Friday, September 28, 2007

Day 30: Life's Great Lessons

This is the last day in our series and I admit it took much longer than I had ever anticipated. I share daily ways to save money, but to sit down and really contemplate thirty really good ways to save money...well, that proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought. I think I will stick with my quick tips and quips that I normally share. I hope that someone can walk away with one thing that will help their family in the future. That was my goal and intention with doing the series.

Today I just wanted to end the series by saying how important it is to me that I live within my means. There are many simple things that we have chosen to do to reach our financial goals in life...
  • We make a conscious choice to be smart consumers and chose to buy used items rather than new, to help minimize our costs. There are times where a new item might be appropriate (underwear does come to mind!), but in most cases buying a used item is a better financial choice for us. You can do this through thrift & yard sales, consignment shops, auction sites, or through the classified advertisements. Used is better for the environment and I find it a great thrill and privilege to hunt through the junk to find those precious items.
  • We chose to be wise consumers and research big ticket items before purchasing them. I would never run out and buy a television without good research and I would never just take a salesperson's word for what is the best value for my money. I can justify the purchase of my Consumer Reports annual membership because I use this often to base my decisions on making a good purchase. I also frequently check sites like Amazon or Epinions to get the scoop from customers on how they like items. We cannot afford trial and error in our house so we try and pick things that we know will do well and last a long time.
  • We chose to surround ourselves with like-minded people. Maybe this shows signs of weakness or that I am just a newbie in the world of saving money, but I find myself feeling more confident in myself and my choices when I am around people who feel the same way. When I am around people who put more value into their possessions and the material things, I find myself redirecting my focus in that direction. I hope someday to be the type of person that is unfazed by these people, but for now I enjoy being with people who have similar financial goals and think of material things as secondary to everything else.
  • We are choosing to work towards a goal of a debt-free life. I have very specific goals in mind for our family. I have written these goals down on paper and I reread these goals often. I want to own both of my cars. I want to own my house. I want to pay off my credit card. I want to be free of student loan debt. I say these things to myself often and focus my energy towards making these goals a reality. Our goal is to have this done in six years. Six years of careful discipline and determination- what is your goal?
  • We chose creative ways that we can achieve the things we want in life. For example, bartering for goods & services instead of paying for them. I might make someone a fabulous dinner or babysit for them if they help me with A, B, or C. These exchanges are more creative than opening up my wallet and save us a lot of money. I also try to be creative by learning to make things myself, thrifting for gift items, and constantly researching ways I can be more creative with our money.
  • We chose to enjoy the good things in life, not to live a life of sacrifice and grumbling. I love good things- good coffee, an amazing dinner, a well-decorated room. I love all of these things, but I love to enjoy these things without the debt. I do what any smart frugal gal should do- I search on the internet for that perfect coffee recipe, I teach myself to cook, I look for inspiration in the magazines and find these decorative items in the thrift store. Enjoy that fine living, but do it in a way that can make you & your family proud.

We recognize that we have made bad financial choices, but we also know that some of those choices have lead to other great and wise choices later in life. I admit that there have been times where I have made stupid choices and I suffered from them. I also admit that if I had never made a bad choice in my life that I wouldn't be human and I wouldn't be able to have those experiences to draw from. I can nod my head and say, "Yes, yes, I know!" because I really do. I didn't just read about it in a book- I am living it!

Here are all of the days that we discussed- just in case you happened to miss one!

Ask for Your Discounts

Take Your Own Pictures

Pay Your Bills Online

Use Your Phone as a Money-Saving Tool

Use eBay & Save

Take Advantage of Rebates

Brown Bag Your Way To Savings

Open Your Own Beauty Shop

Lower Your House Payment

Car Repair on a Budget

Creative Gym Membership Alternatives

Social Obligations on a Budget

Get Your Java Fix

Creative Toy Replacements

Keep Your Bills in Check

Bulk It Up

Find an Inexpensive Hobby

Get Yourself Organized

Curb Your Weekend Spending

Create Your Own Secret Emergency Account

Don't Buy Stuff You Can't Afford

Just Ask

Become a Coupon Queen (or Not)!

Schedule a Day in the Kitchen

Extending it Further

Save on Clothing

Get to Know Your Freezer

Get Rewarded for Your Shopping

Sound Off: What was your favorite day in our Month of Savings?



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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Day 29: Get Rewarded For Your Shopping

I love shopper rewards, but not the kind that require me to take out a credit card. Yes, I know there are tons of personal finance gurus that would disagree with me on this, but I do not feel comfortable using a credit card. Call it lack of discipline, call it sheer fear...heck, you could call it pure laziness, but I am trying to avoid using credit cards for any reason.

No, the rewards that I like come from shopping that I am already doing. You can find great shopper rewards from places you are probably already visiting- your grocery store, the gas station, or doing your online shopping for the holiday season.

As someone who is frugal, I tend to overlook signs that advertise reward cards because I automatically associate them with credit cards. For example, our local Speedway had advertisements that were hanging over their pumps, advertising gas savings and I immediately got that glazed over look and would ignore them. There was no way I would sign up for a gas card, nope, not me!

