More Free And Low-Cost Services For The WAHM Or Any Mom

October 23, 2009 – 6:06 am

Everywhere you look, there are freebies being touted by everyone you can imagine.  And, there is no better place to observe this explosion in free and next-to-free stuff than on the internet.

Whether you are a work-at-home-mom or dad, or you work outside the home but need to get documents back and forth to school, doctor, church, attorney, realtor, insurance agent, or club, you know the frustration of running to the office supply store to fax your documents.  Not only is it frustrating to spend gas on your car for such a simple errand, but the expense of faxing a document can get pretty ridiculous.

If you’ve considered buying a fax machine for home to eliminate this problem, think again.  Enter the computer age.  You can avoid the expense and hassle with a click!

Free web tools such as FaxZero.com, allow you fax a number of free pages each day right from your computer documents.  In order to receive a computerized fax, register on a site like K7.net, and receive your own “fax” number which you’ll then be able to give out to the folks you need to do business with.

These services just illustrate, once again, how if you’ve got a question, the answer may be as simple and as close as a few little clicks of your mouse.

After School Activities Leave No Time For Dinner?

October 20, 2009 – 12:13 pm

Nowadays, when kids return to school in the fall, it no longer means an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. day.  It seems now that the days start earlier and end much, much later.  With all the extra-curricular activities our kids are involved in, when do you have time for a meal together?

Too often, family meals depend on driving through a fast food place or snacking in the car.  These so-called “meal times” can put a real dent in the family food budget, but more importantly, in family time together.

If you’re arriving home every night with your starving family only minutes before bedtime, how can you get something together that even resembles dinner?  Even if you plan ahead, there are going to be nights when it’s too much of a struggle, and that’s when the drive-thru seems like the only solution.

Here’s where a little bit of planning can pay off big time, both in time together and your budget.  You know your family’s schedule each week – basketball on Monday, ballet on Tuesday, both soccer and theatre on Wednesday – and so on and so forth.  With your schedule in hand, you know when you’ll be driving around with the family looking for food.  Now that you have your weekly schedule mapped out, it’s time to find some great deals on meals.

When your family decides that at least once or twice a week, you need to eat out somewhere, you want to find the most reasonably priced meal that you can find.  Food that is well prepared, nutritious, and delicious should also be a priority.  Here’s where your sleuthing comes in.

This is the part that makes you a frugal-food warrior.  With a quick click on a website such as KidsMealDeals.com, you can search out restaurants in your area that offer low-cost, half price, or free meals for kids on just about any day of the week.  These are meals that are kid-friendly and parent approved.  These restaurants depend on repeat customers, so they are most likely going to trot out their best promotions to get and keep you, the busy parent, coming back week after week.

The menus can sometimes be limited, but most kids don’t mind having their favorite dish again each week.  There are normally menu choices for parents that are very appealing, because, after all, kids aren’t driving themselves to these restaurants – their business relies on making you happy, too, since you’ve got the car and the checkbook!

So, that’s your assignment this week.  Go through your calendar and map out a few nights when you know you don’t want to deal with dinner when you get home.  Then, look at the restaurants in your area that offer specials during the week.  If you can sit down at a restaurant you like, enjoy a nice meal with your kids before you go home, and save your grocery budget, isn’t it worth a little time to do the research?

Stop Throwing Away Your Fresh Herbs

September 12, 2009 – 5:27 am

I have gone through the agony of throwing out my fresh herbs way too many times.  It’s so disturbing when I find a package of basil, sage, rosemary, or whatever I bought for a recipe recently, lying in the bottom of the crisper in my refrigerator.  Sure enough, the herbs are blackened, wilted, or otherwise fraught with yuck.

Finding a solution to this has been difficult, to say the least.  I have friends who grow their own herbs just to prevent this from happening to them.  Unfortunately, my gardening space is non-existent and a spot in the house is not going to work well as the cats will most definitely get to “use” the herbs before I will.

