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20 Aug 2008   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

Our gift card came–yay!

101_0514

After weeks of wondering whether it was really going to arrive or not, one of our Shell gift cards arrived in the mail yesterday for the Sears/Dockers deal. Yay! I’m just hoping the second one arrives shortly, too.

Have you gotten yours yet?

20 Aug 2008   ·   18
Money Saving Mom

Budgeting 101 – Part 1

Budgeting… one of those
words which conjures up dreadful pictures of living in a straitjacket,
not being able to ever do anything fun or spontaneous, and always
having to worry about pinching pennies.

One of the purposes of
this series is to debunk the former myths that many have regarding the
confinement and limitations a budget puts on a person and to show you
how you not only need to live
on a budget, you just plain can’t afford to live without one… unless,
that is, you decide want to never be able to get ahead, or never be
able to enjoy saving up and
paying cash for things you need or want (yes, your real, very own,
hard-earned dollars and cents!), unless you really aren’t all that keen
on living on less so that you can save more, invest more, splurge
sometimes, and–most importantly–to be able to give more.

So, I want you all to begin this series by committing to set aside your many excuses for why a budget won’t work for you. Oftentimes, the excuses are just really manifestations of laziness or selfishness.
You don’t want to live on a budget, you don’t want to wait and save up
to pay cash for something when you can afford it, so you’ll come up
with a nice list of reasons why you are the world’s exception in the
case of living on a budget.

I hope that by the end of this series you not only want to live on a budget, you will be fired up and excited about the possibilities that lie before you if you’re willing to put forth a little effort to make your money work for you.

Why
am I such a big proponent of living on a budget? Because I know that
were it not for our budget and the grace of God, we would very likely
be up to our eyeballs in debt right now, barely making ends meet–just
like pretty much all the rest of our law school friends are. We
wouldn’t be living comfortably below our means, we wouldn’t have
an emergency fund of six months’ expenses in the bank, and we certainly wouldn’t be on a savings plan to pay cash for a home in a few years.

Yes,
we’re frugal (I came into the marriage frugal, my husband has learned
to be out of necessity!), but we would be miles behind where we are now
without a written budget. I know this because we’ve done the math and
we know without a doubt that having a written budget, giving every
dollar a name, and putting it on paper, on purpose (to quote a few Dave Ramsey lines) has saved us literally thousands of dollars over the last five years.

Our
written game plan for our finances enabled us to get through law school
debt-free living on around $1000 per month, it enabled us to weather
over three months of my husband’s unemployment last year without
us having to touch our savings, and it is currently enabling us to live on less than we make so we can save more and give more.

Think you might be interested in joining us on this budgeting adventure to see what incredible things it could do for your finances?
Well, stick around because in our next installment, I’ll be sharing
about how we got started on this journey and how you can too!

Originally published in 2007.

19 Aug 2008   ·   89
Money Saving Mom

Ask the readers: Inexpensive anti-virus software?

Linnea wrote:

I was wondering if your readers have any recommendations on anti-virus/anti-spyware/firewall software.  I’m looking for something that works, but is inexpensive as well.

Since I’m not that knowledgeable about this I’m very interested in hearing what other people use and like.  My current subscription is up in early September so I’d like to do some research before then.

Hope you can help!

Anyone have tips, suggestions, ideas, or input? Fire away and tell us all about your experiences and recommendations!

18 Aug 2008   ·   0
Money Saving Mom

A peek into our lives

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For anyone who might be interested in seeing a peek into the last three weeks of our lives, you can check out my picture-filled post here on my other blog. Thanks again for your patience as I’ve been somewhat-absent from the blogosphere this past month.

Life has slowed down considerably around here finally so I hope to be more regular and consistent in blogging. Although you never know what tomorrow holds… 🙂

18 Aug 2008   ·   27
Money Saving Mom

Worth reading: A husband’s perspective on marrying a couponaholic

You will get a kick out of this post by Ryan whose wife recently become a die-hard coupon aficionado. Ryan’s analysis of the "strange products" he gets to try as a result of this couponing thing was right on.

