Posts Tagged ‘Budget’

Life in Turmoil

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

I apologize that our Month of Savings series has taken a small detour. My mom has been very sick and has been in the ICU these past two weeks. This past month has been a rough one and I am trying hard to keep all of this interesting, but family stuff takes the priority right now.

Most of my spare time has been spent over at the hospital so I was unable to do my morning segment this Tuesday and my posting hasn’t been the best these past couple of weeks. I appreciate your patience and prayers very much!

My husband did start his new job and with a new job comes new financial issues. No insurance for ninety days is one of the things we are facing, but I will need to spend some time looking into insurance options that might be available to us during our lapse in coverage.

He is also doing a different type of job where he goes from place to place, so lunch has now become more of an issue for him. He used to just take leftovers everyday, but now we are running into the issue that he may or may not be at a location where he can warm his food up. One day of him running out for a burger and soda (at the only restaurant nearby) for $11 was all I needed to get myself in gear and try to figure out how we could make this work.

We decided leftovers for the days he is at his office and sandwiches and snacks for days he is somewhere unfamiliar. I went to our local restaurant supplies store and got 9 pounds of turkey and five pounds of cheese. Total spent was $38, but I was able to make 38 packages of lunch meats with cheese, to store in our freezer, and had forty slices of cheese leftover for grilled cheese for the kids. Now he can grab whatever he needs for his lunch and we won’t have to pay for $11 burgers.

The latest dilemma though is that he will only be paid monthly. While he will be making the same amount, only getting paid once a month is really beginning to freak me out. Does anyone have any experience with this or how to manage when only getting paid once a month? Yes, I feel I am a pretty good manager of our money, but am I THAT good?

Any words of wisdom on any of the above issues would be so appreciated!

Day 27: Save on Clothing

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

There are so many great ways that you can save on your clothing and there is no reason in the world that you should ever have to pay full price for anything. I have gotten some of the best clothing for my children and most of it has been purchased secondhand. I would also say that ninety percent of my own clothing is bought from our local Goodwill store. Rarely would I ever pay more than five dollars for an item and I still maintain my snobbery towards the name brands that I love. Here are some easy ways that you can save on your clothes:

1. If you shop used, ask if they offer half off days or any special discounts. Most stores offer a deal, at least one day of the week, and those are the best times to shop. I always try and come as soon as the store opens for special discount days because you will have the most to choose from when making your selections.

2. You can be a brand name snob, but just because it is a certain brand doesn’t mean you should necessarily buy it. This is something that I had really struggled with in the beginning because I was focusing too much on the label name, rather than if I truly liked the item itself. A beautiful Ann Taylor dress that is not your color or style is better left at the store instead of taking up space in your closet.

3. Know your brands when you go to a store and know them well. I loved Meredith’s post on recognizing name brands because many of the brands that she has referred to were not ones that I was familiar with. Read the fashion magazines (from the library, of course!) and familiarize yourself with the quality labels. It is not only good for you to do this for your own wardrobe, but if something is not your size/style, but you know it is worth a lot, you could sell it to the highest bidder on an auction site.

4. Try and hold the items up in good lighting and really look at them. I do an armpit check, hem checks, underarm stain checks, seam checks and take an overall look at the item to make sure there are no rips or tears. Make sure you really look at the item closely before buying it. It has always been such a disappointment to me to bring home something that I am really crazy about and find out exactly why it had been donated in the first place.

5. Try on sizes that aren’t necessarily your size because many times they have been donated because the item was shrunk in the wash. I might try on sizes that are two up from my normal size and find something that fits me absolutely perfectly.

6. If you are petite, you can check in the girl’s sizes (sizes 14 & 16). I am really short and I have found a 16 in girls fits me perfectly lengthwise. Items with elastic waists, like jog pants, can be bought in these smaller sizes for petite adult women. The bonus, of course, is that the children’s clothing is cheaper than the adult clothing so I can get the item for even less money than I would have paid in the adult sizes.

