Friday, August 31, 2007

Check It Out: Playful Reading by Carolyn Munson-Benson

I just got back from the library this evening and I have been searching for great books that would foster a love for reading in my son. I am addicted to reading and I attribute that to my trips to the library with my father. He always was reading and it made me want to read too. As far as I can remember, I have had a true love of reading and that is why it is such a priority in our house.

I found an excellent book called, "Playful Reading: Positive, Fun Ways to Build the Bond Between Preschoolers, Books & You" by Carolyn Munson-Benson, that was exactly what I had been looking for.

In this book, the author shares great books for preschoolers (including a short synopsis about what they are about) and then she shares activities and recipes you can use to go along with the book that you are reading.

My son's favorite book in the world is, "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?" by Jane Yolen. In fact, he loved that book so much that we created art for his room out of the book jackets. I decided to look up this book and see what the author had suggested. Here were some of her ideas for this book:

- Return to the illustrations and together find letters that spell out the name of each featured dinosaur. You will see the letters on items such as a wall pennant, a line of alphabet blocks and a bed's headboard.

- For fun, act out the meaning of verbs such as mope, moan, sulk, or demonstrate for the child how readers can find the exact meaning of a word by looking it up in a dictionary.

- Talk about your favorite dinosaurs and their reactions in the book.

- Turn inexpensive plastic dinosaurs into props that stimulate use and growth of language. Print their names on index cards and make a museum. You can also make a landscape backdrop for the dinosaurs out of boxes, crayons and construction paper.

- Have the child arrange the dinosaurs by size, type, and number. Then have them group them by similar characteristics (e.g. meat eater) or in groups of their own kind.

- Let your child tell stories about the dinosaurs, but don't be shocked by gory or gross stories because this is developmentally normal.

- Visit a museum and learn more about the dinosaurs.

This is just one example of the great activities and books that have been chosen for this book. I am writing down a lot of notes for this book, which might mean that it would be a nice addition to our own family library.

I plan to do the dinosaur story with our son this week and incorporate some of the activities. I also thought Michelle, from Scribbit, had a great idea for chiseling artifacts that might be a fun assignment to go along with our story.

Sound Off: What is your child's favorite book? Do you have any books that you could recommend for helping your child learn to read or developing a love of reading in them?

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Frugal Momma's Test Kitchen: Macaroni Grill Rosemary Bread

I made this bread recipe, a couple of weeks ago, and it was absolutely delicious. This recipe makes two loaves and is a great way to use up some of that delicious rosemary in your garden.

We served this with a plate of olive oil with Italian seasonings sprinkled in the oil and freshly ground black pepper.

We don't have a Macaroni Grill here, so I can't really attest to whether or not it tastes like the restaurant's, but I can say it was an excellent loaf of bread. I followed the instructions exactly as written.

Try not to eat a loaf before your husband comes home...that is the hardest part! Enjoy!

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Product Review: BusyBodyBook Organizers & Fridge Sheets

I have been seeing these organizers everywhere and was so excited when the About Our Time Company contacted us to see if we would be interested in reviewing their BusyBodyBook products. Considering they have been featured in everything, from Redbook Magazine to Parenting Magazine, I was very anxious to get a chance to see what all of the fuss was about.

These organizers are made for moms and come in two different formats and four different chic designs. They offer an Aug '07-Sept '08 (for the mom who wants to be on track for the school year) and they offer an organizer from Jan-Dec 2008 (for the mom who has made it her New Year's resolution to be organized).

These organizers are roomy and have a weekly grid format with a spacious side by side view of your schedule. Each family member can get their own column of activities, making it easy to see who needs to be where (Side Note: The column accommodates up to five family members on each page).

In addition to your standard calendar, the organizer offers extras like a planning calendar for birthdays and anniversaries, another calendar for the next year's appointments, shopping lists, pockets to store items, a bookmark to mark what week you are on, and plenty of places to leave extra notes. This organizer is priced at $16.95.

While I loved the organizer, I was even more psyched about the fridge sheets they offered. No more questions about who was going to be gone on the evening. This seven column organizer makes it easy to see exactly where everyone will be for the day. It also includes a roomy area on the side to leave notes to each other. This is magnetic and is priced at $11.95.

We thank the About Your Time company for giving us the opportunity to review their great organizational tools for moms.

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Freebie Friday: August 31, 2007

As always, everything is free on Fridays. Enjoy and I hope everyone has a wonderful Labor Day weekend with their families!

Free Health & Beauty Products:

Get a free Smashbox Cosmetics Blush from Nordstrom.

Nurses can receive a free scrub top.

Nurses can also receive free materials.

Sarah Jessica's Covet Perfume

September 8th is Baby Days at Wal-Mart, which will include a complimentary Child ID Kit and free samples.

Airborrne Power Pixies

Olay Correcting Protecting Lotion & Definity Defense Hydrating Lotion.

Free Food:

20 ounce Coke (might be just for new Coke Reward members)

Free hamburger from Johnny Rockets

Parent's Choice Gentle Infant Formula

20 ounce Diet Dr Pepper or Regular Dr Pepper (for joining their mailing list)

Free Entertainment Products:

Subscription to Electronic Gaming

Subscription to American Baby Magazine.

Safety Rangers Trading Cards from Louie the Lightening Bug.

Free "Play Football Celebration Kit"

Subscription to Caribbean Travel & Life Magazine.

Free Home & Garden Products:

Free trees from Frito Lay.

Free Febreeze Scentstories Disc.

Free Pet Care Products:

Iams Healthy Naturals Dog Food (coupon is for $8, making the pet food free)



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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Product Review: Snack & Play Travel Tray

The Family Travel Gear company contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing one of their most popular products, a Snack & Play Travel Tray. I am always interested in trying out any product for our children so my daughter Emily was the happy recipient of this awesome product.

This tray is very versatile because it will fit on your car seat, the stroller, or it can be used on an airplane. It is made of all nylon with a foam core, so it would not injure a child in an accident. It has handy mesh pockets on the side to store anything you would like to bring along with you on your travels. The pockets would easily accommodate books, crayons, sippy cups, and any snacks that you would like to bring along for your child.

The tray simply has a plastic fastener that belts around the place they are sitting. It hooks together just like my daughter's booster seat and can easily be adjusted to fit perfectly with your child.

I think the best part about this tray is that it has a lip around the outer edge so that all of your child's items will stay in place when you are moving. Snacks and toy cars won't fall off of the tray making the trip much smoother for you. I can't tell you how many times I have almost wrecked our car trying to reach for a tiny toy that has been thrown overboard by my daughter.

So far we have used the tray while waiting for my son to get out of school, used it on our stroller during a hospital visit to see a family member, and I have whipped it out during long errand days. My daughter enjoys coloring and reading her books in the car, and this makes the perfect surface to do that!

This company offers a variety of products for all of your travel needs and they have extended a special discount to our readers. You can receive ten percent off of your order by using the coupon code welcome.

We thank the Family Travel Gear company for giving us the opportunity to test their product. Both my daughter and I give your product two thumbs up!

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Amy's Notebook 08.30.07

Keep your kids cool in the car.

Make toilet roll bracelets with the kids.

Take an artsy photo of your children.

Make a pretty sewing machine cover.

Make a cute sewing kit in a jar.

Try out some unique stitches and make some coasters.

Attempt to make butter with your kiddos.

Not Martha is making me really want a Bakers Edge Pan. Check out her lasagna.

Try this wonderful back-to-school reminder idea.

I am going to make a big batch of these yummy muffins.

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Day 23: Just Ask

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. Sometimes 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?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

WSBT-TV: How to Pack a Great School Lunch

Here is a link to this morning's segment on packing frugal lunches for your child. I am hoping to sit down and write more ideas down in the next week and I will be sure to let you guys know when this article goes up.

In the meantime, print out a little love note to your sweet children and make their day!

Sound Off: What are some ways that you save money on your child's lunch?

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Day 22: The Poor and the Sick

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?

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Day 21: Create Your Own Secret Emergency Account

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?

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Homeschooling on a Budget

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!

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Day 20: Curb Your Weekend Spending

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 planning 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

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Amy's Notebook 08.25.07

Design a kitchen peg board.

Learn how to square bags.

Make your own recipe for energy bars.

Alter a board book for your child.

Recycle those tea cups and make a tea time clock.

Learn how to throw a homemade wedding from dress to tux.

Make yourself some bread and butter pickles.

Create your own spa bathroom retreat on the cheap.

Make a birthday thank you that is inexpensive and memorable.

Stop cleaning your house and just relax!

Sound Off: Now that I have posted my favorites for the week, what is the best post that you did this week? Share your favorite post under the comments link! Looking forward to some fun reading!

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Am I Stirring the Pot?

I might be stirring the pot here, but I think this will make for some fun conversations. Did anyone else here about the Texas university that is offering homemaking as a major at their school? The big controversy is that this course is only open to the women at the university and people are angry that women are paying for a degree in this when (for most) these seem like basic life skills.

Personally, I don't see it as any different than offering a Home Economics degree. I could have used the guidance in learning how to manage my family finances or how to cook. I think everyone in my family could have financially benefited from me being part of a program like this.

I always knew that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, even before I had any children to stay home with. It wasn't a religious choice, but I just knew that was where I wanted to be. My husband & I together decided that I would be a stay-at-home mom. Daycare was too expensive and it seemed to work better for us financially, as I was not the big breadwinner in the family.

Do you guys have any thoughts on this?



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Friday, August 24, 2007

Day 19: Don't Buy Stuff You Can't Afford

Potential Savings: Immeasurable!

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Freebie Friday: August 24, 2007

We are experiencing some technical difficulties on our site. The forum is down, but we are hoping to resolve the problems soon. We had no power all evening yesterday so I am running a little behind on emails and such. Thank you so much for your patience!

Health & Beauty:

Get a free sample of Nature's Made Fish Oil.
Try a free sample of Dove Hair Care.
Sign up for a free pregnancy planner.
Get a free "Earn Your Stripes" Bracelet. Type in code B3 Your B3st
Try on a pair of Nine West Jeans at select Macy's Department Store, receive a free corduroy cap.


Sam's Club Members can try a sample of Lipton to Go Tea.
Try a free sample of Curves Cereal.
Get a free Kashi Snack.
Register to receive a free Chickfila Sandwich & Medium Soda.
Today is free Fry-Day at Hardees. No purchase necessary.
Call for a free sample of Baronet One Cup Coffee Pods.
Download a coupon for buy one get one free on Vanilla Coke.

Home & Garden:

Try a free sample of Purex Laundry Detergent.
Sign up for a free sample of Post-Its Education Notes


Get tickets to meet Barbie.
Claim a complimentary subscription to Road & Track Magazine (say no to the offers!)
Claim a complimentary subscription to Horse Illustrated Magazine (say no to the offers!)
Join the White Soxs Kids Club and get two free White Sox tickets (sign up for the free membership).
Get a free subscription to Dime Magazine.

Pet Care:

Try a free sample of Nature's Select Dog Food.


Teachers can register for a free Hand Pointer.

I found this article on utilizing the Google Toolbar to automatically fill in freebie forms for you. I haven't tried it- if anyone has, let me know what you think! Anything to make this process quicker sounds good to me!



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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Day 18: Get Yourself Organized

Today I want to talk a little bit about organization and why it will save you money. You will find that many blogs and sites that focus on money-saving ideas also share ideas on organizing. It seems that saving money and staying organized go hand in hand.

Being organized does not come naturally to me and it is something that I am constantly working at to achieve. I know for some this comes easily, but I am not one of those people. If you came to my house right now, you might be surprised at the disorganization and projects that are looming around here. It is a constant battle for me especially now that I am a mom.

I desire to be organized though for many reasons, including financial ones, and that is why I continually try to work at this.

Reasons to Get Organized:

- If you are organized, you will have a good idea of the inventory that is already in your home. You will know exactly where everything is and you will know how many of that item you already have. Instead of running out to buy toothpaste, for example, you will know where you keep the extra toothpaste and will be able to use this instead. This will save you from buying repeat items and it will save you from spending extra money that you don't have.

- If you are organized, you make lists for yourself. A good grocery list, for example, will save you money because you will know exactly what you need and you will buy only that. People who come to the grocery store with no list end up making multiple trips to the store (wasting gas money) and buy items that they don't need.

- If you are organized, you save money on food. Menu planning and proper planning of meals (the night before) helps to prevent visits to those fast food restaurants. Plan meals that are easy to make and try to have back-up plans for nights where you don't feel like cooking. It might be something as simple as a frozen pizza, but having something to eat at home will save you from wasting valuable money at McDonald's.

- If you are organized, you keep a calendar of events. Why does a calendar save you money? Well, you know when your appointments are and you don't miss them. Missing appointments can cost you money for not showing up to your doctor or dentist office. They also offer valuable reminders for when bills are due so you don't have to pay late fees. You also are a star because you remember anniversaries, birthdays, and are a person that people can rely on.

- If you are organized, the things you have last longer. You make the time to care for the items you have in your house and you remember to schedule maintenance for your automobiles and the appliances/services needed in your home. This will save you money because you won't need to replace things in your house as frequently and things will generally run smoother for you.

There are plenty more reasons to be organized, but I wanted to focus mainly on the financial benefits since we are talking about ways to save this month.

