Thursday, December 16, 2010

Give free $10 certificates

Right now, you can send free certificates to everyone on your Christmas list. You can send up to 40 free certificates every day until December 31.

Keep in mind, certificates usually require a minimum purchase (probably $15-$20 for a $10 certificate), so you can't score a completely free meal with them, but if you eat out anyway, it's a great way to save money.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

$3 off your first purchase at Mamapedia

Mamapedia is a deal a day site aimed at moms. Right now, using code Holiday3, you can get $3 off your first purchase. This is in addition to the $5 credit you get for signing up. Mamapedia also donates a percentage of your purchases to the school of your choice. Talk about a win-win!

Thanks Money Saving Mom for sharing this deal.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Do good: Give a day of water

Please enter your email address above to donate a day of water. Share it on facebook or twitter to donate even more.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Life Update

It's been almost two months since my baby girl was born. I haven't written about it yet because I'm never quite sure how. She's beautiful and perfect, and I'm convinced she's insanely smart and strong (but what mother isn't, really?)

Life continues and every day I figure out a little bit better how to manage things. Flylady has been a help in some ways; having a few routines (I vacuum on Tuesdays, clean mirrors on Wednesdays, swish and swipe every morning) helps to keep me sane and keep my house clean enough by getting things done in little spurts. It also helped to have groceries (and especially diapers!!) stockpiled to so I didn't have to run around buying stuff up, and some meals in the freezer for when I didn't have time/energy to cook. I'd much rather play with or cuddle my little girl than deal with that stuff.

As for the money part, it continues too. I found I can read some deal and freebie blogs with her on my shoulder or in my lap playing, so I'm starting to get back into couponing, but only as much as works for me. I can't easily run to several stores, so the drugstore deals are taking a backseat for a while, and I'm just focusing on one grocery trip on the weekends when my husband is home. I've had to schedule some time into my week to do bills and budgeting too, stuff that used to always just get done whenever, but now wouldn't get done if I didn't make an appointment with myself. So again, things are coming along.

I'm going to start trying to post some money and life tips as I figure them out and experience them, but remember that I'm no expert. I'm just trying to get through and enjoy this phase of life, and I know so many others out there are too.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Stop waiting and use your stuff before it expires!

I recently was trying to get stuff organized and in sorting through everything found the following items, all of which were expired:

  • Several high value coupons, including a few free item coupons
  • A $15 facebook ads credit
  • A coupon for a $20 Target gift card for completing a baby registry (which I did)
  • A $25 cash card from Huggies Enjoy the Ride (Oh the pain! The shame!)

It made me literally sick to my stomach to essentially throw away over $45 just because of my procrastination and lack of organization. In truth I knew I had the cash card, but didn't realize it had an expiration date on it and was saving it. Why was I saving something that could essentially be used as cash for any of my everyday purchases? Partly because it's a pain to use, but really mostly because it was something I had won, and so I wanted to use it for something special for me. So I waited just long enough to not be able to use it on anything.

There is surely a lesson to be learned from this. Keep track of what you have by going through things regularly instead of twice a year. Check gift cards and coupons for expiration dates immediately and make little reminders for yourself if those dates are short. But mostly... stop waiting. There will never be a perfect moment to use something, so take the plunge and just use it while it's still good. You'll get your value and save yourself this sick feeling.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Easy way to earn some extra swagbucks

I recently discovered a way to earn some extra Swagbucks, in addition to doing regular web searches and taking the daily poll (you do have a Swagbucks account, right?)

If you click on "ways to earn" and then "special offers" at the top of the page, you'll be taken to a page with limited time offers. Many of these are email submits, sign ups, or other typical GPT type offers. However, if you flip through the offers, you'll find several that pay you swagbucks just to watch a 2 minute video. I found videos in the SuperRewards section and the OfferPal section, but there seem to be different ones every few days.

I typically earn enough SB for a $5 Amazon giftcard every three months or so just from my searches, so this will speed it up a bit!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ways to be frugal when you're busy

Sometimes in life we all go through periods when we are ready to crash, when we are completely overwhelmed and can't do more. During those times, it can seem hard to buckle down and frugal up. Fortunately, there are lots of frugal things you can do that rather than taking up more of your energy and time, actually take less.

1. Wash less. Don't wash your clothes every time you wear them. If they aren't dirty, hang them back up or throw them in a basket for tomorrow. Ditto for towels. My husband and I each have a different color towel that we just hang back up and I wash a few times a week. By not washing stuff every day, you save yourself time as well as the money for detergent, energy and water. Oh, I also don't wash my hair every day, but that might be a different issue.