7. Finding clothing can be time consuming so make sure that you have a good block of time to work with, especially if you are hunting for something in particular. I think thrifting gets easier as you get in the groove of doing this. Well-trained eyes seem to gravitate towards the good items and I have found items start to jump out at me a little easier because I know where to look and how to navigate the stores quickly.

8. Know that it is fine to leave with nothing in your hands. I think this is one of the hardest things for me because I want a good deal so bad. There are days that I spend a half hour in the store and come up with nothing. I know there are other days though where ten items jump out at me at once so I look forward to those days and understand that there are dry times too. Patience and waiting are difficult, but you will be glad you waited when that item finally appears!

Potential Monthly Savings: $30 or more

Sound: Off: What are your tips for saving on clothing?

Day 26: Extending It Further

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

We are closing in on the end of our Month of Savings series and I hope that (at least) one of the ideas is something that you can incorporate in your house. While the truly zealous frugal person might not find my ideas all that inspiring, those who are beginning a journey into this world might be able to gain some insight on how to make small adjustments to their lifestyle, to create big savings.

Today I wanted to talk about extending the items in your home. There are two tools that I have found that have really helped me in extending the products we use. The first tool is the beloved spatula, which tends to get a royal workout in our house. The second tool is water and the art of watering down products to extend them further.

I am a big fan of using my spatula because nothing else works better when trying to clean out every last little drip in a jar. I shudder to think how much I had thrown away before, not caring if there was enough for two more peanut butter sandwiches, because I didn’t feel it was worth the effort. Now that I am on a tight grocery budget, the spatula is my best friend and we share a lot of time together in the kitchen. Using a spatula in your containers is a great way to make sure you get everything you can out of the food products in your house.

I also am a big fan of water for extending the products in our home. Shampoo, for example, lasts twice as long if I water it down. Just add it about halfway with water and give it a shake. The difference won’t be noticeable in the product, but it will be noticeable in your wallet. Other things that can be watered down: soap (to create foamy soaps), dish soap, and juice (for little mouths who don’t need all the sugar anyway). My theory is to try things watered down and see if they still perform well. If they are still doing what they need to do, why not water it down a bit? You might have to tweak how much is too much/too little, but find that magical equation and use it each time you replace those products.

I extend other things in our home. My coffee in the morning is a great example of a simple way that I can make my coffee last. The first time I make my coffee, I use the directed amount of grounds and prepare it as it is explained. The next day, I reuse the old grounds and only add half the amount of grounds required to make a batch. The second batch still tastes great to me and I have made my coffee last a little longer than it would have if I had just dumped the old grounds out. I can also extend it further by not allowing the coffee to go to waste and keeping it in the fridge or making ice cubes out of the rest of it. The coffee just keeps giving in our house.

Another scenario of extension is when I do my laundry. I never add the suggested amount of laundry detergent because I know that my clothing doesn’t require that much soap. If you use fabric softener, you can do the same thing by cutting the softener sheets in half or adding half the amount to your loads. Extend it further by repeatedly using the softener sheet until it has lost its effectiveness.

Extending these items may seem like a waste of time, but I am trying to prove how the little things really can add up towards a savings account for your family. In my opinion, it is all about the little things and this is just one way that I can work towards pulling our family out of debt and wastefulness.

Potential Monthly Savings: $10 or more

Sound Off: Are there products in your home that you extend? What are some of your favorite frugal tips for making things last in your home?

Day 25: Schedule a Day in Your Kitchen

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

This is something that I was thinking about today as I was getting everything ready for the week ahead. One of the best things that I have done for my budget is to schedule time in the kitchen for myself, just like I would schedule anything else going in our home. One day out of the week I am able to cook and save our family tons of money.

It isn’t necessarily the meals that I am preparing, but it is all of the other things that seem to cost so much. I usually bake a special treat (muffins, granola bars, or a loaf of quick bread) that we can put in the lunch boxes or be eaten as an evening treat.

