Posts Tagged ‘Frugal’

DIY At-Home Hair Coloring Savings & Tips

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

DIY Hair Coloring Savings and Tips

I have been coloring my hair at home for years now, but only in the last few years has it started to become more necessary. I will peek at my hair in the mirror or my hair will catch the light in the sun and I see those wiry gray hairs coming through. Ah, the signs of old age are upon me.

Hair color in the box has come a long way, though, and I have been able to experiment with different brands and products that have come out when I have a coupon to go with them. I have found that I rarely have to pay for the regular price on my hair color.

How to Save on DIY Hair Color

1. Hair color is always on sale. If you look in CVS or the Walgreens flier, you will find that on almost any given week, they are running a special on hair color. Walgreens & CVS often will either give you a rebate on these products or some type of register reward. Wait for the sales on your favorite brands and try to stock up in conjunction with these.

2. Hair color coupons abound. Make sure to check your Sunday coupon inserts for coupons and cut these out to apply towards your purchase. If you can combine those coupons with a rebate/Extra Care Buck reward, you can often get your hair color for less than $5 a box.

3. Sign up for mailing lists. Sign up for the mailing lists for coupons and tips on coloring your hair. Clairol, for example, offers the Color Source Club where they send an email newsletter out with coupon savings towards your purchases and updates on their new products. By visiting the Garnier website, you will find they offer a newsletter with updates on free samples and special offers. Likewise, Revlon offers a website where you can sign up for a similar type of program and be notified of savings and samples.

4. Look inside & outside the box for savings. Often on the directions page, there is a coupon to take off money on your next purchase. Make sure to scan all over the outside and inside of the box for coupons and use these on your next color purchase.

5. Don’t forget savings in unlikely places. One week my hair color was not on sale and I was not stocked on any extra boxes. Our local Bed Bath & Beyond though recently added a beauty section that is fully stocked on all of my drugstore needs. I walked in with a manufacturer coupon and combined that with the 20% off a purchase coupon and was still able to score my favorite hair color for about $5.00. I don’t know if all of the stores offer this, but this is another option for coupon savings.

6. Check eBay for coupons. Coupons abound for the products that you use and it is a great resource for savings on the things you use most. When my children were babies, I often used eBay to get coupons for savings off our baby food. Now that they are getting older, I am now looking for hair color coupons. My, how the circle of life continues!

Hair Coloring Tips

Perfect-10 hair color

I recently happened upon a product though that has had me shouting it’s praises from the mountain tops and I doubt I will use anything else since I have become so spoiled. It is the Clairol Perfect 10 Hair Color.

I had a coupon for this product and since I have used it, I can never picture using anything else ever again. There are two reasons why I love it.

  1. The applicator makes it a lot less messy. I am one of those people that is a constant disaster and I can’t tell you how many things I have ruined while trying to get hair color on my head. It almost became a joke because every time I would color my hair, we would have to buy a new shower curtain because I had slopped color on it.
  2. It is done in ten minutes. That is it. By the time I get it on, it is time to rinse it off. It colors my hair that quickly.

It is not the most frugal choice always, but regularly priced at $12.99, it is still a huge cost-savings over the $50-100 charge that is being charged at most salons. And if you can apply the cost-savings above, you can still get this hair color for the $5-8 price.

Too scared to color your hair at home?

Don’t be! It is really hard to fail at at-home hair coloring unless you are trying to color your hair drastically. If the look is drastic, go to the salon and have them do it, but for just covering a few grays, it can be easy to do at home.

color oops hair colo

But what if you fail or you get a bad color job at the salon? 

I have found the best product for you for that too! I once had a botched color job at the salon and I was desperate to tone down my bright hair. I found this great product that you can buy at Walgreens called Color Oops. Within five to ten minutes of putting this on your hair, it will tone down your color. If you leave it on too long though, it will strip your hair down to your baby hair. I would be very careful using a product like this, but desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures and this will work in a pinch.

Your best bet if you get a botched job at the salon? Going back to the salon and asking them to put a little toner on it. They should do this for free for you and guarantee their color services so make sure you ask this before getting your hair done somewhere how long their color-guarantee is.

After Coloring Tips

Don’t forget that no matter where you choose to color you hair, that the most important thing to do to maintain it is to use color-safe shampoos afterward.

The same tips for savings on hair color apply to those hair color shampoos too. It has been a long time since I have paid full price for any hair care items by taking advantage of coupons and savings at the drugstore.

If you are looking for an affordable brand option, Suave corners the market on inexpensive hair products. They have an arsenal of hair products that won’t put a dent in your wallet. For example, Nexxus shampoo costs more than $8 for 14.5 ounces. Suave makes a knock off of this same shampoo for $1.92-2.49 for 14.5 ounces. Combine that with a coupon, and you have practically free shampoo that will keep your hair looking great!

I hope these at-home hair color tips will help keep your lovely locks looking great for a lot less!

Do you color your hair at home? What products do you love? How do you maximize your color savings?

(Photo Source: Compact Collection)

Related Links:

Overcoming My Fears: Cutting Hair

Open Your Own Beauty Shop

 

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Smart Strategies for Saving Time & Money When Flying

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

How to save money and time when flying

Over the years, I have been doing a lot more travel than I ever dreamed I would be doing. When you travel frequently, you quickly learn that:

  • you need a lot less than you think you do
  • proper planning will save you hours of frustration
  • and each trip is a lesson on how to do it better

I wanted to share with you a few tips to help you save time and money on your next flight. These are my tried and true strategies that I employ each time I fly and I hope they will help you on your next trip.