2. Eat easy. Planned leftovers or clean out the fridge night can save you a lot of hassle and pretty much give you a free meal once in a while. Other great easy meals that just happen to be cheap include sandwiches, salads, scrambled eggs. I also like to keep a few convenience meals around that I get for free or cheap with coupons. We don't eat that way all the time, but it is nice to have in a pinch.

3. Watch less TV. Spend your small amounts of free time resting, sleeping, or meditating rather than watching TV. You'll feel better for it, save energy, and not be exposed to so much marketing.

4. Get some tools. A programmable thermostat will put your energy savings on autopilot, requiring absolutely no frugal input for you. You can also get devices that turn off your whole power strip automatically when you shut down your computer or turn off your lights after a certain amount of time. When you're busy, it's good to know that you can keep being frugal while you're not around.

5. Pay your bills automatically. Take a few minutes to set up all your bills on autopay so that you never accidentally have to pay a late fee, and you can save time every month.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Baby stuff is expensive

I'm expecting my first baby in September and we're trying to stock up on gear and supplies. We were fortunate enough to have a shower where some very generous relatives gave us a lot of the more expensive essentials (crib, pack and play,car seat, stroller, swing) and thanks to coupons and some great deal sites I have already started a fairly large stockpile of diapers and wipes. I thought I was doing well.

Until we started shopping to fill in the rest of the things that we needed. In the past couple weeks we've spent a few hundred dollars just on somewhat small things. I feel like I'm doing something wrong. Everyone writes about how babies aren't really that expensive, but I'm starting to not believe that. I don't feel like I'm impulse shopping or falling prey to a lot of marketing, but I don't have any way of knowing.

There are some things we've seen that I know I realy don't need. For example

  • Pacifier wipes/keepers
  • Wipe warmer
  • Diaper stacker
  • A lot of dresses/outfits
There are things that I'm pretty sure we do need:
  • Onesies in a few different sizes
  • Socks
  • Receiving blankets
  • Crib sheets
  • Waterproof crib mattress pads
  • Changing table covers
  • Burp cloths
  • Towels and washcloths
  • Thermometer
  • Safety gates
  • Outlet covers/cabinet latches
  • Monitor
  • Nursing attire
And things that we think we want although maybe don't need
  • Boppy/nursing pillow (and waterproof covers)
  • Diaper pail (and refills)
  • Baby bathtub
  • Extra car seat base

It adds up to a lot of money very quickly, even if we don't get a lot that we consider extra - and I know I'm still forgetting stuff. I am trying to shop for deals, but it's hard when you feel anxious to just get everything done. Does anyone have advice for things on my need or want list that I could remove, things I don't list that I need, or ways to save money on all of it?

Free Amazon Prime membership for college students

If you are a college student with a valid .edu email address, you can sign up for a free one year Amazon Prime membership at Amazon student right now. Amazon Prime entitles you to free 2 day shipping, with no minimum on purchases.

This is a great deal. I've had one month trials of Amazon Prime before and always been very happy with them. You can pretty easily change your settings to not renew automatically at the end of your membership so that it won't cost you a dime.f

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do Good with your smartphone

I recently discovered a smartphone ap called Cause World which allows you to donate to charity for free using your smartphone. Simply download this free ap to your Iphone or Droid and companies will donate to charity every time you do simple actions like walking into a store. If you already have one of these phones, it sounds like a great way to give a little extra.

For more ways to give for free check out Click to Donate on squidoo.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Don't forget to play

I think, if I could give one piece of advice to people looking for a way to get their lives, money and homes in order it would be this: don't forget to play.

It seems counter-intuitive. I mean, when you feel overwhelmed and there's only so much time in the day to get things done, the instinct is to spend all of it working. If I'm not doing something productive it's a waste.

But the truth is, I don't think the human brain or the universe works that way. When all you do is run around working, sometimes it starts to feel like you're running on a hamster wheel. For example, the more you work, the more tired you are, the more money you spend on conveniences and comforts, the more you have to work. And then there's laundry, which does have the annoying habit of popping back up again once you've gotten it done.

After a while, you feel tempted to just give up. You'll always be in debt, you'll always have laundry piles, you'll always be miserable.

But, when you play, when you budget in time for something you enjoy and totally immerse yourself in it, you feel better. You feel better in a way that you will never feel by earning more money or folding more laundry. Whether it's reading a book, going to the zoo, playing a video game, or throwing a ball around, somehow it is productive in a truer sense than vacuuming is. The reason is, once you've done that, you don't feel so defeated anymore. You don't mind doing some laundry or cooking a nice meal. When I meet a friend for coffee, I don't feel any more tired the next day than if I didn't. In fact, going to work is actually easier.

