Saturday, December 31, 2011

I feel the need...the need to read!

I absolutely love reading, it's one of my favorite things to do when I get a few minutes to myself (which isn't all that often with little ones!). Books are one of the few items I will continue to purchase if I find a good deal, no matter how many we already own. I believe we can never have enough and I would be perfectly content to cover our walls in bookshelves and live in a library. So when I saw the Livingsocial deal ($25 for $75 to spend at a local used book store) I didn't even hesitate. I headed out this morning for some much needed "me time" in search of this book store, but not sure what to expect.

Enter, The Book Dispensary-it was like the book-lover version of a visit to the spa! I spent over two hours browsing through the books and easily could have spent the entire day, the shelves just kept going and going and the store was much larger than it looked. James, the owner was so kind, helpful and even offered me bottled water-I can't remember the last time I had customer service like this! He even printed my voucher for me to use today since we have no means of printing at the moment due to our home computer dying this week. They also have a free "watch for paperbacks" service-if you can't find a title you're looking for just let them know and they'll keep an eye out. When it comes in they'll contact you and let you know!

In addition to the great deals I found today, I learned that The Book Dispensary will take any books you would like to bring in and give you store credit. For paperbacks you will get half of the list price, for hardbacks you will get half of the anticipated selling price (I believe they start at list price and then are discounted with colored stickers the longer they are there). Also, be sure to mention you are a new customer and you will receive a card good for a free book (up to $7.99 list value) EACH WEEK for the first four weeks after your visit! I have a bunch of books I'm ready to pass on but don't have the time to deal with selling online, this will make it so easy. Your credit can be applied towards half of your total, and if you buy paperbacks an additional 40% will come off after that.

Here is a picture of my treasures, I couldn't seem to fit them all into one picture so there is one in the bottom right hand corner that got cut off but you can get a good idea of what I found for the kids.


If you live in the Columbia area, The Book Dispensary is located only about a mile from the zoo at 710-C Gracern Rd. Store hours are 10-6, Monday-Saturday. If you'd like to grab the Livingsocial deal it is still available for 4 more days: http://share.livingsocial.com/deals/213836?rpi=42132548&ref=personalized-link-box-42132548&rui=3086852   (If you are outside the Columbia area, it's well worth your time to look for a used bookstore like this one, especially one that offers store credit for your books.)

Compared with shopping at one of the big chain book stores, you'll pay much less, get far better service and your money will go to a worthy local small business-everyone wins! Does this count towards my New Years Resolution? ;-)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Years Resolutions

I have been pondering my New Years Resolution for 2012 several months now. Obviously, I would love for my health to get better so I can get back to blogging regularly and a "normal" schedule again, but at this point I don't have much control over that. I have decided instead to keep it simple, attainable and something that will make my family's life and hopefully some of the world a tiny bit better, here is my goal:

To be a better steward of our money.

That might sound strange since you know I already coupon, yard sale and buy everything on sale, you could be thinking "what else can she be doing???" After considering the economy (it's not getting better anytime soon), the companies our money is going to, and the economic situation of people worldwide, I came up with three parts to my resolution.

1. Get back on the coupon train. No huge revelations here, I've been very lazy about getting to the drug stores, using coupons regularly at the grocery store and relying on my stockpile the last few months. The result is I haven't saved us as much money and I haven't had as many items to donate. This is a priority and I will find the time to do it each week.

2. Purchase from brands and companies that are making responsible choices, helping others and taking care of their employees. Bonus points if they donate their profits to charity (Newman's Own). A good conversation with my sister in law over the holidays drew the question, are we really being good stewards of our money if we support companies that run sweatshops? The second part of this is to buy local when I can--produce, meat, small businesses, etc. These are all things I've done on a small scale for years but have not been diligent about.

3. Give, give and give some more. I will confess, I've been pretty grumpy about our ugly linoleum kitchen floor and mismatched downstairs flooring lately, among many other things I would like to update. I see friends with brand new houses and shiny pretty things and I want them too. Then I met a recently homeless family with two kids living in a 12' X 12' apartment with roaches and not enough food to eat even though the father has worked every single day for almost two months (including Christmas) and it brings me to my knees in thanks for all of the blessings we have. It also makes me think about how we normally give. We take care of our needs and make sure we're comfortable, then we give. This year we're going to be a tad less comfortable (cancel cable, turn the thermostat down a little and put on an extra layer, give up eating out and only cook at home, etc) and hopefully we'll be able to pass on the blessings that have been given to us to people in need both locally and internationally.

Do me a favor the next time you see me and ask how my resolution is going. I need and want to be held accountable for this one, especially since we decided when I became a stay at home mom that Chris's job is to make the money and my job is to make the money go as far as possible. I now realize our spending is not independent and it needs to go "as far as possible" for the rest of the world too, my financial choices have an effect on others-how did it take me 31 years to learn this?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

MYTH: I'm too broke to go on vacation!

My husband and I both love to travel, and who doesn't love to go on vacation? When I have time to search for deals and use sites like http://www.vrbo.com/ and http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/ I can score quite a deal! But this is a rough economy, and what do you do if it's just not in the budget?

Been there. During my husband's layoff we were obviously stressed out in financial ways we had never been before, but we finally had the time to take a trip together--my husband hadn't taken any vacation time at his previous job. How do you go on vacation without any money at all??? My husband thought I was crazy, he thought it would never happen--but where there's a will, there's a way! I hopped on vrbo.com and emailed a bunch of house owners explaining our situation and asking if we could trade a week at their house/condo for something in return. That summer not only did we get to go to the beach, we spent THREE WEEKS at the beach! We painted the interior of one condo in exchange for staying there, we painted the deck and outside stairs as well as did a little landscaping for a house on Harbor Island in exchange for staying there (the owner liked it so much she asked us to come back and do more work sometime!) and my personal favorite-we traded a guided turkey hunt with my husband for a week long stay at the owner's condo, also on Harbor Island. This last family was very excited to do something like this that was new to them, my husband got to go hunting for three days and we got a free week vacation-how is that for win-win-win?? All of the rentals had full kitchens so we were able to shop ahead (with coupons of course) and cook for ourselves. Since there is so much do at the beach, we didn't spend any money and we still had some great memories and got some great pictures. They all had internet access as well, so he was able to apply for jobs and continue the search remotely.

Then there is the time we wanted to do a women's retreat at church. I emailed some houses on Fraser Island (super nice but very expensive) and just explained who we were and what we were looking to do and asked what their rates were. Most people gave us the standard rate or a small discount, but one very generous couple offered us their gorgeous 5 bedroom house that rents for $5,000/week for free as long as we paid the island fee that's required (it was extremely small, I can't remember how much). Then the sweet owners sent us flowers while we were there, and this year invited us back again for free!

As many of you know, my husband and I just went to the Dominican Republic to celebrate our 5th anniversary. We've been planning on going on this trip since I found I was pregnant with our first child four years ago, and so we started saving our sky miles, which we used to get the flights. We bought a pop-up camper last spring in the hopes of taking camping trips with the kids but they just didn't sleep well in it. Since we got such a great deal on it, we were able to resell it for $900 more than we paid! We used that to pay for our hotel which was all-inclusive. Then we used our birthday money (both of our birthdays were the week before our trip) to pay for our activities while we were there. And just like that...not a "free" trip, but also not effecting our budget at all!

Now we want to take the kids to the beach next spring, but I will admit I'm a total snob when it comes to beach trips. I will pay more to not have to deal with Myrtle Beach or Florida. The crowds, noise, dirtiness, craziness, it's just not for me. But our favorite beach (Harbor Island) is still quite expensive, so what did I do? I emailed the owners of course! This time I asked if we could get a lower rate if we book an entire month and share the three other weeks with other families. Of course some people still had rates of $3,000/week, I just ignored those. But, I did get several decent offers and the one we decided to go with is just the sweetest family in GA that is letting us rent a 3 bedroom house for only $700/week! That's less than the 1 bedroom condos rent for! (By the way, let me know if you're interested the weeks are first come first served)

It can be done, I encourage you to be creative and see what you can do! I've had several owners tell me that they'd never had anyone make an offer like that before, they thought it was so unique! Maybe you can trade houses with another family or rent out one of your cars for a few weeks to pay for it, you'll think of something if you really want a vacation!