So, back to the drawing board.  I’ve tried putting a paper towel in the package along with the herbs to absorb the moisture, presumably to make them last longer.  That just gave me a paper towel to throw out with the herbs.  I have chopped the herbs up and frozen in ice cubes, which works for some things.  However, when you want to sprinkle fresh herbs on a salad or stir fry, the water from the melting ice cube just is not very appetizing.

As I was in the midst of this search for a good way to keep fresh herbs in the house, I was watching some cooking shows, and there it was right in front of me all along.  Each cooking show I watched had a drinking glass or other glass jar on the counter filled with water and a sprig of fresh herbs!  The cook would just reach over and pluck a handful of herbs, slap them on the cutting board, and voila!

Off to the grocery store I went that day, armed with a pile of recipes and my shopping list.  When I got home, I rinsed my herbs, trimmed the ends to help them absorb more water, and separated them into individual drinking glasses filled with fresh cold water and got to work cooking.  It was such a pleasant experience to reach over and grab my desired herb for each recipe.  Not only was it efficient, it was fragrant and added a nice, pretty accent to my kitchen counter.  And, it made me feel like one of those chef’s on television!

This is where planning comes into play.  The herbs will NOT last forever on your kitchen counter top.  I even put them, as is, in the refrigerator if I wasn’t going to use them again for a day or two.  The real trick is menu planning.  When I decided to try this, I planned my menu using similarly seasoned recipes.  For instance, I planned several pork dishes which called for fresh rosemary, and I made a couple freezer meals that called for basil, like spaghetti sauce and an Italian-style casserole, plus a salad for the first night that I wanted to try making basil chiffonade for the top.  Plan ahead so your herbs will be used up in a couple days when they’re at their peak.

There are also certain herbs that tolerate this method better than others and you’ll need to experiment a little to see which are the most favorable.  Parsley certainly is a long-lasting herb, but basil does pretty well, also.  Buy small amounts if you can and try them out.  Even if they wilt in a couple days, it sure beats finding them all slimy in the bottom of the crisper drawer!

I hope you give this method of keeping herbs fresh in your own kitchen.  It’s pretty, it’s fragrant, it’s handy, and it works!

If you’re always looking for easy ways to save money and stop your wasteful habits, you are not alone.  Stop back here often and be sure to share your successful money saving ideas.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Do Small Steps Toward Frugal Living Really Save Money?

September 9, 2009 – 12:39 pm

If you’ve been doing simple little things to be frugal, say, for instance, tearing your dryer softener sheets in half or thirds, have you been wondering if it’s adding up to real savings?  Some frugal living efforts are more obviously money savers than others.  Let’s see if we can reaffirm our thinking here.

Taking dryer softener sheets as an example, the savings may not leap right off this page and thrill you, but it’s one of those things folks most likely do routinely anyway, so does it matter?  You certainly don’t need to use the entire sheet in your dryer to do the job of softening and freshening up your load of laundry.  As a matter of fact, if you put a whole sheet in your dryer, you may end up with powdery stuff on your clothes and be taken aback a bit by the strong smell.

As far as money savings go, if you spend roughly $7 on a box of 120 sheets, that’s about $0.06 or so per sheet.  If you dry a load every day of the year, you’re only spending about $22 for the year.  However, if you tear that sheet into thirds or halves , it’s going to save you about $7; if you tear it in half, that will save you about $11.  That may not seem like a lot of money, but I look at it a bit differently.  That $7 you just saved is enough to buy another box without dipping into the budget, and that $11 is enough to buy another box of fabric softener sheets PLUS treat yourself to a smoothie or to pay for your child’s lunch at school.

Not a giant savings, so let’s look at a much more critical, and rewarding, example of saving money.  We’re talking about the whole bottled water issue.  I spent time recently figuring out just how wasteful it was to buy bottled water, so I did a bit of comparison shopping.  I bought a case of water in 16 ounce bottles.  I bought the case at a good sale price and figured out that we paid about $1.25 per gallon.  So, per bottle, we figured we paid only about $0.15 cents for a bottle of water.  Now, that’s not bad compared to what you would pay for a single bottle of water in a vending machine or convenience store.