So, do it, take some time and play. By yourself, with your family, with your friends, it doesn't matter. Just go, be totally unproductive and enjoy yourself. It's amazing how much it will accomplish.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Trying to keep my frugal cool

So even though I moved to a much cooler part of the country this year, I still can't seem to get away from the heat waves. Temperatures here are tipping 90 this week, and I am definitely feeling the heat. Because I'm worried about the effects on my body of overheating at this particular moment, I'm not sure I can keep the air off as long as I have been, but here are some strategies I'm trying to use to hold out a little longer:

1. Keep an eye on the outside temperature. When it drops into the low 70's, open up the windows and air out the apartment. The movement of the air makes a big difference in how cold it feels. However, when the outside temperature is above 80, it's much better to keep the apartment sealed and try to keep the heat out.

2. Turn everything off. Okay, so my laptop is on, but the TV and lights are off, chargers are unplugged, and I'm avoiding running laundry or washing dishes during the hot part of the day.

3. Drink lots of cold water. I have a pitcher in my fridge, but I'm trying not to open it too often, so I am keeping two tall stainless steel water bottles alternately in the fridge. The water stays cooler longer in the bottle than it would in a glass so I can enjoy cool water longer without wasting energy. When it gets even hotter, I may keep a glass of ice too and just pour the water from the bottle over the ice every few minutes.

4. Take cold showers. Normally I shower at night, but if I'm home it's better to take a cool shower at the hottest part of the day and then leave my hair wet to keep me cool a little longer.

5. Air dry clothes. The dryer puts off a ton of heat, and when it's this hot, the clothes dry pretty fast. I don't have a clothesline, so I just drape things over chairs and set the chairs on my deck.

6. Wear seasonally appropriate clothing. I wore a tanktop and my husband's shorts (I don't have any I can fit into anymore) and only got dressed more than that when I had to run errands.

7. Relax. This is not the weather to do any labor intensive chores or to try to do a lot of exercise. I mostly am just sitting around, reading, writing, getting my little hand chores done (like fixing a seam on some pants and filing my papers). When it cools off this evening, I may try to get a more intense house cleaning session in.

8. Eat light and cool food. I absolutely will not turn my oven on once it starts getting hot in the summer. Mostly I rely on my crockpot and toaster oven, neither of which put off as much heat, and sometimes my stovetop, but on days like today I prefer to just eat salads and sandwiches anyway. Cold food won't raise your body temperature, and lighter fare is easier to digest.

Friday, July 2, 2010

When frugality stops being flashy

Five years ago, I had just gotten engaged, quit my job, and moved halfway across the country to be near my honey. It was the first time I had really had any major life change so dramatic (but not seemingly, the last time), and I was riding quite the natural high. At the same time, I suddenly had a ton of time and not a ton of money. Although I had some money coming in, I was majorly committed to finding ways to make my savings stretch and last.

So I started doing research. I went online and read every frugal blog I could find. I read Dollar Stretcher every week. I checked out The Tightwad Gazette from the library and read it cover to cover. I baked my own bread and made my own ketchup and salad dressing. I unplugged my chargers and turned off my water heater during the day. I was on a mission and it was all so very exciting.

But here I am now, all these years later, trying to remember where I found that love. Frugal people are still awesome and I love reading inspirational writing on frugality, but when I read tips I feel like "Yeah, yeah, been there, done that." I have had to discard things that don't work for us (hubby doesn't like sandwiches on homemade bread), and have become very routine about the things that do work for us. In a lot of ways, I have already achieved the simple quiet life that was my goal: I can afford to stay home for a while, and we really only spend money on things that matter to us.

But I want that thrill back.

It's not that I'm going to fall off the wagon and stop being frugal just because it's boring. I know what my efforts have accomplished, and in all honesty most frugal things I do are just easier than their counterparts. It's just that when I was filled with glee over each new frugal discovery it was easier to keep making more discoveries, to keep learning and connecting. I wanted to tell the world about what I was doing, to teach and to help other people; now it just seems so obvious to me that I don't bother.

But when I think about some of my younger friends who are just getting married, I realize that they don't know what I know, that for them these things are still hard and different - and perhaps a little bit exciting. So perhaps the best way to regain the frugal love is to teach it, to see other people's joy as their lives get simpler and better. Because I think that would be quite the thrill for me.