Don't forget to share your creative ideas with me, I could always use some more...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Upromise Update


A while back I did a post about the advantages of having a Upromise account--it's a free way to earn money for college or to pay off student loans. I recently signed into my account to request my credit to use towards our student loan bills, and I fully expected to jump through a dozen hoops in order to do so. In the process, I learned that you also have the option of requesting a check in your name for the full amount, to be used as you choose. It took me about 30 seconds to request my check for....drumroll please...$400! Now that I know this, I will definitely be using their site to make regular purchases online instead of in-store as long as it's the same price (ie: Bed Bath & Beyond was doing a 10% credit last week with Upromise at the same time that I purchased something in the store. If I had known, I would have bought it online and added a few more dollars to my account as well as saved myself a trip with the kids). If you're saving for a college fund, don't forget to have your relatives add their frequent shopper card numbers to your account. It doesn't cost them a thing, takes very little time, and will really add up over the years.

*Be aware that checks are only mailed four times a year. The next group to be mailed out is mid-September, so if you'd like to get your credit, you should wait until late August to request your check.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Best Dollar I Ever Spent

I know it can be inconvenient and time consuming, and this past weekend HOT, but it really is worth your time to follow those yard sales signs when you see them. We stopped at three yard sales on our way to Lowe's last weekend and scored some great items! For $20 I filled the trunk of my car with a large wooden toy chest/window seat for my daughter's room, 65 books (children's, educational and adult), a winter coat for my niece, a dress for myself, 3 educational computer games for preschoolers, two pair of rain boots that both kids will be able to wear, winter boots for myself, two purses/handbags, and a stainless steel thermos as well as a few other odds and ends. So here is a picture of the best dollar I've ever spent, each item was 25 cents--note the rain boots have tread that is in excellent condition!



All without any negotiation! I refuse to offer less for a fair price, and these prices were more than fair. To make the most of yard sales you really need to take your time and look through everything. I almost left the best sale without buying anything because the driveway was full of junk, but the garage was full of treasures so it's a good thing I didn't!

*Disclaimer: I cannot remember if this is the best dollar I've ever spent, but it is definitely in the top five!



Friday, June 17, 2011

Organize Thyself

Running a household and raising children, especially while saving money, is several full-time jobs, so why haven't I approached it the same way I would my professional career? When I started this "job" no one handed me a job description with a schedule, expectations and goals. Between having no structure, very young children causing chaos on a daily basis and virtually no sleep, I've spent the past three years in damage-control mode. Just stay one step ahead, or in most cases one step behind-cleaning up whatever the current demolition-of-the-moment happened to be. It drove me crazy to be so unorganized, with appointments and important notes written all over the place, and usually lost, plus I needed some direction. Thus, the binder was born.




I have created a binder with ten sections to organize everything from weekly meal plans to our short and long term goals and it's all in one place! It turns out many moms have been using this strategy (who knew?) and have found it very useful for keeping track of tons of information while also keeping your family on track in the big-picture scheme of things.

You may need completely different topics, but to give you an example of my own:

1. Goals (both short term-2011 and long term as well as goals for what I want to teach my kids)

2. Parenting (where I put useful tidbits or notes from parenting books so I'm sure not to lose them)

3. To Do Lists (both small and large projects)

4. Meal Plans (I'm working on creating 6-8 weekly meal plans with ingredient lists and just rotating the weeks, I also include recipes torn out of magazines that I would like to try out in this section)

5. Education (notes and reminders about good books, learning strategies, schools, etc. for my children)

6. Gardening (notes about which plants did well from seeds and which did better started as plants, which foods we liked and which we didn't, and sketches of our garden and which foods were planted in which beds--this section will be a life saver to reference next summer)

7. Calendar

8. Blog (write notes about ideas for this blog when I think of them before I can forget)

9. Contact Info & Resources (everything from doctor's and baby sitter's info to recipes for making natural cleaners at home)

10.  Hubby (notes of good date ideas, vacation plans and gift ideas--I put this section last hoping my husband wouldn't see it and try to find out what he's getting for his next birthday/Christmas!)

Here's a great blog that has a free downloadable template for creating your own binder. I particularly love the inspirational quotes she includes! http://moneysavingmom.com/2011/06/free-2011-home-and-life-management-planner.html

Don't forget to take a few minutes to make your binder cute, it's totally worth it!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Motivation

Today's post will hopefully be motivating for those of you still hesitating to hop on the coupon train. Yesterday I found some CVS Extrabucks (money to spend at CVS printed at the bottom of your receipt) that were due to expire today, but I wasn't about to let them go to waste! I hopped on Southern Savers and saw that Jenny described this week's CVS ad as disappointing, and she was right it was definitely as "bad" as it gets. I spent five minutes making my list and another five minutes looking through my coupons. In the end, we left CVS with this in our bag...


and paid only $0.80 while saving $50.70! And that was with only one coupon! I'm psyched about the digital ear thermometer!

I've included a picture of my receipt below so you can see how I did it. The very bottom numbers circled are my year to date savings and spending. So far this year I've spent $62.85 (actually it's less since I had a few rebates) and SAVED $415.18!!!



PS-For anyone who just started following my blog, I'm not an extreme couponer, I refer to myself as a lazy couponer. I don't spend hours clipping and organizing coupons because I don't have time. So when I say it took me ten minutes to save $50, I mean it! (If you want to know how, please refer back to my January posts on the couponing steps)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Our Medicine Cabinet Is Like A Bus Station

Medicine can be so expensive, and while I love getting over-the-counter medicines for free (or close to free) with coupons, I don't love how they expire so soon, usually right when I need them. It seems like as soon as I unload a new bag of medicines, the old ones are expired. Did you know that 90% of OTC medicines are still effective after 15 years? No, I won't be hanging onto my Tylenol that long, but I also won't toss it out as soon as the "expiration date" passes, turning my medicine cabinet into a virtual bus station. Here's a great article in the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide that explains it well and should save you some money in the long run.

http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update1103a.shtml

Monday, May 9, 2011

Save the Cookies!

I learned this one from my mother, so a day late but in honor of Mother's Day, here it is. If your cookies (or other baked goods) are getting too hard just add a slice of bread to the container and they will soften in no time. This also works well if you're shipping cookies, just lay a slice of bread on top and tell the recipient to remove it when they arrive. It is just so wrong to throw cookies away, so please do your part and save the cookies.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What is this Swagbucks thing???

Several people have asked recently so hopefully this will answer any questions you may have. Swagbucks is a site that pays you to use their search engine when you're looking for information by giving you points. You can redeem the points for tons of prizes, everything from gift cards to sweepstakes entries. I'm an Amazon junkie so I save my points for their gift cards, 450 points = $5!


You can earn points twice a day, it usually takes 2-3 searches before a window pops up and says "You've Won 8 Swagbucks" or however many you're won--it's randomly chosen. The good news is that every Friday is double points day, I had one Friday where a search won me 50 points! The points are automatically added to your total and you can redeem whenever you like. If you tell someone about Swagbucks and they sign up through your link, you will also earn any points they do so it can really add up quickly! So let's say you're winning an average of 15 pts/day six day a week, and 20 points on Friday, that adds up to 110 points a week just for searching for info, and if you spread the word you can earn even more! So please follow my link so you can get some awesome prizes too!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Baby Steps

Often when we think about saving money big purchases come to mind: new cars, houses, vacations, etc. but there's a lot to be said for saving money on small items. I recently found this handsoap at the dollar store, it smells great and is twice the size of the Softsoap bottles I used to purchase for $1.50. We go through a lot of soap around here, especially now that I'm working at home, about two small bottles or one this size every week. Each of these bottles saves me $2 compared to what I was previously paying, and when you multiply that by 52 weeks a year we're saving $104 each year just on soap! The added bonus, no coupons and I don't have to wait for it to go on sale. So let's say you make ten similar changes in your purchasing habits, you've just saved your family $1,000 a year!!!




Do I prefer Bath & Body Works foaming soaps in all the best fragrances? Of course. Would I trade being there during my kids' childhood to get them? Not on your life!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Don't Underestimate The Coin Jar

With the price of everything going up, it seems like coins aren't worth our time anymore. Not to mention many people use plastic and rarely pay with cash. But it is still surprising how much those coins can add up to over the course of a year, and keeping them all in one spot really isn't that much work.


I keep meaning to start saving for a specific purchase, and I have finally done just that-books! Books are the one thing I will always continue to buy more of no matter how many we own. Our county holds an annual book sale where prices range from $0.10 - $1.00 per book, but most are $0.25. I looked forward to it all year and spent a full two hours selecting new books (new to me) yesterday, what a treat! I was excited to find history and atlas reference books with price tags of $80+ for only $1, these will be perfect for when our kids start school! After loading three large boxes with over 60 books, my grand total was only $30!!! Sure we can find $30 in our budget and it's not going to break the bank, but now I'll look at those quarters so differently and be more vigilant about getting them to the coin jar--after all each one is a new book and learning opportunity for me and my kids!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Working on the Weekend is a No-No

Everyone knows that a mom's job never ends, you're working 24/7  365 days a year. What's a girl to do when we never get a day off? I've now declared myself your boss and I'm instructing you to take the weekend off, every weekend in fact, so go let your family know. Did they panic? They'll get over it. Don't take me too literally, your kids still need to eat and your husband will still need help finding his socks/wallet/phone/keys/etc. but we can make a few changes to get the most relaxation and enjoyment out of our weekend.

