“Sneaky” Ways To Make Money With Your Credit Card

Let me start this frugal tip of with a note of caution. Using credit cards can be risky. The tips I’m going to share with you will only work for you if you’re very disciplined about your purchases and make sure you can pay off your balance at the end of each and every month. Even a little slip here and there that causes you to carry a balance will eat up all the money you’re making in the form of interest (and then some).

Early on in our marriage, we went through some lean times and ran up quite the credit card bill. Through some extra work, cutting back to the bare essentials and living as frugally as we possibly could, we were able to pay all that debt off in less than a year. After that we didn’t use credit cards for a while. We kept one around for emergencies, but never had a balance on it. While we didn’t stick it in the freezer, we didn’t carry it around with us either.

A year or so later, we slowly started using a credit card for online purchases. It just seemed safer at the time. The card we used also gave us a nice little cash back bonus if we paid it off in time. Which brings us to my first tip…

Use A Card That Will Give You Cash Back 

Check with your credit card company or look for a new one with a good cash back offer. Be sure to read all the fine print to make sure there are no annual fees that will eat up your cash back reward.

Next start using your card strategically. If you get the most rewards from grocery purchases, start putting that on your credit card. If it’s on gas … you guessed it, use your card at the gas pump.

As I mentioned earlier, I also like using my credit card for online purchases because it’s easier to get your money back if something goes wrong.

Saving money by using your credit cardUse A Card With Points 

Another option and one we use quite a bit right now is to use a card that gives you points for your purchases. Ours gives us points for anything we put on the credit card and provided we pay the balance in time, we get the points. As a result, most of our purchases are made with the card, from groceries and gas to utility bills and the likes. If we can pay for it with a credit card, we’re doing that.

About once every 3 to 6 months we have enough points accumulated to cash them in.

Now here’s the important part – Don’t be tempted to get that cute weekend travel bag or the shiny toaster. Instead look for gift cards to stores you’re using quite a bit. We end up with $100 gift cards to Home Depot or Walmart on a regular basis. I get groceries at Walmart and the Home Depot ones are used for projects to do around the house. Amazon gift cards are another nice option. Save them up and do your Christmas Shopping there in December.

Whatever you do, make sure you use those cards for something you would be buying anyway.

Get Creative

Of course those aren’t your only options. If you get a little creative, you can come up with all sorts of other little ways to make or save a little money here and here by using a credit card. You can sometimes get a better deal on a service or product if you put it on autobill with your card. We even save a little on our utility bills by using the credit card payment option. No need for them to send us a bill, which results in a little credit each month, and no need for us to mail in a check (and pay for postage). It may not seem like much, but do that with every utility bill every month and those savings will add up. (Do be sure to check your online statements each month though to make sure nothing is going amiss).

Here’s another creative idea. Douglas Clinton figured out a way to pay for his Netflix account and even make a little extra each month by strategically using a Credit Card. Read how he’s getting Netflix for free here. It wouldn’t take long to implement and for us having Netflix makes it easy to live without Cable TV.

Now It’s Your Turn

I’m sure you have some other great ideas on how you’re currently using your cards smartly and frugally. I’d love to have you share your favorite tip in the comments below. I can’t wait to read your ideas and strategies (and implement them myself).

Frugal Back To School Shopping

It’s that time of year again… summer is almost over and the kids are heading back to school. That of course means back to school shopping. Or does it? I’m here with a couple of frugal strategies that will save you big.

Looking at the news, magazines and what everyone is doing, you get the impression that kids need new backpacks, lunch boxes and an entire new wardrobe to start school. And don’t even get me started on the 2 page list supplies the school district sends out (also conveniently provided by your major discount and office supply stores).

If you’re ready to get your child back to school on a dime, follow the strategies below in the order I share them. When in doubt, don’t buy right away.

Start With What You Have

Which brings us to my first point. Start with what you already have. Get out your child’s bag from last year along with any binders, lunch box, pencils, pens, barely used notebooks etc. Take stock of what you already have and cross that off your list of things to buy.

Look outside your kid’s room too. For example, this past year my daughter started taking a messenger bag to school that I had sitting in the closet leftover from my college days. It’s still in good shape and she’ll continue to use it this year. The same goes for her lunch box.

Frugal Back to School ShoppingLook through your own stash of office supplies, pens and pencils and see what can be repurposed for school this year.

Last but not least, there’s no need to buy an entire new wardrobe. This is however a good time to go through the closet and see what fits, what doesn’t and what’s appropriate for school. For the next few weeks it should still be warm enough for summer clothes. We usually start buying what’s needed in the fall, or wait and get new jeans, long sleeve shirts and the likes as part of Christmas.