I then try to mix up all of my ingredients for the things that I will need for the week. If you plan your menus, you can determine what you will be eating and what you can make ahead for your meals. You can chop the ingredients for certain dishes and mix any of the dry ingredients that you can for your dinners. Think of this as making your own convenience food. I promise it is much more convenient for you to dirty your kitchen once then it is to do this multiple times throughout the the week. I love to mix up waffle mix pancake mix, bread machine mix, pizza dough mix, cornbread mix, rice mixes, and anything else that I can think of!

I also make a big batch of coffee and keep some in the fridge for iced coffees and freeze the rest in ice cube trays for my mochas.

I throw on some really good music, light candles, dance in the kitchen…whatever I am in the mood for! I also have a good “fluffy” book to read while I am taking breaks between things baking. I can usually squeeze in a chapter here and there, which makes it more fun for me!

When everything is done, I individually wrap everything so it is ready to go for a quick breakfast or to be added to lunch boxes. Putting it in a pretty basket makes it more visually appealing (as if a homemade treat wasn’t visually appealing enough!)

Here are some of a few of my favorite recipes in our house:’

Fun Treats:

Chewy Granola Bars

4.50 cups oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup honey
¼ cup peanut butter (creamy)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease on 9x13” pan. In a large mixing bowl, mix together all of the ingredients (minus the chocolate chips). Stir in chocolate chips. Press into pan & bake for 18-22 minutes. Let cool for ten minutes, and then cut into bars.

Banana Crumb Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 bananas, mashed
3/4 cups white sugar
1 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 T butter

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease ten muffin cups or line with muffin papers. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut the butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins. Bake in preheated oven for eighteen to twenty minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean.

Heavenly Banana Bread

2 cups all purpose flour

1 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
½ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs beaten
1 t. vanilla
½ t. cinnamon
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (usually is about four bananas)

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 60-65 minutes. Allow bread to cool ten minutes in pan and then turn onto wire rack.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions. Mix in walnuts, if desired.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Using sharp knife, cut around edge of loaves. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until blended. Stir in chips with a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough by 1/4 cups at a time onto the prepared sheets. Cookies should be at least 3 inches apart. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until edges are lightly toasted then cool on sheets a few minutes before transferring to cooling racks.

Cinnamon Bread Delight

3 cups flour 2 cups

1 (5.1oz) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 325. Grease 2 5×9 loaf pans. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, oil, applesauce, eggs and vanilla. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture until smooth. Sprinkle the bottoms of the pans with cinnamon sugar and divide the batter between the 2 pans. Bake 1hr or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Potential Monthly Savings:
$30 or more

Sound Off: Do you have a favorite recipe to share that I could try in my kitchen? Something that has been a total hit in your house?

Day 24: Become a Coupon Queen (or Not)

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Should a frugal gal use coupons or should she not? Do coupons really save money or do you just end up spending money that you would have not spent?

I go back and forth on this topic and it really depends on where I am doing my shopping. When I shop exclusively at Aldi, I can’t use my coupons. When I shop at other stores, it is usually a toss up on whether the generic is the better deal versus the brand-name with a coupon.

You will talk to some people and they are nuts for coupons and their receipts really prove it. Others of us, don’t believe all of the hype and say it is a waste of time and effort.

Since I started doing more of the drugstore rewards, in conjunction with my Aldi trip, I have found that it is possible to get items for free or really inexpensively. You could say that I am becoming a believer again in all of the coupon hype.

Here are some of the tips that I have used to help me follow the path towards coupon savings:

- Organize your coupons in a way that works for you. I have heard everything from shoe boxes to baseball card collection holders can be great ways to organize your coupons. Each person has a different system of organizing, just do what works for you. For me, I like to categorize them and then arrange by dates. I have also been known to lump everything together and then arrange by dates, to insure that I use the coupons before they expire. Right now I am finding categories works a little better for me so that is what I am doing at this point. My arrangements do change, depending on my mood.

