Monday, January 31, 2011

Wish You Could Pick Up Your Groceries Already In The Cart?

You can at Sam's Club! This tip came from a friend, and it has been a life-saver with little kids. My children are actually very well behaved in the grocery store (so much so that they are now schmoozing their way through Publix, working the charm to get bananas from the produce guy, string cheese from the deli girl, and a balloon at the checkout). But when we go to Sam's Club it can take a long time and it's a lot of walking for short legs to do, so I didn't exactly look forward to it.

Then I found out about "click n pull", the option to put your order in online and pick up your full cart at customer service, it's free for all members. Just go to Sam's Club's website, , and make a username and password with your membership card number. Then at the top you will see a link for "click n pull", just go there and start shopping. Once you're finished you need to choose a date/time to pick up your food, so they know when to have your order ready, but you will not pay until you pick up your order. Then you just need to go to customer service in the store and you will see some full carts with names on them next to the desk, the sheet with your name will also have a checklist of what you ordered. Find your name and double check that all of your items are in the cart. If you have anything cold or frozen you will need to tell the person at customer service and they will send someone to get it (they also collect those things ahead of time, but put a separate cart for you in the cooler/freezer until you arrive). If you have two carts you can consolidate your stuff. Then you give your list to customer service and pay right there, since they already have your total you don't have to check-out or scan anything. I've been in and out in five minutes!

I usually get some fresh food like fruits and veggies. In that case, what I do is order my dry goods and frozen items ahead of time, but choose my own fresh foods. It still saves us a lot of time and cuts our total shopping to 10-15 minutes.

This is a great time-saver anyone can take advantage of!

PS-I have no idea if other wholesale clubs have this option, if you know of any that do please share in the comments!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Money For College or Student Loans

Upromise is a company that gives you FREE MONEY to use towards your own college education, your child's college education or even your outstanding students loans. It's free to sign up, and you can do as little or as much as you're able to add money to your account. I spent about 20 minutes on it two years ago and that's all. I hadn't checked my balance in over a year, and when I logged in today I was excited to see that we are up to $311.46, not bad!

Here are the ways you can earn money:

1. Go through Upromise when making an online purchase. Just go to the website,, search on the store you plan to shop from and click on it. That's all. So here's an example: Let's say I just saw the big sale Jos. A. Bank is having right now and I wanted to buy something. I would go to the upromise website, type in "Jos A Bank" in the search box, and then click on the link to Jos. A. Bank's website. You will see that this store gives you 8% back, meaning that 8% of your total will go into your Upromise account--and you get the same prices you would if you didn't go through Upromise. Takes literally 30 seconds, I just wish I remembered to do it more often. Some stores give a higher percentage and some lower, and some stores aren't even signed up but it doesn't hurt to check.

2.  Register your frequent shopping cards. Get out your wallet and enter the numbers from your grocery store and drug store frequent shopping cards. Each time you swipe your card in the store, participating products will add money to your account balance. Some participating brands are Charmin, Elmers, and Bic but there are thousands. Sometimes you will see the little Upromise logo next to participating items in the store, but most of the time you won't. I don't even think about it when I go shopping, I just naturally buy some items anyway and it adds up without me realizing it. You can also add cards for any friends or family members--their purchases will count towards your account! If you shop somewhere that doesn't require a frequent shopping card in order to get the sale prices (like Publix in the southeast), ask if they have a card just for this purpose. Publix does, and even though it won't lower my grocery bill it does connect to my Upromise account, just ask at the customer service desk.

3. Dining out. Participating restaurants will give you up to 8% back for dining with them. You do have to register whichever credit card you use to pay for your meal (if you use a credit card) so that it can give you credit for your purchases.

4. Get their credit card. We got our Mastercard through Upromise two years ago and have no complaints thus far. You get 1% back on all purchases made with your card, 2% on gas anytime you go to Exxon or Mobile (which can really add up) and an additional 10% on participating grocery and drug store purchases. Since we never carry a balance on our card, I have no idea what the rate is, and obviously if credit cards will only rack up debt for you then you shouldn't do it.