If you have older kids, don’t forget to look in their closets to see what can be passed down to younger siblings. Putting off cloth shopping even or a month or two can help not blow your budget in the weeks before school starts. It also gives you a little extra time to shop around for great deals, or pick up something at a thrift shop or yard sale that fits your kids.

Do They Really Need That?

Next look through the list of school supplies and find out if they really need everything on that list. I used to buy everything suggested during summer break, only to find out once school started that the teacher didn’t use all 5 binders and prefered a couple of different style notebooks instead. We know pick up what we know they’ll need early, and hold off on everything else until we talk to teachers.

Also, don’t feel obligated to buy classroom supplies right away. Teachers have more than enough hand sanitizer, copy paper and the likes at the beginning of the year. Instead, make a note to check after Christmas and see if there’s anything else needed. Again, this gives you a little extra time to save up and budget and keeps you from buying things the kids don’t even need.

This is also a great time to have a conversation with your kids about what’s truly important. Hint – those designer sneakers that “EVERYBODY” has aren’t it.

Buying What You Need The Smart Way

Now that you have a pretty good grasp on what you actually need to get it’s time to start shopping around. Save the circulars and look for loss leaders. These are ridiculously cheap items stores offer to get you in the door. The hope is that you’ll also buy whatever else is on your list there instead of shopping around and driving to multiple stores.

Office supply stores will often have 2 or 3 basic items super cheap. I was able to find pencils and notebook paper for a penny. Drug stores on the other hand tend to have great deals on things like backpacks and notebooks or binders. Find those amazing deals, stick to just those few items and plan to get to the store early before they sell out.

Don’t forget to check online for things too. We’ve gotten some great deals on lunch box containers, water bottles, bags and the likes on places like Amazon.

Planning Meals Day By Day

I just got back from a short trip to Germany. I love how traveling to a different country gives me a fresh perspective on how I’m doing things here in the States.

Today I want to talk to you about meal planning and grocery shopping. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that I’m a big fan of meal planning. I like to sit down on Sunday night and plan out our meals for the week. Monday is my grocery shopping day, and I try to buy everything I’ll need in that one trip. It’s been a big time saver and has helped me manage how much I’m spending on groceries in a given week.

With that said, I got a chance to do things a little differently while I was in Germany last week and there were some things I liked about more frequent, quick shopping tips. Of course there were some pitfalls and I’ll be sure to point those out as well.

Sometime during the day we would decide what we wanted for dinner. With plenty of veggies and salads from the garden and a well stocked pantry, it was usually a matter of picking up some sort of meat and maybe a fresh loaf of bread. Since we were out and about most days, it was easy to pop into the grocery store to pick up 2 or 3 things on the way home.

Since we often didn’t know who would join us for dinner and when we’d end up going out to eat, it worked out really well. This could also be perfect during summer break when you’re not in your usual routine and traveling some days. Or when you have company over and play things a little more by ear than usual.

How To Shop For What You Need (Almost) DailyLet’s talk about what it takes to make this spontaneous day-to-day cooking work.

You’ll Need A Well Stocked Pantry 

You don’t want to have to pick up a bunch of pantry staples or worry about what you’re fixing with your main dish. Having a garden to provide lots of fresh produce helps as well, but isn’t essential.

Make sure your pantry is stocked with rice, pasta, potatoes, flour, spices and anything else you may need. Having some canned tomatoes, canned veggies and the likes is helpful too. As we talk about recipes in the next section, you’ll get a better idea of what you need to keep your pantry stocked with. Make note of non-perishables and plan to stock up on what you need over the coming weeks.

You’ll Need A Few Simple Dishes / Recipes 

Coming up with meals or dinner ideas on the fly while you’re out and about is so much easier when you have a couple of “go-to”dishes that you know by heart. Let’s stay one of them is Spaghetti with meat sauce. You know you’ll need the pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, some ground beef and parmesan cheese. Keep the pasta, sauce and cheese stocked. All you need from the store is some fresh ground beef and maybe a garlic bread, some fresh tomatoes or a head of lettuce to go with it.

Come up with a list of 4 or 5 simple dishes like that that you can shop for and cook without having to look them up. Make sure you have all pantry items you need to make them on hand.

You’ll Need To Be Flexible 

Last but not least be prepared to be flexible. There will be times when you head to the store and they’ll be out of the one fresh ingredient you need. Or maybe you’ll find that a different cut or type of meat is on sale. For example, earlier this week I wanted to make barbecued pork chops and serve them with oven roasted potatoes. When I got to the store, boneless, skinless chicken thighs were on sale. I grabbed those instead and made rice instead of the potatoes. Having both rice and potatoes in the pantry and barbecue sauce in the fridge made it easy to switch things around.

