Sharing “How-to’s”, “Where-to-Go’s”, fresh ideas and everyday adventures of raising a family more affordably.
Ease your upcoming holiday spending.
An “Organized Christmas” Makes for a Happier Holiday:
The first place to stop when you’re ready to prepare for a happier holiday is: http://christmas.organizedhome.com/holiday-grand-plan
Their “Grand Plan” printable calendar began August 28. They have planning sheets and inspiration for a less-stress holiday you can look forward to.
Check out their “Rudolph Club” also, where on the 25th of every month, they devote some time and planning to Christmas.
Share a Summer Memory as Your Holiday Photo:
Give those on your Christmas list a cheery, summery photo of your family that will be a welcome site come winter. Once you have your photo, shop for a great deal on prints or photo gifts. Make Your Holiday Gifts Now:
Plan some “Get Ready for Christmas Days”
Gather your supplies and when the weather turns colder, you’ll be ready to create! Making homemade gifts from canning, sewing, scrapbooking and other handmade gifts can be fun now, instead of trying to finish them amidst other holiday activities.
Clearances – Think Christmas!
When you’re perusing the clearance aisles, look for inexpensive items that would make great gifts. Birdfeeders, yard décor, and other items that stores will want to clearance this summer will brighten someone’s Christmas.
Begin Saving For Christmas Spending:
Create a festive jar which will remind you of the holidays. Toss your change and other extra funds into the jar. Practice a little bit of “delayed gratification” by forgoing a coffee and instead, putting that money into your “Christmas Jar”.
Families: Begin the Holiday Conversations:
As summer comes to a close, begin talking to family and extended family about holiday plans. If your holidays include travel, start comparing prices for flights. Talk about gift-giving options. Be creative and consider “group gifts” or drawing names to decrease the amount of gifts you have to buy – opening the opportunity to give gifts that are more significant and focused on your selected recipient.
Visit your local library or the internet and do some research on fun holiday traditions. If you’re like me, implementing new traditions takes a bit more planning than usual, so early fall is the time we need. Select a few new recipes or activities and add them to your planning calendar.
Inspire the Holiday Spirit in Others:
When you are getting together with friends, share your favorite holiday memories. Talk about what traditions you look forward to. Exchange ideas and delicious recipes. Host a “Christmas Party” crafting time, including Christmas cookies and music. Your friends will thank you for helping them get ready for Christmas too!
Good deals can be found with planning, skill and practice. The same is true for great meals. To maximize your food dollar and dollar-stretching efforts, meal planning is essential.
We know that store sales cycles of most products revolve in 12-13 week cycles. Stocking up on cereal, snacks, etc. should be done, within budget, when those items are on sale. Use coupons if possible or enjoy your store brand favorites. Meat prices also revolve; buy two week’s worth now, saving on the cost of meat for next week.
Meal planning can be as simple as spending a few minutes looking at what you have at home, your schedule for the upcoming week, and a reading of the “Good Deal Alerts” from your favorite stores (found by visiting local money-saving websites). The pre-shopping “Home Review”, as we’ll call it, is a good first step for those new to planning. Knowing what you have is the fastest way to see a decrease in your spending. Everyone should review their refrigerator, freezer and pantry on a regular basis to avoid wasting food. Statistics tell us that we throw away up to 40 percent of the food we purchase – that’s a lot of money wasted! (WastedFood.com)
Weekly meal planning doesn’t have to be daunting task. Websites such as Meals4Moms, OrganizedHome.com, DonnaYoung.org, ChartJungle.com, TheHomeschoolMom.com and others have prepared printable meal planning sheets. Some of the websites offer links to files you can customize, then print. Food manufacturer and online recipe websites offer you menu planners and/or recipe indexes based on diets, ingredients you already have, kid preferences, and special occasions.
My favorite printable meal planning tool is the Grocery List/Meal Planner sheet found at Menus4Moms.com. I print several for a month of meal planning and efficient grocery shopping.
