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23 Oct 2008   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Bargain shoppers not deterred by cold, wind, and rain!

Despite the freezing cold and rain, we decided to go ahead with our yard sale today. I think it was a good decision judging by the fact that we've been crazily busy and barely able to keep up at times!

At any rate, I had planned to do some blogging during the "down times" of the sale. Problem is, "down time" has been non-existent–which I certainly don't have a problem with! 🙂

Once we wrap things up with the sale here, I'm hoping to have a chance to post. But until then, you'll know where I am… bundled up in the corner of the freezing cold garage taking money from all the folks who are eagerly buying our stuff!

20 Oct 2008   ·   13
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Saving Money Through “Stockpiling”

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photo by ninjapoodles

Guest Post by Andrea from Mommy Snacks

Our family of five spends around $100 per week for groceries,
which includes food, health and beauty, diapers and formula (since
our baby has a milk allergy). When I first began the journey to really
focus on our budget, I found a great way to save even more during my
weekly shopping trips: stocking up on items our frequently used items. This not
only helped save money in our budget, it also helped with saving time
and gas–which equals money, too!

 
Some of the tips I have used to build our stockpile without going overboard are:
 
1) Determine what your stockpile needs are.

Some of
these items that most families use on a very regular basis and would be good items to stock up on when there's a good sale are pretty obvious: toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, etc. Food items may require you to think about past meals to figure out what
was eaten the most.

I am a visual person so I found that looking at
past menu plans to see what meals we had over the course of several
weeks helped to determine this. Keeping a food journal is another way
to get this information, too. This will help to determine what those
highly-consumed items are for your family.

 
Another part of focus is knowing when to say when. Going
overboard can seem very exciting in the beginning; blowing your
grocery budget is not.

Try to stick to a stockpile budget that is
included in your grocery budget. This allows you to stock up on the
really good sale and also money in the budget for the weekly
necessities. I generally use around $10 of our budget each week. Some
weeks there are no opportunities to stockpile anything but at least I
know I have a goal to stay within.

 
2) Define what a comfortable stockpile amount is for your family.

This amount is completely individual. I personally keep a 3-month
supply of health and beauty items in our stockpile. Many of these
items can be easily replenished for free so I don't find a larger supply is
necessary for us.

When you are determining this amount for your food
stockpile, be sure to keep in mind the food expiration dates and
storage recommendations. You certainly don't want to have a supply
that expires!  Again, remembering what meals are more popular will help
to determine if you want a larger supply based on that item's sales
cycle.   

 
3) Know when a seemingly "good price" is truly a good price.

I generally stockpile items when they are
at least 75% off. This percentage varies some, of course, since some items can be
considered "stockworthy" at a lower percentage, others may be at a
higher percentage so it depends on the item.

Sometimes there aren't
coupons for what you may have to purchase but the item may be on sale
for 40% off. If you never see that item on sale, the sale price is a
great value in itself. 

 
An option to keep track of pricing is using a price book to track the sales trends in your area. Another resource I have found helpful is the
discussion on sales cycles here. This gives you a general idea of the cycles
many items follow. 

4) Establish a place for storing your stockpile.

 
Before you buy a
truckload of something, think ahead to where you are going to store it. Certain products
have storage recommendations that should be followed so truly
understanding what your needs are will help you from wasting money in
expired stockpile items.

I use the FIFO policy–First In, First Out. Meaning that I use up the items which have been on the shelf longest first. This helps me rotate the items as new ones are placed in our storage to ensure nothing expires before it can be used.

Andrea Deckard is a stay-at-home mommy with an amazing husband and three energetic boys. Mommy Snacks
is a representation of the life she lives:  faith-loving, money-saving,
weight-struggling mom who is trying to be the best that God wants for
her! Stop by Mommy Snacks to get your fill of "zero-calorie" snacks to help you make it through the day!
20 Oct 2008   ·   6
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading: Menu-planning and KidVantage

::I enjoyed Trent's post on how menu-planning could save you a significant amount of money at the store each week. For those of you overwhelmed at the thought of clipping coupons but who want to shave off some excess from your grocery budget, here's a simple way to start.

::Have young children who are rough on their clothes? Ruth wrote about the Sear's KidVantage program and how to utilize it to save money on clothing. My mom always purchased my brothers' jeans at Sears in order to take advantage of this. They could go through at least a few pairs of them each Summer so it was well worth it to buy them at Sears in order to get free replacements for all the times they ripped up the knees!