For more frugal inspiration, check out Frugal Friday at Life as Mom.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Gazillion, or how not to do financial planning

Have you seen the commercial where the two men are carrying around their "numbers" - i.e., the amount of money they need to retire? One has a large, but somewhat reasonable number and the other has the words "A Gazillion." The one with the number asks the other "How do you plan for something like that?" and the response is "I just keep throwing money at it and hope something good happens."

Oh my gosh, I can't tell you how much that resonated with my husband and me.

For a long time, our solution to most of our financial goals, whether we were planning for emergencies, retirement, or the down payment on our house, was to just to throw money at them and see what happened. We had no stopping point, no end goal, and no plan for what to do when we finished - if we even knew we had finished. I had a lump sum of money in a savings account that was to furnish all of our goals (except retirement).

Recently we sat down with a calculator, some paper, and our balance sheets and tried to reconcile all of this. Here's what we came up with.

1. Based on our Good Faith Estimate from our lender, we got a number for how much we would need for a down payment and closing costs, and put that in a separate savings account not to be touched for anything.

2. We made a list of what we need to pay for in the next few months - some basic baby furniture, moving expenses, a lawn mower, etc. - and a price point associated with each of them. I made a subaccount in my savings account for expenses and moved enough money to cover all of these immediate needs. (If we didn't have enough saved to cover them immediately, we would have figured out how long we had until we needed them and allocated a monthly savings amount until we had the money saved to buy it.)

3. We looked at our spending for the past 6 months and figured out what our recurring expenses were - medical bills, car insurance, car maintenance - that came up less than once a month. When a huge payment came up, it was killing our budget for that individual month. By dividing this by how often they occurred, we calculated how much we needed to set aside each month. We made a separate subaccount for each of them and set up a monthly autodraft from our checking account so that we would always have the money available when things came up.

4. We looked at what we had left - both in our savings and in our monthly cash flow and made some decisions. We agreed to put enough in hubby's 401(k) to max out the match, and to put enough into our emergency fund to cover 3 months worth of our expenses. We worked our budget to be sure we could get to that goal fairly quickly, and set up monthly auto transfers to make it brainless. We have some student loan debt we could be paying on instead, but we decided for right now with all the changes and impending expenses that the security was more important to us than the numeric advantage we'd gain. However, now that we have a goal for our savings, we will know when we have achieved it and can then reroute that portion of the budget towards debt reduction.

I'm so much more happy now that we have a clear plan, and having everything on autopilot gives me so much freedom. Maybe we don't have a gazillion just yet, but it turns out that's not what we needed.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Do Good: Share the Table

Right now if you go to Share the Table and click to support family meals, Barilla will give $1 to Meals on Wheels. $1 for one click is a pretty big impact.

Plus, if you're into sweepstakes, you can enter to win a pasta meal. The odds are pretty good, and it's pretty easy to enter.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Getting my life in order

So I've been home from work for about 2 weeks now, and I just started to realize that in that time I haven't done anything. I had piles of laundry, an overflowing to-be-filed box, clutter all over my apartment. I hadn't read started reading any of the books that I wanted to read, and I hadn't written anything. Worst of all, I hadn't had any fun!

So, yesterday I sat down and started to reflect on what it was I wanted to do with my time. I started by writing because that is the way I begin everything in my life. As I was writing and trying to reflect on the things that I needed to do, I found my stream of consciousness turning into lists and the things I wanted to do falling into categories.

1. I wanted to get organized with my money and papers.
2. I wanted to clean my apartment.
3. I wanted to read and write more.
4. I wanted to have fun.

So I decided to dedicate time every day to each of those things, come what may. I set aside an hour for each of the first three: from 2-3 I would have a quiet hour when I would turn off all podcasts, music, and television and just write or read. From 3-4, I would have a desk hour when I would pay my bills, file papers, check my bank balances, balance my checkbook and budget, and maybe apply for a few work at home jobs. Then from 4-5 I would clean: I would empty my dishwasher, fold my laundry, dust, clear off any surface clutter, and do as much deep cleaning as I could do in about an hour. Then I'd be done. I made a separate list (when did I become such a listmaker?) of things large and small that I wanted to accomplish during each time period; some were recurring, some were small scale, some were ongoing. I even made a list of fun things I wanted to do when I had time to play, so that I wouldn't forget and just waste away the time on the Internet or watching TV I don't even like.

It is amazing to me how much has gotten done in just two days of this. I feel more centered and settled, my life feels in order, and I have the whole rest of the day to play, take naps, or do whatever else I want. How liberating! Why haven't I been doing this all along?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Life turnarounds

In the past few months, my life has taken a few major turnarounds. I already wrote about my husband graduating and us moving halfway across the country (again). Since then, I have undergone the following changes

  • I had a long term sub job for the past three months, which just ended last week with the end of the school year.