- Make sure you put your coupons in a place that you will always have them when you need them. There is nothing worse than having all of your coupons cut and organized, only to discover that they are not with you when you need to do your shopping. Try storing them in your purse or in your car so that you will have them when you decide to make a quick stop at the store.

- There are only savings to be had if you are buying something because you normally use it and would have put it on your grocery list anyway. If you are using a coupon to just get a quarter off and this still leaves you footing a $4 tab, then using the coupon is actually doing a disservice to your budget instead of benefiting it.

- When I first started learning about coupons, I actually was pretty confused. What is the difference between the manufacturer coupons versus the store coupons? Well, the manufacturer coupons are the kind that you find in your newspaper, that come from the companies themselves. The store coupons, however, are the ones that you find in your store specific flier. The great thing about store and manufacturer coupons is that they can be used in conjunction with one another. If Dole, for example, has a coupon for $.50 off of a can of pineapple and Walgreens has a coupon for $.25 off of a can of Dole pineapple, you can use the two coupons together. Your total savings would be $.75 off of the can, and that equals a really great deal for your family. You might hear coupon queens refer to this as the “double whammy.” You can also achieve a “triple whammy” if you use the store coupon, manufacturer coupon, and you pick an item that is on sale.

- If you love certain products, call the 1-800 number and rave about the product. Share your experience with them and ask if they have any coupons or if they can add you to a mailing list. Customer service representatives get a lot of disgruntled customer calls, so not only will you brighten their day, you might also be able to pocket some savings on your next trip to the store.

- Look for coupons in unexpected places. Always check your receipt, at the end of your shopping trip, to see if any printable coupons were printed. Other unusual places for coupons are inside of your magazines, hidden inside of your piles of junk mail, and inside/outside of the packaging on what you are using. I am often surprised how many coupons I can find in these unusual places.

- Visit the websites for companies and sign up for their mailing lists. They will usually have printable coupons you can use on your groceries, or will add you to future mailings on special sales they are running.

- Shop at stores that double or triple your coupons. You will maximize your savings much more if you can go to one of these stores.

- Try using the Coupon Mom website, to figure out how to maximize your savings with your coupons. This website is free and can tell you exactly what you need to buy and when. There are also services that you can pay for, such as The Grocery Game. I have never paid for the service so I have no personal experience with it, but there are many people who swear by it.

- If your friends or family do not cut coupons, ask if they will save the coupon fliers for you.

Potential Monthly Savings: $10 or more

Sound Off: Do you have any coupon tips to share? Are you a believer in the coupon hype?

Day 23: Just Ask

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

One of the best ways that I have found to save money is to simply ask people questions. It sounds easy enough, but I have had a hard time doing this. I might be alone, but I just hate confrontation so this has been a tough one for me. After my first victory in asking though, I began to feel more comfortable doing this.

The first time I attempted asking for what I wanted was at a car dealership. We were completely broke, but needed to get out from under an enormous car payment that we could not afford. We asked my father-in-law to come along with us, to make sure we weren’t getting a lemon, and decided upon a car that we thought would work for us.

We sat down across from the salesman and he began his pitch. He wrote down the car payment amount and turned it towards me. I crossed out his number and wrote down my goal number. He would head to the back to “discuss with managers” and then would come back with another outrageous number. We then began what I like to call the “car payment tango”, him handing me his number and then me handing him back other numbers. When it was all said and done, I ended up being within just five dollars of my number. Only an hour of sitting there waiting for us to get to this point, but had I not asked for what I wanted, we would have been stuck with a car payment we could not afford. My husband watched me in disbelief, but then felt inspired by my tactics and applied the same tactics towards scoring his commuter car. We ended up with two cars for less than the car payment we were making on our one car. That was a big victory in the Clark house.