Here are my meal planning tips for you:
Our schedule determines our meals. I plan to “cook once, eat twice” in between busy family days. Summer means crock-pot meals and the use of our bbq. Fall and winter are great for my indoor grill, crock pot and baking. When I buy chicken breasts or pork chops in bulk, I freeze them in meal-sized amounts with marinade, Italian salad dressing or cream soups. Marinating as they thaw, they are ready to toss into the oven or crock-pot. An hour before serving, I add vegetables to the crockpot, serving the juicy mix over rice or noodles. We love our rice cooker – for breakfast or dinner- rice is deliciously easy.
We avoid wasting food by packaging our own “convenience meals” for my husband’s work meals and my “too busy to eat well” days. We compliment the packaged meals with divided portions of cream cheese (for bagels), cottage cheese (add pineapple, pears, or peaches), cheese sticks and hardboiled eggs. Produce is washed and divided into a few day’s worth of snack-ready bags. Brownies and cookies are made several batches at a time and divided, then frozen for long-term storage. Beans stretch meat in meals and are also the feature of meatless fajitas or soups.
When produce is plentiful, I freeze sauces and slices of fruit for winter delights. Berries are picked from farms and frozen. Those goodies are then pie-baking or breakfast-ready. Brown bananas are frozen, and then thawed in the refrigerator for morning smoothies. Our summer garden saves us money on herbs and root vegetables.
My children are more interested in the shopping trips, use of frugal-sense, preparation and eating of meals when I include them in the process. I find that they each have their own specialties or elements of the meal process they enjoy most. Pride, creativity, and a legacy of family meals grow right along with them. I save money, as they learn to like better food choices and delight in homemade snacks.
Nutritional Meal Ideas: Find “How To’s”, printables and helpful meal planners at ChooseMyPlate.gov
Couponing’s benefits, beyond money saved, are the important virtues and skills you’ll learn (or refine) to become a successful couponer. Contrary to spectacular savings seen on TV in the space of 15 minutes of super shopping, these skills are required before you enter the store. Simply couponing to get a “good deal” can lead to overspending and a pantry full of ingredients – but no meals.
Patience is needed both in the store and with your coupons. Marketers want you to clip the Sunday coupons – and use them sooner than is most valuable to you. Experience will show you that coupons held until the corresponding sale occurs will save you more money. You may score further savings with a “Catalina” instant rebate or free item. That’s patience at work; creating opportunity with your preparation – so you score the best deal.
Proper Organization – Clip your coupons and organize them in a manner which is ready to go with you – where you’ll find them when you need them. Maintained organization means less work and more value from the time you’ve spent on preparation. Most couponers do not remain with their initial organization methods, so choose one and be ready to revise as your couponing increases.
Individual envelopes for each store (with your meal plan and/or shopping list written on the outside)
An index/recipe/shoe box containing separated coupons (in envelopes or other sorts of dividers)
Purse-size coupon file; for longevity, choose plastic files. File coupons by common grocery categories, alphabetically by brand name, or in order of your most shopped grocery store – it’s your choice.
Coupon Binder; transform a zipper-closure, 3-ring binder into an ergonomic couponing tool. Utilize 3-ring folders and page protector sleeves to hold coupon policies, weekly ads, etc. Pockets are handy for calculators, scissors, pens, envelopes, etc. Many money-saving couponer websites have photos and narrative instructions on how they organize coupons.
“The Couponizer”; A ready-to-use tool that is also designed with some custom features. This visual organizer includes pockets for receipts, grocery list, and savings tracker. Its design is a combination between a coupon file and a coupon binder. You can use the included categories or using mailing labels, change the groupings for what you buy most often.
As space allows, add files, pages or pockets for “RAOCK’s” (Random Acts of Coupon Kindesses), coupons you’ve found along the way but have yet to file, “CheckOut Goodies”, and “Checkout Stack” – and, perhaps a file or pocket for each individual store on your route.