20 Oct 2008   ·   29
Money Saving Mom

We’re moved!

We made it! We're moved in, most of the boxes are unpacked (thanks to lots of help from family and friends!), and we're settling back into life again. I am so grateful for everyone who helped us pull off this move; I know there is no way I could have done it by myself.

It is so good to be home; how we have missed our family, our friends, and all the familiarities of this city over the last 5 1/2 years we've been away! And yes, I'm also thrilled to be back to shopping at Kroger (Dillons) again.

I stole away early this morning to check out the Dillons store closest to us and do you know how nice it felt to walk through those doors? Like usual, the mark-downs were plentiful: I scored two half-gallons of lemonade for $0.49 each and a half gallon of milk for $0.99! I feel spoiled to be back in the land of Kroger again, even if it meant leaving CVS behind. I'm excited to re-learn the ropes of bargain shopping here; it will be a fun new adventure!

In other news, I got this wild idea to have a yard sale this weekend. We're in a great location for yard sales and it's been a long time since I've had one, so I was itching to do one again. Plus, I decluttered so much stuff in the process of moving and was hoping make a little cash off of it in order to purchase some needed things for our new home. Provided the weather cooperates and I'm able to get everything priced and set up, we'll be running the sale Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning.

Thanks again for all of your patience with me over the last six weeks or so. You all have been so gracious to contribute guest posts, compile deal posts, and to overlook the fact that I've been absent so much of the time around here recently. Now that my morning sickness is subsiding (yay!) and our move is behind us, I'm looking forward to jumping back into blogging with both feet!

17 Oct 2008   ·   19
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Frugal Living in a Tiny Town

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photo by Savannah Grandfather

Guest Post by Amy from The Finer Things in Life

After living and working in a suburb for seven years, my
husband and I felt led to move to a small town to raise our family (we’ve dubbed our new town, Tiny Town, since that’s what it is). This decision was a leap of faith for us, as
his salary would be cut drastically and we both knew that I needed to be home
to raise our children.

Although far removed from bargain shopping and mainstream
entertainment conveniences (we live 15 miles from the nearest grocery store and
55 miles from any real shopping), we
have found that Tiny Town living lends itself nicely to our frugal lifestyle. In fact, even with the salary cut we were
able to save and invest nearly 15% of his income last year!

I wanted to share a few of the ways this major move to a tiny town has been a big blessing in our lives:

Our Home

::We sold our 1,200 sq. ft. home with no basement and purchased for just over half of our selling price a 1,400 square home with a basement in Tiny Town. More space. Less money.

::We now have a big yard–three city lots big, to be exact. That makes for some nice garden space, which has given us lots of practically free food. My black thumb has turned a lovely shade of green!

Our Vehicles

::My husband’s vehicle now sits in the garage much of the time, as he simply walks one block to work. The gas and maintenance savings have been incredible, and we are able to save that extra money for the rainy day when a new vehicle will be needed in order to avoid car loans.

My van sits a lot, too. All of the daily errand-type things that need done are within four blocks of my home. We walk to the post office, bank and library if we need something.

Shopping

::Living in Tiny Town has honed my organizational skills and my creativity. I refuse to drive to the nearest store every time I’m out of an ingredient for supper. I keep a detailed list of things we need, check the store ad before we go, and scour the aisles (coupons in hand) to stock up on special deals while we’re there.

::I keep a bargain bin of small gifts in the basement for unexpected party invitations.

::We have wonderful family and neighbors who help each other out. They’ll pick up something at the store for me if I’m not headed that way.

::It’s harder to develop a case of the "wantsies" when you’re far removed from all the latest and greatest things in the store windows.

::Oh, and sales tax here? 5.3% Not too shabby!

Entertainment

::Our awesome library carries a nice selection of dvds for checkout. Free.

::We have a lovely park and walking path and quiet streets for bike riding. Again, free.

::Eighty dollars buys us a full family summer pass at the city swimming pool.

::We stay very busy with church and school activities. Supporting the kids in our community is fun and free for us. It’s also the best way to stay involved because in Tiny Town, pretty much everything revolves around school activities.

Tiny Town living has been great for our young family, in
more than just frugal ways. If you’ve
ever considered leaving the city behind, take that leap of faith. Your family is sure to benefit!