Give this a try during busy summer days when you’re not quite sure when and if you’ll be home for dinner. Stock your pantry and stop at the store for anything fresh you need.

I do still have my regular  shopping trip to stock up on pantry items, staples such as bread, milk, eggs and anything else we might need (toiletries, cleaning products etc.).

One note of warning when you give this a try. Make it a point to be quick and get just what you need at the store. Head to the meat counter to pick up your ground beef, grab a head of lettuce from the produce section and head back out. Don’t give into the temptation to grab a couple of extra things because they look good, or you might need them later on. Those extra purchases can make this whole daily meal planning an expensive proposition.


The Bargain Bin Cardigan

As you know I love knitting and am always looking for more frugal ways to find yarn. My friend Diana from WizardKnits.com has some great ideas to share with us today. She also kindly agreed to share one of her favorite baby sweater patterns with us. I think this would be a wonderful project to use all this bargain bin yarn for. Here’s a pdf of the Drop Shoulder Cardigan.

And even if you aren’t a knitter, take a look at her website and the beautiful custom sweaters she has to offer.

And here’s Diana’s article on bargain yarn finds:

If you ever come across someone rooting through the bargain bin at your neighborhood yarn store or working the aisles during a yarn sale at Joann’s, Michael’s or A.C.Moore, it’s me.  The bargain baskets are veritable treasure troves. Some of my most expensive and sought after designs were knit with fabulous yarn discovered in the bargain bin.

bargain-bin-cardiganFact is, I do not need to add to my stash but it is equally certain that I will find a purpose for even the smallest skein of yarn. I will probably add it to my embroidery palette.  Duplicate stitching is my favorite way to embellish a simple sweater.

When I find a few ounces each of different colors in the same weight, I make a quick mental note of the total yardage and I create a design before I’ve even paid for the yarn.

And so it was that I came across a few skeins “on sale” which were just too cute to pass up.  One was a beautiful lavender shade which reminded of the violet candies my grandmother had as a treat.  There was also a matching white yarn which would create a perfect contrast.  These were layette colors with a fine thread of nylon that gives it a subtle overall sparkle.

Fingering yarns have tremendous yardage (some close to 350 yards per 100 grams) so 1 skein goes a long way when knitting a tiny size.  Two skeins and you could knit a tiny saddle shoulder sweater and the coordinating sleeveless vest.   Pick a quick and simple pattern shape.  Let the colors create the patterning.

My favorite style for tiny sizes is the drop shoulder.  Not only are they quick to knit but the shape makes it easy to dress little people.

The Bargain Bin cardi was knit with two colors (same weight, same yardage) but some of the new variegated “sock” yarns would work just as well.  On a recent visit to Joann’s, I noticed sock yarns which would be ideal for such a project.  No need to even calculate stripe placement.  Just knit!

bargain-bin-cardigan-neckline-detailCheck out the Red Heart® Anne Geddes Baby Yarn in colors like “Rocking Horse” for a young lady and “Sailboat” for the little man.  The yardage is fantastic and the care is as easy as machine wash and dry.  You may have to adjust the stitch and row gauge to achieve the same “size”.

Do remember that solid colors almost always have greater yardage per skein than the variegated colors.    You don’t want to be a few yards short of a completed knitting project.

You could do what I do…if it’s on sale; I usually buy more than I know I will need because the extra yardage will eventually become part of another mini heirloom gift.

Attached is the pattern for our Bargain Bin Cardigan in the 12 months size.  The instructions were written for the knitting machine and fine four ply fingering yarn but they can easily be followed by hand knitters using the diagrams as their guide.

Most of my knitting patterns do not even include directions.  As long as I have an accurate stitch and row gauge, I follow the diagram and jot down some basic “shorthand” increase or decrease formulas along the side of the chart.

Let’s see how many variations on a theme we can get from this simple design.

Happy Knitting!

Diana shares her handknit items and patterns at www.WizardKnits.com where she’s created a full-fledged, custom sewing/knitting business as well as helping others learn “how to” knit.

Kindness Matters

One of the best things about having this site is the ability to meet really special people.

Today’s post was written by Rachel Martin of FindingJoy.net

Once I decided to focus a bit on the kindness of people, I knew that Rachel was someone I wanted to share with you.

She touches my heart.  I hope she touches yours, too.


A couple years ago during a very challenging financial time in my life when my cupboards were almost bare there was a knock at my door and sitting outside on my front step were four bags of groceries. I wept.

A couple months ago in a Fedex in Colorado a friend of mine paid for the resume copies for another patron. This stranger thanked us over and over and over for a gift that was under a couple of dollars. Then the manager at the store said he’d like to pay for it because he was blessed by our kindness.