  • We bought a house and will be closing in August.

  • I am expecting a baby in September.

So... life is a little different than it was a year ago this time. I'm excited and scared and a little overwhelmed and only just now ready to start unpacking the implications that his has for my money - and a little bit for my life. Jobs and babies and houses and moving, these are things that can take up all of your attention, and often rightfully so. So right now, before the next storm hits, I need to take some time to reflect and to plan. I'm hoping to do some of that here, and if any of it interests you please chime in.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Easy site to make money doing what you already do

If you haven't already heard about it, you should definitely check out Be Ruby. Be Ruby is an internet shopping portal where you earn money for clicking through their site to get to shopping sites. The more exciting part is, you can earn a few cents just by visiting the site and clicking through to popular sites like gmail and facebook. If you visit those sites anyway, you can earn some money just by starting at Be Ruby every day.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Patience and compassion (and a little less whining)

I've been working with kids, in some capacity, for close to ten years now. Even before that, I tutored and taught my friends and classmates for as long as I can remember. I've always considered my strength as a teacher to be my ability to see each student as an individual, to give people what they need and not necessarily what the curriculum says they should get. Being fair means considering each circumstance and doing what is appropriate, not expecting people to do things they are not capable of.

So why can't I see it when it's me?

I'm not Martha Stewart, nor am I Crystal or Meredith, as much as I admire and respect them both. I can't get my grocery budget down to $50 a month for two of us. My apartment doesn't look like it came out of a magazine. I don't know how to sew an apron, nor could I probably concentrate long enough to finish one even if I had instructions.

And you know what? That's okay. My laundry is done. I have dinner on the table every night. My apartment looks presentable enough that I don't mind having company. I work a few hours a week, enough that I feel good about it. There's money in my savings account, and that number is growing every month. If I'm more tired than I used to be, I should rest and sleep more. If I want to work on a quilt or knit a blanket, I have time; if it takes me 2 years to finish something, that's okay too. If my best friend on the other side of the planet needs to talk to me at 6AM, the housework will wait.

Instead of setting unrealistic expectations and ultimatums for myself, I need to treat myself with the same patience and compassion I would treat one of my students. Instead of setting hard and fast goals and then feeling let down, I need to see what each day brings and do the best I can. The goal is progress, not perfection, something I'd be proud to hear one of my kids realize.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Starting over is harder than it sounds

So every time I say "I'm going to get back to basics" or "I'm going to get things back on track," somehow I find a reason or a way not to do so. If I claim I'm going to start posting or grocery couponing or following a cleaning routine, I manage to keep it up for about 2-3 days tops and then I fail. There used to be an element of accountability associated with posting about it on my blog, but when I wait 3 months between posting I'm afraid I lose my loyal followers and therefore my sense of responsibility to them.

When I worked 40 hours (and sometimes more) per week, I said "Oh, it will be easier when hubby graduates . . . when I don't have to work so much. . . when I live somewhere more permanent . . when . . " but somehow I got to the end of all my whens and it still isn't easy. I'm still saving every month, still contributing, still getting dinner on the table, but I just can't get back into frugality (or into homemaking or into blogging) on a really deep level. I get through the absolute minimum possible and then I put the rest on hold. Instead of having audacious goals and accomplishing big things, I just skate by. I have had students who knew exactly how to do the least possible work and still get a C. . . and I feel like that's where I am with most of my life.

This post was not meant to be so much about the whining, but I have a distinct feeling that I'm not the only one who feels this way. I've heard the quote "Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and soon you'll be doing the impossible." Well lemme tell you, I've got necessary down. So how do I move forward?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back to Frugal Basics

Around this time of year, a lot of people start to think about ways to save money and live better. I consider myself a pretty frugal person, but even so January is a good time to re-evaluate some of my choices. These days I don't feel nearly as frugal as I used to, and it seems that there are more failures than successes. Somehow, even with more time to do things, I'm spending more money and going overbudget in a number of categories.

So I've decided it's time to get back to frugal basics. I'm going to start from scratch, remake my budget and reevaluate everything. I'm hoping to be able to cut some money from some budget categories to be able to put into savings or debt reduction, or even into other priorities, but my main goal is not necessarily to get things back to how they used to be. It's to re-evaluate everything and decide what elements of my budget are worth spending money on, and which ones aren't.

I'm hoping to motivate myself to do more projects and make more things from scratch, but I know that that's not the real key to frugal living. The key to frugal living is to be deliberate about where you spend your money and where you don't. Here's to being more deliberate.