Friday and Monday are my two big cleaning days. Friday I try to get the house as clean as possible before we destroy it on Saturday, and Monday is spent figuring out how we ended up with golf balls in our bath tub and keys in the bottom of the cereal box (literally). I do absolutely no cleaning, except for some dishes, on the weekend unless we are having guests over. Let it go, no one cares I promise you--least of all your other family members who would probably not even notice living in squalor everyday.  I also do very little cooking on the weekends, we prepare simple meals, order take out (Chinese lunch specials are usually a great price and are enough for 2 meals) or my husband will grill up some food for us. If you love to cook (or if your husband hates cooking), this could be a completely different decision for you. Maybe you hate yard work/gardening/house projects (I love them) and so you cut back there and work on those during the week while still cooking on the weekend. In that case, send the kids with their dad and put on some of your own music so it's a little more enjoyable than usual. Lastly, try to schedule a fun activity every weekend. This doesn't mean you have to make a big trip or spend a lot of money, just pick something that your family can enjoy together and you can look forward to all week.

Now get cleaning/cooking/planning today so you can sit on your butt tomorrow and enjoy the weekend as it was meant to be! You officially have my permission, and if your husband doesn't believe you don't worry he will forget all about it in a few minutes when he needs your help finding the remote.

PS-I should note that I have a wonderfully supportive husband who rarely asks where something is (he just waits for it to turn up at some point) and not only does he love cooking, he's much better at it than I am. It's usually the moms who feel they need to keep going on the weekends or it will all fall apart. Please give yourself permission to put your feet up and ignore the laundry-it's not going anywhere, it never does...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Mommy Wars, No One Wins

Parenting is full of personal choices. We set out to do the very best we can, and though we fall short sometimes, we are all doing what we believe is in the best interest of our children. If our kids were born with instruction manuals it would make things much easier, but that is not the case. All children and families are different, and so it is absurd to think the same thing will work for everyone.

Some women cannot or choose not to breastfeed, and there is nothing wrong with that. Some moms earn a paycheck, and some don't. Some moms have the patience of a saint, and some don't (me!). Some moms are tolerant of running, screaming craziness in their house and some need peace and quiet with complete order, and both are fine choices. Some moms clean once a day, some once a month. Some moms require their children to call adults ma'am and sir, some give chores, some serve only organic food, some co-sleep, some cry-it-out, some spank, some use time-outs, some have only one child, some have eight children, some have adopted children, some have special needs children, some send their kids to public school, some to preschool, some homeschool and some attend public school. The choices are endless.

I don't know where your identity lies, but I can tell you it's probably not in your role as a mother. My identity is based on being a child of God and having a relationship with Jesus. That is who I am and it should influence all the other areas and roles in my life, including how I view another mother's choices-no matter how different they are from my own.

We have to stop running the mommy race and realize that we're in this together instead of in competition. We need to support each other and respect the decisions we have all made. I have never met a mom who wanted anything less than the best for her kids and I'm lucky to have learned every bit of valuable knowledge I have from my mommy friends. You are all doing a fabulous job! Give yourself and everyone else a break, after all there isn't a trophy for the winner (or chocolate).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Less Is More

A few months ago, I attacked our house with the vigor of a pregnant woman nesting (although I am not pregnant!) and started purging out our extra "stuff". Garbage bags full of clothes, books, baby items and kitchen gadgets I never used all got the marching orders to leave. When I was finally finished I looked around and felt great...for about five seconds. Then I realized how much MORE I still need to get rid of.

In most houses the 20/80 rule applies, you use 20% of your stuff 80% of the time. I always realize this when we go on vacation and are able live with a suitcase full of items. Do I really want that item I still use once a year, and feel that I "need", taking up space in our house and lives? Not really. We have plenty of garage storage for the holiday items that can be packed up and brought out at the right times, but we're low on inside storage space-so I've decided unless I use it at least once a month, it's out.

My plan is to first give away the items I know friends can use, then sell what I can on craigslist and hold a garage sale. Whatever remains will then be donated  to our church, the pregnancy crisis center or a family in need. In the past I have dropped car loads off at Goodwill, and while I do think it's a good organization, I don't like that they charge people $5 for a shirt. A ridiculous amount for someone who is in need, I would much rather give it away.


So I am issuing a "Take the Weight Off" challenge for all of my readers, not only will you feel fantastic after emptying your house and simplifying your life, you will likely help out many people with things you don't even "need".

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dollar Store Deals

Dollar Stores can be hit or miss, sometimes it's all junk and sometimes it's full of treasures. Here are some recent good buys I've found:

*Puzzles
*Wrapping paper
*Gift bags
*Tissue paper
*Large planting pots
*Rechargable solar garden lights
*Cutting board mats
*Greeting cards 2/$1
*Balloons (the mylar ones that are safer for children)
*Rubber hair bands (packs of 500, the kind kids can't pull out)
*Sargento cheese
*Pepperoni

For the most part the kids toys are cheaply made and won't last over time, but are a good option when you just need a few distractions like on a road trip. My son loves puzzles, but my daughter is always stealing (and chewing up) his pieces, so I buy a bunch since we go through about a puzzle a week. Our dollar store has a good-sized cold food section, almost all of it is name brand food. Stock up and freeze some for later!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Negotiate With Your Doctor

After hearing that I don't negotiate at yard sales, you're likely surprised already. I'm no expert on health care, but here are a few things I've learned over the past few years.

*Most bills are negotiable, especially if you are seeing a specialist or dealing with a hospital (for example, surgery or the ER). Just today I took my daughter to yet another ENT appointment, where at the end they asked if I would like to pay my balance. Thinking about our tax refund, I asked if we could pay it at our next appointment. She said sure, but if I would like to pay today she would take 20% off. No brainer. If you get a bill in the mail call and ask if you can get a discount for paying it faster, we got a pretty large discount by paying for my daughter's surgery right away instead of waiting until the bill was due.

*Save money on prescription medication by asking for generic substitutes when possible, and also asking for available discounts. You won't find too many discounts if you have a co-pay or if you are going to a chain pharmacy. When I was getting my daughter's acid reflux medication at a local pharmacy and it wasn't covered by our insurance, the $120/mo bill was not a fun one, all I did was ask if we had any other options and the woman said "sure how does $15/mo sound?". Again, no brainer.

*Shop drug stores for over the counter medication, and take advantage of sales combined with coupons and rebates. Honestly, I have an entire drug store of medication in our bathroom upstairs and have gotten it all for free. The best part is having the medicine on hand when you get sick, that's the last time you feel like running out to the store.

*If you need to see a doctor on the weekend and your physician isn't open, try a CVS clinic. We have been several times and were happy with the service. It was a $60 flat fee for us, you can get a prescription right there and the wait time is very short. This also works great for sports physicals and flu shots, but they do not see children under 18 months I believe.

*Transfer a prescription medication. Both Rite Aid and CVS offer $25 gift certificates if you transfer a prescription medication to their pharmacy (you can get up to 2, so $50 total). All you have to do is call and tell them where the prescription is currently located and they will take care of the rest. Look for the coupons in the Sunday ads for each store.

*Everyone knows this, but in case you don't Publix has free antibiotics. The pharmacy sometimes has a long wait, but if you have several sickies in your household, this one can add up quickly.

Have a tip to share? Please comment below!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I Don't Want to Give Until it Hurts, I Want to Give Until it Doesn't Hurt Anymore

Toddlers are selfish, they want it all, they want it now and they don't want to share. Teaching generosity is a wonderful thing to do for any family, but especially when you have the "extra" time as a stay at home mom. I wish I had started sooner, but it just never occurred to me that they would understand that concept at a young age. For everyday situations we expect our kids to share ALL of their toys with each other and with friends, the only item they don't have to share is their lovey but they are usually pretty good about comforting each other with them anyway. We also try to give one child the food/toys/items and tell them one is for them and the other is for their sibling. Even my 18 month old will carry two bowls of fruit and give one to her brother, which makes her feel very proud of herself and helpful. I'm a type A who likes to get things done, but I know that putting in the time now will pay off later, if only I could remember it more often!