My poor husband has been subjected to countless "lunchbox surprises" thanks to coupons. The good news? I’m married to a man who loves trying new things so he gets a thrill out of it, even if the product turns out to be a real dud.

What does your family think of the interesting things you pick up with coupons? Found any real winners or losers as a result?

15 Aug 2008   ·   0
Money Saving Mom

Frugal Friday: I’m taking the weekend off

It’s Frugal Friday over on my other blog today! I share a post on transitioning from two incomes to one. You’ll want to check it out.

Also, we’re headed to Wichita this afternoon for the Christian Family Entrepreneurship Seminar so I’ll be away from blogging until Monday. I’m short on time since I’ve spent most of my blogging time the last few days getting the blog re-design up, so I’m skipping our usual Super Savings Saturday round-up, thanks for your understanding! In addition, the typical Saturday evening CVS and Walgreens deal posts will wait until early next week.

Thanks so much for your patience with me the last few weeks as I’ve been pretty hit-and-miss with blogging. Life has been unbelievably crazy around here so I’ve had to put blogging on the back burner. Things should slow down quite a bit starting next week so I hope to be back with more regular posts and consistency in our weekly features. At least that’s the plan!

Have a wonderful weekend!

15 Aug 2008   ·   33
Money Saving Mom

Frugal and green: Cutting down on waste

Inspired by Stephanie’s post on cutting down on waste,
I begin contemplating areas where we’ve cut down on waste in our home.
As I thought about these things, I realized just how much being frugal
can go hand-in-hand with being environmentally-friendly.

Here are a few of the ways we’ve cut down on waste in our home:

1) Utilizing PaperBackSwap and the library instead of buying books new.
Also, unless it was an exceptional book, I usually pass it on once I’m
finished with it so that someone else might enjoy it and our home can
stay pared down from unnecessary clutter.

2) Buying clothes at second-hand stores at least 50% of the time or more. We also readily accept offers of hand-me-downs from others. What we can’t use, we pass on to someone else.

3) Cooking from scratch as much as possible and thus eliminating much of the packaging from processed and boxed foods.

4) Thinking before I throw something out, "Is there another way I can use this?" If not, then I try to always ask myself if it can be recycled.

5) Reusing foil and plastic bags for as long as possible.
We also use Tupperware or pans/containers with lids instead of
disposable containers whenever we can. (I’ve gone for long stretches
without buying aluminum foil and have found I can almost live without
it. Almost.)

6) Eliminating paper towels and using cloth rags/towels instead.

7) Keeping it simple: Staying home more, not having an excess of clothing or household items, drinking water most of the time, and trying to only buy what we need.

8) Reusing magazines to make greeting cards.

9) Only requesting free samples for items we’ll use.

10) Using baking soda and Basic H for all household cleaning.

So
those were a few I came up with–what about you? I’d love to hear your
list and be inspired and challenged by how you are reducing waste and
being frugal at the same time!

Originally published March 2008.

14 Aug 2008   ·   92
Money Saving Mom

And we’ll add this to the list of frugal failures

As
you all know, I’m always in the market for new ideas to reduce our
outgo. So, I thought I came upon another one recently when I’d heard of
a number of people who only did their laundry in cold water.

Brilliant,
I thought. It’s much better than taking cold showers (yes, we did that
for quite some time when we were first married!) and, best of all, no
one will even notice.

Well, let me tell you, lots
of people will notice. You see, after a week of washing everything in
cold water only, I learned that cold water does not get pre-treated
toddler stains or six-month-old stains out of clothing.

Not in the least.

I
guess the people who do the cold water only thing must not have
children. Or at least they don’t have children as messy as mine.

At
any rate, despite lots of stain remover and hot water-washing, the
stains are still there on multiple articles of clothing, some which
were almost brand-new. Let’s just say that I think any money saved by
using only cold water would be quickly lost in all the clothing we’d
need to replace.

So much for a great idea.