More recently, I needed to get a new stove for our house and I began pricing the stoves out. Everything just seemed too far out of our budget and nothing was coming up for me on Craigslist or at our local thrift stores.

We ended up finding one online that was a store model at a local warehouse store. The price tag was around $1,000…a far cry from what I was willing to spend. I told my husband that I would walk into the store and offer them $500. He looked at me like I was nuts, but I figured that the worst that they could say would be no. After a few minutes of chatting politely, I was able to get my stove for $500…just like I had planned.

Sometimes this works, like in the case of my stove, and sometimes it doesn’t work. I went back to the same store and offered $200 for a $400 dishwasher and brought cash as leverage. I was turned down and left feeling disappointed, but if I had not asked, I would have never known.

The same case in asking is great when talking to your friends and family. Without being too invasive, you can ask questions about services that they have and how much they are paying for them. For example, I talked to a girlfriend about how I would love to get the newspaper daily, but just could not justify the price for a subscription. She told me that she was able to take advantage of a promotion that they were offering for $1 a week for seven days of the local paper. I emailed the customer service department and told them that I had heard about their past deal and was hoping that I could get the paper for $1 a week. An hour later, I was on the phone with the customer service department giving them our billing address, as they honored the deal that I had requested. You could do the same thing with cell phone plans, internet service, babysitters, phone service, interest rates on credit cards, plane tickets- anything!

You can also ask for discounts on pricing if you can find a flaw in the item that you are buying. I remember when my sister did this at a superstore. She found a stroller that she wanted and the box was torn. She told me she was going to ask for a discount on it, even though there was nothing wrong with the stroller inside. She was able to get them to knock twenty percent off, simply because she asked. I now tend to look for the items that have a flaw in them, that can easily be repaired, to see if they will come down on their prices. Nine times out of ten, I am walking away with what I want for a lot less than what I would have paid if I had not have asked.

Here are some additional tips for asking:

1. In my opinion, no matter what I am asking for I try to be very ladylike and polite. I ask in the nicest way that I can and the delivery that I use usually makes people more responsive. I have seen people negotiating that come in with both barrels, using rude tones towards the salesperson. They usually leave with nothing and might have gotten what they wanted if they had asked in a kind way. As someone who has worked in retail, I know that I responded well and tried to work with a customer a lot more if they were kind to me.

2. Try and go to the stores that you know are more willing to negotiate on their pricing. Warehouse stores, discount stores, and department stores can all be great places to try negotiating.

3. Ask the salesperson if they have a floor model of an item, and if they will give you a discount on this. I love to go to Linens & Things because they offer great deals on their floor items and returns. I have gotten top of the line appliances for half price or less. If you do buy the floor models, ask if they will let you still use your coupons or discounts. I have found that they will usually do this, increasing your savings even more!

4. Always know when to walk away from a deal, particularly if you know that you can’t afford what they are offering. Try to be detached from the item so that you don’t become too emotionally involved and end up compromising your budget. If you do find yourself attached to the item, still act as though you don’t care. In the case of my car, I wanted it so bad that I could taste it. I had already pictured myself in it, but acting like I didn’t want it seemed to make the salesperson want to push harder…he was afraid I might walk away from the deal. Exercise this same tactic when doing shopping on auction sites and be firm about what you are willing to offer. Try to never budge on this!

5. For a more disciplined shopper, when asked if you would like to open a store account to receive a discount on your purchase, ask if you can make the payment to them at the register after opening the account. At The Children’s Place, for example, I opened a store account when we did our back-to-school shopping. After I opened the account, I could pay the “balance” with a check or debit card. I receive the coupons and sales fliers, but if I want to use the card for discounts, I immediately pay the balance. Ask if this is possible and utilize the discount, but only do this if you can be sure that you won’t use the card otherwise. I would never encourage anyone to get themselves into debt!