My sister-in-law does a great job of consistently talking to her children about other peoples' needs, feelings and perspectives. Both of her children are very considerate of others and have positive attitudes, as well as are productive contributors even at their young ages of three and five. I like to think about them when I'm wanting to hurry up and take the short cut.

Our kids have an insane amount of toys and books, maybe not compared to some children but definitely relative to most kids in the world. There is no way they can play with them all everyday or even every week, and instead of storing the toys in cycles and bringing in some at a time, we have decided we'd like our kids to learn to share them by giving them away. Now each week when we go to church we pick out a toy or book to bring and donate to the nursery for all the kids to enjoy. When we first brought this up with our son he was distraught and crying, which actually made me realize even more that we needed to do this. When the time came to pick a toy, I suggested one that he's a little old for now, but was a favorite when he was younger. I was nervous we'd have a complete meltdown at church, but he surprised us by carrying it inside and placing it down in the nursery where it was happily explored by the other children immediately. No tears, no fuss and on the way home we talked about how it feels good to give to others. So now our children are "tithing" too.

No matter what we say, our children will do what we do so it's important to model the behaviors we want to see in them (I should post that little statement all over my house-maybe it would prevent me from yelling). I do recommend selling items on craigslist or eBay when you are finished with them, but it is also great to give your stuff away. I know I would much rather give something to a friend than make a few dollars, and we have been the recipients of many friends' generosity--it's a wonderful feeling to give as well as receive! I think the important part is sharing with our children what we are doing, bring them along when you drop off a carload at the thrift store, let them put the money in the offering basket at church or talk about the organizations you are donating to and how that money will change peoples' lives.

You might be thinking you're just not in the position to give away much right now, it will happen later, but there are plenty of ways to get creative about giving. When we were going through a layoff and unemployment we donated our time each week to deliver lunches for a meals on wheels program in Atlanta with our son. We also organized a yard sale where all of the money was donated to Food For The Hungry to send vaccines and medical supplies overseas to third world countries. Since we didn't have much to sell, we got the word out to friends and neighbors and were given more than we could even fit! My husband and I talk about how even if we won the lottery we could never spend a lot of money on cars, clothes, etc. and I would still probably be clipping coupons! You can be thrifty and generous at the same time, in fact the more you save the more you'll have to give away!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yard Sales

When it comes to yard sales, it seems like people either love them or can't stand them. I definitely fall into the love category, and have found some great stuff this way. Saturday was my son's birthday and of course it was celebrated with a small mountain of presents, but wouldn't you know his favorite toy was the one I found for 25 cents at a yard sale on our way home from the zoo! My "loot" from Saturday included 4 toys/board games, 2 adorable girls aprons, a cute lamp for my daughter's room, 7-8 books and a lined curtain that completely blocks the sun-all for $3, what a way to start the season!

There are some great tips and articles out there for shopping yard sales if you've never done it, here are the top 10 things I've learned from experience and do (or will do this year):

1. GO EARLY! The really great items like tools and furniture are usually gone in the first hour. But don't show up before the sale is scheduled to start, nothing is more annoying as an owner than people who show up early while you're still setting up.

2. Clean out your car. You never know when you'll find that beautiful vintage dresser or road bike, so make sure you have the space to pick it up. Bring rope in case it's too big-or you will be like me the time I found a bike trailer and ended up strapping it to the roof of my car with jumper cables...true story.

3. Don't haggle with good prices. Actually I don't negotiate at all. There have been a few times I've really wanted something and thought they were asking way too much so I made an offer, but as a general rule I don't negotiate. It seems people either really over-value their stuff and I won't even bother, or they have great prices and it would be distasteful to haggle. Also, if I'm paying less than I think the items are worth, than I'm happy paying more for something I think would normally be "overpriced" since it all evens out.

4. Take a list. You never know what you'll find at a yard sale and if something is a great deal and you'll use it you should get it even if it isn't on your list. But having a list will help you know what to look for and keep you moving through the sales and getting in-and-out quickly.

5. Recruit others. If you have a big neighborhood sale where there will be more houses than you can reasonably hit alone (ahem, Lake Carolina this Saturday anyone?) then enlist the help of 3-4 other people. Each of you can put together a list of the top five items you are looking for and an estimate of what you'd like to spend (include a description if you are looking for a certain brand or model). Share the lists and have each person start in a different section of the neighborhood, then call each other if you find a possible winner. Meet up at the end and exchange items and $. This will save time as well as net you some goods that would have been taken in the early hours.

6. Don't feel guilty. When I first started yard saling, and sometimes I still do this, I would often come upon a sale that was at first sight either full of junk or just items that were not applicable to me. I wouldn't want to hurt the owner's feelings so I would linger and pretend to be interested or buy something I really didn't want. If it's hard for you to glance and walk away because you feel like it's rude, just say something like you're looking for baby clothes or tools or something else they obviously don't have-it's the wimpy way out but it's easier for me.

7. Bring lots of cash in small bills. Some people just aren't prepared with a lot of change, so it helps to have exact change on you or at least bills that are easy to break. Since you never know if you'll find one great item or fifty, it helps to carry a good amount. Nothing is worse than not bringing enough and having to run to an ATM, which I'm too lazy to do and would just skip it.

8. This tip was from my friend Vivien and I thought it was a great idea. If you know of a family or organization in need of items and you find a good deal, load up and donate them. If you mention to the owner that you will be donating the items they will probably offer you an even better deal.

9. Make a round two stop. This is a great tip from my sister-in-law, although I've always been too tired or burned out to try it. If you see some sales with lots of great items you would like, check back at the end of the sale and ask if they'll give you a discount on a bulk purchase. Most people donate whatever is left, so it's very likely they'll give you a great deal-I've even heard of people getting everything left for free since it would save the owners from having to drive it to the thrift store.

10. Pack a lunch. OK not really a lunch, but do bring a drink and snacks so you don't have to head home early because your tummy is rumbling. You will usually see kids selling snacks and drinks (and if you do please buy from at least one of them, it will be your kids one day) but in case you don't it's nice to have a back up.

Have any tips I've missed? Please share in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Online Shopping

Whew it's been a while, did you miss me? Why is it that all emergencies must happen at the same time and one right after another? Hopefully we are back to "normal" now...

Anyway, this will be a short one about online shopping. If you follow my blog, you are likely as addicted to online shopping as I am. There are some great daily deals websites (refer to my earlier post) and plenty of coupon codes and credits floating around to keep you busy and addicted. My favorite part of online shopping is having your purchases shipped to your door. Not only does this save me time, gas and the hassle of shopping with two toddlers, but I love looking forward to a package coming in the mail!

My belief is this: if I can find it online for the same price as the store (or less) AND we need it or will buying it anyway, then I get it online. Why drag the kids to the store if I don't need to? That means I've ordered things like toiletries, plants and even cereal online, weird I know. But it also means I try not to be swayed by the great deals for things I'll never use.

QUICK TIP: If you are about to place an order online, take a peek at www.retailmenot.com and check to see if there are any coupon codes out. I can't tell you how many times I've saved an extra $10 or got free shipping just because I took the extra 30 seconds to look. And of course don't forget to go through www.upromise.com to get money back for college savings!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Be Prepared

I am hesitant to write about being prepared for an emergency, since often when people do that they are presumed to be crazy bunker-building doomsdayers. Don't worry I'm not crazy, I just feel an enormous responsibility to be prepared to take care of my children during an emergency situation. If it were still just Chris and I, we wouldn't bother to buy so much as an extra bottle of water-if something happened, then we'd deal with it. But now that we have two children depending on us, I cannot begin to imagine the stress of wondering how we are going to get them clean water, food and medicine. A number of events could cause these problems, and it is not unrealistic to think we will encounter one of them at some point in our life. Just a few months ago we had a snow storm here in the south severe enough to shut down everything in our area for almost a week. And the grocery stores were sold out of bread before the storm even started, milk, meat and other items after. I called the store later in the week to make sure the shipment had come in before making the trek out for nothing. It hadn't arrived, so I skipped our weekly shopping trip and it hardly affected us at all. But for others who have a week's worth of food or less, I'm sure there was relief when the roads finally unfroze and the shelves were restocked.

The people of Japan are dealing with this situation at this very moment. The stores are out of food, the restaurants are closed and no one has any idea when more shipments will come in. The tragedy continues for the people lucky enough to survive the earthquake, tsunami and flooding.

