It’s Time To Teach Your Kids About Saving Money

July 14, 2009 – 7:27 am

Okay, Mom, you’ve been practicing all the things you’ve been learning about saving money.  You live a frugal lifestyle and you live within your means.  These two things have helped you build a savings plan.  You are able to save for large purchases and you have developed a savings plan for the future, which hopefully involves some investments.  That is all great, but have you taken your kids along on this learning experience?

Kids of all ages need to learn how to save money.  Instant gratification and a world wide shopping addiction are certainly two notions that have not helped your child’s money saving habits.  But, you are here to lend a gentle, guiding hand toward creating a real money saving lesson for your child.

Beginning with a child of tender years, you can easily encourage your young child to start a “penny jar” as early as age 2 or 3, as soon as they quit putting those pennies in their mouth!  Show your young child what a few pennies will buy, then show your child what a handful of pennies will buy, and then, for the grand finale, get a whole big jar full of pennies and show what that will buy.  Even a very young child will get the idea, and hopefully will want to fill up that penny jar.  Be ready to hand over your loose change!  Most kids love this little savings plan.

Children of elementary school age can certainly understand and appreciate a savings account at a bank.  Keeping a little bank book and watching their balance grow is a good way to learn that “a penny saved is a penny earned.”  When they see that magical interest show up on their bank statement, they’ll finally understand that old saying.  This age child will most likely want to save for a big purchase, like a game or larger toy of some sort.  The savings account may get cleaned out for relatively small purchases a couple times before your child realizes how unrewarding that was compared to watching the balance grow and purchasing something really big!

Once a child is in the higher grades, he or she may have a part-time job or get some sort of allowance for doing chores around the house.  This older child should have the future in mind.  The savings plan that a teenager sets up should include some sort of long term goal.  The first thing that comes to mind for most teenagers is a car.  That may or may not be reasonable in your family, so be prepared for a discussion.  A very important long term goal to consider is college or other further education.  Saving for an education is very often not a choice, it’s a necessity.  Of course, there are grants, loans, and scholarships to consider, but they should not be relied upon as your child’s only source of money for school.

Beyond saving money, an older child should consider safely investing their savings.  Along with your child and a financial adviser,  look into investing in bonds and mutual funds.  In addition, the federal government, and some states, offer programs in which they will chip in money to a student’s investment plan and even offer tax breaks to either the student or the parents.  Don’t forget to consult with your own child’s school counselor for ideas about where to go to find out about these options.

Living a frugal lifestyle involves a lot more work than many people think.  It takes a great deal of planning and research to find out how to save money and invest money wisely.  You’ve done the hard work and learned how to make your money work for you, now help your child do the same!

Childcare Costs Got You Down This Summer? Consider A Camp Experience For Your Child

July 10, 2009 – 6:25 am

Do you, like so many working parents, start to panic when the school year comes to an end because the childcare bills are going to start?  Come June, many folks are hit hard trying to cover childcare costs during the working day.  Even if you pay tuition for your child’s school year, it is quite often less expensive than providing daycare for the same amount of time.  So, what happens when school’s out?  You grin and bear it… and dig in deeper and deeper into those moth-eaten pockets.

Or, perhaps you need to consider some options that you may not have explored before.  Have you considered having your child attend a camp for some part of the summer?  Granted, camps may also be somewhat expensive, but there are alternatives to the trendy spa-like or sports camps that can cost thousands of dollars.  Let’s see what else is out there.

Of course, there are always the Girls Scout and Boy Scout camps to consider.  Some of these camping experiences are offered to girls and boys even if they are not currently scouts.  The fees are relatively cheap and oftentimes the day camps are next to nothing; perhaps just a small fee for the cost of food or craft items.  Some camps allow a scout to pair up at camp with a friend who is a non-scout for a nominal fee.

On the same note, consider a nearby YWCA and YMCA.  The programs available through these groups vary by region and need in the community.  Fees may be based on income, and some programs are free.  It’s worth a call or visit to your own local or nearby Y.

Your own community’s art and cultural agencies, groups, and museums may offer free programs for youngsters throughout the summer months.  If you live in or near a larger metropolitan area you are almost guaranteed to find at least one or two programs to meet your family’s needs and your child’s interests.