A couple weeks ago I went through the drivethru line at Starbucks and when I pulled up to pay the barista told me that the car in front of me paid for my favorite grande caramel macchiato. As the car pulled away I was humbled by the gesture. So I paid for the car behind and slowly pulled away watching the barista tell them there $7.86 worth of hot coffee was gifted to them. By a stranger.

A couple days ago I opened up my facebook messenger and there was a sweet note from a friend out of the blue telling me that she was thinking of me and that she was proud of me. I was blessed.

A couple hours ago one of my children came up the stairs, looked me in my very tired mom face, and told me I was the best mom ever. That was on a day where I felt like I was the worst mom ever. I wept. Again.


These things matter.

 Kindness matters.

Some of them – like the groceries – are an investment, a larger sum of money, given to others in need. And then others, others like the resume copies in Fedex or the note on facebook really involved very little or no monetary support. But there is a theme – and that theme is the giving of self and the blessing of others without the intent to receive back. It’s a very beautiful thing. It’s a way of looking at life where the paradigm is not simply about self, but is rather with the mindset that this world is more beautiful when we invest in the lives and hearts of others.

 Kindness ripples.

And now here we are, in the midst of the frenetic season also known as the holidays, and the thing that we’re talking about today is kindness. I want to challenge you to look at kindness through a different lens – it’s a lens about blessing others, slowing down for others, and giving of just a bit of self for someone else. On my site, Finding Joy, I celebrate the little things in life. Those little things can be hugs from our kids, a latte at noon, sitting in the doctor’s office with a friend, notes sent in the mail, a hug for the mom whose kids are crazy at preschool, or well, honestly, kindness and all of those moments are really limitless opportunities in life for each of us to give to others. They really are the moments, the little things that matter,  that in our lives will get woven together to create our own unique and beautiful story. They are the things that when we reach the end of our days that we sit at the table and share with others with words of remember when and I couldn’t believe and I was so grateful as tears fill our remembering eyes.

Kindness impacts.

So during the holidays how do we celebrate those little things and work on kindness? Honestly, it’s often an exercise in slowing down, in patience, in being loving even when you are late and want to race to the next thing, in being empathetic, in seeing the world outside of the lens of self, and really, in remembering that others matter. So look at the cashier at Target or Walmart or Trader Joe’s or Costco or wherever in the eyes and be grateful for them working there even if the prices get screwed up or if things are bagged in a way you don’t like or if you just spent 18 minutes in line.  Getting things perfect or racing to the next thing at the expense of others is simply not worth it in the broad story of life.

I’m telling you – treat others with respect and love – or as I tell my children treat others how you would want to be treated. So say thank you and I appreciate you and smile and exercise grace. You simply do not know the story of others and honestly, the impact kindness makes on someone’s life ripples more than we sometimes know. Give back. Buy groceries for others if you can. Tell those you love that you love them. Write a friend a message. Watch their kids. Be there for others.

Being kind is the ultimate frugal gift that we can give and yet it is really a priceless gift.

 Think back to your own story? What moments made impacts? Where were times where you were humbled by the kindness of others? That’s the ripple.

Kindness matters.

Kindness ripples.

Kindness impacts.

It may be frugal, but it’s one of the greatest gifts one can give.


Rachel2Rachel Martin is the writer behind the FindingJoy.net a website focused on intentional living and seeking the joy in motherhood.

She has learned the value of living a life loving the little things – the moments – tucked in the fabric of the everyday. And in that is a quest to live joyfully and fully. Now. In this moment.  No more waiting for things to get better, no lamenting the time lost, but rather finding joy in everyday – even when the everyday doesn’t look perfect. It’s in choosing to life today to it’s fullest, being thankful, and above all grateful. Gratitude is a choice and is something one must learn. And so on this site it’s a celebration of the little things, the moments in life, that matter.

Rachel is the author behind the successful “Dear Mom Letters” Ebook and is currently working to complete several other hard cover books based on the success of her site.

Being Kind is the Only Thing You Should NEVER Be Frugal With

It seems that we are getting bombarded with commercial messages about the Holidays these days. It starts with all the “Black Friday” deals and continues on through Christmas with last minute shopping deals. It’s not an easy time to stay frugal, especially here in the US. I’ll do my best to help you stay on budget with tips and ideas for a frugal Christmas over the coming weeks.

Today though, I want to talk about something we should never be frugal about – Kindness to Others. It’s really what Christmas is all about and it doesn’t have to cost a dime.