Here are some of the resources and books for getting yourself organized

Sites to Organize Thyself:

MomAdvice Organizing Section
Organizing Topics on Our Blog
Organized Home
Organized Christmas
Real Simple
Martha Stewart
I'm An Organizing Junkie
The Lazy Organizer
Organising Queen
Neat & Simple Living

Books to Organize Thyself:

Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley
Sidetracked Home Executives by Pam Young
Homekeeping Handbook by Martha Stewart
It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh
Scaling Down by Judi Culbertson, Marj Decker, & George Booth

Potential Savings: $30 or more

Sound Off: What is one way you stay organized?

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

WSBT-TV: Streamlining Your Mornings

Here is this week's segment on how to streamline your morning routine with your children.

Sound Off: What are your tips for creating a smooth morning with your kids?

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Day 17: Find an Inexpensive Hobby

In my basement are bins and bins of beautiful art supplies and oodles of crafty fun. I could spend years making things out of the items that I have already bought…and yet when I go to the craft store, I still feel that familiar tug that I really need more. I love to explore different hobbies and I love to craft. The fact that I am no good at crafting doesn’t seem to stop me and maybe you are in the same boat? Have you ever really thought about the amount of money you are spending on your hobbies? Have you ever thought about how most of the really popular hobbies cost lots of money to accomplish? Do you have oodles of craft supplies and still have an urge to buy more?

Hobbies are great for a number of reasons and I think they are important to be shared in this series. For one, if you have a hobby it can be a wonderful diversion from shopping and spending money. Hobbies can cost money, but you can choose to embrace hobbies and use your talents creating things that don't cost much. Although some people might consider shopping a hobby, it shouldn't be and finding things that fill your life in a positive way can have a positive impact on your wallet.

Not only do hobbies keep you away from shopping, your hobbies can also be turned into profits for your family. If you become good at one of your hobbies, you could potentially earn money with the talents that you have. For example, I love to create hair accessories for my daughter and my friend's love the accessories that I have made for her. I wasn't really intending to go crazy selling them, but my interest in making things for her created a small amount of revenue for me.

I can also use my hobbies to help us save our family money. Instead of buying a wreath for our front door, for example, I can make my own out of things in our home or by buying a small amount of greenery from a craft store. Learning to make things that you would buy can help your finances a lot!

Hobbies also have been proven to help people medically. People who are chronically stressed have poor health, while regular relaxation can promote good health. If I relax and really enjoy something in life, I can prevent things like high blood pressure, digestion problems, ulcers, heart disease, and insomnia. Having a relaxed attitude and enjoying the little things in life lead to better health and fewer doctor visits. Who could argue with that?

Hobbies don’t have to be expensive and many hobbies, in fact, don’t even cost a dime. I found a great book on exploring hobbies called (no less!), “Get a Hobby.” In it are tons of great ideas for hobbies that cost little to nothing and can keep you busy for months on end.

Here are some hobbies that you can pursue that shouldn’t cost you a lot of money and will help to keep you out of those craft stores:

Genealogy- Much of your research can come from things that you already have or from items in your relative’s possessions. Try to gather as much information as you can from your family members (names, birthdates, marriages, deaths, significant life events, etc…) and explore this information first. Next, look through old cookbooks, photo albums, newspaper clippings, resumes, scrapbooks, and yearbooks for more family information. You can then begin looking to websites like or the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Utilize this information to make a family tree.

Tina Barseghian, the author of “Get a Hobby” also suggests creating a living history interview with people in your family. Record them on camera or with a tape recorder and ask them questions about the family and about themselves. (Note: I am going to be exploring this more through another avenue of recording your life history and I can’t wait to share it with you all!)

Journaling & Blogging- To be honest, I have never really thought of my blog as a hobby, but I guess this would be one of the best hobbies I have ever taken on! Blogging and journaling are wonderful ways to preserve memories, to share your life story, or to talk about things you are passionate about.

After I went to a viewing of "The Secret" I began keeping a gratitude journal. For me, this has helped to remind me of all that I have and I also try to do this when I feel the impulse to shop. This has been very therapeutic for me and I feel like it has had a positive affect on my attitude too.

I try to keep all different types of journals that I look forward to sharing with my children. We have a journal of all the funny things that they have said, a Christmas journal, my gratitude journal, and then I do my blogging about things that we do around the house.

You can find beautiful journals at the dollar stores and for one dollar you can begin focusing on all of the wonderful things you have in life.

You can start a free blog through Blogger, My Space, or LiveJournal (just to name a few!)

These are just two examples of great hobbies that you could start today. There are tons others like gardening, cooking, sewing needlework, rubber stamping, decoupaging, or calligraphy.

If you need crafty inspiration, visit the Martha Stewart site and behold her crafting glory! I love to just hunt through the archives and see cool ideas that I can do in my house, that don't require a lot of money.

I also spend lots of time at our local library hunting through books on crafts that I would like to explore. Many times just reading about the crafts gives me a feel for whether or not I would like to try something, without making the time or money investment into the craft itself.

If you want to learn how to tackle new hobbies, check the big hardware stores (Home Depot or Lowes) for free classes that they offer. Many craft stores also offer free or very inexpensive classes, where you can try a hobby out.

Just remember when going into a hobby, that you really want a hobby that will not require a huge financial investment. If it will require an investment, tell family and friends what items you will need to accomplish the hobby or ask for a gift card to the store to buy the items. One year, I used my gift card to take a cake decorating course at our craft store. The time invested has helped me greatly and saved us lots of money on birthday cakes.

Potential Monthly Savings: $20 or more

Sound Off: What are your favorite hobbies? How do you save money when it comes to buying the supplies needed to do these?

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day 16: Bulk It Up

For our Month of Savings, I want to share with you the benefits of using a wholesale club membership. Whether you are a family of two or a family of seven, there are many benefits to being part of a wholesale club.

First, if you haven't read my small book on wholesale club shopping, I would highly recommend this article. It does a good price comparison of what the clubs offer and the cost for your membership. I did this a couple of years ago and it is still one of our most popular articles.

In our area, the only wholesale club that we have is Sam's Club. When we lived in other states, we have had two or more choices, but this is the only choice now for us. Therefore, I can only really provide experience with this wholesale club, but all of them are excellent and have their own great benefits.

When I first began using my wholesale club membership, I just bought in bulk. I really didn't think about prices and I just assumed that buying bigger meant that I was getting a better deal. I know I have come a long way since that time, but I am still learning every day.

Here are some of my tips for good deals in the wholesale clubs:

1. Make sure to carry a price book with you and take the time to really crunch the numbers before you make your purchases. We have a free price book sheet that you can print off on our website!

On my first visit with my price book, I simply wrote down the quantities and prices of the items that I buy most often. I brought all of my research home with me and then plugged it into my calculator. I was able to really sit down and see who had the best deals.

If you have choices for wholesale clubs, see if you can go to all of them (with a friend who is a member or check into one day passes at the stores) and compare prices between the items that you buy most frequently. Some of these stores have their pricing available online too so check out their websites for additional pricing information. Choose the club that is going to give you the most bang for your buck.

2. Don't overlook the extra perks of your wholesale club membership. These clubs offer great savings on optical wear, prescription drugs, photo services and other insurance benefits. Check each website to see what benefits you can take advantage of and don't forget to flash that card- you might be surprised where you can get some discounts (like here or here).

3. If you don't think you will be using your membership that often, try sharing the membership fee with a good friend or family member. Schedule your shopping day together and split the cost of the membership.

4. If you have a Sam's Club, look into their Click N Pull shopping option. This is the best thing in the world for impulse shoppers and for moms with screaming children who hate shopping (like myself!) I use this feature almost every single time we go because it saves me lots of time and money. You can read my personal and in-depth review here on how this feature works.

5. Gas prices can be much lower at the wholesale clubs than your gas stations. Make sure to understand what types of payments are required before you go to the pump though. Costco, for example, will not accept cash at their pump.

I also received a great reader tip today that just so happened to fit our theme today!


Our family loves shopping at Costco and we wind up there at least once a week to buy salad, milk, and fruit.
I send my digital pictures there to be printed at .19 cents per picture in only an hour. You can add borders and special effects at no extra cost!
We also chose to buy their Executive Membership for $100 per year. This is the way to go if you spend a lot of $$ there each year. We get our clothes for the kids, gifts for family, and large food buying done there so it works well for us. If you have the Executive membership you get a cash back reward each year that you can use to pay for the membership. We got a check back for $89 so we only paid $11 for our normally $100 membership!!!!
Thanks again for all of your ideas!


Consumer Reports also offers these great tips for smart wholesale club shopping:
  • Make a list and stick to it.

  • Know how to identify super-bargains. At Costco, “.97” at the end of a price generally indicates discontinued or slow-moving products. At Sam’s, a “C” at the end of the item number denotes a canceled item.

  • Compare the club’s unit prices to those at your supermarket for heavily discounted staples. Supermarkets might be less expensive.

  • For big-ticket items, compare the club price to that of other retailers by going to sites such as or BizRate.

  • Consider splitting large buys with friends. Otherwise, don’t buy in bulk perishables or medications with a short shelf life (check the expiration dates). You’ll end up tossing a lot away.

  • Try unfamiliar products judiciously. You don’t want to get stuck with, say, a gallon of Brand X Vidalia onion salad dressing.

  • Pay with cash; it’s a reality check on how much you’re spending.

  • Shop on weekdays, preferably when the store opens or in midafternoon. That’s when crowds tend to be lighter.

  • Not sure about joining? In many states you can request a day pass at Sam's Club and pay a surcharge, typically 10 percent over what members pay. Costco used to have a similar program, but discontinued it. Now, only members can purchase there.
Finally, I have been able to pay for my wholesale club membership by just the savings I have received from my baking supplies. You can read all about my adventures in making bread and my discoveries on their cheap baking supplies.

Potential Monthly Savings: $30 or more

Sound Off: Do you have a wholesale club membership? What do you ALWAYS try to buy when you are at your wholesale club?

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Parenting Magazine Editors Share the Baby Must-Haves

The editors at Parenting Magazine have recently come out with a new book called, "Baby Must-Haves: The Essential Guide To Everything From Cribs to Bibs" and wanted to know if I would be interested in reviewing their new book.

This book would be a great guide for a new mom or for an expecting mother because it covers everything your baby would/could need and what items are just a plain waste of money. Included is information on the best stroller, what every mom should keep in her medicine cabinet, how to outfit your nursery, and the essential safety gear that moms will need. They also have mom tips, from the real-life mom experts, on things that they have done that have made their lives easier.

I got the opportunity to interview the editors about their new book and here are some of my questions that I thought our readers might find helpful.

When it comes time to outfit the nursery, what is the one item that you feel it is a good idea to splurge on? Do you have any recommendations for where to purchase this item or what brands you feel confident in going with?

A Baby’s crib should be a safe haven—a place where she can sleep or play comfortably, without any dangers of getting hurt. This is one necessity that moms shouldn’t feel guilty about splurging on, as the child will use it every day (several times a day!) for the first couple of years (it’s not time for a toddler bed until your child is 35” tall, or the top of the side rail is below mid-chest level).

Many of our Mom-Tested retailers, such as Babies ‘R’ Us ( and Buy Buy Baby (, feature countless styles of cribs that meet moms’ highest standards – safety, solid construction, durability and sleek design.

One brand that gets high marks for quality is Pottery Barn Kids ( The “Kendall Crib” ($599) is available in a wide range of baby-safe finishes and combines style, functionality and the highest safety standards. Built of solid pine, the crib can be converted into a toddler bed. This allows mom to truly create a room that grows with the child, and justifies the splurge.

One mom in our survey raved about the durability of her Babee Tenda Crib ( A mother of five, she attests the crib is just as sturdy for her youngest child as it was for her first. Another tip? Always splurge for a new mattress.

- When moms find the glider of their dreams but debate over splurging on the matching ottoman, it may be worth it: Elevating the legs can help take pressure off the back, especially while nursing. And besides, it just feels good!

Most ottomans sold as accessories to specific gliders also glide, making it easy to keep that gentle movement going. Expect to pay around $200 for an ottoman.

What are some items that parents tend to buy that they really don't need? Are there any good substitutions for these items?

- Organic bedding and clothing have gotten a lot of press lately. They may be better for the environment, but you don’t need them—some organic fabrics, like wool, can actually irritate delicate skin. Just stick with 100 percent cotton that’s soft and lightweight.

- You’ll spend a small fortune on bottle sterilizer contraptions that steam-clean bottles, nipples, pacifiers and such, but tossing those things into the dishwasher and setting it to “heat dry” will kill germs just as effectively and so will boiling them for a few minutes on the stove. Save the bucks for a date night instead!

- Several companies are turning out infant tubs that come with spray attachments—but they are pricey and tend not to work very well. A plastic pitcher or cup is just fine for rinsing.

You feature tips from real moms in your book. What is one of the best "Mom Tips" that you have received?

While there were a number of really useful “Mom Tips” featured in the book, three of our favorites are:

• Buy a car seat for each car: Once it’s positioned correctly, you’ll never want to take it out again. Spending the extra money will save lots of time and annoyance for everyone. (Pg 151)

• In the store, see if you can lower the crib rail with one hand (which you’ll need to do if you’re holding your baby). Also, make sure it raises and lowers silently so you’ll be able to move it without waking a sleeping baby! (Pg 14)

• When making up the crib, layer on two crib sheets, with a plastic mattress cover/liner in between. That way, if your baby spits up or has a leaky diaper in the night, you can just strip off the top layer without having to change the whole bed.