How To Save Money & Time When Flying

1. Check in Online

The biggest timesaver for me has always been taking the time to check in for my flights online twenty-four hours before my flight.  You can save so much time and can also avoid having to wait as long at the airport if you have checked in for your flight early. What would normally take an hour can now take twenty to thirty minutes just by using my computer at home.

While you are checking in online, print out all of the documents you might need for your trip and store them in a folder together. I keep all trip itineraries, meeting information, agendas, and check-in information for the returning flight together.  Pull this together with your freshly printed boarding passes and put this in your carry-on luggage or purse for easy access.

Pack light and smart for air travel

2. Keep Your Bags Light

Most airlines now charge for you to check in your luggage, not to mention the hassle of waiting at baggage claims for your luggage to arrive when you are anxious to start your trip.  The largest allowed size for carry-on bags is 22×14×19 inches, but you can maximize your packing by in a quality soft-sided carry-on bag, which will be roomier than a more rigid bag.  Just by packing light, you are able to shave approximately $50 on a round-trip flight!

If you are traveling as a family, divide the luggage up between each family member and consider investing in one small roller bag for each child that they will be able to maneuver themselves.  Child size luggage can be found at discount stores like Target, Walmart, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s. Even with this investment, you can still easily save $25 on the way back because you won’t need to check a bag. The bonus is that they can use that bag for years to come, making it easy to recoup your travel investment.

The best part about keeping your bags light, though is that you can use this as an excuse to not buy so many travel souvenirs on your trip. Consider that light bag as not only a savings for not checking in, but the ultimate excuse to not indulge in those pricey gift shops.

If, in the end, you are unable to reduce your luggage to be carry-on compliant, paying for your checked bags online can sometimes save you a few dollars each way.

 

3. Pack Smart

It seems that it is always the people that do not take the time to pack wisely that become the most flustered or are asked to step aside by security. The most important thing to note is that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules require that passengers only carry liquids in three ounce containers in no more than one, clear, quart-sized bag.

Visit freebie sites like Freebies4Mom.com, DealSeekingMom.com, or MommySnacks.net and stockpile sample size toiletries and detergent for your trips that will comply with these federal guidelines. If you travel frequently, reusable travel containers can also be a fantastic investment that can be refilled with the items you already have from home. Make sure to store this bag right on top for easy access, as it will need to be removed from your bags when going through airport security.

Underneath the bag of toiletries, tightly roll your clothing to prevent wrinkling and to maximize the space within your carry-on luggage. Choose clothing that can easily be mixed and matched and make sure to prepare for what weather conditions may be awaiting you. There is nothing worse than being at an amusement park with your family during a torrential downpour and paying $15 for an umbrella or heading to a state with warmer weather and paying $35 for a junky tourist sweatshirt because you are freezing.

Last, make sure that any electronics that will need to be inspected rest on top next to your toiletries until you get through security.  The ones that will not need to be run through separately will be easier to scan if they are right on top and those that require a separate scanning will be easy to access for this procedure (remember that everything can be rearranged in the bag, once you get through security, to protect your electronics from harm during travel).

Pack dried fruit for travel

4. Thrifty Snacking

The days of meals and snacks on flights are long gone so it is important to have a thrifty snacking strategy to avoid spending $50 at the airport while waiting for flights. Pack food items that will travel well both ways to reduce your spending. Items like protein bars (avoid anything with melting chocolate), trail mixes, dried fruit, and apples are all great items to tuck away in your bag for a snack while you are waiting. If your flight is leaving during the lunch hour, spend a little time packing lunches that can be eaten in flight or while waiting at the airport. This little effort of planning can easily save you $7 per person.

While you are unable to bring any liquids through security, there is one easy strategy you can take to save on those $5 waters at the airport. Tuck an empty reusable water bottle in your bag and fill it at a drinking fountain when you get through security.

 

Travel Game Ideas

5. Frugal Entertainment

It is easy to keep everyone entertained on the flights, but it also requires a little strategy, particularly if you are bringing children. Consider packing one set of things to do on the way there and one small set of things to do on the way back to keep your children happy. Library books, magnetic travel games, coloring books, a deck of cards, puzzle books, and even your child’s portable gaming system are great ways to keep them entertained.

It is important to keep in mind that electronics do have to be turned off at the beginning and ending of each flight, so don’t just rely on that Nintendo DS, DVD player, or that iPod to hold their interest. They will be glad that you packed a coloring book or reading material when the time comes to switch them off. As an added savings, don’t forget to bring their headphones for these electronics, as the airline will happily charge you for each set you might have forgotten.

I hope that these tips will help you on your next flight and don’t forget to tuck those items away to save time for the next trip. There is nothing like having a bag of toiletries that are already packed, a special set of items that are already preset in your bags to keep the kids entertained, or  the travel pillow already packed in your bag to save you time for your next trip.

If you want more great tips on travel, be sure to visit our Organized Travel article before heading out for your next vacation!

What are some ways that you save time and money when you are flying? I would love to hear your success stories or lessons learned!

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Six Easy Ways to Save on That Weekend Getaway

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Note: I’m reposting this article in honor of our Travel M Challenge with a new header and format that highlights these great travel saving tips that we continue to use to take short trips and stay on budget.

