do my best to only say words that build up and encourage my children, my husband and all those I come in contact with. By the way, if you missed it, be sure to read Ann’s poignant post on this topic.

The Treasure Principle — I loved this book. It was short, concise, thought-provoking and all around excellent. If you’re a Christian struggling with what Biblical stewardship entails, this book will definitely encourage and challenge you. This book is well worth your time.

The Happiness Project — I was planning to read Three Cups of Tea this month, but after I was made aware of a lot of controversy over the book, I decided to replace it with The Happiness Project. This book is not my usual type of reading material and I really didn’t expect to like it, but some various friends of mine recommended it, so I read it. And I’m glad I did!

While I believe that the only way to experience true, lasting fulfillment and happiness in life is to live one’s life for Christ, this book made me re-examine my life and why I do what I do each day. I definitely disagreed wholeheartedly with some of the author’s conclusions, but I was inspired to think of small changes I can implement in my life to make our home and lives run more smoothly and cheerfully. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of choosing to sing in the morning instead of complain over a long to-do list and spilled milk!

Read aloud to the children: Little Town on the Prairie, All of a Kind Family, Voyage With the Vikings, and Attack at the Arena. We thoroughly enjoyed all of these, though I’d say the Adventures in Odyssey books were definitely their favorites.

24 Books I Plan to Read in 2011

Business and Financial Books I Plan to Read and Review This Year:

January — 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
February — Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living

March — Becoming a Person of Influence
April — Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking
May — Life on the Wire: Avoid Burnout and Succeed in Work and Life
June — Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents
July — Have a New You by Friday: How to Accept Yourself, Boost Your Confidence & Change Your Life in 5 Days
August — Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
September — America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money
October — Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
November — Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet
December –Personal Investing: The Missing Manual

Other Books I Plan to Read This Year:
January — Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment
February — Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time
March — The Possibilities of Prayer
April — The Blessing of Boundaries
May — The Happiness Project
June — Honey for a Child’s Heart
July — One With Christ
August — A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning
September — Womanly Dominion: More Than A Gentle and Quiet Spirit
October — The Rose Conspiracy
November — Disciplines of a Godly Woman
December –Benjamin Rush: Signer of the Declaration of Independence

What books did you read in June? Any great recommendations for me to add to my to-read list?

(Note: The links in this post are affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy here.)

1 Jul 2011   ·   16
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash: A New-To-Us Sectional

We paid cash!

A testimony from Jennifer

From the time my husband and I moved into our house 4 1/2 years ago we dreamed of replacing our garage sale chair and freebie sofa with a sectional. While waiting for our dream to come true, we settled on purchasing slip covers for each to at least make them match.

My husband and I are both planners by nature and try to think long-term —  especially when making decisions that will cost us a substantial amount of money. We didn’t want just any sectional, we wanted one with a chase lounge (for me), pull out sofa (for when our guest room inevitably becomes another kid’s room), and recliner (for my husband).

So our search began in the most logical place: Craigslist! At first I was a little grossed out about buying a used sectional, but quickly got over it when we realized the price of a brand new sectional. We looked and looked and looked but couldn’t find what we wanted.

Fast forward three years, two dogs, our first child, and a lost job later our dream was still alive, but just barely. Losing a job can really make you think out of the box — and that’s exactly what we did. We sold all the large items in our basement (stereo system, couch, chair, elliptical, and coffee table) on Craigslist and made $475!

We now had $475 burning a hole in our pockets, and the hunt was on again for our new-to-us sectional. We were blessed to find exactly what we wanted within a week, which surprised me since we had been looking for three years and never found anything! I didn’t waste any time, we contacted the seller, went to take a look at the sectional. It turned out to be perfect in every way!

The sectional belonged to an older couple with grown children who have only had it a few years and took great care of it. The pull-out bed had never been used (a huge plus for the gross out factor!) and their home was immaculately clean. To top it off it was a Lazy-Boy. I never dreamed we would actually get a name-brand sectional!

The price listed was $425. We were able to pay cash for it and have enough leftover to rent a truck to move it.