When it comes time to give baby gifts to your friends and family, what are some frugal baby gifts that are always a hit?

-Brilliant Basics™ Snap-Lock® Beads by Fisher-Price are only approximately $5. Snap them together and pull them apart, over and over again. Babies love repetitive play, and these brightly-colored beads offer stimulating fun while strengthening developing skills. There's even a bright, shiny surprise with rattling beads inside!

-A number of moms in our survey swore that teddy bears that make womb noises (like a heartbeat) soothed even the fussiest newborns. Check out the super soft and cuddly Womb Sounds Bear, approximately $20, available at Target.

- Ocean Wonders Aquarium by Fisher-Price ($30). For many moms, this is just dreamy! The crib toy resembles a small aquarium, in which sea creatures swim calmly in sync with mesmerizing aquatic sounds and music.

- Changing a crib sheet can be a challenge: You practically have to lift the entire mattress out of the bed to get the sheet on. This gift could come to the rescue: The Quick Zip Crib Sheet from ($33) a fitted sheet with a rectangular panel that zips on and off for laundering

With September being Baby Safety Month, what is one of the most overlooked areas in a home? Can you offer some inexpensive solutions for keeping your little ones safe?

The best way to approach childproofing is both room-by-room, and age-by-age. Ensure that you cover every room in the home by getting down at kid’s-eye level, going through your entire house looking for potential hazards. Moms should repeat this process as the child grows: What's dangerous for a crawler will be different than what's dangerous for a walker.
Some Mom-Tested products to try:

• KidCo Adhesive Mount Magnet Lock Starter Set ($16; A magnetic key gives you—but not your child—easy access to cabinets and drawers.

• First Alert’s Tundra Fire Suppressant ($20; This compact fire extinguisher will put out small household fires, including cooking oil flare-ups.

• Summer Infant’s Turtle Spout Protector ($5; Moms and babies alike love this adorable way to protect from bumps and scalds during bath time.

What are the top three items that every mom should have in her medicine cabinet?

1) Thermometer

It is important to have a thermometer that is both accurate and easy to use; especially in the first 3 months when even a slight fever could be serious. A rectal thermometer is the most reliable. As neither mom nor infant will be pleased with the task of sticking one in baby’s bottom, opt for a digital one that registers quickly and is fail safe.
Try the Timex Acrobat Bendable Thermometer with Indiglo rectal thermometer for $16.

2) Pain and fever relievers

Simply; your choices are acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). Parenting suggests that you keep both as each one has its pros and cons:

Acetaminophen is gentler on the stomach and can be given to newborns, but only lasts about 4 hours.

Ibuprofen lasts about 6 to 8 hours and may be a more effective fever-reducer, but is only approved for babies 6 months and older.

It is fine to use generic brands of both, as long as they are labeled for infants or children. Of course, check with your child's pediatrician before giving her any medication. A great mom tip? Check out the Web sites for particular drugstore products. Many offer printable coupons, often for at least a dollar.

3) Rehydrating solution

These are drinks that can help to replace fluids in a child who has been vomiting or had severe diarrhea. The most popular, Pedialyte, comes in liters, single serving sizes and freezer pops.

Sound Off: What do you think is the most useless baby item? What are you glad you splurged on?

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Monday, August 20, 2007

WSBT-TV: Organizing Your Kids' School Papers

This is the segment from last week on how to organize your children's school papers.

Hope you guys enjoy it!

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Product Review: Silly Billyz Bibs

The Live Love Dream company sent me one of their Silly Billyz Bibs to try for my daughter. I explained that our Emily was a very messy eater and that I would welcome any bib that could keep her well covered and mess free.

In response, the company sent us their Silly Billyz Long Sleeved Bib in a pretty pink. I knew my daughter could put this bib through some rigorous testing and she did not fail me.

When I got the product I was impressed with how lightweight it was. My first concern was that she would be hot, but the sleeves and neck are both made of a very light nylon. The front of the bib is made of a fleece material that does not pill or stain. The bib attaches with Velcro in the back, but is open to keep your baby nice and cool.

Emily ate pizza in it, smashed up some peas into it, and smeared her peanut butter and jelly all over this bib. With a quick swipe of my washcloth, I was able to take all of the food off of it, with no staining left on the fabric. The bib has also survived several rounds through our washer and is showing no signs of wear or tear.

I would highly recommend this product to any mom who is looking for a bib that will cover their entire baby and especially for any mom suffering through those beginning stages of self-feeding. These bibs are great when you are out and about because they will tuck neatly inside of your diaper bag. They are also great when you have baby all dressed up for church or pictures and want to keep them looking clean and fresh.

The bib is priced at $12 and can be ordered through their website or at one of their listed boutiques. They come in large or small sizes and can be ordered in a variety of colors.

We thank the Live Love Dream company for giving us the opportunity to review their product!

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Day 15: Keep Your Bills in Check

We are halfway through our Month of Savings and I am learning so much! I am loving the comments to these entries!

One of the main reasons that I am able to continue staying home with my kids is because I am fairly strict when it comes to money management. I try to keep track of everything that is going in and coming out by utilizing the Quicken Software and I also hand write items that I want to keep track of on those important bills (credit card, student loans, auto loan payments).

As I had discussed before, our cash system has also enabled us to stay on track financially. I try to use cash whenever I can, not only because I feel the impact of losing cash more, but also because I want our children to see us using our cash and not the debit card all of time. It really benefits the entire family if I can use cash versus the debit card so that is what I try to use, in most situations.

Another thing that I began doing several years ago is to compare and check rates on all of my bills that I can (at least) yearly. Interest rates are always changing and companies are continually offering new and better plans out there, so I make a date in my calendar to check our bills each year. You can set this up any day that you like, but I try to do this on January 1st since we are already starting a new year and a fresh start with our financial goals.

I have always used Lower My Bills to compare rates (Note: We are not affiliated with this company, but I have great success with them!) on all of our bills. They offer rate comparisons on mortgages, cell phone plans, long distance plans, internet, credit cards and insurance quotes.

You can type in your information and it will spit out quotes and comparisons on different plans that they offer in your area. Another bonus that I have found is that they also offer customer reviews of different companies. It is great to read these before signing on with any company since customer experience is usually a good indicator of the type of service that they offer.

We accumulated some debt while my husband was unemployed and had to put our move on our credit card. I believe that it cost about $8,000 to move to this area and my husband's employer, at that time, would only help us with a few hundred dollars of this bill.

When the first bill came, I realized how foolish it was to have put it on there, but at the time we didn't feel we had a lot of choices in the matter. I began to search on Lower My Bills to see if I could find a lower interest rate. While I don't encourage card-hopping, I did think it was important to see if the rates out there were lower so that we could transfer the balance and pay it back quicker.

We found a credit card offer with a fixed balance transfer rate of 3.99%. Of course, adding any new debt to the card did have a higher percentage rate, but we had no intentions of adding to that debt so we transferred all of the balances of our cards (one with student loans and the other with our moving expenses) over to one card. We have not added to our debt and are down to less than $2K left to go.

It is great if you can check your rates yearly or when your contracts expire with companies. Don't be afraid to ask the companies you are currently with, when your contract is expiring, if you can be put on the new plans that they offer to their customers. Many times the company will want to keep your business and will be willing to work with you!

Potential Monthly Savings: $50 or more

Sound Off: What are some ways that you keep your bills in check? Do you use software or just the good old pen and paper?

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Make It Yourself!

Simply Thrifty has an amazing list of 100 Things You Can Make Yourself, with links to instructions on making anything and everything yourself. It received mixed reviews from folks about whether it was more economical to make or to buy certain items on the list, but certainly made for interesting conversation.

Carrying on with the DIY spirit, the next 100 More Things You Can Make Yourself list was born. Simply Thrifty shares some interesting links to things like making your own baby shoes, making your own cereal bars, and how to make whiskey.

It is great to see all of the wonderful ideas and with 200 links to explain how to do it yourself, I marvel at how much work this all must have taken!

Kudos to Deborah for taking it on! I can never say I am bored again!

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Freebie Friday: August 17, 2007

Friday Question: Is there anything you would like to learn more about for our Month of Savings?

Health & Beauty:

Try a free sample of Nivea Goodbye to Cellulite lotion. Please allow up to four weeks for delivery.

Sign up for a free sample of Opti-Free Replenish Contact Solution. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

The first 2,000 Shape subscribers will receive a free full-size tube of Neutrogena Anti-Oxidant Age Reverse Day Lotion.

Sign up for a free Pur Water Bottle. The water bottle should arrive within six to eight weeks.

Sign up for a free sample of Daisy Mark Jacobs perfume.

Sign up for a free First Aid Kit. This offer is available only to Indiana and Kentucky residents. This should be mailed within five business days.

The Is it Really Depression site has an offer for a free journal, to help those who are struggling with depression.


Sign up for a free sample of Garden Harvest Chips. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery.

Go to Coke Rewards and use 100084226454945 to receive a free 20-oz Coke. You will receive this reward within two to four weeks (Note: It will show up as a bonus reward and will not add any points. Click to redeem your bonus reward).

Orange Julius is having a Chill Out Event and offering free Julius Premium Fruit Smoothie Samples on August 18, 19, 25, & 26.

Request a free sample of Cabaret Chocolates.


Get a free 3-year subscription to Living the Country Life Magazine.

Sign up for a free wake up call for your child from their favorite High School Musical stars. You can visit this site for more details.

Claim a complimentary subscription to Giant Magazine. Please allow six to eight weeks for delivery.

Claim a complimentary subscription to Watch! Magazine. Please allow six to eight weeks for delivery.



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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Day 14: Creative Toy Replacements

Well, we have made it halfway through the series and I have really been loving your comments and hints. You all teach me so much and I really appreciated the coffee talk from yesterday. The tips are invaluable and the comments are what make this so much fun for me, so thanks!

My sister became a mom before me and I remember the first time that we came to her apartment and saw my nephew. Every corner of their apartment was stuffed to the brim with toys from family and friends. Her first words to us were, "Welcome to Toy Land!" Since my nephew has so many health problems and is in and out of the hospital, the natural thing that people want to do for him is buy him little toys and treats. What happened was that my sister's home was overrun with toys and they had lost their grown-up space.

She was the one who introduced me to the process of alternating toys and we did a lot of this when our son was born. She had several totes that she would alternate for him. When he became bored with his toys, she would haul those up into the tote and bring a new tote out. She is such a smart mom and I have learned so much from her!

We now have two children and the toys are overflowing out of our bins. We had lots of boy toys and now that we have a little girl, we need to get girl toys too. I often wish that I would have bought more gender neutral toys in the beginning because there would have been such a huge savings there.

You don't have to buy toys though to keep the kids entertained and there are lots of fun crafts and activities that you can do for free. I just want to share some ideas that you can do with your children that will hopefully inspire you to get more creative, instead of just opening your wallet.

Scratch & Sniff Watercolors

1 Tbs. unsweetened powdered drink mix
1 Tbs. warm water
Several small containers (muffin tins work really well!)

Mix water and unsweetened drink mix together in a small bowl. Repeat this step several times, using various flavors of drink mix to create different colors of paint. Allow finished works to dry overnight before scratching and sniffing.

Silly Putty

1 Tbs. liquid starch
Food coloring
2 Tbs. white glue
Plastic Easter egg or zip bag

Mix white glue and food coloring together in a small bowl. Pour liquid starch into a second small bowl. Slowly pour the glue mixture on top of the liquid starch. Allow the concoction to stand for 5 minutes or until the glue absorbs the liquid starch. Remove putty from bowl and knead. At first this mixture may look as if it's a mistake, but it isn't. The more you knead the putty, the better the consistency will be. Store in a plastic Easter egg or zip bag. You can roil this on newspaper comics or pictures printed with an ink jet printer. Slowly pull the putty off of the paper. The picture will transfer magically.

Fun Sidewalk Paint

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
6-8 drops food coloring

Mix cornstarch and cold water together in a small bowl. Add food coloring and stir. Repeat the process to create different colors of paint. This paint can easily be washed away with water. You can use it to make hopscotch grids, cakewalks, even make believe roads and highways for toy cars.

Pudding Paint

1 large package of instant vanilla pudding (3.4 oz)
2 cups ice-cold water
Food coloring

Whisk water and instant pudding together in a bowl for two minutes. Refrigerate for five minutes. Divide into several small bowls or muffin tins. Add 5-7 drops of food coloring to each bowl or tin and mix. You can paint with a brush or use them as finger paints.

Edible Play Dough

1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup dry milk
1/2 Tbs. honey
Plastic zip bag

Pour peanut butter, dry milk, and honey into a plastic zip bag. Close bag and knead until mixture turns to dough. Do not reuse or store this dough. You can use raisins and assorted candies to add eyes, mouths, and other features to your edible creations.

Invisible Ink

2 Tbs. pure lemon juice
Cotton swab

Pour lemon juice into a small glass or plastic dish. Soak one end of the cotton swab to write a secret message or draw a picture on a sheet of paper. When you are ready to view your secret message have an adult hold the sheet of paper near a light bulb. The heat will slowly turn the lemon juice dark brown and reveal a hidden message.