6. Ask if the store will take competitor coupons or if they will price match flier prices. Bed, Bath, & Beyond coupons can be used at Linens & Things, for example, so look for competitor coupons when going through your mail and papers. Wal-Mart will price match flier prices on groceries, so come armed with the prices when you come to the register. If you are appliance shopping, look for prices and comparable items in competitor fliers and bring those along with you. Ask if they will match or beat prices.

7. Ask what the price adjustment policy and return policy are at a store. Keep your eyes peeled for the item to go on sale and ask for the adjustment on your receipt.

8. Ask if the store has any discounts or coupons that they run. If you aren’t on the mailing list, ask to be added. This goes back to Day #1 in our series, where I had suggested asking for those discounts.

9. Know when to be quiet. This is a great thing to do because someone has to fill that silence. Silence leaves salespeople wondering if they are going to get the deal, and then they began trying to convince you to buy the item. S
ometimes salespeople will begin throwing in extras to try and get you to buy the item. Wait and be silent…see what happens!

10. On big ticket items, try to bring cash with you. I think cash, in an almost cashless society, speaks volumes and lets the salesperson know that you are serious and that you will offer exactly what is in your hand to them. I like to say things like, “I would love to give you the sale and I have brought cash so you won’t even have to run a credit card through!”

11. When you make a contract with a company and they don’t deliver on their end of the deal, ask what they can do to make this right. When our dining table, for example, ended up not being delivered when the furniture company said it would I requested that they give us some money back on the purchase. They knocked ten percent off for the hassle of having to wait for this item. Know what you are asking for and ask them to throw in extras for not honoring their end of the deal.

Sound Off: What are your suggestions on asking for what you want? What have you gotten just by asking?

Day 22: The Poor and the Sick

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Is there such a thing as being sick on a budget? Our family seems to think so! We try to even address our budget when it comes to our illnesses in life. Here are some ways that you can save money when you are sick:

- Try home remedies before reaching for the cough syrup. There are tons of wonderful remedies that you can do that don’t require a big expense. I am a big believer in chicken soup, a warm bath, hot tea, and lots of rest. The rest alone is sometimes enough for me to kick what is ailing me.

- If you need over-the-counter medications, try and stock up on these items when doing your drugstore rebates. Usually CVS & Walgreens both will run rebates on these medications and you can get them for free or really inexpensively. Other great resources are the Dollar General, the Dollar Tree, and the generic equivalents available at your large superstores. The best way to save a buck is to have your medicine cabinet stocked with these items before you are ill. A 24 hour drugstore with no sale will run you quite a bit more than what you would spend normally.

- Organize your medicine cabinet so you know exactly where your items are. We have a three drawer plastic container where we have our medications divided by ailment (cough/cold, pain relievers, stomach) and we put these in there. I get really mad at myself when I have run out to get a medication, only to find it days later in a hidden drawer. Keeping this and your First Aid kit organized are the best ways to know what you have on hand when sickness and emergency situations arise.

- When you go to the doctor, ask if they have any samples of the medications you might need. Sometimes, particularly with my children, I am able to get enough for a few days.

- If they don’t have any samples, ask if there are any prescriptions that they could give you off of the $4 list or free antibiotics from your local retailers. Call around and price check before you fill your prescriptions and always ask if you can get the generic version of any medication.

- If you start to feel ill, try right away to get in the doctor for treatment. A visit during normal office hours will be a lot less expensive than an urgent care clinic.

- When choosing a doctor, ask about evening hours and Saturday appointments. Pick a doctor with extended hours and this alone can save you quite a bit. I love that our doctor’s office is open until eight in the evening and that I have many more options for appointment times.

- If you do become ill, try after-hours clinics or places like MedPoint to get the care that you need (unless the illness is life-threatening). I have saved our family a lot of money by visiting these places instead of the emergency room. Just walking into the emergency room can put me in the negative, before I have even been checked, so these after-hour clinics can be a wonderful option for the frugal family.