An often overlooked resource for summertime camps and programs is the local schools.  Perhaps because school is not in session, many parents think there must not be anything going on during the summer months.  Contrary to that belief, public and private schools often provide interesting programs throughout the summer months and even on weekends.

Another local option would be your, or a friend’s, church.  Most, if not all, churches offer some kind of summer programs for their youth.  Most of us are familiar with Vacation Bible School, but did you know that a lot of churches offer a large variety of programs all summer long?  These programs vary from day camps that offer arts, crafts, music, fishing, and swimming, to week long boating excursions.  If you don’t belong to a church, ask a friend.  Most churches will encourage their youth to invite a friend to join in the fun.

Perhaps lesser known are the Habitat For Humanity youth programs.  Even kids as young as 5 years old can participate in some of the summer camp experiences.  It’s worth doing a little exploring into this great program.

Of course, there are all sorts of summer camps including music camps, sports camps, science camps, horseback riding camps, and the list goes on and on.  But, when money is an issue, you need to look into some of the camps from our youth and the youth of our parents and grandparents.  There are some wonderful opportunities to take advantage of which are often a lot less money than you might think, and perhaps less money than you are paying now for childcare during the summer.  It’s worth a little bit of research.

Grilling Out Is Fun And Can Save You Money This Summer

July 7, 2009 – 7:42 am

Is your grill collecting cobwebs?  Does the thought of firing up the grill leave you feeling a bit nervous or troubled?  If you knew grilling could save you a few dollars this summer would you pick yourself up by the bootstraps, haul that grill out, and reacquaint yourself with your grill?

There are a couple of schools of thought here.  Whether you have a gas grill or a charcoal grill, it doesn’t really matter.  You have a super-hot cooking machine at your disposal that does not heat up your house!  And, if you are running an air conditioner, you know what that means.  So, any time you can cook outside is a good time.  In other words, the number two reason many folks cook on a grill most of the summer is to avoid heating up their house.  What’s the number one reason?  It tastes good.

But, besides reducing the pressure on your poor air conditioning unit to keep your house cool, how does grilling out save money?  Your hot grill will pump out a whole lot of heat, even after you are done using it.  You can use that heat for several meals, not just one.  First of all, while you’re grilling, use the room around your meal for extra food, like baked potatoes.  Then, even after you shut the gas off, or close the vents on your charcoal grill, you still have a hot oven for a long time.

What many frugal grillers suggest is that you have something ready to put inside your grill to cook that you don’t have to watch.  This would be something that could cook at a lower heat, as the grill will cool down as time goes by.  This is the perfect opportunity to make up something for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner;  something that could be eaten cold the next day or just warmed up slightly.

For instance, surround your barbecued ribs with enough foil wrapped potatoes so that you have extras to cut up for potato salad the next day.  Put extra corn on the grill so you’ll be able to cut the kernels off for corn chowder or salad.  When you take your ribs off the grill and shut it down, slip a couple fish fillets wrapped in foil on the grill.  By the time you finish your dinner, your fish will have steamed nicely in their foil and will be ready for a salad for tomorrow’s lunch.

There are many grilled meals that require a super hot grill, as much as 450 to 500 degrees.  You wouldn’t dream of using your inside oven at that temperature for one or two pieces of chicken, now would you?  You most likely would never want to heat your oven to that temperature on a hot summer’s night either.  So, using your grill makes perfect sense as a way to save money and cook frugal meals.

Go ahead, give it a try.  Besides keeping your house cool, providing great meals, and cooking extra food frugally, cooking outside is just plain fun!

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

July 4, 2009 – 12:08 pm

Here we are… smack dab in the middle of summer.  Do you have all your summertime fun planned yet, Mom?  Knowing how you’re counting every penny this year, I’m sure the vacation budget is not what you had hoped it would be.

Looking for reasonably priced fun destinations can be quite a challenge.  However, because the entertainment industry is suffering from the slow economy just like the rest of us, there may be a silver lining to that dark cloud after all.  Businesses are looking for ways to help families loosen their purse strings just a little.  They are doing it by lowering ticket costs and offering package deals that families  will find difficult to refuse.