Amazing Bubbles

2.5 quarts water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup liquid dish detergent

Mix water and corn syrup together until completely blended. Gently stir in the liquid detergent. These will store for several weeks in an airtight container. You can create bubbles in different sizes using items like a plastic strawberry basket or a wire whisk.

Tornado in a Bottle

1- 16 oz clear plastic soda bottle with a cap (the rounder the bottom the better the tornado)
2 drops clear liquid dish detergent
1 tsp. glitter

Fill the bottle with cold water. Add liquid dish detergent and glitter to the bottle. Screw on the cap tightly. Holding the bottle by the neck, turn it upside down. Quickly rotate your wrist several times in a clockwise motion. When you stop rotating, a min-tornado will form inside the bottle. Using permanent markers, you can draw a picture of a city or landscape around the bottom of the plastic bottle. Add a few drops of blue food coloring to the bottle to create a sky effect.

There are lots of great sites out there that help promote fun and free activities to do with your children. DLTK's sites are excellent for finding coloring pages, cool crafts and fun activities that you can do with your child. Family Fun offers a whole a bunch of activities that you can do with your child. I love their magazine because they offer crafts for every age group. The Nick Jr and Noggin websites are a big hit with our son.

Whatever you do, your kids will love just spending time with you more than any new toy that you could give them. Try to savor these moments while they last!

Potential Monthly Savings: $5 or more

Sound Off: Do you have any great kid's recipes that are a hit in your home or a favorite kid's craft? Do you have any tips for toy clutter control?

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Day 13: Get Your Java Fix

Welcome to Day 13 in our Month of Savings discussion. Today I wanted to discuss some ways that you can get your java fix without spending a lot of money. As a self-confessed coffee junkie, I fully admit to falling into the trap of buying coffee when I am out and about. I did change some things and found some recipes though that could satisfy those cravings without going to Starbucks all of the time.

One of the things that has recently helped me is purchasing a programmable coffee maker. I had a chintzy coffee maker that I bought when we first got married, but once I became a mom (and became dependent on my coffee fix) I realized that I should have sprung for the one that had the programming function on it. This alone is one reason why I have been able to stay within my budget.

The night before, I preset the coffee maker and put the grounds in. I rest my coffee mug next to it and program it to be ready a half hour before I am supposed to get up. When I wake up to the smell of the coffee already waiting for me, I can pour my cup and run out the door.

I have lots of recipes in my bag of tricks including my faux Starbucks Iced Peppermint Mochas and the Pumpkin Spice Lattes, which make for fun coffee drinks without the $5 price tag.

Coffee syrups are easy to make and can be a great addition to your coffee routine. Slashfood has an excellent entry on different types of syrups you can make (be sure to read the comments with additional recipes!) You can also check if your favorite coffee shop will sell their syrups directly to you or check your local wholesale club for some great prices on coffee syrups. At our Sam's Club, I was able to find tons of different syrups (including the sugar-free varieties). They were a little over $4 for 25.4 ounces.

If you are a girl that likes a beautiful coffee experience, throw on some coffee shop music. I love this station from Yahoo Music. If you are a Yahoo customer, they provide this music commercial free, otherwise you do have some commercial breaks while listening. You can also check Starbucks website for the artists they are featuring and try to pick up the music at the library.

You can find cute coffee cups at thrift stores (or have your child decorate a special one just for you!) To pretty up your drink a little more you can add the fixings to your coffee, if that is your kind of coffee, by stocking your fridge with the chocolate & caramel syrup and a can of whipped cream. I usually stick to the basics, but I do add these things around the holidays when I make my hot chocolate.

If you are as unedumakated about coffee as I am, try checking out Coffee Geek to learn from the real experts. They have a great forum where you can interact and chat about coffee and all things coffee related!

As far as the best type of coffee to buy, Consumer Reports ran a test of the best coffees in 2004, and two of their top choices were also offered at the best prices. Dunkin Donuts Original Ground Coffee (priced at approximately $7.66 per pound) and Eight O' Clock Coffee Beans (priced at approximately $5 per pound) came up as two of the best tasting in their taste test.

Grinding and roasting your own coffee beans does not need to be an expensive process. You can pick up coffee grinders for about twenty dollars at any of your local superstores. I found a great resource for learning how to roast those beans yourself. I had never thought to use a popcorn popper to roast my beans until I read this article.

Personally, I have no idea what half the coffee labels even mean so here are some of the meanings on those labels:

Arabica and robusta are the two main beans. Robusta plants are hardier; arabica beans can make higher-quality coffee. Even arabicas vary, so one “100% arabica” brew can taste better than another. The best include floral or fruity scents.

Decaffeinated coffee generally has 5 mg or less caffeine per 6 ounces, vs. 50 to 90 mg for regular. Caffeine can be removed via a solvent, liquefied carbon dioxide, or a hot-water process.

Fair trade is a program that guarantees prices for small-scale farmers.

(These definitions are from Consumer Reports Magazine)

What about going green with your coffee and tea experience? has a great piece on how to accomplish this, including small and large steps for achieving a green cup of joe.

Don't give up on having the perfect coffee experience, just give up on paying for it elsewhere!

Potential Monthly Savings: $20 or more

Sound Off: Do you have any great coffee tips to share?

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Day 12: Social Obligations on a Budget

Welcome to day 12 in our saving money series. I don't think the series would be complete if I didn't touch upon our social obligations and how we keep the budget under control. This is something that I really struggle with because I love being a social butterfly and I enjoy being a part of things. It can sometimes be difficult though, in social contexts, to not go over my budget.

It seems that many of my social obligations seem to center around something that costs money. We are usually planning to meet up for coffee or having lunch with friends. It is certainly convenient (because I don't have to clean my house), but it is not the most frugal choice.

One of the ways that I have kept this category in check for myself is that we utilize an envelope system in our house. One envelope contains our grocery money, one is for the family, and the last two are divided between my husband and myself.

Working with a cash system seems to be more effective for me. When the cash is gone, the social obligations end and we either don't attend things that cost money or we make alternate arrangements to meet at their house or ours.

I think it is reasonable to want to go out and spend time with friends and that is why we have chosen to give ourselves the allowance. I don't ask what my husband does with his ten bucks each week and I don't tell him what I did with mine.

And yes, we do only have ten dollars every week and we are still able to do fun things. I will admit that sometimes I go over budget and end up eating through the "family" money because I have to pay for the two children to eat or their admission into places, but I still feel like we are staying under the budget since we aren't running to the ATM to withdraw money.

Here are some of the things that I have tried to do to help keep us in our budget:

- I invite my friends over for coffee and I have tried to come up with fun coffee choices and syrups so it feels like we are still getting a treat, but we don't have to spend any money. This option does require me to keep up with my house a bit, but sometimes I need a good kick in the behind to do what I need to do around here.

- If we can actually bring our lunch to social functions, we will do this. I still remember one time where we met up at the mall and ate in the food court. All of the other children had Happy Meals and I was worried that my son would ask for one. I had taken his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cut trains out for him and he was having so much fun driving them along the table that he didn't even care about the other meals. When he wanted more, I told him they were boxcars (just plain squares) and he lined them up with the rest of the train. Just making the meal more fun seemed to help take away from the fact that we didn't buy food from McDonald's that evening.

This has happened in other situations too and I try to keep a secret stash of fun foods that I don't normally offer for these occasions. It could be as simple as a pudding cup or buying the juice box, but it makes a difference in what he chooses. I usually give him the option and say that he can have the kid's meal or he can have a sandwich, carrots and a chocolate pudding. He usually opts for the second choice. This probably will not last forever, but I will enjoy it while I can! The idea here is just that I make it fun for him so that he doesn't feel like he is missing out on anything.

- We try to find free things that we can do in the area where we could meet up with other people and not spend money. Our local library, for example, offers museum passes to all of the museums in the area. You can check them out for a day and we can meet friends at one of these places instead of a restaurant. Parks are also a great free location and you can pack a picnic lunch for the family to enjoy.

- When entertaining others, try to do potlucks instead of supplying all of the food. If someone can bring the drinks, someone can bring a side, another person bring dessert- all you would have to do is do the main dish. When preparing your dish, choose budget-friendly foods that everyone can enjoy, but will also stay within your budget.

- Save for social obligations that you know are going to cost more than your cash allowance. Keep these occasions in mind when doing your planning and save to prepare for this occasion. It is better if you can plan for these things instead of using your credit card.

We do splurge here and there for special events, but we try to make the necessary plans and financial arrangements that we need to do before that time arrives.

These are just a few of the ways that we have been able to manage this spending category.

Potential Monthly Savings- $40 or more

Sound Off: Do you struggle with social obligations on a budget? Any tricks that you have used to get around these types of engagements?

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Monday, August 13, 2007

An Ideal Morning: First Day Back to School

Today was my son's first day back to school and I tried to think of everything that we would need to prepare for a smooth morning together.

Last night I preset the coffeemaker (that MUST be done first!) so that I could have my cup of coffee. Together we picked out what he wanted to wear to school the next day and we set it in a basket beside his bed. I put everything there, even his shoes and socks, and he was instructed to dress himself and put his clothes in the hamper when he woke up.

In the kitchen, I poured his bowl of cereal, laid out a banana and put a glass of water out for him. I also had a card tucked away that our Children's Ministry Director, from our church, had given to me for his first day back. I wrote a special note to him about how proud we were of him. Hanging on his chair was his new "Cars" backpack, a special treat to start his year.

We had the best morning together and had plenty of time to spare before climbing in the car to take him to school. I was worried that we would be rushing, since we were used to the afternoon time session versus the morning, but we did well.

I tried to think of everything and we had the ideal morning I had hoped for. Best of all, I am getting a little extra time with my daughter, who sometimes gets the short end of the stick since she is the second child in the house. We took a walk and played outside. It was nice to get to be just with her. Last year, she was napping during this time so this is the first time that we have had some quality time together for just the two of us.

The only thing that ended up being forgotten was the backpack, which was tucked under my son's seat in the car. In his mad rush into school, he had forgotten the special backpack that he was so proud of.

He had a great day with his class and I am so happy that he is enjoying school so much! I know that this will change so we will enjoy his enthusiasm while it lasts.

Related Readings:

Back to School
Back to School Lunch Ideas
Weeding Through Your Child's Artwork Creatively

Sound Off: What are your tricks for making your mornings run smoothly when school starts?

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Product Review: Family Life Organizer & Planner

I have a lot of scraps of paper laying around our house with things that I really need to remember, but I rarely can find them. Our fridge is overflowing with appointment cards and important phone numbers, but sometimes those can get misplaced. Luckily, Pam Socolow, an organizer on HGTV's "Mission: Organization" came up with a family organizer that can contain all my messy piles and transform them into a very organized format. She offers a Family Life Organizer & Planner that can contain even my giant messes.

Honestly, I was surprised at the quality of it and the thoughtfulness that went into this product. There is a section for everything from health care to carpool schedules. It contains a three year calendar with large boxes that offer ample room for writing down everything you need to accomplish for the day. There are over one hundred sheets that you can fill in with information like the house and car details, kids' information, household repairs, and insurance information. There are also fun sections where you can write down books you would like to read or wines you want to try. It also contains a pocket folder for each general section and pouches for tucking receipt. In the back is a business card organizer to store all of those important cards that seem to get lost in the shuffle.

I got this calendar a couple of weeks ago and since we had so many car troubles these past few weeks, I was so proud to be able to whip out the receipts and information that we would need at a moments notice. The pockets have also been great storage for keeping track of my rebate receipts and checkbook.

This Life book is huge so it is not intended for you to carry it around, but just something that you can keep in your house to contain the mess and track the activities going in your house. It would be a great addition to the kitchen and a useful resource for babysitters

The only thing that is missing from the Life organizer is a menu planner, but I noticed on their website that you can purchase additional sections for an additional cost.

You can also print out your own free binder through Organized Home, which is something that I have done in the past. In fact, I might print out some of those printables to add to this

This book is available through Barnes and Noble or through Pam Socolow's website for $19.95. We thank Pam for sharing her organizer with us and giving us the opportunity to share it with our readers!

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Day 11: Creative Gym Membership Alternatives

Welcome to the eleventh day in our Month of Savings program. I have loved all of your comments and the conversations that have been fostered through these posts. Thank you all!
Asking someone to drop their gym membership is sometimes impossible. I have friends who have been locked into lifetime or three year contracts that have no way out. In fact, my financial demise was thanks to a little place called Fitness USA.

I had taken a year off of college and had a girlfriend who worked for the company. She asked me if I was interested in joining the gym and I really wanted to help her out. I went to the gym and they showed me around and explained all of the fabulous benefits I would get if I joined their gym. They sat me down in a private room with a huge contract and said that all I would need to do to join the gym would be to sign on the dotted line.

I asked them if it would be possible to cancel the contract when I headed to school the next year, since there would be no gym in the area. The two ladies stepped out and came back in and said that it would be possible to opt out of the contract at that time. I signed the contract, much to my parents horror, and used my gym membership regularly during that year.

I headed off to college and contacted the company to let them know I was moving. They said that this would make absolutely no difference because I had signed a three year contract and would have to fulfill the obligation.