- If your illness does require a hospital stay, make sure to check your bills. There are many expensive and unnecessary charges that can be added to your bill. This is one of those types where diligence will be your best defense in lowering your hospital bill. Don’t be afraid to ask what the charges are and have them explain the vague & general charges. You don’t have to be rude, but you can be very firm and polite when asking someone to explain what a “lab fee” is for. You are your own best advocate when you are educated about what you are paying for.

- Don’t forget to set up your emergency account for these types of situations. Check into getting a flexible spending account for your medical expenses. Consumer Reports offers this advice…”If your company offers a flexible spending account for your out-of-pocket health-care costs, go for it–but don’t go overboard.” Flexible spending accounts are usually use-it-or-lose it accounts. Figure out a rough estimate and go a little under that. Don’t know what to do with all that leftover money at the end of the year? Check out these 24 suggestions for spending your leftover flexible account money.

- The best way to stop yourself from getting sick is prevention. Exercise, take a daily multivitamin, and make healthy lifestyle choices. People who do these things save tons of money on doctor visits and medications. If that isn’t a powerful motivator, I don’t know what is!

Potential Monthly Savings: $20 or more

Sound Off: What are some ways you save money when your family is sick?

Day 21: Create Your Own Secret Emergency Account

Monday, August 27th, 2007

I use the “secret accounts” phrase completely tongue-in-cheek. I decided one day to set up an emergency account and told my husband about it, but he apparently wasn’t listening to me. One day I showed him how much we had saved and he asked when I went off and got a secret account. Ever since then it has become a big joke between the two of us and when we get extra money, he always asks if I plan to store this in my secret account.

In all seriousness, creating an extra account for the extras in life can be an important way to save yourself some money. The money gurus encourage you to set up funds in other accounts that you can easily have access to and to prepare for those big things in life. Check out books from Dave Ramsey, Mary Hunt, or Suze Orman for great ideas on establishing your own emergency funds.

For example, start keeping track of all of the receipts on home improvements you have made during the year. At the end of the year, tally up how much you spent and divide the number by 12. That would be your goal to set aside for the next year for home repairs. This will save you interest and fees that you would incur from putting these expenses on a credit card. This same scenario can be applied to auto repair, Christmas gifts, medical expenses, taxes, etc… These “emergency” situations come up when we least expect them and it is nice to have that money socked away for those rainy days. Sometimes we know these situations will arise (a family vacation or Christmas) and we end up putting them on our credit card even though their arrival was looming all year long.

This month alone we had the car in the shop twice and, of course, both times these visits were unexpected. Thank goodness for that super “secret” account that we set up.

If you aren’t a good saver, have the bank set it up to be automatically taken out. Even if you can only afford to take $25 out of your account each month, that is $25 that you can use when an emergency arises.

If you are more disciplined, you can use the snowball technique towards your savings, provided your debts are all paid down. If you pay your credit card or car loan off, for example, start paying yourself that same amount and moving those funds into your emergency account. You won’t feel the ouch factor if you were already taking that money out anyway.

These accounts can be great for the bad things in life, but they can also be wonderful for the good things in life. We have a vacation account set up and I am hoping that we can go somewhere really special for our ten year anniversary. We have the money automatically taken out and moved into our vacation fund each month.

Here are some more great articles on creating emergency funds:

Bankrate’s Simple Formula for an Emergency Fund
How to Create an Emergency Fund Now Emergency Fund Guide
6 Ways an Emergency Fund Can Help Your Budget
The Emergency Fund

Potential Monthly Savings:
$30 or more

Sound Off: Do you have an emergency fund? How did you determine your budget for this account?

Homeschooling on a Budget

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Jenn, over at Frugal Upstate, has an excellent post today on how to homeschool on a budget. Guest blogger, Alexandra, from Happy Hearts at Home, gives the scoop on homeschooling. She lists tons of free resources and curriculum that you can use for your children.