5. Travel. If you book your flight or hotel through Upromise you will get 1-2% back, depending on which company you use (Expedia, hotwire, etc.) Just go to their homepage and click on travel, you will see them all listed on that page along with the current travel deals offered by individual airlines and hotels.

Like I said, the more involved you get the more money you will earn. One other thing to note, it takes about a month for your rewards to register, so money that you accrue in January will not show up until February, but it is there. What an easy way to save for your child's education or pay off those student loans!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Couponing Step #2, Organize!

When I first learned how to use coupons most efficiently, it involved clipping the ones I wanted every Sunday and filing them in my coupon organizer until I needed them. Then I pulled out the weekly ads for our grocery store and drug stores and looked to see if I had coupons in my organizer for any of the good sale items. When there was a match, I added the item to my list. This took me about 3-5 hours per week, but still saved us hundreds of dollars a month. Some people have to use this system since they either do not have a reliable website to do the work for them or they do not have any big-name stores in their area (usually small towns). We live in a very small town, but thankfully have a city with most of the stores I need within 20-25 minutes of our house.

The first thing you need to do before deciding how to organize your coupons, is look into which websites you have available in your area for matching coupons up with the weekly sales.  I live in the southeast, and the best website I have found is, I know a ton of moms who use it and the stay-at-home mom who runs it (Jenny) does a great job! It's a completely free website, and I can use it to make my list for any grocery store or drug store in my area. I attended one of Jenny's seminars at a local church for only $10. I didn't expect to learn a whole lot of new information since I had already been couponing for a while, but through the changes she suggested I've saved myself several hours of work each week. If you live in the northeast I recommend checking out, the northwest check out I'm not familiar with sites for other regions, but if you know of a good one to recommend please share it in the comments section below this post!

If you do not have a website to use, you will need a well-organized system that makes it easy for you to locate specific coupons quickly, in this area bigger is better. You will end up with a LOT of coupons, so a small cardstock "coupon organizer" isn't going to cut it. In my experience you have three options:

1. Binder system: Purchase a binder, dividers and baseball card sheets. Decide how you want to organize it (alphabetically, by grocery store dept, etc) and put the individual coupons into the sleeves so you can easily read them when flipping through. This is a very time consuming system, you have to make the coupons very small so they will fit and it can take a long time to file them all away. The upside is you can take it to the store with you and locate coupons very quickly.

2. Recipe box: Purchase a recipe box or coupon box and dividers with tabs. Again you can decide how to group your coupons (I do it by the sections of the grocery store: frozen, cold, medicine, etc). I love this system because you can file the coupons away quickly and they are still easily accessible, but it does fill up quickly--which is why I really recommend #3 if you don't have a website to use.

3. Photo box: Exactly like the recipe box, except you purchase a photo storage box (or other box around the same size) and 10-15 envelopes. Cut the flaps to make tabs on the envelopes and file the coupons inside. This system will hold a lot of coupons and still leave you with room to throw a pen and pair of scissors inside.

If you DO have a reliable website for your region, consider yourself lucky--you really have no reason not to coupon since it will take you very little time and someone else has done all of the hard work for you. You will need to purchase one of the large file organizers (around 10" X 13", and mine has 20 pockets--from Big Lots for $5). Here is what your Sunday will look like: you bring the paper inside, take out all the coupon inserts, write the date on the top one and throw them into the next empty pocket in your folder--maybe 2 minutes tops. When it's time to make my grocery list, I just hop on and click on the store I want (Publix). There I will find a list of sale items this week and their corresponding coupons. So here's an example of something I saw this week:

French’s Classic Yellow Mustard 14 oz. at $1.89 (94¢)
Manufacturer Coupon -.30/1 French’s Classic mustard, SS 1/23
Manufacturer Coupon -.50/1 French’s Mustard printable or printable
(makes it FREE)