A stay-at-home
mom, Amy gave up an eight year teaching career at one of the largest schools in
her state to move with her husband of nearly 10 years and their three children,
ages 5, 3, and 1 to Tiny Town two years ago. Amy takes joy in caring for her family, finding a good deal, volunteering
at her local library, and blogging at The Finer Things in Life.

16 Oct 2008   ·   93
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: My Journey to Cloth Diapers

Diaper_station

Guest Post by Andrea from Spoon and Shovel

Cloth diapers? Get real. Next you’ll
be telling me to install a butter churn in my kitchen. I hear you. But
you wouldn’t be on this website if you didn’t have a little voice
in your head that urges you to at least look into any viable money-saving
possibility there is.

While I can’t speak for butter churns, I can
tell you my diaper story. I made the switch to cloth, and it has been
surprisingly painless.

First off, as money-conscious, optimistic
expectant parents, my husband and I decided we’d do it. Seeing the
cost of a large pack of diapers at Sam’s Club made us start calculating
the tremendous output we were facing. I mean, we were already tearing
paper towels in half and reusing plastic baggies; cloth diapers just
made sense.

I was thrilled to hear about the “Cloth
Diaper Seminar” offered at my local Babies “R” Us, complete with
free food. So I went and sat in the glider rocker section with about
fifteen other women who were also great with child.

The woman conducting
the seminar began her speech by admitting to the room that she had no
clue how to pin a diaper. In fact, she had called her friend earlier
to get the scoop on pinning. This was disconcerting. To me, pinning
was the hard part. If she couldn’t explain that, what good was she?

She proceeded with her sketchy explanation of traditional, pre-fold
diapers—the one’s I thought of when I thought of cloth diapers at
all. It was glaringly obvious that she had no experience whatsoever
in this arena. On top of that, Babies “R” Us sold nothing to accommodate
those opting for this method—except the pins. Pre-fold diapers, apparently,
have become burp rags. I didn’t know that. And diapers snap, not pin,
these days

But then the keynote diaper seminar
speaker really got going as she moved into territory that was
her forte. Ladies, cloth is cool. I mean, your kid can wear diapers
that look more like sweaters than anything else, you can get diapers
with dinosaurs on them, you can get diapers with flushable liners, the
possibilities go on and on.

So, I was intrigued. But the price
of getting started was prohibitive in my mind. The sweater variety,
she told us, would set you back about $80–for one diaper! Okay,
I realize you can eat up $80 in a hurry on disposables, but let’s
just face it, one diaper is not going to cut it. We’re talking at
least two. And that’s if you want to wash it three times a day. Which
you can’t because the sweater kind takes three days to dry.

As the time got closer, I started really meditating on everything that
was about to change. I meekly asked my husband if we could use the disposables
from the baby shower exclusively until I got used to the whole baby
idea. Then we could think about cloth. He was, as always, very understanding.

Besides, I was working. I worked part
time until Paul was 4 months old. He was in a great day care on the
campus of the university I worked for in a building next door to mine,
but cloth diapers were not welcome. No surprising!

So, four months passed, during
which time we used up all the diapers from the baby shower (and from
the grandmothers) and had to put up our own funds for, I think, something
like three packs of diapers. We weren’t really seeing the budget crunch
yet, but we knew it was coming.

Then I went to Ashlyn’s house for
someone else’s shower. See, Ashlyn uses cloth. That’s what did me
in. I decided I could do it when I saw a real person’s diapers and
talked with her about how she cleans them and where she buys them. That’s
why I’m writing this. Perhaps knowing a real story will encourage
you to take the plunge yourself. Thanks, Ashlyn.

Here’s what I found out from Ashlyn
along with some of what I’ve learned in the last ten or so months:

Where do you get them? Bella Bottoms. I haven’t looked at every single site
out there, but of the ones I’ve perused, her prices are the best.

What did you buy?
I started with 12 terrycloth diapers, 6 covers, 2 all-in-one diapers,
and a few doublers. She threw in some wipes with that order.

Later,
when the baby outgrew the covers, I ordered 8 more larger all-in-ones
because I realized that (with Bella Bottoms anyway) an all-in-one is
a cover with a pouch. So I use the all-in-ones without the inserts as
covers and with the inserts as diapers. The terrycloth diapers are one-size,
so he’ll wear those until he’s trained. 12 is all I need (since
I’ve got the all-in-one option to fall back on) because, regardless
of how many you’ve got, 2 or 3 days between washes is their limit.