6 Easy Ways to Save on Weekend Getaways

When my husband and I celebrated nine years of marriage, we wanted to celebrate our anniversary in a special way so we decided to take a little trip to Traverse City, Michigan and enjoy a weekend getaway for just the two of us. My husband’s family was kind of enough to take care of the kids and we were off for two days of sightseeing, window shopping, and delicious eating.

We remained true to our budget through careful planning and research and I wanted to share with you a few ways we found to save on our memorable weekend getaway!

6 Ways to Save on Weekend Getaways

1. Research Hotel Rates

There were tons of great places to stay in Traverse City and I wanted the place where we stayed to be close to downtown shopping to be a fun getaway for us. We checked Kayak for room rates and found the Grand Traverse Resort to be approximately the same price as the other hotels, but it had many amenities. The reviews on the hotel were great and we were thrilled to find a rate that saved us about $70 a night versus the hotel rates.

All of that being said, it seemed because we had booked this discount rate, we also got the discount room. Our room was the one without the view, on the ground floor, and smelled like a smoking room. We also had no idea that they would charge a resort fee of $9.95 a day for all of those amenities that we did not use.

We still did score a great rate, but realized that the amount of time we spent in our room was not worth the grandeur and we will find a less expensive place next time!

2. Request A Visitor Packet

While the visitor packet for this town lacked coupons, it did give us some ideas for good places to visit and offered great historical information on the places we planned to visit. Through this packet of information, I was able to jot down some ideas for places to eat and see while we were in the town.

3. Find the Best Places to Eat

I wanted to eat at the coolest spots in town and we were able to do that with just a little research on my part. I hopped on Chow and checked through the forums for information on the town we were visiting. People offered honest opinions on the best spots in town and we decided to eat at two of the restaurants that had been recommended.

The first restaurant we ate at was called Trattoria Stella – a fantastic Italian place in a renovated insane asylum. No, I am not joking! My husband, who watches many of those ghost-chasing shows, was thoroughly creeped out and it made for great conversation with our waiter. The food and wine choices relied heavily on local farmers and local wines which made for a fresh and delicious dinner.

The other recommendation was for Don’s Drive-In, which was absolutely everything that I adore about diner food. Greasy burgers, giant shakes, and the best fried mushrooms ever. We took our shakes to go and drove near the water for a view. It was far too cold to sit too long, but we prided ourselves on making the most of our two day getaway!

4. Talk to Locals

When someone comes to my town, I love to be a local authority. Isn’t it fun to share all of the hidden gems of your town? We talked to anyone who would chat with us and they shared their special places to eat, shop, and their favorite wineries to visit in town. People just love sharing about their home and that is how we were able to discover an out-of-the-way winery that was not listed on maps. It had closed by the time we arrived, but we were able to take some wonderful pictures of the view.


5. Put Together Your Own Tours & Packages

The Grand Traverse Resort offered a room package that included a tour of local wineries. The package included a two night stay and a tour of three wineries. The price? A whopping $224.50 per person. Since the tour wineries were listed on their website, I jotted them down and we decided to do our own tour. The price for us to do our own wine tour? Gas plus $3-5 per tasting at the wineries. With the money saved, we were able to take home a bottle of wine from each of the three wineries as a memento of our special anniversary! The two highlights for us were Shady Lane & Black Star Farms.

We saved ourselves even more time and money by trying wines at the restaurant and even picking up a bottle at the gas station. Through their wines, we discovered what wineries were not worth visiting and which ones we could not wait to enjoy at their winery.


5b. Put Your GPS/Phone Maps to Good Use for Your Tour

Using first a car GPS, and now our smartphone maps, has saved us so much money in gas and an inevitable divorce because we always get lost. It has been one of the best investments for our family- I truly could go on and on!

Program your device with all of the places that you would like to go before heading on your trip. I visited all of the sites of the restaurants, our hotel, even the downtown shops that I wanted to hit so all of the information was right at our fingertips. We enjoyed a scenic view to the town and we were able to navigate our way around without any problems to all of the places we wanted to see.

6. Stick To Window Shopping

I won’t say we didn’t make any purchases (I’ve already mentioned the wine…), but the majority of the trip was spent window shopping and picture-taking. I was able to take pictures of all the beautiful windows and antiques that we saw and that seemed to satisfy any urge I had to shop. We did enjoy oodles of free food samples downtown and shared a slice of pizza on a park bench to people watch over our lunch.

It was a happy anniversary that celebrated almost 15 years of being together! And staying on budget made it that much sweeter.

Do you have any weekend getaways planned? What is your favorite way to save on your vacation travels? Please share!

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The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Note: In honor of our M Challenge focus on Technology, I’m reposting this because I still can’t live without my iPhone, and these apps are still some of my top favs! Please chime in with any you use now, too!

If you asked me the one thing that I could not live without, it would be my iPhone. Today I want to share the top iPhone apps that have organized my life and my family. This gadget has brought more organization to my life than I dreamed possible and is what I rely on daily to tackle the day-to-day tasks as a mom. Of course, you don’t have to have an iPhone to benefit from these apps, almost all of these are available to any smartphone user. Here are my top 7 apps to get your family organized.

Cozi App

Cozi

Whenever I talk about the best apps to organize a family, I always think of Cozi first. Over the years, this app has evolved so much and fits perfectly into our family’s everyday needs. Cozi is a calendar app that is made with a mom in mind. It is easy to use, color-coded (for each family member), includes pictures of your sweet little ones, helps you with your grocery list, and offers text message alerts to you for appointment reminders…all from one central location.