At the end of the day we were able to get our dream sectional without touching our bank account or credit card (which are now all paid off!!) It just took a little time, a lot of patience, and some clever thinking.

Jennifer Willis lives in Olathe, Kansas and runs an in-home daycare. She has a son named Henry who is 1 1/2 years old and another son on the way! She has been married to her husband, John, for 4 1/2 years.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

30 Jun 2011   ·   64
Money Saving Mom

Frugal Fail: The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Waffle Experiment

My dad gave an illustration in his sermon last Sunday and part of it referred to “his daughter who never follows recipes and is known for making up all sorts of interesting concoctions as a result.”

My husband turned and looked at me during the sermon with a smirk on his face. He knows all too well about my “interesting concoctions”.

Back when I was living at home, my poor family was subjected to all sorts of my failed experiments and to this day, I think they are afraid to eat my cooking. However, I have improved over time and, gratefully, mishaps are fairly rare occurrences these days.

This week, though, I think my waffle experiment topped some of the worst kitchen fails I’ve had in my history of cooking. Yes, it was bad.

The recipe looked so simple and delicious. How could you go wrong with brownies and bananas in waffles?

Well, let me tell you, you can go wrong with brownies and bananas and waffles. Very, very wrong.

It started off on a bad footing when I decided to substitute the Homemade Baking Mix in place of the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. I added in the cocoa powder, cinnamon, and wheat germ, then I mixed together the milk, bananas, and eggs.

That was when I got stumped. You see, the Homemade Baking Mix has coconut oil already in it. So I realized I probably didn’t need the oil.

But after I mixed the wet ingredients in with the dry ingredients, I noticed big chunks of coconut oil in the batter. And it struck me that that could be a problem.

Not easily deterred, I pressed on, heated the waffle iron, and poured some batter on it. The batter looked unlike any other waffle batter consistency I’d seen before and I became a little concerned.

The first waffle wouldn’t even come off the waffle iron without lots of effort — and it ended up breaking into a hundred pieces in the process. “Oh well, the first waffle is always the worst,” I told myself.

But then I decided to taste-test it. It was disgusting.

I thought maybe it just needed more sugar, so added more sugar and poured more waffle batter on. The second waffle was even worse — and it still tasted gross. There were white chunks in it (coconut oil?) and it fell apart in dozens of pieces while I tried to get it off the iron.

I decided to give up on the waffle idea and began wracking my brain to see what I could instead turn this icky batter into. “Pancakes!”, I thought. “I’ll make pancakes with it!”

But the pancakes I tried to make with it were gooey and crumbling and tasted terrible. The kids wouldn’t eat them — even with coaxing. And I’m guessing if we had a dog, he wouldn’t have eaten it either.

I finally gave up and threw out all the waffle and pancake pieces as well as the batter. It was a lost cause.

The good news? The Double Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins I made during that same cooking session (and, of course, tweaked the recipe for) actually turned out beautifully and delicious.

So I think there still may be hope for this experimental cook, but I know it’s going to take me a few months to work up the courage to try experimenting with a waffle recipe again!

30 Jun 2011   ·   82
Money Saving Mom

Do-It-Yourself Experiment #5: Homemade Hummus

Before I tell you about June’s Do-It-Yourself Experiment, I first promised an update on the Homemade Laundry Detergent. I don’t love it, but it’s working alright. I’ve learned that I have to put it in, turn the water on and let it run and dissolve before putting the dirty laundry in to wash.

It washes just fine, but the clothes don’t quite seem as fresh or smell as great as they do with regular laundry soap. At this point, I don’t like it enough to use it full-time from here on out, but I would definitely use it if I can’t get great deals on laundry detergent.

And now for the hummus experiment… can I just say how amazing I felt to make homemade hummus using homemade tahini and chickpeas I boiled? Yes, I know, I’m weird like that.

But seriously? Making every bit of this from scratch was exhilarating.