What do they cost? It was about
a $200 initial investment for us. The next order (of all-in-ones) was
more like $90.

How do you store them until washing?
Ashlyn puts them straight into her washer filled with water (after emptying
them). When she gets enough for a load, she’ll start it. I use a trash
can with a springy pop-up lid (again, after emptying them). No water
in the trash can. Just wet and dirty diapers.

Washing_tools

Washing Tools

How do you wash them? Lots of water. That’s a drawback, but I’ve got to do it this way
to keep them smelling fresh. I do a hot wash/cold rinse with nothing
else. Then a hot wash/cold rinse with a tiny bit (2 tablespoons?) of
detergent and ¼ cup of baking soda. Then a hot wash/cold rinse with
½ cup of vinegar. I dry them all on low heat, remove the vinyl covers
from the dryer, and finish drying the diapers on high heat. No fabric
softener, of course.

Do they work? Yes. Even at
night (with a doubler) once Paul stopped nursing in the middle of the
night.

Are they gross? Well, yes.
Occasionally.

Do they stink up your house?
No. Not even the room with the pail.

What about wipes?
You know how baby washcloths wear out really fast? I cut old ones in
half (so as to distinguish them from the non-wipe washcloths mostly)
and stack a bunch next to the diaper station. I’ve got a squirt-top
bottle (a spray bottle works too) filled with water and a smidge of
baby shampoo/soap. I wet them down on the spot and wipe. Think about
it. Where would you put a disposable wipe if you’re using a cloth
diaper? I actually prefer the cloth wipes straight up over disposables.

Can your kid wear them out in public?
Yes. Just pack a grocery bag in your diaper bag. Hand sanitizer is nice
too. (To date, I’ve never changed a dirty cloth diaper away from my
house. Odds are, it’s coming though.)

But I have so much fun getting
free diapers at CVS!
Never fear. You’ll still need diapers. I
buy about one pack a month. I think the church nursery workers appreciate
my not springing cloth on them.

Will they really save me money?
Depends on how many of your diapers are free, I guess. Besides the cost
of the diapers, you do need to consider the water output. I wash about
2½ times a week. Here’s how we look at it. I think we will
come out ahead on Paul. However, chances are, Paul’s not the youngest,
and the cloth diapers are still going strong.

There you have it. If you know anything
about butter churns, I’d love you hear your story.

Andrea desires to bring honor to her Savior as a wife to her wonderful
husband Jon and mother to their 14-month-old son, Paul. She am thankful to
be able to stay at home full-time. She and her family live in South Carolina and minister their local church while seeking God’s direction concerning missionary
service in Latin America. She blogs at
Spoon and Shovel.

———————————–
From Crystal: If you would like to learn more about cloth diapering, Tammy has written extensively on her blog about how she does it. Check out her posts here, here, and here. Also, I found The Cloth Diaper Handbook to be extremely helpful and informative.

I used Fuzzi Bunz cloth diapers almost exclusively with my first child and loved those, though I know everyone has their own preferences. My advice, if you’re new to the idea of cloth diapering, is that you do lots of research. Ask around and see if any of your friends use cloth diapers and get their take on what works for them. Secondly, give yourself a few months to adjust to being a mommy of a newborn before attempting cloth diapering–especially if you are a first-time mommy. Lastly, don’t invest hundreds of dollars without first trying cloth diapers out on a small scale and determining what works for you.

I’d love to hear from other moms out there who have cloth diapered. What are your favorite brands of cloth diapers? What advice would you have for someone who is considering switching to cloth? Also, if you’ve blogged on the subject of cloth diapering, please do leave the link to your post in the comments section. I know many moms would appreciate that!

16 Oct 2008   ·   10
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Tips for Saving Money on Organic Food

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Guest Post by Patricia Wooster at Project Organic Eating

I think most of us find the idea of purchasing chemical-free food for
our family appealing. However, few of us can afford to pay $2 for
an apple, or $3.99 for a half gallon of organic milk. Organic food is
expensive, and many of the products taste different than their
non-organic counterparts.

When I started to experience some health
issues it was recommended that I "clean" up my diet. The first
few grocery bills were terrifying, but I’ve picked up some tips and
tricks to make buying organic food affordable. It takes a little work,
but the savings make it worth it.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

::Take advantage of Buy 1, Get 1 Free deals.
Most stores allow you to use 2 coupons in conjunction with a B1G1 deal and this often enables you to get the item for pennies. For example,
Publix recently had Newmann’s Own Pasta Sauce as a B1G1 deal, along with
Mueller’s Pasta. The pasta sauce is $2.69 and the pasta is $1.17. I
had a $1/1 coupon for the sauce, and 2 $0.50/1 coupons for the
pasta. For $1.86 I got 2 jars of pasta sauce, and 2 boxes of pasta.