My favorite feature that has saved our family countless fees and embarrassment is their text reminder service. When I input our family’s appointments, I can have a text sent to myself or to my husband that reminds us about that appointment. The reminders can come whenever you designate them (one hour ahead, one day ahead, one week ahead, etc..).  Does your child have jean day at school? Super silly hair day?  Little things like that are even input in this handy calendar and a text reminder goes out to me first thing in the morning to save my children from their mom’s forgotten dollar or the super exciting monthly “skip your uniform,” day.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

 

Mint

If you are looking to get your family’s finances back on track this year, my favorite and most reliable financial reporting comes from Mint. Mint can be set up through your home computer, your smart phone, or tablet.  An account with Mint can be set up in less than five minutes and gives you the chance to set budgets to your spending categories and track them with handy pie charts and graphs. In one glance, you can monitor your checking, savings, investments, and retirement at any moment during the day.

Most of the spending categories are immediately categorized for you while unfamiliar categories (like your favorite local restaurant or doctor’s visit) may need a quick categorization for accurate reporting. For tax purposes, you can also tag items for reimbursement so that it can help later when filing your taxes.

The best part, I have found, is that Mint will alert you via email when spending or withdrawals seem high. Did the mortgage company take out an extra payment? Did you have an unusually high amount of withdrawals in one month? Was a large deposit made? Mint sends you an email to alert you of unusual transactions happening in your account which could potentially save you from being the victim of credit card fraud.

(Free. Available for most devices.)

 

Grocery IQ

Making and sticking to your grocery lists has never been easier thanks to the Grocery IQ app. With Grocery IQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Since I always have my phone with me,  switching to an electronic grocery list has been much easier than I thought it would be. The coupon feature helps save our family money on items we were already planning to buy and the list helps keep our family budget on track. I also love that I can sync my list from my iPad to my iPhone so I can use whichever device I have handy to add items when we need them.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

Evernote

If you are trying to stop the paper pile-up from school, Evernote is a fantastic tool for  clipping and saving those papers in one spot that you can access from your phone or computer. When items come home to us that I might need to reference for our family later, like the cafeteria lunch schedule or the recess schedule, I can either take a photo of what I need or I can scan that item into Evernote and tag it with, “School,” for easy reference.

Things that I often refer back to, like our library card numbers, gift card numbers that I want to store on my computer, receipts for purchases, or even keeping track of the books my children are reading in a particular series are all housed in my Evernote account for easy accessibility when I need them.

No more scraps of paper all over the house or hanging on to newsletters for one paragraph of information, Evernote has become my virtual notebook to keep us organized.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

SpringPad

Menu planning can be a challenge for families and keeping track of all of those recipes you want to try can be a challenge when your Pinterest boards are overflowing with ideas. I have come to rely upon SpringPad for creating our family’s weekly menu plan. I think of SpringPad as a virtual notebook where you can privately or publicly share things you want to reference to manage your life. Notebooks can be created on any topic, but I create weekly notebooks of menu plans for my family, adding those recipes into a notebook so that I can reference them later, whether I am cooking in the kitchen or I am at the grocery store and not sure if I added all the ingredients to my list like I thought.

Depending on how the recipe is input into the source, SpringPad will either pull the recipe right into your notebook so you can view it right from the notebook, you can manually add in the recipe, or a link to the recipe will be provided so you can access it from the page you found it.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

30/30

Setting a timer to get tasks done around the house is an old school method that works remarkably well for productivity that has now been brought to the future with this 30/30 app for organizing your day.  The idea behind this app is very simple: you work for thirty minutes and focus on a single task with no distractions. When your time is up, you give your mind a break and do something completely unrelated, also for thirty minutes. This 30/30 cycle is repeated until your tasks are done.

Type in what your ideal day will look like including blocking out times for a little down time like enjoying a cup of coffee, time wasting on sites like Facebook or Pinterest, or just time with a great book.  Then set up what the rest of your productive day will look like and use the 30/30 app to visualize if you are going to get your tasks done in the designated time.  It provides a countdown and a visual reminder of what you are working on and beeps when your time is done. Simple, visually pleasing, and highly effective, I can’t recommend this app enough to increase your productivity.

(Free. Available for the iPad or iPhone.)

8MM Vintage Camera

Capturing my children on-the–go is one of the main reasons I decided to get an iPhone. While I rely heavily on Instagram for capturing still images of our family from day-to-day I also love to capture movies of them.  Although we have many fancy camcorders laying around our house, the one recorder I always have with me is my phone. I am a huge fan of vintage looking film and pictures so I have found that the  8MM vintage camera app is a fun way to add a little vintage to our family’s most precious recorded moments.

($1.99. Available for the iPad or iPhone)

What are your favorite apps for keeping your family organized? Chime in here and share your family’s favorite tools!

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Evaluating the Cost of Home: Renting vs Buying

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

One of the largest expenses we have is our homes. Whether you’re renting or buying your home it can add up fast. While most financial experts recommend you spend 25% or less of your earnings on your home costs, location plays a huge factor in whether you can meet that guideline or not. This month we’ll be evaluating how to make the decision to rent or buy, and I’ll share some money saving tips that will help whether you rent or own your home.

Evaluating the Cost of Home Renting vs. Buying

When deciding if you should rent or buy it’s important to consider a number of factors:

1. Evaluate your Needs and Where you Are
Knowing what you need in a home or rental is the first step to your evaluation between renting vs buying. In addition to knowing what you need in a home, location plays a big factor. Look at the community you want to live in, but don’t be afraid to look outside your ideal area because the savings may be worth it.