Or is it?  Look at what you can get if you filter your own tap water.  If you spend about $30 for a faucet attachment and run your water through the filter, even considering the roughly $10 expense for the replacement of the filter every 40 gallons or so, you still come out to about $0.30 per gallon of filtered water as opposed to the $1.25 we figured for the bottled water per gallon.  So, that same 16 ounce bottle of water that you paid $0.15 for, just cost you $0.04 instead.

How does this savings on water impact your family’s budget?  If you drink one bottle of water a day, you will save about $40 a year.  For a family of water fanatics who drink three or four bottles a day, that can add up to some very serious cash.  Can you really pass up the kind of frugal lifestyle that could save you anywhere in the neighborhood of $40 to $500 or more a year?

Some tips for saving money by reducing or improving the way we use our resources have a better return of investment than others in our time and trouble.  Do a bit of your own researching to find out what frugal lifestyles that you’ve adopted have really paid off.  It would be great if you would share a few of your real success stories here.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Creative School Supply Shopping - Frugality At Its Finest

August 17, 2009 – 6:09 am

You’ve just about worn yourself out with all the preparation for Back-To-School time.  Your budget is set, you have your coupons ready, you have searched the internet for every possible deal you can find, and you have gassed up the car and are ready to hit the road.

But, and there’s always a but, there are a few places you may want to consider shopping before you venture out to your retail stores.

The first place to “shop” will save you time and a lot of money.  Consider your own clutter.  I know from my own experience that I have accumulated quite a collection of freebies from promoters like real estate agents, politicians, churches, non-profit groups, and assorted business owners.  Often, these groups use items printed with their names and logos to introduce themselves - items like pencils, pens, and even backpacks.  If you are like me, you save every last one of those items in a drawer somewhere in your house.  Now is the time to clean out that drawer.

Again, a penchant for squirreling away everything you can get your hands on may pay off.  If you have been piling up those folders and binders that you receive every time you get a new insurance proposal or policy, you can now reuse those items.  Your child may not want the logo of some company on their folders or three-ring binders, but a few stickers can solve that problem pretty fast.

Some old three-ring binders will come in handy for you too, Mom.  Use one for each child’s school announcements and other papers, like school calendars, class picture announcements, and the like.  Get yourself a three-hole punch and put every loose paper in there when your child brings them home from school.  Now you know where everything is.  Tape a monthly calendar on front and you have an organization masterpiece.

When it’s time to leave the house to shop for school supplies, consider more unusual places like drugstores, used book stores, and thrift shops before you head off to the big stores.

Many drug stores have a section of school supplies with prices that often rival the big retail stores.  Used book stores often have piles of cheap three-ring binders, folders, book covers, composition notebooks, and the like.  And, when people who do not have school age children clean out their junk drawers, they will very often toss those extra pencils, pens, and notebooks in with other items they are donating to thrift shops.  So be sure to make a stop at your local thrift shop or resale shop.

Last, but not least, check with your own child’s school.  Some folks will make a donation of school supplies to their favorite school, either by returning their own child’s unused supplies or by purchasing new supplies to help families who are on a tight budget.  Some communities hold “school supply drives” with the help of local radio or television stations.  If you are unable to afford the kind of school supplies that you’ll need to provide your children, these community events may be able to help.

When your budget is tight, you need to get creative when it comes time to provide needed items for your children.  Moms like you are some of the most creative people I know.  You’ve done it before, you can do it again… so keep the faith!

Time For Mom To Do Her Homework

August 15, 2009 – 8:41 am

It’s Back-To-School time which means it’s time for homework.  But, the homework we’re discussing here is not your child’s homework, but yours.  Me, homework?  Yes, you have homework to do, too.

Shopping for school supplies and clothing for your Back-To-Schoolers requires a bit of homework.  You have learned from past experience, like most folks, that heading out to the mall unarmed and unaware is the worse possible thing you can do for your family’s budget, and for your nerves.  How do you save money on school supplies? By doing your homework.  You’ll save both time and money, and, oh yes, those nerves, too.

Briefly stated, you have resources available to you that will allow you to get what you need quickly and with less money.  Let’s just take a look at one tool you can use to do your homework – the internet.