This has been something that has been on my heart recently. I am really torn about what I should do with my son. Next year he will begin school and we have a few options in our area. I am not completely sold on any of the options though. Elementary schools seem fine, but middle schools and the high schools are scaring me. Private schools are not in our budget, but am I organized enough to take on an endeavor like homeschooling my child? Am I even smart enough to do something like that? Are there other people in the community who are attempting it?

What advice can you homeschooling moms give to someone who is just starting out? Why do you do it? What have you gained from it? What is the downside? Any books you can recommend?

Please share!

Day 20: Curb Your Weekend Spending

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

I have noticed something about myself that I don’t really like. It seems that when I get bored on Saturdays, the first thing that I want to do is go shopping. I am a smart shopper and I try to only shop at the thrift store, but many times I don’t really need anything… I am just looking for a quiet escape for myself.

I have really been thinking about this a lot and am trying to find new ways to fill the boredom that makes me want to shop. To be honest, if I limited my shopping to the times where I had both the children, my shopping would be nonexistent or very short & sweet. Neither of my children enjoy shopping so I don’t find shopping to be all that enjoyable for me.

There are so many other things that I could be doing and I loved the idea of a Money-Free Weekend, which has been featured several times on The Simple Dollar.

Today I decided to stay home and get some things done around here. I was able to do a little reading, accomplish some stuff for the website, mow the lawn, make a really nice dinner, bake some muffins, and pay the bills. Continuing in this theme, this evening my husband and I are having a date night and watching “The Godfather” (taped from television) and playing a board game.

Here are some ideas for things you could do instead of spending money over the weekend:

1. Mow the lawn
2. Play board games with your family.
3. Mix up some dinner in a bag.
4. Menu plan & make your grocery list for the week.
5. Watch a free movie and pop some popcorn.
6. Tackle a project.
7. Try a free hobby.
8. Organize your pantry and make a meal out of those ingredients for dinner.
9. Clip and organize your coupons.
10. Do your laundry.
11. Soak your feet.
12. Read a good book.
13. Go to a free museum day or event in your community.
14. Make some cool toys and activities for your kids.
15. Start a garden.
16. Write a letter.
17. Make yourself a special coffee treat.
18. Do some baking.
19. Bake some bread.
20. Steam your carpets.
21. Create a routine that you can live with.
22. Make croutons.
23. Make some fun things for the tub.
24. Gather up the broken crayons and make some better ones.
25. Paint a mug with your children.
26. Decorate your child’s room with things you already have.
27. Make something out of the ingredients you have in your freezer.
28. Create some new & free family traditions.
29. Clean out the fridge.
30. Take a walk together.
31. Clean your grill.
32. Make a set of cleaners for each level of your home.
33. Take the week’s advertisements and start making your price book (you can use our free sheet).
34. Go as a family to the library and then read the books with your child.
35. Clean out your closet.
36. Organize your laundry room.
37. Make a baby (Note: This child will not be free, but making your baby can be!)
38. Share a meal with someone else.
39. Baby proof your house.
40. Make some powdered milk for the week.
41. Cut your family’s hair.
42. Make an emergency kit.
43. Start a blog.
44. Think about and repurpose an item in your home.
45. Make some frozen banana popsicles.
46. Do something dangerous with your children.
47. Make your office more child-friendly.
48. Organize your car.
49. Have a great conversation with your spouse.
50. Start planni
ng for your frugal Christmas.
51. Make some foamy soap.
52. Exercise to some library videos.
53. Make some yummy waffles for a Sunday brunch.
54. Make milkshakes and play in the sun with the kids.
55. Organize a yard sale.
56. Pray.
57. Start a gratitude journal or focus board.
58. Make some seasoning mixes.
59. Care for someone who is sick or the family of a sick loved one.
60. Find things around your house to organize your belongings.

Potential Savings:
$25 or more

Sound Off: What is your favorite free weekend activity