It was listed under the B1G1 section so the price in parenthesis is the sale price for one mustard. Then there was a $0.30 on one coupon in the Smart Source (SS) from January 23rd, or there is a printable if I want to do that. My store doubles coupons so I would choose the printable, it would take $1 off and I would actually make a "profit" of $0.06 (the 6 cents would be taken off of something else on my bill). If I do use my Smart Source coupon, it will take me only a minute to find it and cut it out. There is also a check box to the left of the mustard that I can't get to copy on here (but it's there I promise!), so if I'm going to buy it I can check a box. Then at the end I can print my list with all of the items and coupons. I also use a small recipe box organizer for the coupons I get elsewhere, in the mail, the grocery store, etc. 

Make sure no matter which system you use, that you are comfortable with it. I tried all of them before I found the one that worked best for me. Now go get your coupons organized and get ready for the next step...using them!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year...Still

I'll admit it, I'm sick of seeing Christmas items in the stores. It all started in October and yet here we are, almost February, and they've managed to stick around. By the time the last product is sold, they'll be breaking out the new ones for next year. But since everything seems to be 90% off right now, I know it is worth my time, and I will be happy I did it when late November rolls around. Between Target, Michael's, and Rite Aid I have pre-purchased all of our cards, invitations, decorations, lights, wrapping paper and most of our kids' stocking stuffers for next year-and saved a bunch!

You would be surprised at what stores include in their clearance Christmas section--items that are seasonal and have nothing to do with the holidays. For example, today I found a box of 60 tea bags, originally $12, and I paid $0.80!

For us, part of saving money has been making purchases at the end of season when prices are at their lowest. I do this for holiday decorations, clothing and even food I will stock up on if it's something that only goes on sale once a year.

On my way home today, I saw a yard sale with lots of outdoor toys for young children (something we've been looking for). But it's not the season for yard sales and I just wanted to stay in my car all warm and cozy sipping coffee. I willed myself to pull over and brave the cold, and in the end it paid off. Since there had been very few customers, the seller wanted to pack up and head inside so she offered everything to me as a "lot" and gave me a very good deal. Not only did we make friends with a nice family near our home, but we also ended up with a trailer-full of outdoor toys, a play house, a power wheels motorcycle, wooden chairs, a wooden table, and several indoor toys--all for $75. Our kids haven't been playing outside very much this winter, but come spring I will be thrilled to have a backyard full of entertainment for the kids while I work on our garden.

Coming home with Christmas items and outdoor toys in the middle of January was a strange feeling, but one I'm starting to get used to as my mindset is changing towards saving money. So if you can stomach looking at seasonal items for just a little longer, I promise you will appreciate all of your hard work next Christmas when you can get straight to the cookie-baking!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Starbucks Card Giveaway!

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, one entry per person, good luck!

It was lucky number 7 today, congrats Carrie E.! If you didn't win, don't worry I have a second gift card that I will award as soon as I get 75 fans on facebook, only 13 away, here's the link if you haven't checked it out yet:!/pages/I-Wish-I-Could-Afford-to-Stay-At-Home-With-My-Kids/126908260707764

I'm A Lazy Couponer

Almost everyone wants to save some money, but the reason most people don't use coupons is that they are under the assumption that it requires a lot of time, a common misconception. It was the main reason I waited to begin learning, but now I am proud to say that I'm a lazy couponer!

By this I mean that I do my best to maximize my "couponing" time and make it as effecient as possible, and as quick as possible! I have toddlers who demand my attention and a husband who frequently travels out-of-state, so extra time is not something we have in abundance in our household. Learning the methods in the beginning will take you more time, think about it as an investment, but once you find the system that works best for you and practice using it, you can literally save hundreds of dollars a month in just an hour a week. On average, I spend 1-2 hours per week making my lists and matching up coupons (sometimes less if it's a slow week or I'm too busy, and sometimes more if there are a lot of great deals at several stores). Thankfully I don't spend any time organizing my coupons-or more accurately maybe 3-5 minutes a week, since I use a system where I don't have to cut my coupons out until I know I'm going to use them. But more on organization systems in a future post.