My financial future, as I knew it, began a downward spiral thanks to signing a contract that I didn't read or understand. Imagine receiving threatening and mean phone calls every single day for your first year at a new university. Imagine the humiliation when asking people not to answer the phone because you are avoiding the collector's phone calls. Imagine that when applying for student loans, you can't get a single bank to loan you money because your credit score has been smeared by a lousy gym membership. Imagine that you finally get a bank to loan you money on the condition that you will pay an extremely high interest rate. Imagine having a board review your financial applications every single year to decide whether or not you qualify for any federal aid. It was the worst year of my life.

I ended up paying the three years premium out of my textbook money, that I had worked an entire year to earn, but the damage had already been done. My credit score was horrible and it made it difficult for me to get anything for years and years, including a home and car.

Obviously, I should have read the contract more thoroughly, but I just wanted to share an example of why I will never sign a contract with a gym again. The agony that I went through was one of the lowest points in my life. Lower than that though was being a newlywed with a husband who had a bright financial future and receiving our first bill for my student loans. This was a time of great depression where I felt maybe he might have been better off without me.

My husband is my biggest fan and has always loved me unconditionally. The guilt I felt about the debt was not brought on by him, but was a burden that I have had to work through.

Talking about this time in my life is extremely difficult for me. I made a stupid mistake and suffered financial consequences that will be carried with me for years to come. I share this because I want people to understand what they could be getting themselves into if they can't follow through on a gym contract.

I have no idea what my finances will be like in three years time. I can hope that our financial future will be secure, but who knows what the future has in store for us? Having survived a year of unemployment with my husband, I was thankful to not have contracts like that to follow through on. Please think of these things before locking yourself into any long-term agreements. If you need to have a gym membership, only pay on a month to month basis. If you realize that you aren't getting your money's worth, discontinue the membership.

Gym memberships are expensive and, for many people, are rarely used. If you are paying $39.99 a month to have the membership and then can only make it over to the gym twice a month, you are paying $20 per workout. Really track the amount of time you use the gym membership and then write down the dates that you visited. Divide this and figure out how much you are paying per visit. Are you really getting what you paid for?

There are creative ways to get around these monthly fees. One of the gyms in our area, for example, offers a pay per class at their gym. You can enjoy a class like yoga, pilates, or kickboxing and pay $5 versus the $45 gym membership fee. This can be a bit more advantageous to those of us who are very busy and just want to commit when we have time.

You could also see if the gyms in your area offer childcare. If they offer childcare, you could see if you could get a free membership if you devoted some time babysitting for that gym. I have several girlfriends who do this and commit an hour or two a week to babysitting and get their memberships for free. If you have to commit to a babysitting job, you will be more committed towards utilizing the membership since you are volunteering your time.

I prefer free activities that I can do with my children. We love to take walks together or I can throw on a workout tape and they enjoy doing it with me. In the evening, I can put on a workout and do a yoga routine before I head to bed.

Workout tapes can be purchased really inexpensively on I like to read all of the reviews on Amazon and pick a tape that people seem to really enjoy. The items are used, but it costs half the price that it would in a store.

Likewise, you could check out the workout tapes from the library. This is great for the people who get burnt out quickly on workout routines and like to switch it up. Just make sure to get those back in on time, or else this could cost you some money.

Do you have a treadmill gathering dust in your basement? I think we all have some exercise equipment that isn't being used. Using what you already have is much cheaper than paying for something else.

There are lots of ways around the gym membership and exercise can be a fun and free activity that you can do with or without your children. Whatever you do, be leary of any long term commitments and always read that fine print in those contracts!
Potential Monthly Savings: $45

Sound Off: How do you get in your exercise? What is your favorite workout tape or routine?

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Day 10: Car Repair on a Budget

To say that the past couple of weeks for our family have been bad would not really do our past two weeks justice. A couple of weeks ago my husband went to Walgreens to pick up a prescription for me. After finding out that pharmacy was closed (this was the third pharmacy too) he went to the car to head home. When he tried to start the car though, the radio would come on, but nothing else. He called me and had me come out to help him.

My first stop was the neighbor's to borrow some jumper cables (an investment we really should make) and I headed out there to give him a jump. We tried to jump the car, but still nothing happened. Defeated, I called our insurance company to see about getting our car towed and assistance with finding a shop in our area. Our insurance company offers 24 roadside assistance and helps you get your vehicle where it needs to be repaired. They sent out a towing company to tow our car over to the dealership.

The dealership called in the morning and said that we needed a new starter...that would cost $400. This must be a very special starter because we were floored. We asked our brother-in-law if he could help us, since he has been working in an a body shop, and he agreed for an exchange of babysitting for their anniversary night.

The part cost a little over $100 and a babysitting job. Who could beat that price?

Several days later, my husband is driving to work and loses power on his car. He is able to pull the car to the side of the road and put it in park. He tries to turn the key and nothing happens. He tries again and the same scenario repeats itself. He pulls the key out and the engine starts turning over and over and over. And the car catches on fire.

He is able to get the fire out, but what is left is a lot of melted wire and a car that doesn't work. We look up recalls on engines and his car had been recalled for the engines catching on fire. Thinking we were smart, we sent it over to the dealership. They said that it didn't fall under the warranty and we would need a cable replaced that went to the starter. Total price to repair a couple of melted wires and a cable...$630.

This is when I encouraged my husband to call around to places that he had heard were good. We were able to find a very honest and reliable auto repair place who said he could do the same exact thing for $280. What a difference!

I was left with the dirty work of calling the dealership in the morning to close out the account and get the car towed to the other place. The guy that I spoke to wanted to know why I was taking it out, where I was taking it, and what the quote was. I was as polite as could be and explained that it had nothing to do with them personally, but we simply could not afford the rate that he was giving us. He said he would call us back to let us know how much diagnostics cost.

When he called back, he began with, "We don't normally do this BUT..." and then he basically matched the price of the other place.

Five minutes of calling around saved us about $300.

Here are some other resources for getting the best deal when it comes to car repair:

Finding an Automotive Repair Shop You Can Trust
Finding a Mechanic
Finding Honest Repair Shops

If you or your husband are handy, it is possible that you could fix the car yourself. Look into what resources your local library offers. For example, in our area, patrons have access to The Chilton Library just by logging into their library account. This online Automotive Repair Database provides the detailed information you need to tackle both simple and complex auto repair jobs. Do-it-yourselfers can count on reliable auto repair answers to topics such as, general information and maintenance, troubleshooting, engine performance & tune-up, brakes, emission control, chassis, electrical and more.

While I wouldn't recommend going to the cheapest shop, I would recommend going through good referrals from your family and friends and then comparing those rates. The dealerships will usually not have the best price on auto repair, but they might be willing to match quotes from their competitors.

Potential Monthly Savings: $100 or more

Sound Off: Any tips you would like to share on car repair and maintenance that have helped save your family money?

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Freebie Friday: August 10, 2007

Health & Beauty:

Sam's Club members can get a sample of Huggies Step 1-2 Diapers.
Sign up for a free sample pack from Tampax and Always. Please allow six to eight weeks for delivery.
Sign up for a free sample of Chocolate Chex Cereal. Please allow up to four weeks for delivery of this item and limit one sample per household.

Printable coupon alert! Although not technically free, buy one get one free on Starbucks beverages in Target. Coupons are good through September 1st. Anyone want to meet for coffee with me this week?

Not free, but still a great deal. Use this printable coupon to buy one get one free on La Coy Sauces.

Home & Garden:

Please enter the information to receive Solutions for Easy Living in the mail. Please use proper spacing and avoid using any abbreviations in the address field. This booklet inlcudes $29 of savings on some of your favorite brands.


Wend is a magazine to inspire adventure. Wend’s content is informative, thought provoking, and above all, inspiring. It provides bold tales to fuel the passion of adventure, born from the love of climbing, cycling, surfing, and kayaking. To get your complimentary subscription to Wend, brought to you by Fandango, and to find out what FREE trade magazines you could receive, simply complete the information.

Sign up and receive a free copy of What to Expect the First Year.

Register Now to receive and share the music of Lori McKenna and receive a free Lori McKenna Music Pack.

Sign up for a free subscripition to Kraft Food & Family Magazine.

To get your complimentary one-year subscription to Metropolitan Home (and to find out what FREE trade magazines you could receive), simply complete the information. Please allow six to eight weeks for delivery of your first issue.

Don't forget that National Museum Day is just around the corner (September 28th!) Free museum admissions into all participating museums.

Sign up for a free subscription to Elle Decor Magazine. Please allow six to ten weeks for the first issue to arrive.

Sign up for a free Redbox rental, just by joining their email list. You should receive the promo code shortly after signing up.



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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Day 9: Lower Your House Payment

We have just lowered our house payment by about fifty dollars each month. How did we do this? Well, we finally got rid of our PMI.

If you don't have PMI, you are already a step ahead of us. This was our first house and we really didn't understand the concept of PMI and what exactly we were paying for. We are quite familiar with PMI now that we have gotten to pay for it for four years.

PMI stands for Private Mortgage Insurance and it is an unfortunate expense that can get added to your account if you do not have twenty percent down on your house. Why would you have to pay this insurance in addition to your homeowners policy? This insurance is added to your payment to protect the lender, just in case you should default on your loan. The lender also believes requiring PMI is also good for you, as the buyer, because they could not offer the loan to you if they didn't have this type of insurance.

How much is PMI? Well, according to Quicken Loans, generally it calculates to about one-half percent of the total loan amount. Let's say you buy a home for $200,000 and put five percent down or $10,000. The annual cost of PMI on your $190,000 mortgage might run $950 a year, adding an extra $80 to your mortgage payment each month.

Getting the PMI removed from our mortgage turned out to be much harder than we thought. By law, this insurance is supposed to be removed automatically once you have invested 22% into the house. The Federal Trades Commission website states, "For home mortgages signed on or after July 29, 1999, your PMI must - with certain exceptions - be terminated automatically when you reach 22 percent equity in your home based on the original property value, if your mortgage payments are current. Your PMI also can be canceled, when you request - with certain exceptions - when you reach 20 percent equity in your home based on the original property value, if your mortgage payments are current."

Since we had been paying an extra hundred dollars each month on our house payment, in addition to making an extra house payment each year, we reached the amount required quicker than the lender had expected. Since we were still under the 22% we were told we would have to have an appraisal done on our home.

For $145, we had an appraiser (who was chosen by our mortgage lender) come out to our house and do an appraisal. She had to concur that our house had not declined in value due to our neglect or due to market values decreasing. I have to admit that I was quite nervous because the market in our area is extremely slow and houses just aren't selling for what they used to.

Lucky for us, we met the standard and within a week we were notified that the PMI would be removed immediately and we would no longer have to pay for it.

I will admit that we had to jump through some hoops to make this happen. When we contacted our lender, they said that we couldn't request PMI removal by telephone. We would have to submit the request in writing to the company. Upon request, they would then send us a letter, within six weeks, to explain what we would need to do to get it removed. This letter came and then we had to submit the check for the appraisal. This took another two weeks to set up and then we had to wait for the appraisal to come through. I am not surprised that this was such a lengthy procedure, after all, they are making extra money by our family carrying this.

Despite this lowering our house payment, we have continued to pay the same amount. Our taxes have lowered and the insurance was dropped, lowering our payment by about $115. We just pretend like these changes never happen and continue to pay the same. The same philosophy is applied to our credit card and student loan payments. If we could pay it before, we can pay it now.

We have lofty financial goals of having everything paid for in seven years time, utilizing the good old snowball effect. Dreams of owning our home and paying down all of our debt don't seem as far away as they used to. Visualizing that feeling is what keeps us going in the direction we are headed.

If you are looking for more information on PMI and how to get rid of it, I would highly recommend reading this article, by CNN Money, and taking the actions suggested.

Potential Monthly Savings: $50 or more

Sound Off: Have you made any steps toward lowering your house payment? Do you have any personal experiences with PMI or PMI removal?

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Day 8: Open Your Own Beauty Shop

Today I wanted to talk a little bit about ways that you can save in the beauty department. Every family is different, but for me it has always been about keeping us all cute, with as little maintenance as possible, for the least amount of money. This might sound funny, but I don't really know of another way to explain it.

I don't have bangs and I don't have a cute layered haircut. Instead, I have no bangs (no routine cutting of bangs) and I keep my hair a little longer so I can go longer between cuts. I don't highlight my hair because it so dark and the color moves so quickly that I look rather trashy after just a few weeks time. I instead do an all over color that I purchase from the drugstore and hope for the best.

My hair is not trendy, but I opt for a classic haircut that requires little maintenance on our part. It is a choice that I made for financial reasons and, with two rowdy kids, I don't get to enjoy sitting in the hairdresser's chair as much as I used to. We are too busy and I have little time without the kids being with me during the weekdays.

I am applying the same principles to our daughter's hair. We are currently in the ugly stage of long bangs, but I know that all of the hard work and pretty clips that I have made to cover up the in-between stages will pay off and we will be enjoying the same low maintenance haircuts for her. When she is a teenager, the story might be a little bit different, but we have many years to go before that time.

As for the boys in our family, I invested in a pair of clippers from the drugstore and I am planning to invest in a good pair of scissors from our local beauty supply store. With these investments, I am able to pay for them after just two haircuts and we will have many years of haircutting out of them.

I admit that the first time I cut my husband's hair that it took forever and I was sweating it out the entire time. If I messed up my son's hair, it would not be as stressful because he is a child and hair grows quickly. My husband, on the other hand, is a professional working at a job where I want him to look good and feel good about himself. To mess up his hair would have been a travesty for me and for him.