So what does being prepared look like? That depends on the size and needs of your family. We need diapers, but not formula or baby food. We have well water, so we don't have to worry about problems with city water, but if we lose electricity then we also lose the use of our well. We don't live within walking distance to a single store, and only have a few neighbors, so I feel an extra responsibility to be prepared. We think nothing of having car insurance, health insurance and life insurance so it makes sense that being prepared is just another form of having insurance for the hopefully not but just in case.

Here are some questions to ask yourself: If you couldn't leave your house for two weeks, what would you need? What if you didn't have power? Would any family members need a prescription medicine? Do you have another method of cooking if your electricity goes out? Could you handle a minor medical emergency with both knowledge and supplies? Even something as simple as bringing down a child's fever? Do you have any pets to consider? Could anyone else (family, friends, elderly neighbors, etc.) need your help? What if you're out and not at home? What if your family is in separate places? What if you can't reach people by phone? What if you have to evacuate?

Best question of all: What harm does it do to be prepared just in case?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Greetings

As you know, at roughly $3-$4 a piece, buying a few birthday/wedding/baby shower/thank you/congratulations/etc. cards can add up quickly. For several years now I've been buying the large file boxes already full of cards for most occasions, and I love it! Not only does it save a lot of money over time (they usually come out to about $0.50/card), but it saves me so much time looking through cards in the store, which children tend not to be patient during-not to mention the trip out to go get the card.



My stash of cards was getting low, so I was pretty happy to find this cute box at Sam's Club. It was $15 for 30 cards, and I wasn't sure what to expect. Every single card looks as though it's handmade with unique detailing, so adorable! I will be getting another box for sure if they are still in stock the next time we go.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Mother's Happy Hour-Nap Time

This one won't save you money, but it might save your sanity. When I first became a stay at home mom, I spent my son's nap time getting as much housework done as I possibly could. I felt that clock ticking, and needed to hurry so that at the end of the day I could see some concrete evidence of my hard work. I also had the absurd idea that a stay at home mom should be able to do it all during the day-cleaning, cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, etc. After all, you do have 40 hours a week right? Oh how I laugh at my naivete, really I was clueless.

It took a couple of years, but I have now realized the power of a well-used nap time, and by well-used I mean not used at all. Taking some time to relax does a tremendous amount for making me a better mother. It gives me patience, more energy and increases my overall happiness. And everyone knows, if mama isn't happy then no one is happy. Now I will spend that time writing on this blog, reading, listening to music or sitting outside. Some days I even go so far as to unplug the phone, both to get some quiet time and to ensure it doesn't wake the kids early.

Whatever it is that helps you recharge, I encourage you to make time for that when/if you're able to get the kids to sleep. You may not have a sparkling house (who does with children anyway?) but I can promise you will have a happier family!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Save Money On Paint

As I start thinking about painting our house, I thought I would share an easy way to save money on paint. Most paint stores, and every Lowe's and Home Depot, have an area for "oops paint". When a customer orders a specific color and either changes their mind or never picks it up, the store will sell it for a deep discount to get rid of it. Yes, many of these colors are hideous, but many of them are nice too.
 

Generally the gallon size are $5 and pints are $1, but this can vary by store. This won't help when you're needing to paint a large area and need several cans, but we've found some great colors for bathrooms, closets, dressers and additional layers to our beehive. It's also a fun thing to check out each time we happen to be in Lowe's, you never know what you'll find!

Monday, February 28, 2011

"Driving" Me Crazy

Gas prices have been through the roof lately, and though I don't have an SUV or truck, my van still doesn't get mpg anywhere near the Honda Civic I had to sell when we had kids. It was a two door and I did my best to try and squeeze that infant car seat in, but it wasn't even close, way too small.

Another way to save money, just stop driving. Alright, not realistic when you're cooped up with toddlers and need to get out in the real world. But you can consolidate your trips and try to stay home one additional day each week. If you live within a few miles of your activities this may not be a big money-saver for you and thus not worth it, but for us this means saving $5-$8 on each trip we eliminate. By cutting back on one day each week, that will save us $250-$400 in a year! Not to mention the cost when we get there, whether it's shopping, a fun trip or lunch. The mileage I'm not putting on my car will save me at least one oil change. This can all add up quickly to saving us over $1,000 in a year!

When my kids were babies I wouldn't have considered this, I needed to get out for my sanity. But now that we're able to play games and do some arts and crafts at home, we still have a great time and I don't feel like I'm stuck in an endless cycle like the movie Groundhog Day. Here are some ideas for mixing it up when you don't leave the house:

  • Do a video call on skype with relatives
  • Get outside even if it's raining/snowing or go for a walk
  • Make a scavenger hunt for your kids, give them a basket with their list-if they can't read glue pictures of the items on a piece of paper (a great one to do outside!)
  • Bake something and let your child do as much as he/she can safely
  • Build a fort, you know you loved this when you were a kid!
As always, no money-saving idea applies to everyone, but I just try to implement the ones I can and I really can't argue with the results!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Baby Coupon Giveaway!

Congratulations Gary! Send me an email with your address to joeyderrick@gmail.com and I will get those coupons in the mail to you tomorrow!

I have $50 in baby coupons for one lucky reader--includes Similac (3 $5 off and 3 $3 off), Pampers, Luvs, Johnson & Johnson, Aveeno, Desitin, Dreft and Aquaphor. Just comment below and tell me your favorite place to find coupons and you'll be entered! One entry per person, open for 48 hours. Drawing will close and be held at 8:00 pm EST on Tuesday March 1st, and coupons will be mailed out to the winner on Wednesday.

Friday, February 25, 2011

March Madness

The past few weeks I've been overcome with a desire to tackle my house and get the spring cleaning done, you would almost think I was pregnant and nesting! No pregnancy this time, just a dirty house. I spend so much time in damage-control mode just trying to keep up with my children's daily tornadoes and washing dishes and clothing, that everything else get neglected...indefinitely. I would love to spend two days getting it all done and over with, but I know my children do not have the attention span to make that happen. So this year I'm declaring the month of March to be my spring cleaning month. I'll do a little bit each day, and by the end my house will be sparkling! Ok maybe not, it's more likely that it will just look normal, but I'll take normal!

This weekend I'll be working on my list of spring cleaning chores, as I'm type A and a huge fan of lists. I'm breaking down large tasks into smaller pieces (ie: wash the curtains in each room listed separately instead of "wash all the curtains") so that it isn't as overwhelming, since I often have 15 minutes here and there to work, but rarely hours in one block.

Here's an article I found helpful when thinking about what needs to get done:
http://lifestyle.msn.com/your-home/sponsored-gallery/staticslideshowcl.aspx?cp-documentid=27627697&GT1=32097

So that's my tip for the day- write it down, break it down and give yourself a time-frame. Please share some cleaning tips in the comments below! Mine will be this one stolen from my friend Emily's blog: the easiest way ever to clean a microwave is by taking a small bowl of water and adding a few lemon slices to it. Microwave at full power for 2 minutes and then let it sit in the microwave for 10 more minutes. It will wipe off so easily, virtually no work at all! If I don't have a lemon I add some lemon juice to the water and it works just as well. Here's Emily's great blog if you'd like to check it out: http://savvynest.blogspot.com/

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Start A Neighborhood Tools Co-op!

We've never owned a pressure washer, so when my mother offered to loan us hers I wasn't really sure what to do with it. She was so excited about what a great job it did cleaning her deck and she told me many many times, but I thought it was a lot of enthusiasm for something that is an appliance. Then I used it, and I love it! Yes my mother was right, but shhh don't tell her. The second hand outdoor toys and playhouse that looked pretty clean when we got them turned back to their original color, as did our deck. If it's outside and it's not alive, I've pressure washed it!


I started making a mental list of all the tools and outdoor equipment we still "need" since moving in our new home. I say "need" because while a gas-powered leaf blower is certainly not a necessity, it sure makes life easier than using a rake when you live on three acres! But these items add up to thousands of dollars quickly, and even purchasing one or two a year means it will take us close to another decade to acquire it all, not to mention replacing products as they break. We no longer live in an actual neighborhood, but we do have neighbors who have loaned us tillers and saws--and that has saved us from having to purchase now.

Why not start a tools and garden/lawn equipment co-op in your neighborhood? Ask around and see how many people on your street would be interested in sharing supplies, then make a list of what everyone has. If there are any items still missing each person can buy one, spreading the cost out. Make sure to clearly label all of your equipment with your name (and possibly address) so everyone knows where to return items, and make a policy of how long an item is loaned for so that it's available for the next person in a timely manner. What I really like about this idea is that it is naturally a community-builder, neighbors will get to know one another and also the needs of the families around them. You cannot go wrong by investing in your community, and I'm willing to bet that everyone will gain more than the money saved from purchasing tools.