With couponing the more time you spend the more money you can save, but there is definitely a law of diminishing returns. I could spend several hours more each week clipping every coupon, organizing them and bringing them to the store with me (in case something is on sale/clearance that I didn't know about) but in the end it would only save me a little bit more and cost me a lot more time-and so I have decided it's not worth it. Don't get me wrong, I know many people who use their binder system to separate every coupon they find and they love it, it's just not for me. I also know others who have to use a binder system since they don't have a reliable website for the grocery stores in their area to match up the sales. But the bottom line is, you don't have to be a type A personality and coupon queen to save money!

When looking at deals online, I don't even bother with free samples--filling out a 2-5 minute form and survey for a sample of a product that I will only be able to use once just doesn't seem worth it to me when I can spend the same amount of time finding a coupon and getting a full-sized version for pennies or free. I'm also careful about giving out my information and receiving more junk mail, and I always use a separate email address for this purpose.

If you follow my facebook page, I frequently post online deals and freebies in my status. For every one deal you see posted, there are probably 50 that I see and do not repost. I try to only include things I buy myself or would buy if they were applicable to me. I don't enjoy scrolling through 15 posts of $0.30 coupons for strange products, and I'm assuming you don't either--so I hope you find as much value in the deals I share as I do!

Keep collecting those coupons and storing them together, pretty soon we'll talk about how to organize them so your house doesn't look like a grocery store and you can actually find what you need. If you think you don't have enough time to give couponing a try, consider how many hours you spend watching tv each week--if you can use a pair of scissors at the same time (and no offense men, but I know many of you can't) then you can be a lazy couponer too!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Multi-Dimensional Beauty

A dear friend of mine, Kate, followed her passion for Mary Kay products to become a representative for the company while staying home with her two beautiful daughters. She will be sponsoring our first giveaway with a $50 gift certificate for one lucky mama! In the meantime, she has shared her story for what this part-time job means to her and what she would like to do for all of my readers. (I especially like the free shipping for military families-but you will have to scroll down to read the rest!)

Why I love Mary Kay…The answer is simple - multi dimensional beauty.

To feel and be beautiful can have many meanings and dimensions to women, especially to moms!  Being beautiful to me is feeling great about myself inside and out, feeling good about what I do and how that affects others. 

I see beauty in the eyes of my two wonderful daughters. Every moment that I am with them, when they laugh, when they cry, fight or drive mama crazy their beauty shines through! I am a stay at home mom and that means the world to me - Mary Kay helps me do that.  My Mary Kay Business allows me to make my own goals by giving me the opportunity  to dream up my own achievements.  My goal right now is to continue to stay at home with the girls to watch their beauty grow while being able to contribute a small portion to our family income.  The beauty  of being in charge of your own goals is that you are in the driver’s seat and no goal is ever too small or too large to reach for! 

Another very important side to beauty is the one that is not seen by the eye, but one that lies deep beneath, the true soul of what makes us who we are, the side that makes us feel great about what we do not only for ourselves and immediate family but also what we do for those in need. Mary Kay Ash Charitable foundation is dedicated to ending women’s cancers and domestic abuse. In life and in spirit Mary Kay Ash showed others how to live and how to give. Her goal while alive was to help those women who lacked opportunity, self esteem and financial support. In the past year her foundation awarded over 3 million dollars in grants to domestic violence shelters, donated $500,000 to CancerInc to support research among many other philanthropic efforts. To find out more please go to . To be able to work for and promote a company which is helping women in need gives me the feeling of inner beauty and the knowledge that I chose the right place to devote my time and efforts to.