How about a baseball game?  Too expensive?  Check out the minor league baseball ticket deal offered by Kraft Foods.  Although tickets at a minor league baseball game are already pretty inexpensive, this deal is even better.  Kraft Foods is offering a two-for-one deal on tickets.  When you bring in a Kraft Singles wrapper and buy one ticket to the game, you get the second ticket free.  Now that’s a deal!  I recommend you check out the minor league baseball schedules in your neck-of-the-woods and check out this incredible offer.  It expires September 1st, so hurry.

Don’t let the perceived cost of a family vacation discourage you from getting out there and exploring your options.  Just a night out at a hometown baseball game can be a fantastic time.  Your area may host music in the park, or kids day at the zoo, or any number of things to do that cost very little or are even free.  It just takes some digging around to find really great deals.  Get out there, have fun with your family, and make memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Summer’s Here And You Don’t Want To Think About Cooking

June 30, 2009 – 6:01 am

We’re all trying to stop wasting our money, and throwing away our cash on fast food or meals out is certainly a painful way to destroy our budget.  Quick homemade meals are the way to go, but how do you cook cheaply and fast?

There are many ways, but if you haven’t read or heard about The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn, you are missing a fun look at saving your pennies.  My particular favorite is her way of looking at cooking meals quickly and easily.

Often, especially during the busier summer months, my thoughts turn quite easily away from cooking, until the yell “what’s for dinner?” comes through the door.  It’s usually a little later than during the colder months because we tend to stay out until the sun goes down, which comes closer to bedtime now.

So, sitting down with an easy formula for creating a simple meal is a must for me and my family.  Here’s an inspired “outline” for throwing together a fast and delicious meal that your family will never tire of because no two meals are ever the same!

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup of a main ingredient -  like tuna, chicken, turkey, ham, or beans
  • 1 cup of a second ingredient -  like celery, onion, mushrooms, peas, or tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 cups of a starchy ingredient -  like potatoes, cooked pasta, or cooked rice
  • 1 1/2 cups of a binder -  like a cream of soup, sour cream, yogurt, or any white sauce
  • 1/4 cup of something extra -  like olives, almonds, nuts, pimiento, or anything special
  • seasoning to taste -  with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, or whatever you desire
  • topping to match the dish -  like bread crumbs, cheese, croutons, french fried onions, or nuts

Just list your main ingredient choices, second ingredient choices, and so forth, in columns, post it on your refrigerator so you’re ready to pick and choose according to what’s on hand. Be sure that all the ingredients are cooked if needed, then throw everything together in a casserole dish, and heat together.

You can go any direction you want… Mexican, Italian, Asian, or, my favorite, School Cafeteria!  Surprise your family, and yourself, with your ingenuity!

Homebound Kids Need A Distraction? How About A Visit To The Virtual Zoo!

June 26, 2009 – 7:13 am

Borrowing a bit from home-schooling parents, I decided to do a bit of computer traveling courtesy of Google for virtual places to visit with the kids when it’s not possible to leave the house.  Sometimes, whether it’s a stormy day or just for simple economics, we have to stay home.  Kids need entertainment, education, and I need a break.  So, I started my search for something to do.

Lo and behold!  A virtual trip to the zoo appeared!  I was pretty sure I would discover what exhibits were at the zoo, but didn’t even consider the amount of  interesting live or video-taped animal antics we could see… and all right there for the clicking!

The site I found to be very easy to use and full of goodies was The National Zoo, aka The Smithsonian National Zoological Park.  Click on the live cam link to, hopefully, catch the pandas, flamingos, lions, panthers, and a whole host of critters roaming around, going about their business.  You may not get a glimpse right away, but it’s worth keeping the cam going as long as you can to see what’s happening.  One link we enjoyed was a video of the “fishing cats” catching their dinner.  That’s truly worth seeing while you wait for the lions to wake up and walk around.

Of course, there are other zoos that offer virtual visits along with live cam shots of many of their resident critters.  Do a virtual zoo search and you’ll be surprised what you’ll find… for free!