*If you start one, please share about it in the comments or send an email!

Monday, February 21, 2011

So What Do You Do?

Oh how I dread the question, "so what do you do?" Of course when people ask this, they are not referring to your hobbies, volunteer work or the religion you practice. What you do and who you are in our society is usually defined by how you make money, and Americans for the most part don't like to hear that you're not making money.

I'm a straight shooter, so when I first became a stay at home mom, I answered this question confidently with "I'm a stay at home mom"-seems like the obvious answer. Apparently this sentence translates to "I have an IQ of 25", and people assume I must not have anything interesting to say and the conversation dies out before it even gets started. The defensiveness I felt led me to explain "I was a math teacher but I'm taking a few years off right now". Then I would be upset that I even felt defensive about it, and unless the person I was speaking with was another stay at home mom, I usually left the conversation feeling frustrated.

Then I started thinking, a doctor who is not practicing is still a doctor. A lawyer who is not working is still a lawyer. So I must still be a teacher. Now when I get the dreaded question, I've been saying "I'm a math teacher" and if the questioner asks where I teach, I politely explain that I've taken a few years off to be at home with my children. This answer tends to get a more positive response, as well as controls my urge to whip out a calculus problem to prove my brain is still fully intact and I didn't magically lose that college degree when my son was born.

Another stay at home mom, Sandra, quoted in the book The Stay At Home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton put it like this: "I always give it to them straight and say I'm a homemaker. I tend not to say I'm a lawyer or a cellist unless it comes up. I watch their reactions. It's no loss to me to not spend time with a person who's so stupid as to actually think that because someone cares for the most important asset society has, she has nothing to offer the conversation." Yes a little more blunt than necessary, but true.

On the flip side, I know plenty of employed mothers who feel the need to defend why they are working, especially in the vicinity of stay at home moms, and so I try to go out of my way to show my support and encouragement for them as well. While staying at home with my kids does not make me any less intelligent, working outside of the home does not make another mom any less of a mother for her kids and her family.

Interestingly, I've noticed it's almost always women judging other women based on career choices. I guess we'll know gender equality is finally here when a woman can make any choice she desires for her life without criticism and judgement-especially from other women...

Book Giveaway!

Thanks everyone for sharing your great ideas! Tonight's winner is Kris! Please send me your full name and address at joeyderrick@gmail.com and I'll get the book in the mail to you right away.

I hope you had some time to discuss your money-saving goals over the weekend! Ours is to double the amount in our savings account by June 1st. Share your goal below in the comments and be entered to win a copy of Penny Saving Household Helper: 500 Little Ways to Save Big by Rebecca DiLiberto.

One entry per person, if you comment as anonymous be sure to write your first name somewhere in your comment and check back to see if you won. Giveaway closes tomorrow at 8:00 PM EST.

Friday, February 18, 2011

You Can't Score If You Don't Have A Goal...

Something quick but important to think about and discuss with your spouse this weekend: what are your financial goals? It's easy to think in terms of general goals like saving for retirement and college. The drawback is that when your goals are broad, you don't know what you're aiming for and don't pay as much attention to the timeline.
Do you need to pay off a credit card? Build an emergency savings account? Open a college savings account for your children? Lower your grocery bill? Contribute more to your 401k?

My tip for you this weekend is to discuss your goals in more detail, and choose one goal by Sunday night. Write it down, make it as specific as possible and don't forget to include a deadline, then post it somewhere you'll both see it daily.

**Monday morning I will be asking what your goal is, and those who post an answer will be entered to win a surprise giveaway!**

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Couponing Step #4-Rite Aid!

It's time to start talking about how to save money on your toiletries and medicines, and the secret is to shop at drug stores! Really, unless you have a medical condition and need a special brand, you should never pay for toothpaste again! Before I knew this, I only went in a drug store if it was an "emergency" since overall their prices are higher than Walmart or a grocery store, but if you go regularly you can buy almost everything for rock-bottom prices or even free. Rite Aid is my favorite one, so I will start there. You can use the same system of matching coupons with sales, and if you use southernsavers Jenny also lists possible scenarios at the bottom to get you started. She tells you exactly what to buy and which coupons to use, very helpful when you're first learning.


First you will need to get Rite Aid's frequent shopper card and scan it every time you go. You accumulate points based on how much you spend, and once you have 500 points you will get 10% off everything in the store that is not already on sale. By December I had accumulated enough points (1,000) to move to the 20% off discount, where I will remain. So now I purchase all of our diapers at Rite Aid (with two kids in diapers, we go through a lot!). A large box is normally $20, so with my discount I pay $16, then after coupons I usually pay around $13-14/box.

Next, you will want to go to Rite Aid's website, http://www.riteaid.com/ , and register for their online rebates. Scroll down the page until you see "Single Check Rebates" in the middle and click on it. They have done all the work for you, and so when you see rebates for items you will never have to mail a single receipt, just login and enter your receipt information. I do this as soon as we get home and it takes me about 45 seconds. I just login, click on the picture of a receipt (instead of the other picture for an online order) and enter my store #, register #, transaction # and date--all information at the top of my receipt. At the end of the month I click on "mail my check" and it's as easy as that! Rite Aid frequently has great rebates on medicine and contact solution-many of them for the full price, and if you have a coupon then you actually get a "profit" to use toward another item. My highest month ever was last October when I received a rebate check from Rite Aid for $107!

If you would like to print Rite Aid store coupons at home you will need to create a login for that as well. It is in the middle of Rite Aid's page, and it's called "Rite Aid Video Values". Basically, you watch a short "video" (aka: commercial) of a product and then you can print a coupon for it. Most commercials are 15-45 seconds and you have to enter the verification code at the end in order to get credit for it. The nice thing about this is that you can combine them with manufacturer coupons to save twice as much on one item! Also, there is usually a coupon for $5 off any $25 purchase if you watch a 2 minute video. The first time I used one of those coupons, I had a total of $21 in my cart--then I realized if I spent $4 more that my coupon would bring my total down to $20. I couldn't believe that adding two bags of oreos to my purchase actually brought my total down! Talk about excitement ;-)

Last, you need to learn about and save your +UP rewards. Some sale items also have +UP rewards that will print on the bottom of your receipt, it is money you can use towards your next purchase--even a purchase made a few minutes later. I know some people will have several transactions so that they can keep using their previous +UP rewards, but to save time and confusion I just carry mine over each week. Just be careful not to lose them, because they cannot reissue them! I have had mine expire (they are good for 2-4 weeks) but the store was still nice enough to honor them-I think that was an exception though, so try not to let them expire.

So here is what a typical Rite Aid trip looks like for me:

1. Get on http://www.southernsavers.com/ and make my Rite Aid list. Print.
2. Find my coupons and write the number of items for each.
3. Go shop, check-out in one transaction.
4. Give them my rewards card, then items, then coupons, then UP+ rewards.
5. Enter receipt online as soon as I get home.
6. File +UP rewards in my coupon folder.

Now in case you are thinking "I don't want some terrible store brand products", don't worry I don't either. I'm buying the same brands or better than I was before! It all depends on what you prefer and what you'd like to spend. I can get Pantene for free, but I'd rather spend $1-$2 and get John Freida. It's not the lowest price, but it's still less than I was paying before, so we're still saving money. If it's a product I'm never going to use, it doesn't matter how good the deal is, I won't buy it.

*One more thing. Rite Aid has been doing an extra +UP rewards promo for the last few months, $20 +UP when you spend $100 on participating items. In each month, I didn't make an effort at all to purchase the special items, yet each time I easily got to the $100 by making my regular purchases. Since the value you get credit for is before rebates and coupons, I probably spent around $10 instead of $100, and then got the $20 credit! I have no idea if they are going to continue this program each month, but I sure hope so!

I have found that Rite Aid cashiers are the most helpful when I have questions, and they are usually very friendly. I now know their names, all about their children and spend 15-20 minutes chatting each time. One day I left some extra diaper coupons in front of the Huggies and the next time I went in the cashier said she found and used them and thanked me. Now I always bring my extra coupons for the Rite Aid girls and they let me know which items are on clearance but not marked yet. So please be patient and kind, most people don't go to Rite Aid and get a cart full of items and hand them a stack of coupons.