Coupon Insert Files: As you spread the word you’re couponing, you’ll collect more inserts than you may clip from. To utilize online coupon databases, you’ll want to organize your inserts chronologically. An accordion file, filing cabinet drawer or large shoebox works well. Write the distribution date of the insert in permanent marker on the front cover – as covers can be similar within a month’s time. The date is found on the spine of the insert. Where the coupon insert came from is also on the spine, and helpful information if you want to seek out more of that particular insert.
Other Useful Tools:
From the same websites which you printed shopping lists, you can also find “pantry” or “freezer” inventories. At-a-glance you can see what you have to plan meals with, and what perhaps needs to be added to your shopping list. Once you find an inventory sheet that you like, expand your forms to include gift-closet lists and other places in your life where important items come and go from. Use of what you have on hand, (that you already spent your money on) saves you time, money and energy over buying it again at a higher price. “One-item” trips to the store or last minute holiday buying blitzes we know, can be very damaging to our savings goals.
“Good Meals, Better Deals” is our next discussion, as we talk about how to make great meals out of our shopping trips. Please share your organization ideas – and stay tuned for July’s series as we continue to share money-saving skills.
As coordinator for the North Whidbey Coupon Club, I was delighted to be contacted for a story on coupon clubs. The writer was featuring a few different clubs, across the United States.
Just today, the article was published on BankRate.com:
North Whidbey Coupon Club welcomes new and experienced couponers. We are supported by our Whidbey Island project “Coupons for Our Community”, which collects weekend coupons inserts. These inserts are shared with guests of the Whidbey Coupon Clubs.
North Whidbey Coupon Club meetings are “open-house” in format. You’re welcome to join us anytime during our meeting hours – once a week, once a month, or simply to visit to learn more about how we are helping families.
Tuesday Nights: “Regency on Whidbey” Dining Room, 6:30 – 8:00 PM
Friday Mornings: Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, 9:30 – 11:30 AM
Second Saturday of Every Month: Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, 9:30 – 11:30 AM
We’re on Facebook: “Whidbey Coupon Club”
Our once-weekly email update/Good Deal Alert is available to anyone, regardless of their participation in the in-person coupon club meetings. Subscribe at email@example.com.
My kids love to be online and they love to learn. Summer is a great time to combine learning with some online fun. After some research, I found a program that I think will work for all of us.
As a mom of two kids, who are 7 and 13, I’m excited to announce that I’ve been invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid review. Time4Learning can be used for homeschool, afterschool and summer skill sharpening. Be sure to come back and read about my experience
You can find Time4Learning at Time4Learning.com.
It’s all over the news, the warning that prices of everything are going to go up. How can we keep our goals of spending less? Intentional, educated spending is essential. Being aware of what you’re spending, making good choices and having a plan will help you maintain your budget.
Time Can Be On Your Side:
Any shopper, with or without coupons, can spend less everyday by realizing the sales cycle in their area. In most areas, sales cycles range from 6-8 weeks to 12 weeks. Buy “staple” items when they’re on sale. Buy enough to see you through until the items are on sale again. Coupons can increase your savings, especially when you “stack” the coupon discount with a sale price. Track the sale prices of your most-used items so that you know your “buying” price is. You’ll then be able to quickly spot a good deal.
Use Your Resources Wisely:
What you have at home, can make, or “make-do” is money you’ve already spent which will save you money today. When money is tight, shop from home first – then add inexpensive ingredients from the store. Note expiration dates, utilize pantry inventory sheets and be creative. Always have a “Friday Night Falldown” meal on hand – when you’re tired and tempted to order-in. Don’t let food go to waste; research fun “leftover meals”.
Plan to Save:
It begins with making a grocery list (statistically, you will spend less!) and could grow into a habit of menu planning. Don’t walk into a store unarmed. Know what’s on sale, where the discount aisles are, and what you need. Save time and money with your list – you won’t buy what you don’t need – and you’ll save on extra, costly trips later on.