Renting: If you’re renting it’s easier to look for something that fits you right now, but that may be a mistake. Consider what plans you have in the next several years because it is easier to stay put than it is to move you want to ensure you don’t go through the upheaval of moving multiple times especially if you have a family.

Money saving tip: Before you sign a lease find out if your rent is negotiable. For instance you may be able to make repairs or improvements for savings.

Buying: If you’re buying or own a home you will want to consider a little more long-term. For instance, if you’re planning to add children to your family or possibly care for an elderly relative you’ll want to be sure your home has enough room to grow into.

Money saving tip: Homeowners should evaluate their mortgage to see if refinancing will save them money.

2. Cost is King
Cost is a major factor in your decision to rent or buy. The costs of home ownership and rentals in your area will play a big role in your decision. In some communities and urban areas it never makes sense to buy because rent is low and home prices are high. In most areas though it can save you money in the long run to own your own home. As rental prices increase your mortgage payment will stay the same.

Renting: One of the major costs of renting a home is the deposit you have to put down. Generally this will be 2-3 times the monthly rent. In some urban areas they will require a larger deposit especially if you have poor credit. This could end up costing you several thousand dollars to tens of thousands in higher priced areas. In addition, you will have to factor in what other costs are covered (or not) by renting. Your rent could include utilities, WiFi, and water bills or might even include a building gym or services especially if you live in a metropolitan area.

Money saving tip: Consider all the costs you will have to pay when comparing rentals. If you find a rental that’s going for $1,000/month but you have to pay $300/month in costs for electric, water, and association dues that is more expensive than the $1,250/month rental that includes everything.

Buying: The major cost for buying is the down payment on your home. With the collapse of the housing market options have become more limited for people who don’t have a large down payment. However there are options to consider, so be sure to check with your local bank and mortgage broker. In addition you will have moving costs and repairs to consider if your home needs anything immediately.

Money saving tip: Shop around for pre-approval for a mortgage if you decide to buy. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by doing your homework on mortgage rates.

Prepare to Save

No matter if you’re buying or renting here are some steps you can take to get a better deal:

1. Improve your credit-
Use your free credit reports (1 per agency each year) to ensure everything on your report actually belongs to you and there are no false reports on your credit. I

Money saving tip: A credit dispute can take up several weeks to be fixed and can affect your mortgage interest rate and your ability to rent.

2. Research, research, research-
Knowing what typical rent and home prices are is the key to finding a good deal and simply not overspending on your home. You can use sites like Zillow, RedFin and local realtor sites to get an idea of pricing.

Money saving tip: Set up email alerts or app alerts so you don’t miss when new properties become available.

3. Set Expectations-
Know that there will never be the ‘perfect’ home. In most cases we have to choose the best options out of what is available and what we can afford. In some cases this means trading square footage for location or choosing an older home because the neighborhood schools are worth sacrificing granite countertops.

Choose the things that are the most important to you now and think ahead for the next several years. Will this house or rental suit your needs as your kids get older? Or are your kids older and you’ll be able to live with less space in a few years?

4. Real Estate is not an Investment (for Most of Us)-
While there are exceptions (like people who make it their business to buy and sell real estate) for most of us our homes are simply a place to live. While it’s important to pay attention to the costs it’s unlikely the housing market will climb the way it did pre-housing boom in most areas.

Since most families don’t stay in their homes and locations the way they did in past generations it’s not as common to pay off your home mortgage. Even if your mortgage is paid off and you own your home outright you will still have the costs of repairs and upkeep. When/if you do eventually sell a paid-off home you’re going to use that money to buy again.

5. Repairs are Costly-
If you’re renting, having a landlord means you will have someone to lean on when things need to be repaired and won’t have to cover the cost yourself. While you may not incur the cost directly it will be passed on in the form of your rent.

If you buy a home all the cost and work of repairs will be on you. While you can DIY some things larger repairs can be get expensive. An inspection before you buy will help identify some needed fixes when buying a home, but you may encounter things you didn’t expect.

No matter what you choose or how you save money on your home it can be challenging but worth it both financially and for your happiness. Examining costs and weighing your options may not seem especially exciting but by saving on the place you call home you can slash your budget significantly.

Of course there is one thing you can’t put a price on and that’s the feeling you get when you’re truly home.

For more in our series of money savvy tips read:

 

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Fabulous Fall Drinks Round-Up

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

I am SO excited for one of my favorite times of the year, fall! While I enjoy every season and the special things we like to do in each, there’s something about the falling leaves and the cooling temperatures – and the fun holidays we get to celebrate – that makes the autumn months some of my absolute favorites.

Fabulous Fall Drinks  MomAdvice.com

And I’m here to admit that one of the reasons I look forward to the fall is all the fabulous flavored hot drinks I can enjoy again during the cold weather! You know I’m a coffee girl, and adding flavor to coffee is probably one of the greatest inventions ever in my book! I’ve rounded up some of my favorite hot drinks I’ve created as well as a few others I’ve found that I can’t wait to try.

The only thing I have to decide: which one first?

Mom Advice Classics:

Homemade_Pumpkin_Spice_Latte

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

homemade_salted_caramel_mocha

Homemade Salted Caramel Mocha

DIY_Starbucks_Peppermint_Mocha

Homemade Peppermint Mocha

Homemade_Vanilla_Chai

Homemade Vanilla Chai Mix or Cocoa Mix

(these make great gifts for anyone who needs a warm weather pick-me-up!)