A virtual visit to a zoo may not be the same as a real live visit, but on a rainy day, when the kids are restless, and you’re going a bit batty yourself, the ability to relax and watch a couple pandas play, or watch a mama and baby elephant on parade, can really boost your family’s morale.  Learn something new and have a little fun… without the cost of admission!

Have You Taken Advantage Of The Sears KidVantage Club?

June 22, 2009 – 6:55 am

I was scrolling around the internet and discovered a little tidbit of information I didn’t know.  Have you heard of the Sears KidVantage Club?

According to MSN Money, Sears unveiled KidVantage in 1991 but lately has been sort of quiet about it. You may not even see it advertised inside your local store.  Just go up to the kids clothing department and ask.  You should be able to sign up there.  You can not sign up on the internet.

The idea is, if your youngsters are particularly hard on their clothing, wearing holes in the knees of their jeans before they outgrow them, Sears will replace the item of clothing.

Sears also offers a percentage off if a certain dollar amount of clothing is purchased at one time.  Of course, you’ll want to investigate the details, and cost, to belong to this Club.  It may be worth your time, especially if your little ones are rambunctious little critters!

Creating Wonderful Gourmet Meals For 99 Cents? Here’s How!

June 19, 2009 – 6:33 am

When Christiane Jory, a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, decided she was going to starve if she didn’t figure out how to cook, she went on a mission.  She didn’t just cook up big batches of macaroni like a lot of starving artists, she researched and learned to create delicious meals using, get this, only ingredients purchased from her local 99 Cents Only store.  After several years of cooking and compiling recipes, she wrote her book The 99 Cent Only Stores Cookbook: Gourmet Recipes at Discount Prices.

So, I’m thinking, if she can do it, so can I.  Reading her book has been an adventure.  More so than watching the cooking shows, which I love, but often feel intimidated by all the ingredients I’m simply not going to ever buy.  For two reasons:  1) They’re too expensive, and 2) I’ll never use them again and the bottle/can/box will go stale or rot.

What I’m thinking is that if you’re on a tight budget, Mom, and you’re looking at even a half dozen recipes to add to your repertoire, this may be the place to look.  It’s a great read and the recipes are simple and down to earth.  After all, what do you imagine is available at 99 Cents Only Stores?

We don’t have those stores here, but I’m certainly going to be able to find some of the ingredients at the dollar stores we have.  What I can’t find there, I will find at my local grocery store.  And there won’t be any fancy-schmancy ingredients to rob my food budget!

Frugal Food Choices Will Save Your Family’s Budget

June 16, 2009 – 7:42 am

What would happen to your family’s budget if you had to stock your pantry from scratch?  Let’s just pretend that all the food in your house was gone, stolen by some weird alien creature or something.  Okay, you come home and find everything in the pantry and refrigerator are gone.  How much money would it take to restock your food as it was?  Could you afford that and would you even want to?

The reason I brought this up is because when we create a household budget, the first thing that most of us examine is how much money we spend on groceries.  The food budget is the most flexible item and the easiest to reduce.  We all buy too many prepackaged foods and expensive treats, so if we eliminate even a few, we’re seeing results very quickly.  But, what would happen if we really looked at our grocery bill from another angle?  If you had to fill your pantry from scratch with a very limited amount of money, what could you buy?

We’re not going to look at what we normally eat, we’re going to look at what we COULD eat to save money.  Here are a few examples of food items that cost very little, but yield the nutrition we need, as well as full bellies!

Brown rice – This packs a whole lot of nutrients and fibre, and should be a mainstay in every household.  Do not substitute with white, processed rice, although that’s tasty, too, you won’t get the same nutritional value.

Potatoes – Full of nutrition and fibre, and is also a great “vehicle” for a whole bunch of other food.

Pasta – Choose good, whole grain pastas in a variety of shapes and sizes to create interesting yet frugal meals.

Nuts – Compare the price of nuts to meat and you’ll see how adding nuts, or even relying on them for your protein, will stretch your budget as well as boost your nutrition.  Buy raw nuts, like almonds, and learn how to roast your own for added value.

Dried beans and peas – This is the Mother Lode of frugal nutrition.  Black beans, garbanzo, navy beans, pinto beans, split peas, lentils - you name it, they are another staple in every pantry.  Used as protein or vegetables, the nutritional value is the same.  You can NOT afford to skip this food group.