Lastly the third side of beauty is the one that lies on the outside. The one that begins with skin care and ends with a little foundation, a little mascara, a little lipstick and a lot of WOW!  Although I just started my Mary Kay Business I have been a fan of her products for over 6 years.  I love the Timewise skin care line, it keeps my complexion clean, free of blemishes while keeping my skin hydrated.  I can’t say enough about the microdermabrasion set which I don’t like to go without, it instantly fights fine lines, refines pores and makes your skin so smooth! Mary Kay is currently rolling out a new foundation line: matte and luminous foundations with over sixty shades to choose from.  I must say – normally I am not a fan of foundation but after testing these this past week I have to say I have fallen in love. The new line is truly flawless and with so many shades you are sure to find that perfect one for you!   Lastly don’t forget that special man in your life Mary Kay has a wonderful line for men – Mkmen, this is a full skin care and fragrance line dedicated to taking care of that special guy in your life! Valentine’s Day is around the corner, don’t you want to treat yourself and your loved ones?

I would love to introduce you to many, many more Mary Kay products and I hope that you give me a chance to do that. I am very sure that upon trying, you too would fall in love with the multi dimensional beauty Mary Kay can offer.

Below I have listed some deals and steals that I would like to offer to you:

1.   All customers who purchase before February 14th get a free gift with purchase (trial Satin Hands gift set)

2.   Referral bonus of 15% off your next total order for every new purchasing customer brought in. Total purchase of for your referral is $40.

3.   Free shipping to military members and their families – my family and I would personally like to thank you for all of the sacrifices you make each and every day.

In addition to the above deals I would love to offer you some FREE PRODUCT hostess party gifts. Here is how;

New!! Be the first ever!!! Want a party but not have to organize your home!! Do one online!! Receive your  product discount (10-20% of total party sales revenue of free product of your choice) Do it all in the comfort of your computer!!  To find out more please contact me!

Kate Trifiletti

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Couponing Step #1-Get Some!

The basic idea with couponing is that you get coupons on a regular basis, then match them up with weekly sales prices wherever you shop to get things for the lowest price possible. So first we need to get a good supply of coupons to draw from, because as you will soon find out-the sales going on this week usually match up with coupons from several weeks ago. Here are the best ways to get your hands on coupons:

1. Get a subscription from your local newspaper-Sunday only, or whichever day coupons come out in your area. Look around online for the best deal. For some reason, we have an expensive Sunday paper--it just went up to $3.00, and I have never found a lower subscription price online. But when it came time for renewal, they offered it to me for half price so I'm now paying $1.50. It might seem strange to pay for something that is supposed to be saving you money, but think of it as an investment. That $1.50 or $3.00 could easily save you $50+ in groceries. I always check online the day before to see how many inserts there will be this week, if it's 3 or more I buy a second paper on Sunday.

2. Buy coupons on eBay. This one is so easy and inexpensive. You technically cannot purchase coupons, so when you bid on them on eBay you are really bidding on the seller's time to cut them out and mail them to you. You shouldn't pay more than $1.00-$1.25 per 100 coupons (including shipping). What I have done in the past is bid on 10-15 groups of coupons and put my max bid in at $1.00. Then I check back the next day and have found that I won 1-3 (sometimes more) of them. Within a couple of days, I have them in my mailbox already cut out and ready to use! The downside to this method is that you have no idea which coupons you will be getting, and they could expire relatively soon. But after my daughter was born and we were in the process of moving, it was a huge time saver and still saved me quite a bit of money!

3. All You Magazine is full of coupons, anywhere from $50-$150 worth each month. You can buy it in Walmart (as far as I know it's the only store that sells it), for around $2.50, but you can get a subscription for much less than that. I signed up for 3 years and it came out to $0.67/issue. It's also full of recipes and money-saving advice. If you use southernsavers (a site I will talk about in a future post), Jenny matches up her coupons in All You with the sales, so you don't need to clip them or keep track of what's in there.