We did survive the first haircut and I have never looked back. The benefit of learning to do this yourself is that it is convenient and you can always have your spouse looking sharp. Reunions, weddings, and special occasions happen and he can always look good because I can give him a great hair cut myself.

I highly recommend, if you cut your husbands hair, to talk to him like his hairdresser would. I cover my husband up with the cape and then I say things like, "Wow, I heard your wife was a total witch this week. I am so sorry to hear that." It just makes it a little more fun and takes away some of that nervousness in the beginning.

If you aren't brave enough to do the cutting yourself, there are other options out there that can save you money. Beauty schools, for example, offer very inexpensive beauty services because they are schooling their students on learning how to do haircuts and beauty treatments. Similarly, some of the more elite salons require their own additional training and can offer beauty services to their clients for a fraction of the price. You can score really great deals on colorings, waxing, haircuts, and facial services.

If you chose this option though, make sure to give yourself plenty of time for the appointment. These folks are in training so they are not going to move at the quick speed that your regular hairdresser works. They will need their supervisors to check the cuts as they are being made and this usually takes quite some time because the supervisor is monitoring many stylists, not just your own personal haircut. There are great savings in the waiting and it can be a great way to get a more professional haircut without the big price tag.

Just because you aren't going to a salon doesn't mean you have to give up the good life. Here are some other things that I do to save money in the beauty department, but provide the pampering pleasure I deserve:

I make my own brown sugar scrub and use this once a week. It works just as good as the pricey exfoliates, but costs pennies. In this recipe, I have subbed extra virgin olive oil for the almond oil (just because we already have it). I have also added lavender essential oils to make it smell more soothing.

I soak my feet weekly and have a little container of all the goodies I need to do a pedicure. In my container are Wet & Wild nail polishes (purchased for about a buck each), a base coat, a top coat, a file, a pumice stone, a small nail brush, and foot lotion. Almost everything can be bought at the dollar store. You can soak your feet in a dish tub or you could soak them in a an appliance made for these occasions. I add 1/2 cup Epsom salts to the water and 1-2 teaspoons of the lavender essentials to soak them in. I try and do this every Friday as my weekly treat to myself.

Make your own hand scrubs to treat yourself after doing the dinner dishes. I usually just drizzle a little olive oil on my hands and add a teaspoon of salt. Scrub gently for a minute or so and then give your hands a rinse and pat dry. When I get a chance though, I am planning to try out this recipe because it sounds wonderful. If it turns out, it would make a great Christmas or birthday gift in a pretty tin.

I try to do a mask once a week on my face. I have plenty of masks leftover from my beauty store junkie days, but this recipe sounds like a keeper for when I run out.

You can deep condition your hair weekly. I use the Suave hot oil treatments on my hair or you can try making your own deep conditioner.

The important thing to remember is that just because you are on a budget doesn't mean that you have to give up these great things in life. I can pretend to be a lady of leisure who enjoys a weekly pampering, but I don't have the credit card statements that go along with it.

You are worth it and your wallet is worth the savings!

Potential Monthly Savings:
$60 or more

Related Readings:
Sound Off: What are some beauty treatments you have tried at home?

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

WSBT-TV: Saving Money By Going Green

Here is today's segment from WSBT-TV. We talked about decisions we made to save money, that also had a positive impact on our environment.

Related Readings:

Cloth Diapering 101
Making Your Own Cleaners
Reducing Plastic Bag Consumption
Happy Homemaking the Homemade Way

Sound Off: What are some money-saving things you have done that also have benefited our planet?

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Day 7: Brown Bag Your Way to Savings

Welcome to the seventh day in our Month of Savings series. Today we will be talking a little bit about how you can brown bag your lunch and save your family loads of money.

I stay home with my kids, but I still go to playgroups where the opportunity arises for a lunch to be bought. The temptation towards going out for my husband though is prevalent every single day, since most of his coworkers forgo the savings and enjoy lunch out daily.

The thing that has always been important to me is that we don't feel like we are being deprived of anything. For me, being deprived of things makes living a frugal life hard. I don't like to feel like I am missing out on anything and I try to reflect that in what we do in our house.

My husband takes his lunch daily to work and I try to take great pride in what we eat for dinner so that pride can be reflected in his leftovers the next day. For him, sandwiches aren't as filling as the leftovers. For us, the leftovers are cheaper than the sandwich meat and snacky type of foods that I would pack for him.

I go to our Dollar Store and get the sectioned containers there for our lunches. These run $1 for two containers or $1 for four smaller containers. The containers weather the trips to work and back, but they don't cost very much so I am not worried about them returning.

We put our containers right underneath the area where I serve our dinner. Immediately after I have dished up everyone's plate, I fill any leftovers into these containers for my husband. We have designated a special section in our fridge for the leftovers so they are easy for him to find in the morning to take them into work.

I always try to include any condiments he might need and sharp cutlery for tougher cuts of meat. You can save ketchup, mustard and mayo packets from restaurants to include in your lunches. Syrup can be poured into a baggy and tied with a twist tie for brunches on the go.

Fresh herbs sprinkled on top give the food a more finished touch, but dried herbs can add a splash of color to your leftovers (although not as tasty!)

If you have a place that you can keep snacks, at work, hit your local superstore and pick up soda and snacks to keep in/around your desk. This can save extra money too, by not visiting those pricey vending machines.

Potential Monthly Savings- $100 or more

Sound Off:
Do you have any brown bagging tips to share? How do you save your family money in this category?

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Invaluable Feedback

Well, I am just overwhelmed! I appreciate all of the feedback and it meant so much to me that people left comments. I was having one of those kind of days. You know, one of THOSE days, where nothing seemed to be going right.

I have loved all of the responses as it does challenge me to think more about how to handle things and what you guys are enjoying and not enjoying. We are hoping to relocate the Product Reviews, but these things take some time. Please understand that this is in the works to be a separate blog. I don't ever want there to be confusion about honesty and trust among my readership and myself. I always try to be honest in my reviews of products and I always disclose that the products were given me to try and share with others. I do try to include snippets from the product sites to try and explain the workings behind or the history behind the products and a link to the company. My impression of the products will always be my honest opinions on them. There have been products I have really liked and some that were just plain bad. That is just part of sharing my reviews and the companies know this when they send the products to me.

As for money exchanging hands, there is not ever any money changing hands between myself and these companies. The advertisements on our website are what helps to support and pay our bills. When you visit the advertisements, we receive money. When you view a web page, we receive money. I work really, really hard and in order for this to be beneficial for us, we have to make some profits.

Affiliations do arise and I try to be upfront about those as well. When we are affiliated with a company, we receive a small amount of money by referring people to that company. I have and only will promote companies that I really like and that I believe will save you money. You will never see me throwing around company names just to get the money in my pocket. I can only recall two companies that I have ever really promoted an affiliation with, despite many requests from companies for those partnership opportunities.

In order for this particular Month of Savings series to work though, there will be links to other sites and I will have to feature other sites to try and show you ways to save. It is not because I receive money from this companies. Just like my obsession with Aldi and other great companies out there, I don't get anything for sharing my love for these stores or sites. I just am passionate about sharing things that work in our life. That is part of being a blogger- sharing my opinions with everyone!

Thanks again- without you, these opportunities would not be possible!



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Monday, August 06, 2007

Hating the Series?

I was excited about sharing thirty ways that we save our family money. I am not advertising for companies, but I may, at times, be highlighting companies that we have used to save our family money. These can be ideas you implement in your house, or not...

I have been getting some nasty emails from people so I can discontinue the series. I have already written the posts for the week and really wanted to share some new things we are trying to do for our family, but if you guys are hating it then I can stop.

Future posts would include free family days, how to rent/find cheap movies, coffee tips, cheaper prescriptions, brown bagging the lunch, lowering your house payment, and many more things that we are doing in our house.

I just hate to work this hard on something like this and get mean emails and comments.



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Figuring Out How Much Your Time is Really Worth

Life. On a Budget has an excellent post about figuring out how much your time is worth. She explains the argument that most people use for figuring out how much their time costs might not be the right philosophy.

Enjoy the great read!

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Day 6: Take Advantage of Rebates

Rebates can be a great way to save money for your family and no one does it better than the office supplies stores and drugstores. Unfortunately, four out of ten people never even apply for their entitled rebate. Maybe this is why these companies offer them?

Consumer Reports
offers the following tips to better your chance of successfully completing a rebate and getting your money back:

Rebate Tips

  • Read and understand rebate requirements, including deadlines, before making a purchase.

  • Make copies of all rebate materials and put everything in a file folder, in case the company rejects your rebate claim or loses your submission. A paper trail is critical if anything goes wrong. Write down on the cover of the folder in big letters the date when the refund is due.

  • Act quickly. If the rebate form is available online, be sure to print it out immediately after you buy the product. While you may have a few weeks to submit the claim, the official form may be removed from the Web site after the promotional period ends.

  • Submit rebate requests promptly. Don’t wait until the filing deadline. If the company informs you that something’s missing, the extra time will be necessary to gather the requested documentation before the clock runs out. It may sound silly, but also remember to put enough stamps on the envelope, in case the enveloped is oversized.

  • Keep a careful eye out for your rebate check, as it sometimes resembles junk mail.

  • If the rebate doesn’t arrive when promised or at all, contact the company and jot down the name of anyone you speak with. If the matter isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, file a complaint with the state’s Attorney General where the company is based or the Federal Trade Commission at or 877-382-4357.
I used to take advantage of rebates more regularly, but have fallen off the bandwagon this summer. I checked my paper on Sunday though and the rebates were too good to pass up. I clipped my coupons, grabbed the rebates flier in the store and came armed with that week's advertisement.

CVS was running a great rebates deal this week. Buy $20 worth of Post & Kraft company products, get $20 back in refunds. They also are offering their Aquafresh toothpaste for $2.99 with a $2.99 rebate (limit of three).

I hit the store, when we got home from church, and was able to get the following:

10 boxes of Post cereal
3 boxes Kotex pads
3 Aquafresh toothpastes
1 Colgate Total
2 Colgate Advanced (with bonus free toothbrushes)
1 box Revlon Hair Color
1 Schick Silk Effects Razor
Grand Total Before Savings: $60.28
Coupon Savings: $8.75
Rebate Savings: $35.97
Total Savings: $44.72
Final Total: $15.56

Walgreens also offers a similar rebates program and they run some pretty stellar deals themselves. You can check their EasySaver catalog online or pick a copy up when you get to the store. From what I understand, these rebates do have to be mailed in and take up to three weeks to clear.

CVS offers instant rebates that print out on your receipt. Bring in your Extra Care Bucks and they will scan them to put these savings towards your purchases. You also do receive 2% back on all of your purchases in the store or online.

Potential Monthly Savings: $40 or more

Sound Off: Do you utilize rebate programs? How do you stay on top of getting your rebates in on time? What is the best rebate you have received?

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Day 5: Use Ebay and Save

Welcome to Day 5 in our Month of Savings. I hope that you guys are enjoying it so far and are able to take something away from it. I am surprised how long these entries are taking me, but I really want to cram as much information into them as I can.

Today I want to talk about how much ebay has saved our family. ebay can truly be a frugal family's best friend and I am interested in hearing what unusual deals you look for on Ebay. I am sure that everyone is searching for something different so I will just share some of the best deals that our family has found...

Coupons- ebay really saved our family a lot of money when we were in the baby food and formula stages because I was able to buy multiple coupons off of the website and use them when I would do our shopping trips. The cost on these is minimal compared to the savings you will find from using them. Keep these coupons in mind when doing your shopping for baby food, formula, diapers, and any other household item that you use frequently. I was able to get our baby food for less than a quarter a jar utilizing coupons that I found on the site.

Magazine Subscriptions- Magazine subscriptions are extremely cheap on ebay and can be bought for less than a quarter of the price of the traditional subscription prices. They are sold by magazine wholesale companies and the savings are huge. These are on of my favorite gifts to get people and it has really saved our family quite a bit of money to buy them through this resource.

Phone Batteries & Accessories- Phone batteries are expensive in the retail stores, but can be bought for less than half the price on ebay. We use this resource frequently when we need an item like this.

iPod Accessories- iPod accessories are extremely inexpensive on ebay and I would highly recommend using ebay for finding these types of items. In a retail store, an iPod adapter for your car costs around sixty to eighty dollars. We purchased ours on ebay for only $14.99. The accessories are not necessarily from the Apple company, but they work just as well and cost a fraction of the price.

Tickets- You can get tickets to theme parks, concerts, and sporting events for a lot less money than buying them online or at the door. Always make sure to go with retailers who have excellent feedback!

Car Parts & Accessories- If you are getting your car repaired, ask what part is needed and the price on it. Sometimes you can find the same exact part on ebay for a lot less money. This is also a great resource for someone who does their own repairs or is trying to make money by selling cars.

Not only can you save a lot of money by buying on ebay, you can also make some money for your family by selling on Ebay. Look around your home at all of the items that are just taking up space, but you are not actually using. Look up the items on ebay and see how much money you could potentially make from the sale and imagine what you could do with this new money in your pocket. You could use this money for a trip or buy a special item that you have been longing for. Check out books from the library on how to present your item and start listing!

Potential Monthly Savings- $40 or more

Sound Off: What do you look for on ebay? What is the best deal that you have gotten on the site?