Random Acts Of Kindness

I love the idea of random acts of kindness and while it’s wonderful to be able to do some monetary ones (like paying for someone’s groceries for example), you don’t have to spend any cash on them. A random act of kindness can be as simple as opening the door for someone or letting them get in line in front of you at the grocery store. Or it can be as involved as going over to someone’s house to clean it for them. As you go about your day, keep your eyes open for kindness opportunities. Spend a few minutes chatting with a lonely neighbor. Volunteer at the soup kitchen or animal shelter. Bring someone’s paper or mail to their door, or shovel snow for them. I’m sure once you start being more aware, you’ll find all sorts of ways to be kind to others. And don’t forget to pass it on to your kids as well…

Kindness In The Kitchen

We all love to cook and bake around here… why not take advantage of this to show some kindness from the kitchen. If you’re making a big pot of soup for dinner this week, take some of it to a bachelor friend who probably hasn’t had a home-cooked meal since Thanksgiving.   If you’re baking cookies, fix a plate of them and share them with the neighbors. If you hear about a food drive, look through your pantry and share some canned goods or mixes. None of this will cost you much but is a wonderful way to show some kindness to others.

Spend Your Time

While spending money on loved ones isn’t always an option, you can generously spend your time. Often it’s a much more meaningful gift than anything you can buy. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately teaching my daughter to knit and we’re both having a blast.

Think about who you could spend some time with over the coming weeks. Maybe it is inviting some friends over for coffee or tea and some chatting. Maybe it’s taking an elderly neighbor out to help with Christmas shopping. Or how about winterizing someone’s yard for them. Put on your thinking cap and find a few extra hours this week to show someone kindness.

Useful Gifts That Won’t Cost You A Dime

Look through your house. I’m sure you can find all sorts of things you no longer need from outgrown clothing to school supplies that the kids didn’t use and more. Find a few things that someone else in your life could use. Stick them in the box and take them over there. If you don’t know anyone personally, find a local shelter or charity that can get those items into the hands of a family that needs them.


Being kind is the only thing you should never be frugal with

What To Do With All Those Holiday Leftovers

The turkey has been cooked and carved, everyone had too much food and the leftovers have been packed away. The big question now is what to do with them. Of course there’s the traditional turkey sandwich, but there’s so much more you can do with your Holiday leftovers.

Since I spent a lot of time and money on cooking a turkey with all the fixings, I want to get as many meals as possible out of my leftovers. If you are looking for some tips and some new recipes to try, download the Holiday Leftover report below.

Holiday Leftover Magic (pdf)

I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are ready to move into the rest of the Holiday Season.

Holiday Leftovers


Fun Autumn Activities For Kids

Fall winds blow and leaves make their decent from tree limbs. It is the perfect time for fun autumn activities for kids. Here are some ways to have fun with your kids this fall:

Create an Autumn Yard Collage

This is a great way to get your kids involved in beautifying your front lawn for the fall season. Materials you will need to create your autumn yard collage include hay bales, pumpkins (all sizes), scarecrows, witches, cornucopias, etc. Anything related to fall will look wonderful. Stack your hay bales to create a backdrop. Next, place a huge scarecrow (or witch) on the center of the stack. Then add other complimentary fall accessories like cornucopias, corn stacks, ghosts, etc.

Fall Decorations

Make a Haunted Tree

Making a haunted tree is a fun activity for everyone. It is especially great to do right after raking leaves. First, pick the biggest, best tree in your front yard; preferably one with many long, crooked limbs. Next, take small white trash bags and stuff the top half with leaves from your yard. Twist and tie the bag into a knot, or use a twist-tie to close the end where the leaves stop. Turn upside down and you have a ghost! Make as many of these ghosts as you can, then tie them to tree limbs. As the fall winds blow, your ghosts will haunt your tree.

Happy Autumn Cards

Supply each child with markers, paper, glue, glitter, stickers, etc. Let them make several autumn cards and write a special message on the inside of each one. After any wet appliqués are dried, gather the cards and take them to your local nursing home to distribute among patients.

What Apple To Use For What – Apple Varieties

There are so many different types of apples, it makes it hard to choose. If you’re at the store, the farmers market or picking your own apples at an orchard, it’s good to have a basic idea of what apple works well for what. Not every kind is good for eating plain or baking into a pie. The list below has some of the most commonly found apples in the US. It is by no means an extensive list, but a great place to start.


This is a great baking apple with bright red skin and juice white flesh. They are slightly tart and don’t tend to discolor too quickly. Great addition to pies and cobblers.


These are large apples with a yellow-green skin. They are juicy and crisp with a sweet flavor that lends itself to baking and making apple sauce.


Empire apples are a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious. This is a great apple that works for just about anything including baking. They are also delicious for slicing and eating and even freeze well.

Six Different ApplesGala

Glala apples are one of my favorite eating apples. They also make great apple sauce. I don’t recommend using them in baking. They tend to fall apart very quickly. They have a yellow skin with red striping.