Go to “Frugal School”
In your circle of friends/family, find people who are more frugal than you are. If you look around and don’t find anyone, become that person! Get a group together and make some “Frugal Learning Goals”. On the internet, follow a local blogger who writes about good deals in your area. Grocery store deals, coupons and policies are regional; be sure to connect to local people “in the know”.
Once You’re In the Store:
Have your list, coupons, and perhaps your menu plan in hand. Educate yourself on the store’s promotions and any policy which will save you money. Shop the outside areas of a store and you’ll buy healthier meals. Buying fresher ingredients will encourage you to find new, less-expensive recipes. Try the store brand, many are good – some are better!
And Onto Next Month: When you see you’ve spent less this month, note what made the difference. Learn an additional resource or tactic for spending less. Keep the competition on with yourself and a shopping partner or frugal friend. Share this adventure with your kids as they’re able – and you’ll be leaving a legacy of smart shoppers!
Those new to coupons and/or those who are years into their couponing use have shared with me that they feel “anxious” at times. The details required and possible obstacles encountered with coupons can create nerve-wracking, palm-sweating experiences. If couponing doesn’t make you nervous, perhaps you’ve encountered unanticipated issues. Here are ideas to boost your confidence and money-saving success.
1. Educate Yourself: Be aware of current store policies, coupon-acceptance guidelines and sale promotions. Shoppers may opt to carry a copy of the store’s coupon acceptance policy (for polite verification, not clerk-abuse).
2. Make Friends and Allies: Build personable relationships with store employees and your fellow shoppers. Check in with the Customer Service desk often. Share your coupons with those you meet during your shopping trips. Be “Politely Persistent” when an issue arises. Don’t fight to be right; instead work to resolve the situation. Your future couponing experiences (and those of other couponers) will be easier.
3. Create – and Know Your Shopping Plan: Specifically write down what you intend to buy. This includes: Item (with variety/size), Sale Price, Coupon Discount, Promotion Discount, and Bottom Line Price. If you’re going to implement more than one transaction at a particular store, designate those separately. When anxiety or distraction occurs, you’ll be able to rely on your written plan. Carry a copy of the store ad with you as you shop.
4. Prepare Your Coupons: As you write your shopping plan, collate coupons for each transaction into separate paperclips or divide it with index cards in your coupon holder. Be sure you’ve scanned for expiration dates, valid sizes/varieties, and the discount amount (is it off one or two items?)
5. Have a Plan B (and C, Perhaps D): Know your shopping plan well enough that you can choose alternate items, if a desired product is out of stock. Place your “Plan B” coupons separate from your planned transaction coupons.
6. Timing: Couponing is more fun and sociable when the store is less busy. If you have “coupon-use anxiety”, you’ll feel more relaxed and clear-minded to implement your shopping plan during slower shopping periods.
When the store is less crowded, the reception you’ll receive from store employees should be more positive. Our own perceptions that we’re holding up the line (whether we are or not) and the negative stares from seemingly inconvenienced folks around you – all of that is worse during the busiest shopping periods – plan accordingly.
7. Shop with a Friend: Enlist the “buddy system” when shopping to help you through your list, or to shop along side you. It’s more fun with a friend!
8. Leave the Distractions at Home: As 24/7 Moms, this can be tough. When possible, do leave the kids (and the spouse?) at home. You’ll save time, temper and money when you shop without counter-productive hands, mouths, and motives.
9. Going with the Kids? Be at Your Best!: Shopping with the kids takes an extra measure of patience and energy. Choose to shop when your team is at their best – not tired, hungry, sick or otherwise inconsolable. Avoid bribing, but do expect and discuss appropriate shopping behavior.
10. Arm Yourself with Activities: Bring activities for your children. As the kids are learning their numbers and letters, have them complete a scavenger hunt or “I-Spy” game. When they’re old enough – involve them in the process. Ask them to help you with completing the list, comparison shopping, etc.
Extra Tip: I once saw a great idea a mom had for her toddlers. She had small notebooks or clipboards, just for shopping trips. Internet-printed activity pages, coloring books, or a “My Shopping List” for kids kept them happier in the cart.