4. Get on your grocery store's website. Most grocery stores have printable store coupons (which are the best because you can combine them with a manufacturer's coupon and a sale and most likely get the product for free). Kroger also has coupons you can load to your Kroger card and function as store coupons--they will automatically come off your total when you scan your card and purchase the item you preselected. And if you choose not to buy something you preselected it doesn't hurt you at all. Also, our grocery stores (namely Publix and Kroger) both have a sign-up for receiving coupons in your mailbox. If you are pregnant or have a baby you can sign them up for Publix's Baby Club, not only will they send you coupons for diapers, formula, baby food, etc. but they will also send you coupons for their produce, deli, and frozen foods. Make sure you save the coupons that Kroger prints out with your receipt, they are usually fantastic! I regularly get $4 off your next shopping trip (anything) and then I use it at Publix because they accept competitor coupons.

5. Online printable coupons: No sign-up necessary, limit of 2 prints per coupon, and the fastest site I have found.

6. Call or email the company. If you have a brand you really love but never see coupons for, contact the company and tell them how much you enjoy their products and you would like to know if they ever issue coupons. Many companies are too small to issue national coupons, but are happy to mail them out to customers.

7. Ask around. Mention to others that you are learning how to save money by using coupons and if they know of anyone who regularly throws out or recycles their coupons you would be happy to take them.

Right now your task is just to start accumulating coupons--we'll talk about organization later, just start putting them all in the same area. If you want to get ahead of the game, keep your Sunday inserts together and write the date on the top one. That will make it easier for you to look up coupons in the future. Happy coupon hunting!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Childcare Calculator

Well it looks like I lied to you and will actually be making one more post regarding the decision-making process, but this is the last one, I promise. Maybe. This site has a calculator you can use to compare the costs of staying home versus working, and it even factors in your tax rate (federal and state) as well as your monthly expenses. You can use this instead of the two-column list I mentioned earlier if you would prefer, it's really the same idea.

According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, 80% of states have a higher average annual cost for day-care than the tuition to a four-year public college. The truly sad part about this is that many families are having to sacrifice quality in order to be able to afford day-care, and are enrolling children in centers that are cutting costs by not completing background checks, health and safety training, and/or obtaining the correct licenses. For the mothers pursuing careers at the same time, is it too much to ask for a quality environment to support their baby's development? Should these mothers have to decide between sacrificing their career or their children's safety? This is certainly not equality if you ask me, no one should be forced into staying home with their children and doing so, in the end can cause resentment and regret.

If you are a stay-at-home mom and enjoy teaching children, you could consider offering quality child-care services for your working friends at a reasonable cost, a win-win solution for you both!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Overseas Coupon Program

This is a fabulous organization that helps military families overseas get coupons and save money! The commissaries accept coupons up to six months expired, although it is very difficult for the families based in these locations to find coupons locally. This group provides the information and locations for mailing your 1-2 month expired and already clipped coupons. There is a lot of information on the site, but really it is very simple. Organize your coupons into 2 categories: food and non-food, and label each. Stuff as many as you can into a priority mail envelope or box (it will cost the same regardless of weight) and mail it! Since the bases are considered U.S. territory, "it costs the same to send them to the base as it does to send them to your next door neighbor". Follow the directions listed on the "mailing" page for addressing your package. What a great way to recycle coupons and help out families in need! If you have a group of moms, you can pool your coupons once a month and take turns mailing it. This organization is completely volunteer-run, the 2010 totals are not in yet, but from 2002-2009 the organization collected over $31 million worth of coupons!

This blog has decided to adopt the U.S. Air Force base in Spangdahlem, Germany, but any of the bases on the list would appreciate your help.

Unit 3655, Box 65
APO AE 09126


Pros and Cons

This will be my last post regarding the decision-making process, then we are onto the fun part-savings! You and your spouse will most likely mention many positives and negatives for having a stay-at-home parent in your household, and for some people it helps to organize your thoughts into a pros v. cons list. It would be best to work on it together, but it's also a great way to present information to a doubtful spouse.