Golden Delicious

If you are only going to keep one type of apple around, make it golden delicious. They have a mild but sweet flavor that tastes great if the apple is eaten fresh or baked. These apples also keep their shape well during baking, making them perfect for pies.

Granny Smith

This is one of the most popular apples around and for good reason. They are bright green and have a nice sour flavor. They are perfect for eating raw and hold up well in pies and crisps. I recommend combining them with some other apples (like golden delicious) for baking pies.


This is a fairly new apple variety that’s crisp and juicy. I love the honey-sweet flavor and use them quite a bit in pies and apple sauce.

Ida Red

This is a very old apple variety. Ida Reds keep their shape during baking and even freeze well. I use them for baking and in apple sauce.


These apples are a blend of Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples. They are best eaten fresh or used in apple sauce.


These apples are perfect for baking pies and cakes. They hold their shape well and have a nice crisp flavor. They don’t tend to be very sweet so adjust sugar as needed in baking.


I have a bit of a hard time finding these apples at the grocery store. They are best eaten raw and have a pretty white flesh that pairs very well with sharp cheeses.


My favorite way to eat a good McIntosh apple is right from the tree. Since they break up easily when cooked, they are perfect for apple sauces but won’t hold up in a cake or pie.

Red Delicious

Don’t try to cook or bake with these. They are meant for eating as is.


This is a firm but sweet apple that holds up well in baking and makes a great addition to your apple sauce as well.

Picking apples on an autumn day

Frugalitiy Is About Getting What You Need For Less

Living frugally isn’t always easy. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that. The key to living a frugal live is to not feel like you’re depriving yourself all the time. Instead it’s about figuring out ways to get what you need and want without spending a lot. My friend Carrie is a master at this. She’s a homeschooling mom with 7 kids who enjoys life on a budget. Today I’d like to share a guest post by her with you. Enjoy!

How I Spent $2.50 And Ditched My Starbucks Habit

In his classic personal finance book The Richest Man in Babylon, author George Clason tells the reader that “…like a bright light in a dark cave, thy budget shows up the leaks from thy purse.”  After tracking my spending for months, I had to face an uncomfortable truth. Purse – I found thy leak. And her name is Starbucks.

CappuccinoFrugality isn’t about denying oneself all pleasures. Rather, it’s about using resourcefulness and creativity to get the things you need (and want), for less. Enjoying good coffee is one of the pleasures I’m not willing to forego, but I was spending far too much money on this line item in my budget. So I decided to do something about it. I learned to make awesome cafe au lait at home.

The trick? I bought a milk frother. It doesn’t look like much. It’s a small tool that looks roughly like a teeny tiny egg beater, with a battery attached. But it makes a beautiful head of foam on your steamed milk, which poured over double-strength coffee, makes an absolutely delicious, hot creamy cafe au lait (you can also use it to froth milk to top espresso for – voila! – cappuccino).

You can buy a milk frothing wand for about $2.50. I got mine at IKEA. And here’s a tip: warm your milk on the stove until it’s at hot as you want first, then froth it. That gives it a better, thicker foam. Here’s the kicker: I love my homemade cafe au lait better than what I get at a coffee shop. It’s hotter, a fraction of the price, and I like the taste more because I’m drinking it at home, with a mug instead of a paper and plastic cup, and usually with a book in hand. Sometimes I even drink cafe au lait while I practice my French (with the help of the free DuoLingo software, of course). Elle boit café au lait et parle français. Ooh la la!

What are some ways you can save money without reducing your enjoyment of life? One way might be to first discover areas in which you’re currently spending more than you’re comfortable with. Ask yourself if that spending is really in alignment with your personal goals and ideals. If not, what changes can you make? Really use your nooAldi Grocery Shoppingdle. You might find that the frugal choice is actually preferable!

Carrie Willard is the author of the ebook Slash Your Grocery Budget and Eat a Whole Foods Diet with ALDI. She is also a wife, mom of 7, homeschooler, and blogger. Catch her sharing frugal tips and other aspects of large family living at http://www.NaturalMomsTalkRadio.com/blog

If you’re new to shopping at Aldi or just want some ideas for cooking entire weeks worth of food with what you’re finding there, grab this book by my friend Carrie. I can highly recommend it.

5 Tips To Saving Money and Your Sanity When Shopping for Back To School Clothes

Shopping for school clothes can take a bite out of your pocket book if you’re not careful. For many parents, the very mention of the words ‘shopping for school clothes’ can bring on a headache. Buying new school shoes, backpacks, clothes and all the other necessities needed to dress your child for school can be overwhelming and expensive.

The good news is, you can get your children dressed and ready to go back to school without going into debt, while still keeping your kids happy. I’ve laid out my 5 best tips for you to stay within your budget when it comes to back to school shopping.