Your turn: Have
you ever had a brilliant frugal idea which flopped on its face? And do
you have any great suggestions for reducing the costs of running
laundry besides using cold water?

Originally published January 2008.

14 Aug 2008   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

CVS is buying Longs Drug Stores

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Those of you in California, Nevada, and Arizona have cause for rejoicing!

According to this article, CVS is buying Longs Drug Stores and the transition from Longs to CVS will take place over the next few years, most of the stores being re-converted in 2009.

Great stuff and I’m happy to see our beloved CVS doing so well!

Now if they’d just get the memo and build some stores where my parents live since we’re hoping to move back there soon… It’s pretty bad when you determine whether you can move to an area based upon whether or not there are CVS stores close by!

14 Aug 2008   ·   38

Homemade Bread for Beginners

There is something about the smell of freshly-made bread wafting through the house which is so warm, comforting, and inviting!

I have made fond memories of baking bread with my mom and siblings growing up. We didn’t have a Bosch, so Mom had all of us participate in the kneading instead. She’d divvy up the big mound of bread dough into five separate smaller mounds of dough and then she would set the timer for ten minutes and we’d all roll up our sleeves and get to work. Our efforts paid off when later the bread came out of the oven and we all got to slice off a piece while it was still warm and slather it with honey and butter. Delicious!

With only two arms and two little ones right now, my bread-baking isn’t quite so ambitious. Instead of mixing it all up myself in the big silver bowl like my mom, I put all the ingredients in my bread machine. And instead of five loaves, I make one loaf. But, it’s still homemade bread and it’s still delicious. Best of all, it’s much better for you than store bought bread, it’s fresh, and it’s frugal!

Here’s our current favorite recipe, adapted from Tammy’s Recipes. I usually make it at least two or three times per week. It’s so good, our little family can eat a whole loaf in a day!

If you don’t have a bread machine, Tammy’s original recipe is here with directions for doing it by hand.

Oh and because I am often asked about my grain mill, my dad bought me this mill for Christmas. I really like it and have found the bread is so much better-tasting with freshly-milled flour. We buy our grain from Whole
Foods right now for $0.59/lb. That’s slightly more than I was paying for whole wheat flour at the store, but considering that it is organic and that freshly-milled flour is much fresher and higher in nutrition, it’s worth a bit of a higher cost to us.

13 Aug 2008   ·   77
Money Saving Mom

Ask the readers: Tips for frugal moving?

Movingkitsskit

I lost my job in June and am in the process of moving from Florida to Houston in order to be closer to my boyfriend. I am desperately looking for cheap ways to
get my belongings and car from Florida to Houston. I have been getting
moving service price quotes and it’s looking around $2000 for
everything. Any tips on moving cheaply? Anything I should know to help mitigate costs with moving companies? -Amanda

My advice: If you have more time than money, do everything yourself.

I’ve moved three times in the last five years and haven’t paid a moving service for anything. I always accept all offers of help from friends and family and then just work very hard for the three weeks or so leading up to the move and the few weeks after the move.

One of the great things of boxing up everything yourself is that, as you’re going through things, you’re likely to find a lot of stuff you don’t need. So you can sell it on Craigslist or in a garage sale before you leave and make a little extra money. You can then use that extra money to rent a truck (I’ve always found the best rates for moving van rentals online.) and pay any additional expenses incurred through moving.

Another tip: If you are really short on time and unable to scrounge up free boxes to pack up everything in, try buying them off of eBay. They are loads cheaper there than buying them from a moving company.

What about the rest of you all? What are your best tips for moving on a dime? Do you think a moving service is worth the cost?

Graphic from BoxBundles.com

13 Aug 2008   ·   65
Money Saving Mom

The Tightwad Gazette: 10 Painless Ways to Save $100 This Year

I’ve really enjoyed reading the first few chapters of The Tightwad Gazette. Believe it or not, I’ve not read any
of the three volumes before. It’s rather fun to hear from another
frugal zealot and I have a feeling I’ll be gleaning a lot from this.
More than anything, I’m being inspired all over again as to why I am
frugal in the first place.