DIY_Gingerbread_Latte

Homemade Gingerbread Latte

Homemade_Mint_Truffle_Creamer

DIY Flavored Coffee Creamers

Here are more fabulous drinks I found for you to try – including a couple for adults-only!

peanut-butter-caramel-mocha

Peanut Butter Cup Caramel Latte @ Lunch Box Bunch

crockpot-coconut-hot-chocolate

Crockpot Coconut Hot Chocolate @ How Sweet It Is

SprinkleBakes Whiteout Cocoa

Whiteout Cocoa @ Sprinkle Bakes

Irish Coffee

Irish Coffe @ iVillage

tiramisu tippers

Tiramisu Tippers @ Better Homes & Gardens

And here’s a fun bonus – one of my favorite ways to keep warm on-the-go drinks from being uncomfortable to hold: easy handmade knitted coffee cozies!

Knitted_Coffee_Cozies

You can find even more great drink ideas on our Drinks Pinterest board and if you’d like a few more cooler-weather ideas, be sure to check out our Pinterest boards: Soups & Stews, Slow Cooker Dishes, and my favorite, Knitting!

Well, are you ready for the cooler fall weather now? I know I am!

 

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Our Best Disney Tips

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Disney Tips

Our family is currently having the time of our lives at Disney World for the Social Media Moms Conference and I was reminded of our family’s first experience visiting the Magic Kingdom and what we learned during that trip.

Are the tips I shared then still helpful? You bet! In fact, coming into this trip armed with the “insider” tips we learned during our first visit has made this one a lot smoother, even though it’s a bit different because I’m also attending a conference.

MA_Disney_collage

So I thought I’d take a moment to share again how we planned for Disney and what we learned (for further information on each tip, be sure to read the original post), and give you the opportunity to add any of your tips or tricks you’ve learned in visiting Disney World in the comments!

1. Advance Preparation Tips

  • Financially: start saving and looking for deals as soon as you start thinking about your trip.
  • Safety: print out current photos to carry of each child, bring a sharpie to write cell phone numbers with, and assign buddies.
  • Meals: plan for snacks and drinks before heading to the park.
  • Souvenirs: buy them at a local Disney store or the party store and pack them with you!
  • Navigation: load all needed GPS info beforehand.

2. Ride Tips

  • Make a family plan: list the rides everyone wants to go on by importance.
  • Visit rides with longest wait times first.
  • Use FASTPASS to get through longer lines faster.
  • Add the Wait Time App to your mobile phone to check ride wait times.

3. Photograph Tips

  • Capture your children’s view – not only of them seeing things, but how they see it (get down to their level).
  • Capture the moment – as many of the hilarious ride moments as you can!
  • Take pictures on the go, too – in the car and at the hotel – using both phone and regular cameras.
  • Remember a family photo: scope out someone who can take a picture of your family in front of something you like.
  • Capture the nighttime magic – do a bit of research in advance to know your camera settings so you can get some good memory shots of the fantastic light displays.

Now it’s your turn – what can you share with us about the best way to experience Disney?

 

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Hello Kitty Birthday Party Fun

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

We had an exciting week this week as we celebrated my daughter’s sixth birthday with a fun Hello Kitty birthday party. I wanted to keep the party simple and sweet with her closest girlfriends for her special day.  I didn’t spend a lot on this Hello Kitty party at all, but it made me smile to hear the girl’s remarking that it was, “the best part ever.”

Just in case you are thinking about spending a lot of money, for five and six year-old girls the best party ever need only include pink things to eat, glittered nail polish, tiaras, and a Barbie movie.

Here are a few of the fun projects we did for her birthday party:

1. Tissue Paper Pom Poms in Pinks & Purples to go over her party table. I did buy a package of Hello Kitty napkins and paper plates this year to match her theme and then used all of our past party supplies to bring our pink-themed party together.

2. Hot Cocoa Filling Station- I found inexpensive holiday mugs at Michael’s Craft Store. I added a batch of our homemade cocoa mix, whipped cream, homemade pink peppermint marshmallows, and lots of sprinkles for the cocoa. Each girl got to personalize her mug with her favorite additions.

3. Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes- Emily’s favorite show is, “Cupcake Wars,” so I knew that I needed to make a spectacular cupcake for my big girl. I made these cupcakes adorned with pink buttercream frosting and a shake of pink sprinkles. Each cupcake was topped with a Hello Kitty ring (that had lip gloss tucked inside). The rings were just $.50 each, but the girls really loved them.

4.  Getting Glamorous- I bought four different colors of nail polish (including clear glitter) and a package of nail stickers to do the girl’s nails. Each girl got fancy nails and a Hello Kitty tiara to wear home with them ($2.99 each plus a 20% off coupon).

5. Movies & Popcorn- We ended our birthday fun watching, “Barbie Princess Charm School,” and munching on popcorn. The girls loved this movie and thanks to a tip from my best friend, I managed to DVR the movie on Nick Jr., saving me the cost of the rental.

My sweet Emily is the type of girl that captures the heart of anyone who meets her. Her sense of style is stellar and she has just this incredible independence that sometimes makes my jaw drop to the ground. I was never as fiercely independent as her.

Most days  I shake my head and think, “How is SHE mine?” I was never that cool.

Happy birthday to our beautiful girl- we love you so much!