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Day 4: Use Your Phone as a Money-Saving Tool

It seems like everyone is carrying around a cell phone these days. What once was a luxury is now a must-have item in our house. I can only justify having a cell phone for the simple reason that my entire family is long-distance for me to call. They only live a half hour away, yet I have to pay for long-distance service to be able to stay connected with them. We all have joined Verizon and utilize our mobile-to-mobile minutes daily. It is worth the cost of the cell phone to stay connected with my friends and family, although I try to chose the least expensive plan possible.

I wanted to share some ideas for saving money using your cell phone. This post was inspired by my brother-in-law, who showed me all of the great savings he was getting by using his phone. Much thanks to him for the suggestion and I hope that this will bring in some savings for your family.

Don't Use 411- I love Google Maps and they have a fabulous service that will save you the expense of a 411 call. You can access Google Maps through your phone or (if you are home) you can have the number sent to your phone while you are online.

On the Google Maps page, type in the name and city where you want to be heading. Click on the the name of the business when it pops up and it will map out where it is located. If you look underneath the address (on the map) you will see a "Send to Phone" option. You can have the address and telephone number emailed to your phone for free. This makes for easy storing of the number on your phone and you don't have to go through the third party to connect. Along with the phone number, the address of the business is also emailed to your phone.

Google also offers another free 411 service. You can use this service by dialing 1-800-GOOG-411.

Another free 411 service is Tellme. Just dial 800-555-TELL and say what you want! Say a business, any business. Say "Business Search" at the main menu. Ask for a business name like "Domino's" Or a type of business like "day spa". When you hear the one you want, just say "Text me the info" to have the phone number, address, and a map sent to your mobile phone.

Compare Prices to Get the Best Deals- Frucall is a free shopping assistant service that helps consumers make an informed decision at the point of purchase about a product they are shopping for. When consumers are out shopping in stores, they are away from their computers and have no access to the Internet. Therefore, they cannot check the best online price of an item or get product reviews and merchant ratings. Frucall delivers this valuable information to consumers' cell phones so that they can make their purchasing decision with confidence and peace of mind. Frucall also allows consumers to buy an item over the phone.

There are three easy ways to use Frucall from one's mobile phone:

  1. Frucall Voice
    This is the easiest and the most common way of using Frucall. All you have to do is to dial 1-888-DO-FRUCALL (1-888-363-7822) from your cell phone, key in the product barcode, and listen to the best prices found online. Through its voice prompts, Frucall also lets you get product and merchant ratings. You can save Frucall's number in your contact list because it will come in handy every time you are out shopping! Learn more...
  2. Frucall Text
    This is a service for SMS savvy consumers who prefer to send in a product's barcode and receive product information via text messaging (SMS). Learn more...
  3. Frucall mWeb
    This service is for those who prefer to use a mobile device capable of accessing the Internet to view the product information they need. To use this service, users can point their mobile browser (typically available via an "Open URL" menu entry on the device) to: and search for products. Learn more...

Regardless of the access method, your search history and other relevant information are saved for you on the Internet at Through this site you can set your preferences, view your search history, bookmarks, voice notes, and order status in addition to using group messaging and other features of the system.

Get Loads of Coupons- How about coupons that don't need clipping and where you can turn your phone around and flash it to the cashier to get your savings? Cellfire offers this free coupon service with oodles of coupons in freebies that come directly to your cell phone. Currently they have free music downloads, free food, and free movies listed on their deals page. The coupons are always with you and you can chose what deals you want to use. I know my readers love freebies so this one is for you!

Take Some Pictures- I love to do this with our phone because it helps trigger my memory for prices. When we were remodeling our bathroom, one of us would head to the hardware store while the other one stayed with the children. I wanted to remember all of the prices and what each item looked like in the store so I would use my phone and take a picture of the items and a picture of the bar codes.

When you are going to multiple stores it is hard to remember the difference between two pedestal sinks or what exactly the prices were on each item. I was able to flip through my pictures and recall my favorite items and the prices connected with each item. If you are in a superstore, you could take this one step further and actually photograph the aisle sign. This will make shopping easier because you can remember right where the item is, instead of walking aimlessly through the store. When doing big home projects like we have done, it is easy to become confused and everything starts to look the same!

Calculator Features- If you aren't using the calculator features on your cell phone, you are missing a huge savings. Every time we eat out, I whip out my phone to use the EZ Tip Calculator that is listed under the Tools on my phone. I can enter the total and it instantly tells me what the tip should be for our meals.

I also use my calculator to compare prices in our grocery store. You will find me huddled in a corner figuring out which laundry detergent is the cheapest or who really has the best deal on soda. The calculator does the number-crunching for me and that adds up to extra savings in our grocery cart.

Potential Monthly Savings- $10 or more

Related Readings:

Programming Your Cell Phone

Sound Off: Do you use your cell phone to save money? Are there any cell phone services that your family has financially benefited from?

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Product Review: Halo UVX Ultraviolet Vacuum

Seven years ago, Ken and Carrie Garcia were blessed with the birth of triplet boys. Like many multiples pregnancies, the triplet boys were born prematurely at 30 weeks, weighing approximately 2.5 pounds each. They spent the next two and a half months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before being released weighing approximately five pounds.

Doctors warned Ken and Carrie that if the boys became ill during the next year, they would need to be immediately hospitalized again given their under-developed immune systems, and any illness could be life threatening. Wanting to do everything possible to prevent another hospitalization, they researched how they could provide the healthiest home environment for their triplet boys.

In addition to good home cleaning and disinfection, the research and doctors recommended that they rip up the carpeting in their home, as it was the one surface in the home that could not be disinfected, and as a result, all carpeting harbored millions of germs and dust mites. The time and expense involved in tearing out their carpet was just not a feasible option. In addition, studies showed that children can develop life-long allergies in the first 24 months of life when they are exposed to high levels of allergens.

Through research, Ken and Carrie learned that ultraviolet light had been used for decades in various industries to produce some of the world’s cleanest environments. For example, they learned that ultraviolet light had been used to disinfect hospitals and sterilize drinking water. Why couldn’t this technology be utilized inside the home – where people and their children spend so much of their time? If the power of ultraviolet light could be harnessed to use in the home, parents could experience a whole new level of comfort knowing their homes were truly clean. The culmination of years of research and design created Halo Ultraviolet Vacuums; the first and only vacuums in the world that incorporate ultraviolet light to kill germs in the carpets where they live.

When the triplet boys came home from the hospital, extra hands were necessary to get everyone fed, changed and rocked to sleep. Now those extra hands include the Halo Ultraviolet Vacuum. The triplet boys are happy and healthy living in their Halo Home!

I got the opportunity to test-drive this new vacuum and was amazed at the features and the research that was involved in creating it. The company operates under the motto of, "Clean What You See, Kill What You Can't" and has been featured on the Today Show, as well as many other television programs and newspapers.

The vacuum has many special features that my collection (yes, I did say collection- I am a bit obsessed in this department!) of vacuums does not offer. This includes a height adjusting telescopic handle, a 31' power cord (much longer than the cord on my current vacuum), a gear driven system, the UV technology, and a HEPA filtration system.

I have been enjoying disinfecting my house with the new vacuum. There is something so cleansing, knowing that you are kill dust mites and bacteria that are living in your carpet. This is the type of product that I wished I would have had when my daughter was crawling around on the floor.

The vacuum literally propels itself and requires very little maneuvering on the operator's part. I have a lot of back problems, and this vacuum seemed to take some of the work off of me by the way that it moves on its own.

The downside of the vacuum is that it does not come with any tools to get in the crevices of your carpets and you cannot use the vacuum on the stairs. This makes it inconvenient when cleaning the house because you have to switch to using another vacuum when cleaning these areas. Also, one of the places that you really would want to use this type of technology is in those areas of the home and on your mattress.

I would recommend this product for any family who is suffering from severe allergies or have severe health problems in their home. I think it would help to bring peace of mind to parents who have lots of carpeting in their home or who are living in a home with older carpeting.

The retail price on this vacuum is $399. For ordering information, please visit their website.

Sound Off: What is your favorite vacuum? Are there any vacuums that you are dreaming of owning one day?

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Product Review: Febreze Candles

What does a little apple spice & delight smell like? Well, it smells just like a freshly baked apple pie in the new candles from Febreze.

Like all of the products from the Febreze company, these candles are meant to eliminate odor and offer a fresh scent alternative to your home. The candles come in a variety of scents which include meadows & rain, spring & renewal, linen & sky, vanilla & refresh, and the apple spice & delight scent. All candles offer thirty hours of burn time and come in an attractive glass jar.

You know when you walk by the Yankee candle store and can smell the strong candles throughout the entire mall? People pay for that strong scent because you can actually smell them versus some of the cheaper brands on the market. These Febreze candles are just as strong as the Yankee candles and can take out any foul odors in your home.

I have been lighting my candle in the evening to eliminate the lingering smells of dinner or the smell of smoke coming into the house after we have had a bonfire outside. It definitely clears the air, but the scent can be overpowering at times. To eliminate odors quickly though, I would highly recommend these candles.

The suggested retail price is between $7-8, making it less pricey than the Yankee candles, but higher than the other drugstore brands. Possibly combined with a Sunday flier coupon, this would be an affordable alternative.

We would like to thank Procter & Gamble for being among the first to review this great product! As someone who formerly worked in a marketing department, I have to just say that your presentation was GREAT! The packaging and information included made for a very fun review!

Sound Off: What is your favorite brand of candle and your favorite candle scent?

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The Dollar Stretcher Tips 08.03.07

For a sample copy of The Dollar Stretcher newsletter, send $2 to: Dollar Stretcher Sample, 6695 Cortez Road W., Bradenton FL 34210. Copyright 2007 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. Visit The Dollar Stretcher for even more tips & ideas!

Just the Plate, Please

We broke the glass plate from the bottom of our microwave. My husband called the manufacturer and learned that it would cost us $40 plus shipping to replace it. We didn't have the extra money to put out at the time, so we just let it go. A short time later, my husband was browsing in a thrift store and found a used microwave identical to ours for $12. Needless to say, he bought it and we disposed of the microwave and kept the plate!

Different Types of Projects

Having limited space for storing craft supplies, I started to look at how to organize my sewing and other craft things. Nothing appealed to me, so I was looking at my husband's latest tool catalog. I found a toolbox base with a power strip (Sears called them project centers. Don't buy the cheapest. Instead, buy the middle priced one for better quality.) and five drawers. It works great! Also, I can roll it into my kitchen and use it as a kitchen cart. I carved the Thanksgiving turkey on a platter on the cart and then I rolled it to the dining room. This gave me more room on the table for other yummies.
Larie C.

Snack Stock

Ever come across a great deal on snacks, such as potato chips, pretzels, crackers, cereal bars, etc., but their expiration date is looming or has already passed? Buy them anyway and freeze them in their original packaging. With the brands we've bought, we've seen no difference in quality, taste or texture. Of course, allow ample time for thawing.
Cindy in Muncy, PA

Considering a Pet?

Looking for a cheap, low-maintenance pet? Consider "feeder goldfish," which can cost less than 10 cents. Their food is around a $1 and lasts many months. One can use any type of glass bowl or antique canning jar to keep them in. They do live for years and are fun to keep near the kitchen sink. Some can have a personality and are very happy to see you in the morning. I was told they are cold water fish and do not like heated water, which is a big plus as there is no expensive heater or tank to keep up. I usually keep two fish together for company.
Ann from CT

Biking Two-fer

Recently, out of frustration with road construction and high gas prices, I decided to ditch my car commute and bike to work. I discovered that the 12.5-mile drive that took me 30 minutes by car on a good day (60 minutes or more in construction or bad weather) took about 60 minutes by bike.

Since I spend the same amount of time in the gym in the morning anyway, I followed the same routine (wake up time and packing a bag with business clothes for the day). It was a surprisingly small adjustment to my routine and I wondered why I hadn't done this sooner. I'm lucky that my workplace has a tiny locker room and shower.

I have found that I am saving not only gas costs ($25/month) but also my gym membership costs ($60/month), so I'm saving at least $85/month and getting daily exercise. Since I live in Minneapolis, I won't be able to bike year round. Still, it has an impact on my budget and reduces my impact on pollution!
Danae R.

Travel Tip

I just got back from vacation and learned this tip from a fellow traveler. Bring your own water bottle. Refill the water bottle at a water fountain near the restrooms and save $3 or more.
Janet H.

Old Cell Phone

When you upgrade your cell phone, hold onto your old phone and don't pay for phone insurance. If your new phone dies and you can't get a free new phone from your service provider, simply have them reactivate your old phone. Some providers will do it for free. Alternatively, if your provider runs on a GSM network, you may be able to swap the SIM cards and avoid having to contact your provider.
Cathy in Los Angeles

The Neighborhood Swapshop

Organize a neighborhood "swapshop." Have each person donate
ten items that they would normally give to charity or no longer use and then each person can swap their goods for new ones. I have been able to save on clothes and toys for the last two years. We love it!
Letanie G.

Mop and Broom Storage

To keep broom, mop handles, etc. from sliding down while leaning against a wall, cut the fingers from rubber gloves and put on top of handles. There will be no more slipping and sliding.
Betty S.