As a long-time couponer and “Money-Saving Mentor”, I have to take some exception with what is aired on the “Extreme Couponing” programs on TLC. Let’s begin with the programming schedule that sandwiches the couponers between “Hoarding” and “My Strange Addiction”.
There is a whole lot of “staging” that goes into the creation of each segment. Pertinent details are left out. What is included however, are lots eye-popping hauls of groceries for small amounts of money. In order to score these astounding receipts requires coupon policies not available to many regions in the country. In addition, these “Extreme Couponers” are usually not shopping for their weekly meals. For their television cameo, these couponers prepare to take home the most, for the least amount of cash.
“Extreme Couponing” can be inspiring and entertaining. The show has chosen an assortment of skilled coupon users. Each is a bit unique in their philosophies. I applaud those who give their loot to charities, including care packages to soldiers. However, when it comes to couponing, I have to express that TLC, being The Learning Channel, is missing a great opportunity to really help families in a time of rampant need in our country. Everyday, I am asked about the program- often from new couponers who want to know how they can get started. Here is what we can learn from “Extreme Couponing”:
1. Preparation Pays: Before you hit the store, know what you’re buying, the savings you expect to receive and have a few “Plan-B’s” ready. Expect a challenge in getting the deal and be prepared for it. If you plan to buy a whole lot of a particular product, ask to make a special order so that you know it’s available. Ordering also shows consideration; your haul does not eliminate others from getting their share of a great deal.
2. Organized – The Only Way to Coupon: Whether you use a series of envelopes, a coupon file or a binder – be organized. Couponing won’t be much fun or valuable if you’re always playing “lost and found” with your coupons. Be efficient and clutter-free – you’ll save time too!
3. A List Makes Things Go Smoothly: As you prepare, make a comprehensive list. The list should include the product, variety/size, sale price, promotions to be deducted, coupons you have and the “net” price you expect to pay. Especially for new couponers or couponers traveling with distractions, a list can help you stay on track. A good list reduces “after-receipt” surprises when you realize you’ve paid full price for something.
4. Networking is a Necessity: Make and maintain relationships with the store manager and all of the other store employees. There is valuable information to be gained when you take the time to get to know the store. Networking also includes other couponers, the websites of manufacturers, and resources in the community where you can give/gain assistance.
5. Enlist the Help of a Friend: Shopping as a team gives you the advantage of another set of eyes and ears on your side. Working together makes the “chore” parts more fun and the “saving” parts of couponing more of a celebration.
6. Cashier Friendly, Cash Out Consciously: Couponing can be more of an effort than shopping without coupons – however, don’t fall asleep or be irritable at the checkout counter. Watch the register for possible errors – theirs or yours. Maintain an attitude of “polite persistence”. (That includes those behind you in line – which you may want to let in front of you).
7. Sharing Pays Many Dividends: Just as those profiled on “Extreme Couponing” are inspiring you, pass along the love to others. Give graciously to those in need; give gifts from your stockpile to new babies and neighbors. Teach others to shop for the best deals. As you shop, practice “RAOCK’s” (Random Acts of Coupon Kindnesses”); give diaper coupons to moms and Polident coupons to the Grandmas! The store will be more fun to shop when those around you cheer you on and share in the money saving opportunities.
8. Love the Loved Ones: The couponing process takes time, energy and money. Be sure couponing is not eclipsing you from your family. Store away a few surprise goodies and give out lots of compliments when you’re supported. If you’re not, consider what motivates/concerns your family and find ways to address those through couponing.
Making a transition from purchased cleaning products to more affordable, less toxic options is possible. Keep in mind that homemade versions may not work as well as the commercially packaged products, and you must know what you’re using – and how it mixes with what you’re cleaning.
Begin your changes slowly, investigating the possibilities and trying your new mixes with an experimenting-spirit. As you become more versed in using homemade cleaning solutions, you will very likely save time, avoid common toxins and spend less money.