Fast forward to a day trip with my sister and she whips out her Speedy Rewards Card, which credits her three cents per gallon and then gives her an additional savings on other items in their store. She explained that you could get points for buying your gas there and then you could credit those towards gift cards. This was an opportunity that I would have lost out on if she had not explained that this was not a credit card, but just a reward card. Now I happily swipe my free card and get my three cents back on each gallon. Yes, it is a drop in the bucket, but why not take advantage of it? Many of my frugal endeavors might only save me pennies, but pennies do eventually add up to dollars, and I am looking forward to putting some of that money in my secret account.

There are also rewards at grocery stores. Many grocery stores offer gas savings or savings on your groceries, just for using their free card. There could also be rewards available for your child's school, as many grocery stores offer a percentage back on your spending for non-profit organizations and schools.

Finally, there are great rewards programs for doing your online shopping. I have always been a fan of MyPoints because I could do my shopping and use my points on gift cards for myself. I also love Ebates and enjoy getting my big fat check every now and then. I won't go into detail, but these are two shopper programs that have some great benefits IF you are already planning to shop online, not shopping just to get points & rewards.

Since I often have that glazed over look when it comes to reward cards, what are some of the cards in your wallet that you find have been beneficial to your family? What rewards do you cash in on?

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day 28: Get To Know Your Freezer

Today I was working on some items to put in my freezer when I realized just what kind of savings a person could cash in on just by learning what they can freeze and how to store the items in their freezer.

Here is the view into our freezer in our refrigerator. We also have a small chest freezer in our basement, but it isn't as easy to view as the one upstairs.

What might one find in our freezer?

- Ice cube trays filled with ice to make our favorite Slushies and Magic Milkshake from Miss Maggie at Hillbilly Housewife. These make great frugal treats for the kids and save us a lot of money by not going to places like Dairy Queen in the summer.

- Coffee ice cubes to make my frozen coffee treats.

- Mashed bananas in measured containers for all of my baked goodies that might need this ingredient.

- Pizza sauce in measured containers for our Friday night pizza nights.

- Banana pops made to help the kids beat the summer heat.

- Lunch meat packets that I made for my husband's lunch and quick dinners using our panini maker.

- Self-Rising & Cake Flour- which I use less regularly, but wanted to keep the ingredients fresh and on hand when I needed them.

- Homemade soup

- Homemade waffles

- Items that I got on sale- hot dogs, shredded cheeses, butter, margarine

- Cupcakes

In our downstairs freezer you would find loaves of bread, meats purchased on sale, gallons of milk, and homemade spaghetti sauce. I also stockpile anything that I can when it is on sale

Your freezer can be your wallet's best friend if you use it. For example, when an item goes on sale and you want to stockpile that item, make some space in your freezer for the extras instead of letting them go bad in your fridge. You will have the item when you need it and you will pay a lot less money for those items.

Freezers can also be handy for bulk cooking and preparing meals in advance for your family. Prepare a meal that can be eaten by your entire family or prepare single serving dishes that can be eaten for just one. Veto the middle man and do your own freezer sessions in your kitchen and make dishes that can be eaten later. Dream Dinners even has a cookbook out that you can use to do your own freezer cooking. Check this book out from the library and see if you can come up with your own menu plans. You could start a group with girlfriends or trade meals with a buddy. (Note-This did not work for my picky family, but is great for families that are open to more types of foods).

Need help navigating the freezer? Here are some helpful resources for getting started:

Feed the Freezer Cooking Guide
Sneak Up on Freezer Cooking
Freezer FAQ
30 Day Gourmet
Recipezaar's Freezer Recipes

Books to Check Out:

Dream Dinners Cookbook
Frozen Assets
Super Suppers
Don't Panic- Dinners in the Freezer

Potential Monthly Savings- $30 or more

Sound Off: What could I find lurking your freezer? Is there anything that people might find unusual in your freezer?

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Day 27: Save on Clothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Monthly Savings: $30 or more

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

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Day 26: Extending It Further

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Monthly Savings: $10 or more

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

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Day 25: Schedule a Day in Your Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun Treats:

Chewy Granola Bars

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

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

Banana Crumb Muffins

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

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

Heavenly Banana Bread

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

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

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

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

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

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

Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

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

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

Cinnamon Bread Delight

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

1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 325. Grease 2 5x9 loaf pans. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, oil, applesauce, eggs and vanilla. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture until smooth. Sprinkle the bottoms of the pans with cinnamon sugar and divide the batter between the 2 pans.
Bake 1hr or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Potential Monthly Savings:
$30 or more

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

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Day 24: Become a Coupon Queen (or Not)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Monthly Savings: $10 or more

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

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

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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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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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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Friday, August 24, 2007

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

Potential Savings: Immeasurable!

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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

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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Monday, August 20, 2007

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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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

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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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

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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Monday, August 06, 2007

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

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

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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