Save Money & Your Sanity When Shopping On Back To School ClothesWhat’s in the Closet?

Don’t even think about shopping for school clothes until you’ve discovered what’s already in your child’s closet. This is something many parents don’t do when it comes to school shopping but if you assess what your child has that is school ready you can reuse, recycle and save money. Dig into your child’s closet first before you even think about shopping. Get everything out of that closet and start sorting. You’ll be surprised at the good stuff you forgot they even had that’s been buried in the back of the closet and stuffed into dresser drawers. Sort through every piece of clothing, remove anything that doesn’t fit, and set everything else aside.  Now you have an idea of what clothing your child already has. Get it all washed, folded and hung in the closet. Now that you know what your child has you can move to the next step.

Create a Budget

Now that you know what your child has for clothing, it’s time to think about what is needed. One of the biggest mistakes people make about school shopping is not setting a budget. So, before you let your child get too excited about a whole new wardrobe, you’ll need to create a budget. Living within your means is one of the most important responsibilities you can teach your child. Remind your child that an expensive pair of designer jeans may mean that she only gets one new pair or instead of those fabulous shoes she was eyeing she may have to get a not so fantastic pair. There are trade offs that need to be made. There are choices to be made that fit within the budget and once the money is gone, the shopping is over. This is a tough lesson, but one that needs to be learned before you go on.

Make Your Shopping List

Now that you’ve discussed what the budget is, it’s time to learn how to work within the budget AND get the most out of the the dollars you spend. Start by laying out what is already in the closet. Look through what you have and see how you can mix and match. Toss in some earrings, bracelets and other accessories. Move tops and bottoms around until you have a variety of basics that would benefit from some new pieces. This is where you want to start building your list. Jot down what you have and don’t have, such as what bottoms are unmatched with tops, and vice versa. Be sure to check underclothes and socks too. The idea is to get down on paper what you are shopping for before you get into the store and are swayed by impulse buying.

Go Online

It’s not as much fun I know, but shopping online can save you money and time. It may be hard to do all your back to school clothes shopping online, but doing whatever you can often benefits both you and your child. Shopping online for clothes can be done in comfort and slowly without pressure. Of course, you can’t try the items on so be sure to check the return policies on the websites. This way if it doesn’t fit properly you will be sure you can exchange it for the correct size. Also, be sure to give yourself enough time before school starts to get the exhanges done, if needed. Of course, you can get underwear, socks, backpacks and all sorts of accessories online without too much worry as to whether the stuff will fit. If time is money, then shopping at home on your computer is pure gold.  Don’t discount this method as a real bonus.

Shop Off Season

As the seasons change the clothing that hasn’t been sold will get discounted for the new seasons items. This is great for budget shoppers because you could get deeply discounted merchandise that you can use the following season. Watch for cold weather gear like sweaters, gloves, coats, scarves, boots and hats when winter ends the year before. You’ll need them before you know it! Buy way ahead of time and you’ll find great savings on close-outs in the clothing departments. Depending on your child’s age, don’t buy too far ahead because you don’t want any growth spurts to ruin your plan. A winter coat, one size bigger, bought in March for the following winter, at 75% off an already discounted price just makes sense.

Starting a new year of school can punch a big hole in your family’s budget. But, these few tips will help you survive the shopping stress and will save your pocketbook as well as your sanity!

Make School Supply Shopping Easy

Shopping for school supplies can be nerve wracking to say the least but here are some simple tips to follow to stay sane during the back to school rush. Most schools offer a list of required school supplies that your child will need. If you can get your hands on a copy early enough you can hit the sales, avoid the crowds and save some money too.

Here’s my time and money saving tips for back to school shopping:

Make A Master List

When you have school shopping to do for more than one child and each has a separate list you can simplify by combining all the supplies into one master list for shopping purposes. Tally up the total number of notebooks needed.  Do the same for calculators, pencils, rulers, and on down the line until you have every item listed and how many you will need.  It’s always easier and usually cheaper to pick up a bundle of items than go back and forth filling each individual child’s list. After you get home, you can divide up the items to give to each child using their own list.  This method will save you money since there are always back to school deals on packs of paper, folders, pencils, and other supplies.  You can buy a pack of ten folders for less than you can buy a single folder.

Hit The Earlybird Sales

Shop early and often for the best sales. You can get supplies little by little instead of being stressed by fighting the crowds and wrangling kids to buy school supplies the week before school starts. Watch the weekly sales at all the stores in your community and purchase items as they are marked down.  Be sure to check with your school (most have websites now) for a list of school supplies needed.