::Clip every coupon you can find for oganic food. The best coupons can be found on the manufacturers
website. I’ve compiled a pretty comprehensive list here. I’ve signed up for their newsletters, and have received free cookbooks, samples, and substantial savings coupons.

  • ::Get a CVS ExtraCare Rewards Card and take advantage of the weekly and monthly free-after-ECB deals. By saving money on
    your drugstore and cleaning items you free up money to spend on organic
    produce.
  • ::Buy locally. Check Local Harvest for a listing of markets in your area.
  • ::Sign up for the Kiwi, Mambo Sprouts, and Eating Well
    newsletter.
    They email me a lot of great coupons and recipes. Mambo
    Sprouts is affiliated with Whole Foods, and they do a great job of
    providing recipes that use their sale items.
  • ::Compare prices. About 6
    months ago I went to the grocery store and wrote down the organic and
    non-organic prices of about 20 different fruits and vegetables. I was
    amazed to find the prices weren’t much different. I did this three
    weeks in a row to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t. Typically, a
    couple of organic items will be priced much higher than the
    non-organic, but the majority are within a quarter. I plan my menu
    around what’s in season, so the items I need are always cheaper.
     
    Patricia is a mother of 2 young boys. She blogs at Project Organic Eating, where she shares money saving tips, freebies, and kid’s health information.
    15 Oct 2008   ·   8
    Money Saving Mom

    Guest Post: Dinner for Four for $4.55!

    Guest Post by Erin from 5DollarDinners  

    For a long
    time, I thought it would be more expensive to make meals that used all
    natural and “raw” ingredients, as opposed to cooking with just processed
    “box” foods and canned goods. However, earlier this year,
    I challenged myself to try and feed our family of four for $5 or less every night. I decided I might as well try and prove to myself and others that it is possible to make frugal and wholesome meals! And I’ve learned it’s very possible; in fact, it’s become a fun challenge that I’m chronicling every night on my blog, 5DollarDinners

    Here is a sample dinner
    that I recently made for less than $5:

    Pork_and_peaches_003

    Pork and Apples
    with Asparagus

    Ingredients
    1 lb. Pork Roast–$1.90 (Click here to see the deal I got on this
    roast!)
    Water or broth
    Salt/Pepper
    2-3 apples, peeled and sliced ($0.75–apples will be inexpensive throughout
    the fall!)

    1 tsp. cinnamon–$0.05
    2 Tbsp. brown sugar–$0.05
    2 Tbsp. lemon juice–$0.10
    1/2 onion, chopped–$0.20
    1/2 bunch asparagus–$1
    2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil–$0.20
    1 cup rice–$0.30


    Directions
    1. Place 1/2-inch water or broth in base of crock pot. Place roast into
    crock pot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add onions around the roast.


    2. In bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Toss
    well. Pour over roast in crock pot. Cook on low 8-10 hours.

    3. Snap ends off asparagus. In another bowl, drizzle olive oil over asparagus.
    Let sit 30 minutes or so. Then saute for 5-7 minutes until tender, yet
    crispy.

    4. In saucepan, boil 2 cups water. Add rice. Bring to boil, then cover
    and simmer 20 minutes.

    Pork_and_apples_001

    Serve pork and apples over rice with asparagus on the side. Delicious!

    Cost $4.55


    After the meal, I decided
    to strain the pork broth to use in my Sweet Potato and Apple
    Soup recipe. I have never saved pork broth, but I thought this sweet and cinnamon-y
    broth would be perfect for that soup!

    Pork_and_apples_002

    Saving your broth not only
    saves you money, but it’s also free of preservatives and you know
    how much salt you used! I’ll take free broth any day!

    While you might not be able to get exactly the same prices I did on everything or you might have a larger family or different food preferences, I hope this meal inspires you to think of ways you can make the most of what you have. And perhaps you’ll even join me in setting a dollar amount for your family’s dinners every night?

    Visit Erin over at her blog, 5DollarDinners.com, to see what she’s cooking up for $5 or less for dinners this week!

    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!