When researching this topic, the other tips I found repeated often were:
*Purchase new spray bottles and other sealable containers for your homemade cleaning mixes.
*Label the cleaning solutions clearly, and keep a notebook (or file) of your successful recipes so that you can duplicate them easily later.
*Maintain the same baby-proofing precautions with your homemade cleaning solutions as you would with commercial products.
*Essential oils and other ingredients may become as costly as commercial concoctions. Work with your friends to purchase them in bulk together or at least share when possible.
Baking soda, as you may have heard, is not just for baking. As a kid, my mom always had us dip our toothbrushes in baking soda, now they have made Arm n Hammer baking soda toothpaste. I guess Mom had the right idea! Many products, following the trend of frugal and more natural cleaning, are boasting that they contain baking soda. Baking soda is very affordable and can cut many costs of maintaining your home. Make-Stuff. Com has a list of “Sixty Uses For Baking Soda”:
Vinegar is another more affordable product to use for your homemaking needs. It’s not just for pickles, anymore! As you’re gathering in fall apples, did you know vinegar will help deter the fruit flies? Mixed with other common ingredients such as olive oil and lemon juice, you can freshen up your home. Here is a list of “Vinegar Tips”:
Salt, I read is another wonder-product which can do more than season – it can clean, freshen and solve several kitchen conundrums. Now, take it “with a grain of salt” (Trial and error is the spirit), but here are “Sixty Uses for Table Salt”, by BellyBytes.com (check out their long list of healthy recipes too!):
“Housework won’t kill you, but then again, why take the chance! ”
Preparing for a garage sale at your home is simple when you follow the golden rule; prepare for the sale you would want to attend.
Friends and Family: Pre-arrange details, divide up the work, and be sure to have the contact information of those not attending the sale, for pricing and merchandise questions.
When?! Some sellers believe that choosing a weekend around the first or the fifteenth of the month is more profitable. Inform neighbors of your sale. Advocate respect of their property from your buyers.
Best Signs, More Profit!: Durable homemade signs work as well as purchased kits.(Larger cardboard boxes or poster board reinforced with sticks or sandwich-board type signs with balloons attached?) Don’t list what you’re selling onto your sign -drivers can’t read the inventory of your sale—just get them there! When you make great signs, your sale stands out and brings in better profit.
Can You Be Found?: Use wide-tipped permanent markers. Write in block letters, with arrows large enough to follow from several feet away. Uniformity in your signs leads buyers to your sale. If there is more than a mile or two between a sign and your sale, a brightly colored arrow steers drivers in the right direction. If your home is off the main road by several miles, writing “5 miles” on your sign may avoid buyers getting lost.
Find your good stuff: Ensure you have the manuals or accessories for items being sold. Presenting your items in good repair & cleanliness will increase selling value. If an item needs repair/replacement accessories, note it on the tag.
Let’s Make A Dollar!: Successful sellers price their item at a certain percentage of current retail, leaving room for some negotiation. Price clearly and fairly!
Fuel-Up!: Crock-pot(or potluck) meals for lunch or the post-sale dinner meals prevents the temptation of buying convenience meals.
Catch Those Drive Bys!: Placing nicer/popular, more enticing items at the front will attract drive-by sale-rs. Have a kids’ table lower to the ground for toys & children’s items.
Ambiance: Children can be a distraction and a hazard, both for you and for your buyers. If your children are not ok with their items being sold, the whole process can be excruciating for everyone. Clear any hazards buyers might encounter. Label any items that are not for sale. Keep your out-of –sight home/garage doors locked, as people will wander around your yard
Safe Selling: Take precautions for anything you don’t want to have stolen. In between waves of buyers, take some of your money into your house.
Closing Time: Take down your signs. If the signs are re-usable, note on the back of them where they were posted. Set aside items for your “seed box” to sell at your next sale. Thank your neighbors for their help and patience with your buyers. Have your sale accountant total everyone’s sales, subtracting any amounts agreed upon for division of sale expenditures. Enjoy your profits!