Tips for Your Next Disney Magic Kingdom Trip & Ideas for Capturing the Magic

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Our family spent our Thanksgiving holiday in Florida this year.  It was our first real family trip and our first time heading to the Magic Kingdom. I am a Disney newbie although I had the incredible opportunity to see many Florida sites with the Orlando Visitor’s Bureau with my son last year as a trip for just the two of us.

I will admit it, I was nervous about it all. I wanted to surprise them, I wanted the day to be magical, I wanted the weather to cooperate, I wanted the crowds to be minimal, I wanted us all to have the best time of our life.

Is that too much to ask?

Lucky for us, all of these things really did happen and we had a magical day at the Magic Kingdom.

Accommodations were provided by the grandparents as well as a cooler filled with drinks and snacks for us to take on the road and a few to nestle in a bag that I carried with me.  The truth is, we went into it knowing it was going to be an expensive day. We also went into it prepared financially for this day and I worked some extra freelance jobs to cover the expense.

Here is what we learned from our experience at Disney:


Preparation is Key

Financial Preparation- Whenever our family is tackling a big financial project, we set aside money into a separate savings account to prepare for whatever that financial goal might be. Consider talking with your bank about opening accounts for your Disney trip. Have an automatic transfer made for $25 or more each month put into this account all year long and then you will have the money saved when it is time to make your family trip.

Savings can be had when booking your travel through places like AAA and additional savings can be found while visiting in Orlando by printing a free Orlando Magicard to take with you when visiting restaurants and attractions while you are in Orlando.

Safety Preparation- I don’t need to tell you that Disney is a big place and safety is very important when visiting theme parks.  Each child was assigned a buddy to be their partner throughout the days and they were to hold their buddy’s hand while we were there.  We took additional safety precautions by printing out recent pictures of our children to keep in our wallet and bags just in case something should happen and they were separated from us. With a handy Sharpie, I wrote my cell phone number on their arms so if they were separated from us, someone could call us and reunite us quickly.

Meal Preparation- You can bring snacks and drinks into the park with no problems. We packed fruit snacks, granola bars, and bottles of water for our day in a bag with no objections. Rely on these snacks and bottles of water to help cut some of the costs. I recommend visiting this MouseSavers page to find the best cheap eats while you are at the parks.  We did get table service for the evening, but you want to call ahead since reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance of your vacation. Since we called the reservation number that morning when we arrived, we ended up at the Plaza. The table service was about twelve dollars more than the fast food service in the park and quite a bit better with a lot more food included with our meal. If you want to explore the menus before you go, you can view all the menus for the parks here.

Souvenir Preparation-  Souvenirs are a big expense and children can be plagued with horrible cases of what our family lovingly calls, “a case of the gimmies.” At the same time, I remember the amazing souvenir ears I got and how much I wanted those items when I went to Disney.  I hit the Disney store for t-shirts and small toys which were a third of the price as they were in the shops and a girlfriend recommended picking up ears at a local party store (only $5.99 each). The kids were thrilled with their ears and shirts which they wore throughout the park and they did not even ask for anything while we walked through thanks to this little bit of preparation.

Navigation Preparation- When you pick up your tickets, you can pick up a handy map of the park. Thanks to my iPhone I was able to get some reinforcement on the map with Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) and helped us navigate the parks easily and find what we needed quickly. We also had everything in our GPS before we left for getting to the park and how to get back to where we were lodging.

Getting the Most Out of Your Ride Time

Make a Plan of Attack- Along with your Navigation Preparation, discuss as a family what rides are most important to you and order them in a list of importance. The rides with the longest wait times we rode first so that we could make sure that we got those out of the way before the crowds and wait times got really long.  If you aren’t’ sure what rides would be best for the age group of your kids, I do recommend buying the Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) because this actually gave you a plan for your day based upon your age group. They have tour plans for adults & teens, parents of preschool children, parents with children ages 4-8, and senior Disney lovers.  It gave us a great starting point for deciding how to make the most of our day.

Use FASTPASS to Make the Most of Your Day-FASTPASS isn’t anything you need to sign up for, it is simply a way to place a reservation on rides with long wait times. On your map that you receive when you come in, it will have a FASTPASS icon next to the rides that you can FASTPASS. In the Magic Kingdom, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Jungle Cruise, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, & Peter Pan’s Flight are the rides you can FASTPASS. Head to those rides and a machine will be available to insert your ticket and a receipt will print out when you can come back to the ride with a one hour window that you can cash in on. Head to other rides with shorter wait times and then come back at the designated time to go through a faster line.

Add a free Wait Time App to Your Mobile Phone- No need to invest in a pricey Wait Time App, just the free Disney World Wait Times app will work perfectly since all wait time information is user generated. Check the wait times on the rides and use that to help decide which rides you want to go on.

Capturing the Magic

It is the most magical day of our kid’s lives and the last thing I wanted was terrible pictures that didn’t showcase just how amazing our day was.  My parents have this great picture of me when I was a little girl wearing my mouse ears, posing with the characters, sunburned and freckled cheeks, grinning with the biggest toothless grin at five that is still one of my favorite pictures from my childhood.

Capture Their View-  When Emily saw the castle for the first time…well, I could start bawling just thinking about it. I wanted to see that moment over and over so I captured her first gaze at the castle and then got to her eye level and took a picture at her level at exactly what she was seeing.  Having pictures both of them seeing this magical beauty and the magical beauty itself are captures that your family will never forget.