Now go get your deals, and don't forget to leave me a comment of how much you saved or post a photo on my facebook page!  http://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Wish-I-Could-Afford-to-Stay-At-Home-With-My-Kids/126908260707764#!/pages/I-Wish-I-Could-Afford-to-Stay-At-Home-With-My-Kids/126908260707764

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Groupon and the Copycats

Several people have mentioned recently that they have caught my Groupon addiction. I cannot emphasize enough how much I LOVE this website! It's user-friendly, almost always features popular/high-quality companies and the prices cannot be beat! In addition, Groupon has a phenomenal policy: "If you ever feel like Groupon let you down, give us a call and we'll return your purchase – simple as that." I've never needed to ask for a refund, but it's nice to know I could. I bought everything in this picture with a groupon to soap.com delivered to my door for $5!




So here is how it works: find the city nearest you and enter your email address. It will automatically go to your home city each day, but there are lots of deals in other cities that are available for anyone to redeem online, and major retailers like Bath and Body Works, The Body Shop, and Barnes & Noble have sold gift certificates redeemable online. You will find everything from store gift certificates and spa services to sports game tickets and museum memberships at extremely low prices for one day only (or all weekend). When you purchase your groupon, you usually cannot use it for 2 days (it will say before you buy it) and many of them are good for six months to a year. When you're ready to use it, just print out your certificate or copy and paste the code if it's an online deal.

If you're already a regular passenger on the Groupon train, you need to check out the copycat sites, though to be fair some have been around longer than Groupon but are not as widely known. It's all the same concept, and each one will give you a different amount for signing up, anywhere from $0-10. Some will randomly put credits in your account, so be sure to check back, and others will send out codes for free credit. You can also purchase these as gifts, and treat someone to a dinner, theater tickets or massage!

Below are the links for all the sites I have registered with and recommend. Please share in the comments, what has been your favorite Groupon purchase?

Groupon: http://www.groupon.com/r/uu8247323

Eversave: http://eversave.com/share/Gzi0

FamilyFinds: http://fmlyfnd.us/hIfYA3

DealPulp: http://dealpulp.com/?u=cjxks0p7

Living Social: https://livingsocial.com/redeem_invite/21491729-joeyde?ref=lnk

BuyWithMe: http://www.buywithme.com/ref/BXZUT3JF

Zulily: http://www.zulily.com/invite/jderrick673

NoMoreRack: http://www.nomorerack.com/?cr=48241

Swirl: http://beta.swirl.com/invite/joeyd

Mamapedia:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Money-Making Ideas

If you're looking for some ideas about how to add a little to your family's income or make some extra spending cash, here's what I've been thinking about lately:

1. Become a seller for your friends. If you like selling items on eBay, craigslist, etc. then offer to sell your friends items for them in exchange for a commission on the sales price, maybe 25-30%. You won't have any start up costs or overhead, but you will need a place to store the items you're selling. You also need to be a very organized person to keep track of who gave you which items and how much they sold for (not something I would enjoy). I know I can drop my kids' stuff off at the local consignment store and get 50% of the sales price, but that's just enough that I'd rather sell it myself. On the other hand, I do not enjoy taking pictures/posting/selling items so I tend to put it off indefinitely. If you're thinking of trying this, I'll drop a carload off with you this week!

2. Be a coupon clipper for working parents. When I was working full-time I just didn't have the time to shop sales and clip coupons, so I almost always paid the highest prices for our groceries and toiletries. You could make a business out of buying the newspapers, and preparing the lists and coupons each week for a group of employed mothers. If you can save them $50-$100 per week, it is a service easily worth $20/week. Again you will need to be very organized, but as long as you do something you enjoy it won't feel like work.

3. Cook meals for families with two employed parents. Whenever you cook a meal for your family, double or triple the recipe and either freeze or deliver it. You can keep your costs down by purchasing in bulk, the families will eat healthier and spend less time rushing around after work and before dinner, and it will make you money-while still being less expensive for others than ordering out would be. Or you could spend an entire day making freezer meals and decide on a price/meal. I think places like Let's Eat that do this charge around $25/meal.

4. Host a parents night out at your house once a month. If you have a good amount of space and can be sure to contain many children at once, you can offer to babysit for several families so the parents can get a date night.

5. If you enjoy sewing you have so many options. From cute burp cloths and hair bows to baby blankets and breastfeeding covers, there are many things that are in high demand right now and would make nice baby gifts. Besides, so many of the store-bought options are either hideous or much too expensive.

Don't be afraid to take a risk! As you probably already know, it was a stay at home mom that created Baby Einstein in her own basement with a video camera, her daughter and a few of their toys. I've really enjoyed this brainstorming session, and as I think of more ideas I will add them to this post, so be sure to check back! I would love to hear your ideas if you'd like to share them in the comments. All it takes is a little creativity and initiative...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Follow-Up to "Put 'Em to Work" Post (Our New Eureka Optima)

Last week our vacuum cleaner died and my handy husband could not revive it, so off to Lowe's we went today to get a new one. While Chris and I were debating the merits of Bissel versus Eureka, Cole had discovered a smaller-sized vacuum (a Eureka Optima) and was busy cleaning the isle, which we thought was very cute. Then it occurred to us, why not get the smaller vacuum? It's shorter and half the weight of a full-sized vacuum, has an extension handle, will take up less space in the closet and for half the price! The kids were very excited (as you can see in the pictures below), and I was happy with how much easier it was to use on the stairs. I was expecting the suction to not be as good, but it was actually better than our previous vacuum, which was on it's last leg but still doing a decent job. Two happy kids who like vacuuming, and one happy mama!






*A side note, if your husband ever offers to hire a cleaning service, take him up on it! My husband made the suggestion after we had our second baby, moved to another state and bought a house all in one week. I didn't do it, but I should have-don't make my mistake, admit you need help and accept it graciously.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Put 'Em to Work

If you recently became a stay at home mom, you're likely surprised that it's not as easy as you expected to knock out that to do list with little ones running around and needing something almost constantly. Wish you could afford a helper? Well your kids are free help, and are more than likely happy to do it! Our kids are only one and two, yet both help load the dishwasher, cook, do the laundry, get the mail, wipe the tables and sweep/vacuum/mop the floors. Do they do a great job? No, and I redo most of it while we're working. Does it take ten times longer? Yes. Do they have fun? You bet! Not only does this create an environment that encourages teamwork, but we get much more done than I would if I were doing it myself and then cleaning up the messes they made while I was working. It also gives my children a sense of accomplishment and importance as members of our family (and community when we get them involved in working/volunteering for a non-profit or church).



Besides, how can I expect my children to want to do chores when they are older if they spent their childhood being entertained all day and seeing mom do all the work? Or not even seeing the work get done because it was after bedtime? One of the best pieces of advice I received when we were expecting our first baby was this: start the way you mean to go, changing the rules of the game later will only frustrate both sides. How many times have I thought, if I had just invested the time in the beginning we wouldn't even have this struggle right now?

The hard part is that for most of us, myself included, this idea goes against our perception of what "childhood" is. After all, they only get to be a kid for a short time right? Yes, and it goes both ways. I believe we should teach our kids how to help with the housework so they'll be more likely to help (and like it) later, but we should also teach them that kids aren't the only ones who can have fun, and the fun shouldn't end with childhood. So let your kids see you enjoying your own "playtime"-whether it's through hobbies, joining an adult sports team or just goofing around. Is all work and no play (or all play and no work) good for anyone?

My sister in law said it well, one thing we know for sure is that our kids will need to work one day (in a job and in their home), so what better gift can we give than teaching them how to enjoy it?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Few Lessons Learned

Since you are likely driving with your kids more often when you become a stay at home parent, it helps to be prepared for sticky situations. A month ago I was out and about with the kids and our car broke down, leaving us stuck and "out and about" for longer than anticipated. That motivated me to finally put together a car emergency kit, in order to make any future mishaps more tolerable with young children. Well wouldn't you know it, just this week we got two flat tires while running some errands. I'm embarrassed to admit how it happened, my daughter cried out, I turned to look at her and ran into the curb in the Walmart parking lot. Irony of all ironies the whole reason I was there was to get an extra key made for our car because a few months back I accidentally locked the keys inside with the kids, luckily that one was in our driveway. Oh well, this stuff happens to all of us...right? But I did find the emergency kit somewhat helpful since I could break out some juice boxes and snacks for the kids while we waited for the tow truck. So here is what I put in our emergency kit:

*Cash
*An extra change of clothes for each person (I've needed this several times already!)
*Snacks and juice boxes
*First aid kit with children's medicine (you never know when a fever or teething will start)
*Tissues and wipes
*Flashlight
*Blanket
*Jumper cables and a battery charger/tire inflater
*Water
*Phone numbers written out (in case my phone gets wet/dies/lost)
*AAA's phone number (1-800-222-4357)

So the second tip I have for you is how to maximize your AAA usage. I'm a huge fan of AAA, they have great customer service and you can get discounts at many other businesses if you show your membership card. However, many people don't know that unlike car insurance, health insurance and life insurance you don't actually have to purchase it in advance to use it when your car breaks down. About ten years ago my car died and I called and ordered AAA over the phone, a tow truck was there within an hour and I enjoyed all of the benefits of the membership for the next year--at the same price I would have paid just to tow my car without the membership. I haven't had the membership since, until today when the car needed to be towed. I'm not kidding, the tow truck was there within 10 minutes of hanging up with AAA and the cost was only around $100 for the membership. Yes I paid an extra $40 fee for utilizing their service the same day I ordered a membership, but I saved $600 from not paying for a membership for the last ten years, definitely worth it! This is one service you don't want to pay for until you need it, save the money and just keep their number in your new emergency kit!