I used this recipe here for the tahini. I ended up roasting the sesame seeds just a wee bit much and this gave it a very strong roasted tahini flavor. Not sure I’m a huge fan of tahini — especially roasted tahini — but it was still cool to make.

The hummus was super simple to make (I used the recipe from Simply Recipes). I ended up doing it in my Vita-Mix and that seemed to work well. Except I was a little worried I was going to burn the motor up since the hummus was definitely thicker than the smoothies we usually make. It began steaming and got very hot, but the Vita-Mix pulled through without a hitch.

The end result was pretty good. I’m very sure it was not the best hummus I’ve ever tasted, but the strong roasted tahini may have had something to do with that. 🙂 I definitely plan to try more hummus recipes in the future and hope to find one that is just amazing.

Have you tried any new do-it-yourself experiments recently? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

In case you missed it, here’s the list of the 12 Do-It-Yourself Projects I Plan to Try in 2011:

January: Make From-Scratch Chai Tea

February: Make Homemade Dishwashing Detergent

March: Make Homemade Hamburger Buns

April: Make Homemade Laundry Soap

May: Make Appliqued Flower Tee

June: Make Homemade Hummus

July: Make Freezer Jam

August: Make Homemade Soap

September: Sew a Rag Quilt

October: Make Homemade Apple Butter

November: Make Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

December: Make Homemade Marshmallows

30 Jun 2011   ·   43
Money Saving Mom

Fitting Hope Into Your Budget

Guest post by Lauren Bonk

The fact that you’re reading this means you’re part of an army. An enormous, world-wide army of people who want to be wise stewards of their money.

Each of us wields our own weapons: Some carry scissors to cut coupons, others have hawk-like eyes that can spot a deal a mile away. I, personally, arm myself with a budget.

There are symptoms that go hand-in-hand with a long battle. It’s amazing, but when we fight long and hard enough, it’s not uncommon to forget exactly what it is we’re fighting for. Fortunately, the antidote to our affliction can be found in a pretty simple word — hope.

Hope is essential, but requires maintenance and tending. That can be hard to pull off when you’re drowning in financial difficulties or setbacks. Our family has only been budgeting for six months, but it’s been long enough to learn some tricks to help keep our hope afloat.

1. Keep your goals visible.

Literally. Sure, you can say, “Hey, honey, remember, only a few more years of this and we’ll be in Greece!” Sometimes, though, words just don’t cut it. We have a “Greece Fund” piggy bank. Every time we drop in our change, we’re reminded of the vacation we can’t wait to take.

Ask yourself, “Why?” Why are you working so hard? Find your answer and make it tangible.

Are you working toward financial freedom? Try stenciling the word FREEDOM on something decorative and hanging it above your sink — or whatever it takes to give you a little dose of hope.

2. Allow rewards.

Anyone who’s worked in a thankless job knows how effective a reward can be. Rewards not only make you smile, but also give you a little taste of the ultimate goal.

What is the perfect reward for you? We allow for a “date night” column in our budget spreadsheet. I can’t begin to tell you how nice it is to indulge ourselves without worrying about our bank accounts.

Maybe ice cream, a new pair of shoes, or a long-awaited CD is what you need. No matter what you choose, rewarding yourself every once in awhile will be good for your morale (and your soul!).

3. Appreciate Progress.

This may be the most important one. It can be daunting to look at the big picture and sometimes we need to narrow our focus.

If you’ve only been budgeting for two weeks, don’t look at how far you have to go to reach your goals, look at how much progress you’ve made already. In this instance, the simple act of knowing exactly how much money you have in your account can be a huge accomplishment; I know it was for us.

We’re only human, friends, and we can’t accomplish all our goals in one day. Take a look at the progress you’ve made, and allow yourself to feel good about it.

Do you have any other great ideas for nurturing hope? Remember, we’re all fighting on the same team, and we’ve got to stick together.

Lauren Bonk is a certified baby wrangler, word enthusiast, and scatter-brain extraordinaire.  She owns fifteen copies of Wuthering Heights and happily resides with her family in Nebraska. Read about her budgeting endeavors, food obsession, and mostly-chipper musings at

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