Eggs – Of course, we can’t forget eggs.  Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, there are enough ways to cook an egg that you can never tire of them.

Onions, Celery, Garlic, salt and pepper – I choose these for flavoring.  You can boil up a pot of bean soup by itself, but onion, garlic, and celery bring the soup to life.  Eating should be enjoyable, not just frugal.  Of course, salt and pepper brings everything together.

Carrots – Another flavor enhancer, but more of a vegetable to round out a meal and to add to rice and pasta casserole dishes.

Greens – We’re talking kale, turnip, and collard.  Relatively inexpensive and packed with vitamins and minerals, and fibre, too.  Kale happens to be my favorite because it doesn’t cook down as much as the others, so you’re left with a nice pot-full.

Well, you get the picture.  If you just started with these few items, you could feed your family for quite some time.  Adding a few things as you go, like bread, milk, peanut butter, and apples, will round out your diet.  Let’s hope aliens never steal all your food, but I hope you reconsider your food choices the next time you go through your food budget.  Give it a try… see if you can create a meal with just the foods listed above.  Have fun!

Kids Home From School? You Need A Frugal Kid-Friendly Hobby!

June 12, 2009 – 6:40 am

You knew it was coming… the last day of school.  Of course you meant to have a plan to keep the kids busy and happy, as well as occupied so you could maintain your own scheduled tasks.  How about a few ideas for quick things to do that won’t require a big investment in either time or money?

Food:

You’ve got to eat anyway, so maybe now is the time to get your kids involved in the kitchen.  Start simply with lunchtime snacks like celery with peanut butter and raisins, aka “Ants On A Log” and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Depending on the age of your children, have them do as much of the preparation as possible.  It not only gives them something new to learn, but kids who help prepare their own food often are more inclined to try new foods.  You may want to cook up a couple batches of pasta and rice to keep in the fridge.  Then, have a variety of frozen veggies that the kids like, so you can have them just throw together their very own “casserole.”

Gardening:

A great way to teach your kids about gardening is to start with a couple simple tomato plants.  Get a clay pot or other outdoor-style planter clean and ready, with your kids helping, of course.  Buy good potting soil suitable for vegetable plants.  Give your kids the tools they need, and a little instruction, and watch the intensity they exhibit when they start planting.  This is serious work for most kids and it keeps them interested for a long time as they watch their plant blossom, then produce.  Individual containers work well, but if you have a garden spot in the ground, that’s great.  A fun idea is to plant a “naturally pest-free” mini-garden.  In a larger container, plant two or three grape or cherry tomatoes, and include a stake for support.  Then, around the parameter of the container, plant green onions, and between the onions and the tomato plants, plant a sprinkling of dwarf marigolds.  The combination of onions and marigolds is a natural defense against bugs that love tomatoes.

Crafts:

Projects for the sake of fun are great, but when you provide a craft that will actually create a needed item, kids will give more attention to it, and take more pride in the completion of the project.  Look around the house for things that your family can use.  Do you have a bunch of pictures piled up waiting to be put in frames or a picture album?  Can you hand some of those pictures off to the kids to creatively frame and display?  There are many ways to create frames that are inexpensive and unique. Start at garage sales and thrift shops.  Purchase a variety of old frames along with other interesting objects, such as buttons, old sheet music, or anything that looks interesting.  Lay everything out for the kids, give them a bit of instruction, and ask them to go ahead and design a frame or two.  Once they get started, they’ll be looking for all kinds of objects to create frames, especially if they’re framing pictures of themselves!  The same applies to photo albums.  It’s easy to cut and paste and turn a plain scrap book into a special family album.  Other items you may need around your house will come to mind as you look around.  How about a bulletin board or two?  Or some artwork for the family room?  Placemats, coasters, and bookends are all projects that can easily be designed and built by kids.  The idea is to help your kids develop a vested interest in their craft by creating a useful object.

These are just a few ideas for filling the time your kids have now that their days are not occupied with school.  When Autumn rolls around again and the kids are back at school, you’ll all have memories of a summer well-spent!