When making your list, keep in mind something that is a "pro" for one person could be a "con" for another (ie: spending more time at home). For this reason, I cannot simply give you my list because I am sure our lists would look quite different. Give yourselves several days to add to both sides, many things will occur to you as you go through your day. Once you have a decent list for comparison, you will again need to use your best judgement regarding which areas are most important to you. One side might be much longer than the other, but if it's full of things you don't care too much about anyway, then the shorter list may actually be the winner.

They say hind-sight is 20-20, and after several years of being a stay-at-home mom, here are my top three pros and cons:

Pros: 1. The memories and moments we are sharing together are invaluable, and these are years that I will not be able to get back in the future for anything.  I'm always there for my children's "firsts" and we have a strong bond from our time together.  2. Quality family time during our nights and weekends. Since I get most of our cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping done during the day we do not spend our family time doing this. Instead we are able to sit down together for a quiet dinner every night (or as quiet as it can be with two toddlers) and we spend more time playing together. 3. Being the primary caregiver for my children. I know what they are learning because I am the one teaching them. I make sure to talk about our values and morals throughout the day, and know that my children are being held to my own standard of behavior--instead of a more strict or lax set of rules.

Cons: 1. My career and resume are on standby. When I go back to teaching I will not have the same amount of experience or be making the same salary that I could if these years were spent inside the classroom.  2. It is a 24 hour job. No matter how many hours you work at your job, there does come a time of day when you are finally finished and can go home. Instead, that is just about the time of day when both kids start fussing and I am trying to make dinner. I never would have predicted how jealous I am of my husband's quiet 30 minute commute!  3.  If I'm not careful I can lose my identity and become "Cole and Leah's Mom". Meeting up with friends, joining a group that meets regularly and provides childcare (for me that was MOPS) and monthly book club meetings have been my sanity savers.

You may not need a list at all to know what is best for your family and that is great. This is not a fail-safe method, just another tool to empower you in the decision-making process. If you decide that staying home is not for you, I hope that you will still be able to find some value in the money-saving tips I am going to share.

Also, and this may be one of the most important things I mention in any post--please remember to be respectful and supportive of the other moms out there. The wonderful thing about diversity is that we are all different, and what works for one family may not work for another-and that's ok! I have yet to meet a mother who did not feel any amount of guilt for her decision, whether it is to work or stay home. The working mothers tend to feel guilty that they are not spending enough time with their children, and the stay-at-home mothers tend to feel guilty that they are not climbing the career ladder and bringing in the same paycheck. If you make the change from one to the other, don't think you'll be leaving the guilt behind because there is rarely a perfect solution. Lastly, don't forget to take the time to tell your friends what wonderful mothers they are and how lucky their children are to have them in their lives!!! 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

All or Nothing

As you're considering potential changes in your family's life, please know that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You don't have to work OR stay home, you can do both-and in fact most of the mothers I know fall into this category. When I stopped teaching after my son was born, it was hard for me to get used to not earning a paycheck for the first time in 12 years. A friend suggested that I tutor high school students after school, but I didn't have much "extra" time and I wasn't sure how to get started. It also felt like a step down from teaching and I didn't like the idea of going backwards, but in the end decided to at least give it a try. I knew I didn't want to make a big investment, and I also wanted to make my own hours. After ordering some business cards online ($30 for 5,000-although I only needed about 200), I dropped them off in the mailboxes in our neighborhood while out on walks with my husband and kids. Between the cards and referrals, I soon found myself booked and referring students onto someone else. It was the perfect solution. I watched my son during the day, then 2-3 nights a week I handed him off to my husband five minutes before my first student arrived. At $40/hr it was definitely worth my time, although I did charge less than other teachers in my area because I wanted the flexibility of working from my home instead of travelling to my students' houses. Watching my students find confidence and succeed was so rewarding, in addition to the relationships we were building. What a great opportunity I almost missed because I was afraid of trying something new!