Searching the internet for deals on school supplies is one of the easiest methods you can use to save money without driving around looking for bargains.  Take for instance the online coupons.  Many sites like RetailMeNot.com offer the ability to search your area, using your zip code, for items that you are shopping for.  Need school supplies like pens, paper, folder, and the like?  Search school supplies to come up with discounts and printable coupons for stores in your area.  The same for clothing.  There are other sites that are similar, so do your homework and find sites that offer the best coupons and sales.

Other internet sites have specific shopping “channels” to help you find what you’re looking for at prices within your budget.  For instance, PayPal’s shopping channel on its web site offers parents an opportunity to find supplies and clothing that fit their family’s budget.  There are cash-back deals and other promotions that will interest the bargain shopper.

Check out other shopping sites as well like Amazon.com to see what they have available.  Aggressively research their own coupons along with other site’s coupons that you can apply while placing your order.  Many items that you need may have several price ranges, so do your homework here.

Do your homework on the internet before you head out to your local stores.  Many larger retailers post their weekly sales fliers online complete with printable coupons.  Pull up your local department store’s and larger discount store’s fliers and browse the sales without leaving your chair.  Save gas, save time, and save the hassle of driving from store to store.  By browsing online first you’ll know if you even want to visit that store.

Once you have your budget established, spend some time clicking through the internet to find your best deals, then make your list.  Saving time and saving money go hand-in-hand when you drive around  looking for bargains on the internet rather than in your car.

Use Your Networking Talents To Find Employment

August 3, 2009 – 7:37 am

Many folks are finding their family budget just won’t stretch far enough any more.  Additional income may be the only answer at this point.  Luckily, Moms like you have finely tuned networking skills learned from years of arranging family activities.  If you find yourself searching for employment, you will want to call upon all your networking skills to help you along the way.  Internet job searches are not going to reap the best rewards for someone like you.  You have honed your networking skills for years and can now put those talents to work for you.

Before you set out looking for employment, there are a few networking concepts that will help you maintain your professionalism and, hopefully, land you a job that is perfectly suited for your expertise and talents.  Here are just a few suggestions about what to watch for as you network.

Have Your Resume Ready – Be sure your resume is updated, and keep copies with you all the time.  You never know when you might run into someone you know or who has been recommended to you as a new contact.  A professional business card is also a helpful tool for those quick introductions.

Talk To People You Know First – Give the people you know an opportunity to help you.  Practice your introduction with those you trust, and ask their advice.  Ask your friends and family to be honest with you and to tell you if they would hire you given the sales pitch you just made.

Contact Your New Network Of Colleagues – Your friends and family will give you names of people who you don’t know.  Time to square your shoulders and give them a call.  Let your new contacts know right away who recommended you talk to them; it gives you common ground immediately so you both can feel comfortable.  Be sure to spend most of your conversation asking about them and not talking about yourself and your job search.  Build rapport first so you will be welcome back for further discussions, and eventually a job.

Give Something Back To Your New Contact – Be prepared to reciprocate with information regarding people or services that your new contact may find useful.  Have something of value to offer, even a service of your own, that you are willing to share… no strings attached.  Your credibility and goodwill needs to well established.

Be Trustworthy And Reliable – If you tell your new contact that you will be in touch with them, be sure you follow through.  Call your contact when asked, and keep trying them if they are difficult to reach.  It is your word at stake here.  Do what you say you will do.

If you’ve been searching for work for some time now, using the internet, checking the classifieds, or even reading the bulletin boards, you may be going at it all wrong.  Your talents as a parent reach way beyond waiting for someone to post a job opening.  You are an expert at networking already… now all you have to do is put those talents to work out there in the job market.

It’s Possible To Get Great Toys And Beautiful Clothes Without Buying Them

July 31, 2009 – 7:20 am

Mom, I know you don’t want your kids to go without great toys and beautiful clothes.  I know you’re trying to make everything possible for your kids, even when you don’t have two nickels to rub together.  So, when you see a new, wonderful toy that you really want your toddler to have, or you are attending a family wedding and you want your little girl to be dressed in the most beautiful fancy dress on the face of the earth, it just breaks your heart if you can’t get those things for your children.