Monday, February 7, 2011

$50 Mary Kay Gift Certificate Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to comment #10, Sarah!!! Thanks everyone for entering and be sure to check out Kate's page at http://www.marykay.com/ktrifiletti  all the benefits of ordering fabulous products without needing to host/attend a party. Shop from home and make sure you email her with your order instead of putting it through online in order to get the awesome deals she's doing just for the readers of this blog. If you don't know what those are, go back and check out my post from January called "Multi-Dimensional Beauty".

It's the big Mary Kay giveaway from Kate that we've all been waiting for! This giveaway closes tonight at 8:00 so hop on it!

To enter just "comment" on this post, you can write anything-"I'm entering" is fine. Please write at least your first name, otherwise I cannot say "anonymous #8 won".
You are not signing up for anything (besides the giveaway), I don't collect or distribute emails. If you don't enter any contact information, just be sure to check back to see if you won. The winner will have 24 hours to claim the prize and then we draw again. This drawing is open to anyone, you just can't be my husband ;-)  I will use a random number generator (random.org) to pick a winner at 8:00 EST on Feb. 9th. One entry per person, good luck and thank you Kate!

Don't forget to check out Kate's website, http://www.marykay.com/ktrifiletti you can order from anywhere and military families get free shipping :-)

When I get 200 facebook fans, there will be an educational toy giveaway from Kristie with Discovery Toys! Here's my facebook link if you haven't checked it out yet, please share it with your friends!

http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/I-Wish-I-Could-Afford-to-Stay-At-Home-With-My-Kids/126908260707764

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Couponing Step #3: Where Do I Shop?

Once you have accumulated your coupons and organized them, it's time to figure out which stores are going to maximize your savings. First, make a list of the grocery stores in your area. Next, you'll need to find the answers to these questions for each one. I called several of mine and asked customer service. You might be surprised, after shopping at the store with the lowest prices in our area, I found out that our "premium" grocery store has a better coupon program and actually saves us more! If you have the time and really want to save as much as possible, it's best to shop two grocery stores each week and get the best deals in each place. I did this for a while (and saved a TON!) but with two toddlers, a huband who frequently travels for work and living in a rural area it's just not feasible anymore, so we pick the best store and stick with it. Occasionally if there is a really good deal at the other store I will make an extra trip, but that only happens once every few months.

Questions:

1. Do they accept coupons? Is there a limit?

2. Do they accept a store coupon with a manufacturer's coupon for the same item? Do they have store coupons available in the store or on their website? Do they accept online coupons printed at home? (Most do)

3. Do they ever double/triple coupons? Up to what value? (Ours doubles up to $0.50, so a $0.50 coupon is actually worth more than a $0.75 coupon).

4. Do they accept competitor coupons? Who is considered a competitor? (Drug stores usually are not)

5. Do they ever have unadvertised sales? (Our stores frequently do a 3-day sale at the end of the week with fantastic prices!)

6. Do they price-match? (I've never done this, but know other moms who have had success bringing in the flier for another store and getting the same price to minimize shopping trips)

7. Do they have a gas-discount program? (We have one store where you can accumulate points on a card to redeem once a month for a per gallon discount at the gas station).

Compare your answers and decide where you'd like to start. Remember those websites I mentioned that match coupons and sales? See if you can find one for the store(s) you're looking for. If not, you can always scan the weekly ad and compare to the coupons you have.

The first time is going to be awkward and maybe a little confusing, so try to do it without the kids if you can. Not that I recommend cashier profiling, but the younger guys are the best ones to get-they go pretty fast, are usually friendly and don't get flustered as easily by a stack of coupons.

Now go see how much you can save, and let me know (in the comments) how you do!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Another Starbucks Giveaway!

*Congratulations to our winner, Ashley! I can't believe it, the lucky number tonight was 1! (How ironic that the first person made a comment about #1 never getting picked) I don't know why it's so surprising, it has the same probability as the other numbers but it never seems to come up. Yay for coffee :-)

A giveaway for a $5 giftcard to Starbucks! To enter just "comment" on this post, you can write anything-"I'm entering" is fine. This drawing is open to ANYONE, you just can't be my husband ;-)  I will use a random number generator to pick a winner 24 hours from now, 8:00 EST on Feb, 4th, one entry per person, good luck!

When I get to 100 facebook fans there will be a giveaway for a $50 gift certificate to Mary Kay! Here's the link if you haven't checked it out yet:

http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/I-Wish-I-Could-Afford-to-Stay-At-Home-With-My-Kids/126908260707764

It's a Mentality

It's time to change the way you think about your money and your spending. When your income drastically decreases, it can be easy to start thinking "we can't afford that", but this attitude will just make you feel deprived and resentful. Instead, it's helpful to change your thinking to "how can I afford this?".  If there is something you really want, but it's not in the budget, just get creative about how to pay for it. There are so many ways to do this: have a yard sale, sell items on eBay or craigslist, wait for coupons/sales, do a few online surveys and get paid for them, add it to your birthday/Christmas wish list, make a trade with someone, start saving your loose change or reallocate your spending from somewhere else. I'm sure you can think of many more ways (please share in the comments!).

The point is, instead of living with less you just need to figure out to live on less, and it's all in our attitude!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned

This is a painful one, but it's definitely worth your time. If you can't increase your income, then see if you can lower your monthly bills. It might seem obvious, but so many people don't go to the trouble to comparison shop or consolidate loans, and end up costing themselves hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year.

Car insurance, home insurance, life insurance, credit card interest rates, student loan rates, cable, phone and internet bills are all costs that you can save a bundle on if you shop around. When we moved to our new home and I started calling around for our home insurance, I was shocked to find that our car insurance company gave us such a huge discount for going with them that it was around 1/3 of the other quotes we received. Our new state (SC) also has much higher car insurance payments than our previous states (GA and CO), so this month we decided to call around and see if we could get a better deal. We also called our current insurance company and asked if there was anything they could do about it--in about 10 minutes they took $500/yr off of our charges and are reimbursing us for previous costs.

If you haven't consolidated your student loans, it's time to get on it. If you're paying an interest rate on your credit card know how much it is and see if you can get a lower rate. Will you get a discount by bundling your utilities? Set aside an afternoon (or maybe a day) to comparison shop, you may be dreading it but you won't regret it!

The wonderful thing about this is that these are reoccurring bills, so if you spend an hour working on your home insurance and save yourself $50/month, then you have really saved $600 over the next year-you can consider that a $600/hr paycheck!  When you clip coupons you only save the money once, but lowering your monthly bills is the same as increasing your income. Actually, it is even better since you are saving after tax money. In that example of saving $600/yr, we would actually have to make $800 (pre-tax) in order to pay it.

*A quick note here about our car insurance company, we have had Progressive for 6-7 years now and couldn't be happier with them. They have had the lowest rates we have found, I always get super fast service when I call (no automated system) and when we had a weather-related accident they handled it so well and gave us amazing service (and a pretty sweet rental for two weeks) and then didn't even raise our rate! Also, a few years ago we were on vacation in a rental car and got rear-ended at a stop light by a van full of coast guards. The police cited that it was their fault and the rental car company told us it had nothing to do with our insurance so we didn't need to call them, and the coast guard would have to pay for everything. Even though it didn't concern them at all, we still called Progressive to let them know what happened. They were so fantastic, they took over the whole thing for us making sure that the coast guard paid the rental company for all of the repairs, even when they tried to deny responsibility. Then they submitted our receipts for a new car seat and stroller (the stroller was in the trunk and was broken) and got us reimbursed for that as well. I really don't work for Progressive, I promise, I'm just hugely impressed with their company and highly recommend them!

So get organized, get ready to spend the day on the phone and just get it over with already. Give yourself a good motivator-maybe a massage for every $500/yr you save?