I know moms who give lessons online, provide childcare (in their home or at local meeting places), cater one night a week, are group exercise instructors or sell make-up/kitchen products/bags/toys etc.  I have also met moms who find good deals and sell them online (usually eBay) to make some extra cash. Different ideas work for different people, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Whatever you decide, make sure you choose something you love to do so that it gives you energy as well.

Please feel free to share a part-time job idea in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Where's the Money???

First things first, we need to look at where our money is going. I can hear you moaning and groaning already, budgeting is no fun. I'm with you on that, but it must be done. Print out or find your bank account and credit card statements, open a bottle of wine and sit down with your spouse to take a look at what you're spending that hard-earned money on. We've all heard how much money could be saved by eliminating the daily coffee (bought outside your home) but what about the other small expenses that add up? Do you have a magazine fetish that's costing you more than you thought? Are movie rentals higher than your cable bill? What can be eliminated/scaled back? What "luxury" purchases do you want to keep? The important thing is discussing your priorities together, by mutually deciding what is worth your money and what is not you will be less likely to purchase that no-no item.

Now that you have an idea of how much you're spending each month, let's look at your current income. For this you will need a piece of paper onto which you will draw two columns. On the left side, you will list the current income for the person who will be staying home (the income you will no longer be receiving). Include any bonuses here and put the total in after tax dollars, for this part we really only care about the money we're keeping. On the right side you want to list money that you will be saving by no longer working and any expenses that you will no longer be making. Any amounts you cannot accurately predict (ie: how much you will save on groceries) should not be included. We only want to list what we are sure of, like childcare expenses that will no longer be paid. Don't forget to include clothing you purchase annually for work, dry cleaning bills, gas to and from work (although I assume you will still do some driving with your kids) and lunch costs--for this one write in how much MORE you spend at work than you would on lunch at home, since you will still be eating of course.

Comparison time-what is the difference between your two columns? Post this amount somewhere you will see it daily to remind you of your monthly goal. This is a good baseline for how much you need to start saving every month. You can do this by cutting your grocery bill, buying toiletries from drug stores (yes you read that one right!) and lowering your monthly bills. By saving this amount each month you will effectively come out "even", but in our experience we have made this number a negative and have been able to build a decent savings account for the first time--which would be quite helpful in an emergency or job loss situation. It amazes me everyday that we would actually have LESS money if I were working!

Getting Started

The last few years have really been a lifestyle change for us, not in a bad way, just different. Before having kids, I could have counted on one hand the number of coupons I had used-and they didn't save me much. I thought I was doing a good job saving money by purchasing store brand products and buying our basic supplies at places like Walmart. I've always been a careful spender, and didn't think I had much room or time for saving money. When my sister-in-law mentioned couponing I got a little nervous, it seemed like a lot of work for a little bit of savings. It was something I would learn "later", like that second language I've been meaning to get to. Pretty soon a lay-off required me to take a crash course in saving money, and shortly after that I was addicted. Now we are using name brand products, have a small "stockpile" in case of an emergency, and I easily save us $500+/month in only 1-3 hours per week!

While teaching friends how to save money, I've learned that the amount of information can be overwhelming. These important tips will help you to be successful:

1. Take it slowly. Try out one new change each week. This is a lifestyle change and too much too soon can overwhelm both you and your family.

2. Enlist a friend. Find someone who has the desire to save money as well and navigate the waters together, hold eachother accountable if you can. You can even make it a contest to see who can save more each month--winner goes out on a date and the loser babysits!

3. Get your family on board. Letting your spouse and kids know what you are doing and why is key. You are most likely not the only one with access to your household finances-so it doesn't really matter how much you save if your family members are still spending it.

If you are still skeptical that your family will be able to do this, I'm here to tell you I know exactly how you feel. It's new, it's different and it's scary but you can do it!!!