Capture the Movement- How can you capture the hilarious and dizzy feeling of some of those rides without movement in the picture.  Capturing motion in photography is so much fun especially when riding on the teacups. I focused on the bag in this picture as we spun around and and around.  I recommend this article if you are looking for more tips on how to capture motion blur in your pictures.

Take Fun Pictures on the Go-  My camera equipment can get awfully heavy so we took turns with the big camera and I relied on my mobile phone when I wanted to capture details quickly and easily. I love Camera+ and Instagram for sharing fun pictures on the go. It is such a fun way to take a quick photo, add an effect, and send it to family and friends to keep them updated on how your day is going.

Get a Family Photo- I will admit that I looked for someone who had a camera like ours to take our family picture. If you have a point-and-shoot,  finding someone to snap a picture should be really easy.

When I handed off my camera I switched it to Aperture Mode (Av on my Canon) and changed the Aperture to f/7.1. I was really worried we would be out of focus and Disney is a very busy place. I then used Picnik to crop as many of the background people out of our picture.

They have people all over the parks taking pictures and you can have them snap your picture for their portrait and then ask them to take one with your camera too. They know the best spots with good lighting and backgrounds for your family photos. Best of all, they know how to work cameras.

Capture the Nighttime Magic- Nighttime magic was tricky to photograph and may require a little research on your part. When I took pictures of the castle I was so disappointed. The colors were off and lights were blurry. It was not the magical pictures I had hoped for.

Over dinner, I went on this Disney Photography Blog and found this information how to capture the nighttime parade. I took test shots after our dinner until I was happy with the lighting and able to capture some of the nighttime beauty at Disney.

What are your best tips for doing Disney on a budget? Do you have any tips for making the most of your time at the parks? Please share!

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Below is our big reveal to our children when we told them they were heading to Disney. It was the thrill of a lifetime to get to surprise them with the news that they would be seeing the Magic Kingdom for the very first time. It still brings tears to my eyes that we got to have such an incredibly magical day with them!

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Homemade Gingerbread Latte

Monday, December 5th, 2011

I absolutely love anything that has gingerbread flavors in it and I had a reader request that I share a recipe for their favorite Starbuck’s treat, the delicious Gingerbread Latte. Always up for a challenge, I went on a search for a recipe for this yummy Gingerbread Latte treat to create at home.

This drink tastes like gingerbread itself and is filled with ginger, molasses, and cinnamon within the gingerbread syrup you create for your latte. I found that if I mixed the latte together with the syrup and let it sit for a minute or two and then stirred it again, that the flavors came together more fully than if I drank it right away as the spices seemed to blend in better.

This gingerbread coffee syrup does not look like the usual simple syrup gingerbread coffee syrup that I had originally thought I would create. To me, the most important flavor is the molasses in the gingerbread though and without it, I don’t think it would taste like a true gingerbread treat. If you are looking for a simple syrup version though, I found this Gingerbread Coffee Syrup that would fit the bill beautifully.

So this holiday season whether you are sipping a Peppermint Mocha, a Salted Caramel Mocha, a Pumpkin Spice Latte, or this little version of a Gingerbread Latte, I hope you enjoy saving a little extra cash and can enjoy these homemade treats to unwind with during this busy time of year.

Recipe:

Homemade Gingerbread Latte

Ingredients:

1 cup milk, steamed
1 cup very strong coffee (4 tablespoons coffee grounds to 1 cup of hot water, I prepared this in my French Press, but you can brew a strong drip pot if you prefer)
1 tablespoon white sugar (can omit if you prefer a drink that is less sweet)
1 tablespoon gingerbread syrup (you can use the recipe provided below)
Whipped cream (optional)
Ground Cloves (sprinkled for topping, optional) or Festive Sprinkles (sprinkled for topping, these just aren’t optional)

Directions:

Prepare your hot water in a kettle. Add four tablespoons of your favorite coffee grounds to your French Press. Pour 1 cup of hot water over them and allow the coffee to steep for four minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a pot, heat up one cup of milk until it is steaming. Froth the milk with a wire whisk or an immersion blender until it is nice and foamy.

In your coffee cup, add your coffee syrup and white sugar. Pour your coffee over the gingerbread syrup & sugar and then stir well with a spoon until the gingerbread syrup dissolves and the spices are incorporated well. Pour the milk foam over the top of the coffee/mocha mixture and stir again to incorporate. Allow it to merry together for a minute or two and then mix once more. Top with whipped cream and festive sprinkles or a dusting of ground cloves.

Drink.

Be Merry.

Note- This is just a base recipe that can be played with to your own tastes and preferences. It is meant to be personalized depending on how you like your latte!

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Serving Size: 1

This Gingerbread Syrup is thicker than a traditional simple syrup so this can be stored in a jar rather than a pour spout container. The molasses combined with the brown sugar, ginger, and cinnamon make it a rich and decadent treat to add to your latte.

This Gingerbread Syrup would make a fantastic gift to give to a friend or loved one. Place this syrup in a jar and tie with festive ribbon. In a basket add your syrup, coffee, and a shaker of festive sprinkles, along with this recipe. So easy and a great way to start anyone’s day.

Recipe:

Homemade Gingerbread Coffee Syrup

Ingredients:

1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

In a jar, mix together your molasses, brown sugar, baking soda, ground ginger, and ground cinnamon until well incorporated. You can store this mixture in a jar in the refrigerator for two to three weeks.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Serving Size: 8-10 drinks

Recipe Source: Latte courtesy of MomAdvice, Gingerbread Syrup from AllRecipes.com

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