That brings us to a whole new world of shopping.  Think NetFlix for kids toys and clothing.  Let’s face it, you are not going to rent your kids’ undershirts and diapers.  You won’t rent your kids’ pacifiers, books, or puzzles.  But, there are times when you would really like to have a great toy, but the price, or the idea of having to get rid of it after your child outgrows it, are issues you just don’t want to deal with.

I came across two very different rental sites that appeal to very different needs.  The first one is all about toys.  The site is called BabyPlays.com and is full of information and items for the thrifty parent.  The coolest thing I saw on the site was that you can actually rent a box of toys to be delivered to your vacation destination.  Now, that’s thinking!  If you travel during the summer to a cabin, retreat, or to Grandma and Grandpa’s, don’t you always have times when you wish you had something, anything, for the kids to play with?  There is bound to be a rainy day or two during your stay, so what better way to entertain your kids than with a new box of toys!  You really need to check this site out before your next family vacation.

The second site is geared toward those times when we want our little princess to look her best, without having to skip the mortgage that month.  This site is called WowClothingClub.com and is based on the assumption that not everyone wants to shell out big bucks so their little girl can dress pretty.  I like this site primarily for special occasions.  There are some rather expensive dresses on this site priced lower than you could find at any discount shop.  It’s worth a gander, especially if you have some dressy event in the future.

Renting items of any kind isn’t always the best solution, but sometimes it just makes sense to save your money when an item isn’t something that you would want to keep for any length of time.  If you find yourself in a situation where buying something for your children just doesn’t seem right, look into renting that item and see if it doesn’t work out for you.

Simple Pleasures At The Movie Theater

July 22, 2009 – 7:54 am

Families are facing increasing challenges every day, trying to stay afloat with resources that are getting more and more limited.  With job losses and concern over basic health needs, families are stressed beyond belief.

With those bleak thoughts, what can a family do to have a few laughs?  My family happens to love the movies.  Now, you’re saying “but a trip to the theater costs a fortune” and you would be right, sometimes.  There are ways that we cut that cost when we make our minds up to do so.  Here’s just a few things we do to stay within our entertainment budget and still enjoy a movie at a theater.

Split Up – If your children are old enough, this is a good way to include the entire family for a movie out.  Rather than pay for everyone to sit in the same movie, when some members of the family are lukewarm about what’s showing, split up and go your separate ways.  Then everyone is happy with their experience and you’re not wasting money on a ticket for a movie that someone didn’t care to see.

Snack Before Or After Movie – Don’t buy from the concession stand.  You know how expensive that soda, popcorn, and candy is!  If your kids want to see a movie, insist that there’ll be no begging at the concession stand.  Instead, agree to pop a whole big bowl of popcorn at home and wash it down with buckets of Kool-aid.  Inexpensive and great fun.  You can share your thoughts of the movie while you share your popcorn.

Go To Matinees – Take advantage of the lower cost of attending a movie matinee.  Many theaters also offer special family nights.  There are still, believe it or not, theaters that have “Dollar” nights.  Check some of the smaller theaters as they are often more inventive trying to get people through their doors than the larger chain theaters are.

Community Movie Nights – I’ve seen an increase in this incredible idea across this country.  These movie events are held outside in a city park or even a church parking lot.  You just bring your lawn chair, your snacks, and your family, and sit down to enjoy a movie playing on a makeshift movie screen, perhaps on the the side of a building.  Check your local community or communities around you for events like this.  They are very fun and often have a full day of activities going on before night falls and they start the movie rolling.  You won’t get the newly released movies, certainly, but you will have the whole big screen movie experience to enjoy together.

If you like the whole movie experience, like we do, there are still some options that will allow a cash-strapped family to enjoy a movie out.  These are just a few suggestions – things we’ve done so we can still enjoy one of our favorite past-times.  And, that is so important when the money is tight and our troubles are about to overwhelm us.  Take a break and enjoy a few laughs at the movies!

Feed The Whole Family, And Neighbor Kids, Cheap Cheap Cheap!