One of my favorite parts of the book so far was Amy’s list of 10 Painless Ways to Save $100 This Year:

1) Purchase 10 articles of clothing at thrift shops and yard sales this year instead of paying department store prices.

Am
I the only person who automatically zeros in on the clearance racks
even if I have a gift card or someone else is paying? I think I can
count on one hand (if that!) the times I’ve paid full price for any
article of clothing. I usually head straight for the 50-75% off racks
and those are often priced much more than I can bring myself to pay.

I
am so frugal that I go on thrift store clearance days or dollar days.
Unless I really, really love the item, $1 is about my top price to pay
for any item in a thrift store.

Garage sales are my favorite of all – especially when it’s the kind where everything is marked under $1!

2) Hang four loads of laundry per week instead of using the dryer.

Am
I also the only frugal person who doesn’t hang their clothes? I know I
should, I really do. I just keep coming up with excuses for not getting
the right equipment to do it. It’s on my list of changes to implement
this year.

3) Once a month make a pizza from scratch instead of having one delivered.

Better yet, teach your family to like homemade pizza
more than restaurant pizza and than you’ll pretty much never have to
order out. We order pizza about once a year around here and I always
decide it’s really not worth bothering. My
homemade pizza is so much better!

4) Write a good letter instead of making a monthly long distance phone call.

Hmm,
does email count? That’s even cheaper than a letter, though not as
personal. Most folks, like us, have free long distance on our cell
phones, though, so this one is a bit out-dated.

5) Reduce your soda consumption by four cans per week.

My
suggestion? Learn to drink water and like it. It’s better for your
health anyway. Don’t get me started on my soapbox on soda addictions,
though…

6) Bake one batch of bread per week.

When it’s this
easy to make, I have no excuse. Except the excuse that we’ve not gotten
completely accustomed to homemade bread for sandwiches. Any other time,
though, we much prefer homemade.

7) Save $50 each on two children’s birthday parties by making homemade decorations, cake, wrapping paper, and one present.

Or be a minimalist like me and skip the decorations, give the gift of time or a special outing, and bake a simple cake.

8) Reduce your smoking by three cigarettes per day (or give up smoking altogether and save even more).

No
offense to anyone, but this is about the biggest money-pit ever. And
that’s not even talking about what it does to your health.

9)
Reduce your whole milk consumption by two gallons per week,
substituting dry milk in cooking, homemade cocoa mix, and in
half-and-half for drinking.

We’ve
just decided to cut out milk in most instances except on cereal and in cooking (I
sometimes water that down, too.) so we go through about a half gallon
per week. I’ve heard that dry milk costs have gone up so it’s not
really much cheaper anymore to substitute. Can anyone confirm or deny
that?

(Note: We eat a combination of yogurt, cheese, nuts, beans, and green leafy vegetables in place of drinking lots of milk. We prefer this, and from the research I’ve done, our bodies actually assimilate these forms of calcium better than the calcium in milk. I know some disagree on this, but let’s just agree to disagree, okay?)

10) Pack four inexpensive school lunches per week.

We
don’t have to bother with school lunches right now, but my husband does
almost always take his lunch to work. We’ve figured up that this saves
us at least $1,000 a year!

Inspired by Amy’s list, I wrote my own list of Five Painless Ways We Saved $100 last year. Read it here and see other people’s lists too. What would your list say?

The most encouraging thing to remember is that a penny saved, is more than a penny earned. Why? Well, check out this
excellent and simplistic explanation. Quite the motivation for focusing
on reducing your outgo first and foremost before seeking to increase
your income!

We can make millions of dollars, but if we don’t
know how to wisely steward it, we’ll be no better off than someone who
makes below minimum wage. In fact, we might even be worse off than them.

Another great quote from The Tightwad Gazette:

"The safest way to double your money is to fold it over once and put it in your pocket book."
-Frank McKinney Hubbard

 What are some painless things you do in your home that save you $100 or more each year? Tell us in the comments, I’d love to hear!

Originally published January 2008.