Call a Contractor

I have a money saving tip for those looking to spruce up their homes for a lower price. Many people are remodeling and some of the homes being remodeled aren't really out of date. Call a few local contractors and tell them what you are interested in finding, such as a bathroom vanity and sink, kitchen cabinets, etc. Find out if you can purchase what you need from a remodel they are doing. If you can wait for what you want and follow- up with the contractors frequently, you should be able to find what you want at a low price (or even free!) and reduce landfill waste at the same time!
Susie R. in Springfield, IL



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Freebie Friday: August 3, 2007

This month we are focusing on thirty easy ways to save money throughout the month of August. The question today is, "What is one easy way you have found to save your family money?"

Health & Beauty

Fill out this form to receive a free sample of Listerine Whitening Strips. Please allow up to four weeks for delivery.

Sign up for a free sample of Clean & Clear Morning Burst.

Register to receive a free Schick Razor. Make sure to check the box when you register to receive this freebie. Good only while supplies last.

Sign up to receive a free sample of the new Nina Ricci's perfume.

Sign up for a free sample of L'Oreal Skin Genesis.

Help your children develop healthy bedtime habits and receive a free manual character toothbrush. Choose from Dora the Explorer, Diego, SpongeBob, Shrek or Superman. Simply fill out your washing, brushing and reading log to earn rewards from Colgate.


If you love snacks - eating them, trying new ones, or even talking about them - then we'd love to hear from you! We’re putting together the first ever Pringles National Consumer Advisory Board and want you to join!

As a "board member", you’ll be part of an on-line community that likes hearing and talking about new products AND trying them before everyone else!

Provide us with a little information and you'll receive a sample pack of Garden Harvest Toasted Chips in the mail.


Claim a complimentary one year subscription to PINK Magazine. Every issue provides career advice, inspiration, and mentoring for female business executives and professionals. You'll read articles focusing on successful stories of effective work/life balance, easy solutions to workplace conflicts and gaining financial independence. PINK - a beautiful career, a beautiful life. Just click, "No, thanks!" to all of the offers.

Stop by your Participating NY Area Pontiac Dealership to get a Free Ticket* to check out The Simpsons Movie! Visit this site for more information on this promotion.

Download your free copy of "Drumbone" from the newest Blue Man Group Album Live at The Venetian® – Las Vegas available exclusively on iTunes.

Home & Garden

Join the Home Depot Garden Club. Sign up for valuable offers exclusive to e-mail registrants. Plus, you'll have quick, easy access to timely gardening advice, offers and savings.

Pet Care

Sign up for a free complimentary Cesar Canine Cuisine. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery.


Receive a free $10 gift if you try on jeans at deLIAs. This offer ends on 09.05.07.



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Day 3: Pay Your Bills Online

Welcome to day three in our Month of Savings series. Today we are going to talk about the potential savings of paying your bills online or via routes other than the traditional snail mail.

I have been paying my bills online for a few years now and I love the service that I am using. Today most banks will offer bill-paying services for free, but my bank still charges to pay my bills for me. I have had to enlist the help of a third party to help me keep track of my bills and to make my payments on my behalf.

I use, and I have been with the company for almost four years now. I have never had a late payment and I have never had any unauthorized activity on my account. If I am unable to pay them through, I do try to set up online payment through the companies website directly.

What benefits are there to paying your bills online? Well, for one you can be saving money on stamps and envelopes. With the cost of stamps continuing to rise, it is great to be able to save money on this and just pay your bills online or by calling into the companies to have the money taken out of your account.

Another great reason to sign up for online bill paying is because many lenders offer a discount if you sign up for the automatic payments to your account. I have seen these discounts offered through mortgage providers and through student loan companies. Of course, with the automatic payments, you will need to make sure that you have money in your account to make the payment. If your account is not stable or the timing is of the essence, it might be more in your favor to avoid setting this up and the fees that could come up with not having enough money in your account.

Here are some free bill paying options that you can take advantage of:

Capital One Customers- Simplify your life with Online Bill Payment Service from Capital One. Pay as many bills as you want, on time—guaranteed—without the hassle of stamps or writing checks.

  • It's free—pay as many bills as you'd like per month at no charge
  • Bill Payment Guarantee1 —rest assured your bill will be paid on time
  • Secure Site- Capital One is committed to providing safety and security when paying your bills online.
  • Pay any individual—even the babysitter or any U.S. business
  • Schedule payments—to be taken out of your account the day they are due
  • Set up once—set up single or recurring monthly payments one time
  • Track payments automatically—records and tracks your payments for you
  • Pay bills when it's convenient—payments can be made 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • View your online payment history—know when your bills have been processed This is the free bill-paying service that our family uses. You can receive and pay your bills in one easy and safe location. Payment processing begins as soon as you, "Click to pay," and every payment is 100% guaranteed to get there when it is supposed to. You can set payments up to be taken out automatically or you can just set them up as you receive the bills. The bills come directly to your email and you can print out the bills for your financial records or keep them stored on their site.

If you don't feel comfortable allowing a third party to handle your bills, you can go to each of the websites for your bills and sign up directly with them.

If online payment is just not for you, many companies offer a call in service where you can dial in and make your payment via phone with a representative or through an automated service. Most payments will be processed immediately upon calling in, but be sure to find this out when making your payment so it is not late.

The important thing is that you eliminate the stamps, eliminate the paperwork coming into your house and eliminate the late fees that occur from missing a payment.

AOL Bill Manager Plus- Bill Manager Plus with Spending Alerts is a FREE service for bill management and bill payment. Bill Manager Plus also helps you easily maintain a budget and protect yourself from identity theft and fraud.

Bill Manager Plus With Spending Alerts lets you:
· Get e-bills from over 4,400 supported billers & banks.
· Securely receive and pay bills using a single password -- right from your e-mail inbox.
· Automatically add bill due dates to your calendar.
· Track monthly expenditures with easy to read charts.
· Avoid late fees with bill reminders.
· No other bill pay service allows you to manage and pay your bills directly from your e-mail inbox.
· Other bill pay services don't offer you Spending Alerts -- designed to protect you from fraud.
· Credit card and banking alerts enable you to monitor suspicious activity and large transactions
· Cell phone minute alerts allow you to avoid monthly-minute overage fees from your cellular provider. You'll always know when you're dipping into that pricey talk time!

NetBank- NetBank's online bill pay and consolidated bill statement removes all the hassles of paying and reviewing your bills. Get your bills in one place.

-Pay bills anytime, anywhere
-Get an email notice when you have a new bill
-Simply point and click to pay new bills
-Helps you avoid checks, stamps, and trips to the post office
-Get access to online bill pay with any NetBank Checking account
-Schedule repeating payments so you won't forget to pay a bill
-Free if used at least once every 3 months or if the average monthly balance in your bill payment checking account is $3,000 or greater
-Keep an online record of payments for 6 months
-Organize all your bills in one place
-Get account balances, minimum payments, and payment records
-Integrated with online bill pay so you can view and pay your bills instantly

PNC Bank Online- No more checks, envelopes, stamps or trips to the post office. Online Bill Pay eliminates all that paperwork and saves you time - on average two hours a month - and you can click and pay with confidence. Your information is protected by advanced PNC security technology.

Wells Fargo- Offers free bill paying services to their customers, but only if you have certain types of accounts and maintain a certain balance in your checking account. See this page for details on what accounts qualify.

Potential Savings- $10 each month (and more if you are usually late on bills!)

Related Readings:

CheckFree Works for Me!
Friday Freebie: CheckFree

Sound Off: Do you use a third party for paying your bills or does your bank offer free bill paying services?

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

WSBT-TV Segment: Creative Milk Solutions When Milk Prices Are High

The Moms First Segment, on our local CBS station, is now available for online viewing. I got a chance to chat about how to deal with the rising costs of milk. These suggestions come from our new article, "Milking the Milk Budget."

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Day 2: Take Your Own Pictures

This is the second day in my Month of Savings and today I wanted to share with you another excellent way to save your family money.

You might not be getting professional pictures every single month, but I bet you do get them on occasion. I am often surprised by the amounts that people spend on pictures of their children, especially in the day and age of digital photography. I am certainly not knocking the experience of a quality picture and I love to have a couple of these of our children, but I have found that I enjoy the pictures that I take of my children more than the ones that I have had professionally done. You could say that this is partly because I went to a department store versus a private studio, but regardless, it was an expensive process for our family.

The one thing that I found happening, particularly when my children were really little, was that it was hard to find an appointment time that would work with the times that they were the most happy. I would try and schedule it around naps, but it never failed that they would end up napping early/late, that someone got sick, that someone was cranky- you get the picture!

When my daughter was born, I now had two children to work around and I decided that it would be much simpler if I could begin taking my own pictures. I won't say that this wasn't just as time consuming, but the experience was entirely different for me.

I would choose the times that my child was most happy (usually when they first woke up) and I would capture these glorious moments that would have been missed if I would have relied on taking them to a studio.

I have a picture of my daughter discovering her toes, a picture of my little boy with his first morning smile, and my daughter with her crazy bed-head curls in her sweet pajamas. I have a picture of my son eating his first leaf and a picture of my daughter splashing her heart out in the bathtub. Those are the moments that I really want to remember, not a perfectly posed child on a pristine white background.

These are some of the useful tools and sites that I have found to help me create great pictures of my kids:

Picasa- This is a great free program from Google that can help you edit your pictures. The software locates all of the pictures on your computer and has simple editing tools that you can use to take out red eye, crop photos, and apply any special effects (black and white, glow, sepia, etc..). This program is amazing and has helped save many of my photos that I thought could never be printed. You can lighten the photos and adjust the colors to make those dark photos viewable. This is a great program for the beginner and I find it much easier than many of the complicated and expensive software programs on the market.

Digital Photography School- I adore this website because you can get schooled on how to take great photos, without paying any tuition! They offer loads of tutorials on how to take great pictures and explain concepts in a way that even a novice could understand. Be sure to visit their how to photograph a child's birthday tutorial and the ten questions to ask when taking a picture. This website is a wealth of information and everything you ever wanted to know about taking good pictures is right there.

Snapfish- Offers 30 free prints and free shipping using the coupon code SNAPYFRSH07. You can not only save money by not going to the pros, you can also save money on the printing process.

Photoworks- Photoworks customers can get 25 free prints on their first order (using the provided link).

Most importantly, don't forget to read your manual. The manual will offer all of the tips and tricks you need for operating your own camera and will help you choose the right settings for any situation.

If you need further help, visit your local library and check out some books on photography. You can read through tutorials or just look through pictures that the professional photographers have taken. Looking through books like these might give you some new ideas for pictures to try with your own child.

Potential Savings= $20 or more

Related Readings:

What to Get the Person Who Has Everything
Philips Digital Picture Frame
Adobe Photoshop & Premiere Elements
10 Easy Steps to Great Kids Party Pictures

Sound Off: Do you do professional photos or are you the professional in your house? What is your favorite picture of your child?

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Day 1: Ask for Your Discounts

Welcome to the first day of our Month of Savings. I hope that you will benefit from some of these ideas and that you will be able to implement some new ones in your home.

When my husband and I were first married, I really didn't understand the concept of money. To me, it was just paper that floated in and out of my life, but I didn't appreciate the value of a dollar. We had jobs that paid well, rented an apartment, and we had no children. I had never really thought about how much money we could be saving if I was smarter with the money coming in.

When we moved to the East coast, we found a wonderful congregation to worship in. Unfortunately, there were very few couples our age. When a new young couple joined our church, we were so excited to have another couple to hang out with. We went out to dinner one night with them and they invited us to a local amusement park. We were, of course, interested so we made plans to go the following Saturday.

When we walked up to the booth, to pay for our tickets, the guy that we came with whipped out his wallet. He said a magical phrase that I have never forgot... "How do I get a discount admission?" He proceeded to take out every single card, credit card, and piece of identification he had and was able to score a military discount with one of the cards in his wallet.

Inspired by his demonstration, I walked up and said, "I would like a discount too!" I took out all of our cards and was able to get a discount with our AAA membership.

The moral of the story is that it never hurts to ask for a discount because you might be surprised by the answer. You can extend this further and ask if they are running any promotions or sales. Finally, make sure to ask if they have a mailing list for coupons and future discounts. I have joined many mailing lists, for companies that I frequently shop, and have been able to save a lot of money just by signing up for a mailing list.

Don't be afraid to disclose information about yourself, if it will help you score that discount. Do you volunteer for an organization? Do you do community service? Disclosing information like this can also lead to discount savings.

In the case of the AAA membership, they have over 147 nationwide listings for savings. Here is an example of some of their best discounts:

Geek Squad: At Geek Squad, AAA Members save 20 percent off in-home service for the following services regardless of where you purchased your computer when you show your membership card: Wireless networking installation, Software installation, Data transfer or data backup, Advanced computer diagnostic with repair, Internet service provider (ISP).

LensCrafters: At LensCrafters, AAA Members save when you show your membership card. Save up to 30 percent off a Comprehensive Eye Exam and/or glasses, sunglasses and eyewear accessories. Save 15 percent off partial eyewear purchases. AAA Members save 10 percent off items for the entire family — items for the home, furniture, toys, sporting goods, designer-name merchandise and gifts.

Potential Savings: My approximate savings for every time I have asked for a discount is around $10 or more. It just takes one question to get the ball rolling on the ways you can be saving with a company. Don't be shy- ASK!

Sound Off: What discounts have you gotten just by asking for them?

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