July 17, 2009 – 7:49 am

It’s summertime and not only do you have a houseful of your own kids, but there are usually a few neighbor kids and friends over, right?  During the school year you don’t have to worry too much about lunchtime, but now that school’s out, your house is swarming with kids from sunup to sundown.  You’ve got to feed your own family, and you don’t want to shoo everyone else home, so how do you feed the masses?

One of the most inexpensive food items we turn to in our house is potatoes.  Potatoes in any shape and form are one of the cheapest, most nutritional, and most versatile foods you can find.  Here, for your review, are just a couple quick potato dishes that will satisfy a hungry crowd at very little cost.

Simple Stuffed Potato Skins

Take a batch of nice big russet potatoes, scrub them up, and poke a few holes through the skins.  Now wrap them in foil, and stick them in a hot oven, about 400 degrees, for about an hour or so, depending on how many potatoes you bake.  You can also microwave them, but you can only do a few at a time that way.  Another way to bake the potatoes and avoid heating up the kitchen is to use your grill.  Prepare your potatoes the same way as you would to bake them in the oven, wrap them up in foil, and set them on your grill.  It will also take about an hour, depending on how full your grill is.  You can also bake your potatoes ahead of time and put them in the refrigerator to make into stuffed potatoes later that day or the next.

When ready to serve, just slice the potatoes down the middle lengthwise, scoop out the insides, being sure to leave the skin intact and sturdy enough to handle when filling.  Put the insides in a bowl, add  shredded cheese, cooked bacon, onion, green pepper, sour cream, cottage cheese, leftover veggies, or anything your heart desires and that the kids will eat.  Add some seasonings like chili powder, garlic, oregano, or anything that sounds good.  Mash everything together, refill the skins, top with a pat of butter, and stick in the oven to reheat a bit. That should satisfy just about anyone who’s been running around outside playing all day.

Pizza Potato Bake

If your kids like pizza, another very simple way to serve potatoes is to create a dish using pizza ingredients.  Just start by taking some thin sliced raw potatoes, lay them on a pizza pan or baking sheet that has been covered with a crumbled piece of foil, so the potatoes don’t sit flat on the sheet, drizzle olive oil over then salt and pepper.  Bake in a hot oven, about 400 degrees, until potatoes turn golden brown, but not too brown.  Pull the pan out of the oven and top with your favorite pizza toppings, first pizza sauce, then some green pepper, onion, black olives, mushrooms, Italian sausage, and pepperoni, then finally covering with mozzarella cheese.  Of course, if your kids are strictly cheese only pizza lovers, probably some pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese will be just enough to satisfy them.  Then pop the pan back in the hot oven for a few minutes, until the cheese gets all melted.

Quick Time Potato Salad

Potato salad can be a time consuming venture, especially if you’re using an old-time family favorite recipe.  That’s great for picnic time, but when kids are milling around at lunchtime, you need something on the table quick like!  Begin by scrubbing and dicing some potatoes.  I prefer new red potatoes for potato salad, but anything will do at this point.  Put the diced potatoes in a pot of cold, salted water, and bring to a boil, turning down just a bit so they cook at a gentle, rolling boil, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until you can get a fork through the potato.  Drain well, and throw the potatoes on a cookie sheet or baking pan and put them in the freezer to quickly cool.  Meanwhile, chop up whatever kind of veggies your kids like, maybe some radishes, carrots, celery, and cucumber, to throw in the salad.  In a real rush?  Grab some Ranch Style salad dressing for a real quick dressing for your potato salad.  Or, if you have a minute, just take some mayonnaise, yellow mustard, and maybe a little pickle relish, and mix together a simple dressing.  Pull your potatoes out of the freezer, throw them in a big bowl, toss in your veggies, mix in your dressing, and you have potato salad ready for the hungry mob.  Save your grandmother’s recipe for the next time you have three hours to make potato salad!

My belief has always been, if you’ve got potatoes, you’ve got a meal.  These are just a few inexpensive ways to serve a satisfying meal to a houseful of kids.  Hope this helps you save maybe a few pennies, and hopefully a lot of mealtime headaches!