13 Aug 2008   ·   14
Money Saving Mom

Blogging for Profit – Part 7

I want to finish out this series on Blogging for Profit by talking about another way to monetize your blog– through selling ads yourself.

Once
you’ve built up a steady readership, one of the best ways to really see
an increase in income, is to sell advertising on your blog directly to
companies by-passing a middle-man. I’ve done this quite a bit in the
past and have been amazed at how much money people will readily pay to
have a good spot on your blog. It takes a little time and effort to
make the sale and to keep up with advertisers, but you won’t have to
give any commission to a company such as Blogads so your profit margin
will be much higher.

How do you go about garnering advertisers for your blog?

1) First off, you need a steady readership of at least 500-1000 visitors a day.
You might be able to sell ads directly when you are smaller than that,
but you’ll have much better success at going after advertisers when you
have larger numbers to show them. So, before you start chasing down
advertisements, first work on building up your readership.

You might
find, as I did, that you never need to look far to find advertisers
eager to jump on board with you. In fact, once you’ve built up a blog
"following", companies will usually be "courting" you right and left to
get recognized on your blog.

2) When you have developed a solid readership closing in on 1000 visitors a day or more, start looking for opportunities to network with other potential advertisers. If
a company contacts you about doing a review on your blog, build a
relationship. If it’s something you’re interested in reviewing,
consider doing the review, but don’t let it stop there. Offer them a
discounted advertising rate, give them the option of doing a giveaway
on your blog, encourage them to offer a special price or discount to
your readers only. Once you start working with them and they see how
effective targeting your readership can be, you may very well find you
have an advertiser for life.

3) If you a lot of companies aren’t contacting you about possible reviews or asking for your advertising rates, consider becoming proactive. Figure
out some great pricing and find some companies which would complement
your blog’s focus very well and go offer some incredible introductory
pricing to them.

I recommend you just send an email to their marketing
director. Keep it short, professional, and tell them how advertising on
your blog can benefit them. Give them an offer they can’t resist. Offer
to review their products and do a giveaway on on your blog. Go the
extra mile; they’ll take notice.

Send out 20 or 50 such emails
like this and you’ll probably see a nice trickle of response to start
coming back. Once you’ve sold some some advertising on your blog, put a little
link up underneath your ads with something to the effect of "Interested in promoting your product to thousands of moms? Contact me for a discounted pricing package." Sometimes companies wouldn’t think to consider advertising with you if you didn’t spark the idea first to them yourself.

4) Remember that your loyalties lie with your readership first. When you develop a blog readership, you are really developing trust in a brand and that brand is you.
Never forget this. When I allow an ad on my blog, it is somewhat my
stamp of approval on the company or product. Therefore, I often turn
down ads if I do not feel I can give my whole-hearted endorsement of
them or if I feel like they in anyway contradict with my blog’s purpose
or message.

Integrity and honesty are much more important than
making a quick buck. Always let that be your guiding principle when you
are working to monetize your blog.

There’s a lot more I could
say on this subject and on the subject of blogging and making money
through blogging in general, however, I think I’ll close here and open
up the floor for questions.

As
we’ve gone through this series, what questions have you had? Are there
things you’d like for me expound upon or explain more in detail? Here’s
your opportunity to ask! In a few days, if there are enough questions, I’ll
do a Q&A post on blogging. You can leave your questions in the
comment section of this post or email them to me.

Related: Amy has a great post here on blogging and gaining readership.

12 Aug 2008   ·   102
Money Saving Mom

Poll: Who does the finances in your home?

My husband and I are considering making a radical switch and having me take over the finances and bill-paying for awhile. Jesse has always done the lion’s share of this because he’s the nerd, he’s good at it, and he likes it.

However, we’re both thinking it might be good experience for me to try my hand at it. He also wants me to know how to do it in case something were to happen to him (he’s always thinking of everything to make sure I’m well taken care of!).

Because I’m curious, I thought it’d be fun to do a poll for couples. So, take a minute to vote below:

This should be interesting!