Tips to Make School Shopping EasyGo Basic

Yes, pencils with fun patterns and glitter pens are cool, but they usually cost a lot more than standard pencils and basic pens. You will save a ton of money buying the essentials rather than trendy styles. Double check your school’s list of supplies as some schools allow only plain colored notebooks, pens, folders, and pencils, anyway.

But, if your child’s school allows for some fun with school supplies, it’s way more practical to buy the plain supplies and dress them up yourself. You can use stickers, paint or markers to decorate your pencils and top them off with a silly eraser top. The same goes for folders and notebooks too. Use your imagination to jazz them up and your child will have a one of a kind! You can usually buy a package of embellishments to share between all the kids for a lot less money than buying decorative supplies.

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk saves on just about anything you purchase and school supplies are not different. If you are going to save a bundle on pencils by purchasing 100 of them, then why not do it. You will always need them. Going in with friends, relatives or other parents when buying in bulk can help you all save plus you won’t have to store a ton of supplies.

Big box stores do well for a reason. They buy in mass quantities to offer their customers deep discounts on certain things. Take advantage of this. Purchase a card for yourself or better yet go in together with several friends or other parents to use throughout the year on clothes, school supplies, and whatever else you may need. Membership is usually pretty reasonable, especially if you can share it with a friend. Watch your savings throughout the year and you’ll see the value really adds up fast.

Don’t Forget the Dollar Store

The dollar stores are another amazing place to save money. They’ve become a sensation for a reason. There are certain items that just aren’t worth more than $1 no matter how anyone tries to sell it.  Things like paper, notebooks, calculators, pencils, erasers and pens, just shouldn’t take a bite out of anyone’s budget. There’s no reason to spend $3 on a notebook when the very same item is available for $1.

You don’t want to be one of the weary faced parents standing in line at the checkout counter with their arms loaded with school supplies on the day before school starts. And, you won’t if follow these tips to save and have a calm start to school this year!

Kids and Daily Chores – An Interview With Charlotte Siems

In last week’s newsletter I shared a yummy recipe from a new online friend – Charlotte Siems. We’ve been emailing back and forth for the past few weeks, getting to know each other better and started chatting about our families and parenting. It turns out that Charlotte, a mom of 12 (yes, you read that right), is quite the expert when it comes to getting your kids to do chores. I asked her to do a little text interview on the topic and she was kind enough to go into quite a bit of detail. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed interviewing Charlotte.

Charlotte, will you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you are so highly qualified to talk about getting kids to do chores.

Charlotte Siems - Mom of 12I have twelve children–ages 7 to 30, six sons and six daughters–and we’ve homeschooled for 26 years. Of course I started out with one little kindergartner and from there we “just growed.” When we first started homeschooling it didn’t take me long to realize that I needed help with the house. At the time my oldest was five so I needed ways to teach her to help, while keeping track of what was already done–without asking each child ten questions. I still have five kids at home (actually six for the summer, as one son is home from college), so we’re still doing the chore thing every day. Our little grandchildren come over often, so I am still dealing with toddler and baby messes, too!

Why is it so important for kids to do chores regularly and what are the benefits besides having some help around the house?

My grown children have actually come back and thanked me for having them do chores, because they were amazed to find that their college classmates didn’t have basic life skills like doing laundry. I think that chores teach children just as much as academic subjects! Busy moms need all the help they can get because it frees them up for the things only they can do. Believe me, moms are not doing their children any favors by doing everything for them. Our children will be adults most of their lives, and it’s an easier transition if they know how to clean the kitchen and scrub the toilet.

What do you think about getting started on getting into a chores routine during the summer months when the kids are home from school?

That is an awesome idea because the whole family will develop a new chore routine before the busy school year begins, rather then trying to adjust to chores AND a new school schedule at the same time.

Doing Dishes

While raising 12 children I’m sure you’ve come across just about any challenge we can imagine when it comes to children and getting them to do their chores. Can you share one challenge along with a quick idea of what you did to overcome it?

At one point we switched the chore schedule daily until we noticed that everybody was slacking because, hey, they weren’t going to have that chore tomorrow. We changed to a schedule of keeping the same chores for two weeks and that gave immediate relief! We also added extra days on a particular chore for every day that it was done poorly.

I have to admit, I’ve been pretty slack when it comes to making up chores and sticking to them. Any tips for helping us get started?

Keep the image of a tidy house that you didn’t have to clean ever before you when you’re starting out! Keep things simple. I don’t know about you, but complicated systems with stickers and fake money just make me feel overwhelmed. Decide what is “clean enough” and communicate that to your helpers. Boys especially benefit from specific instructions, because I’m convinced that they are missing the clean house genes. :)

Where can we learn more about you?
I write about home, family, faith and fitness at www.charlottesiems.com.

Charlotte also has a wonderful ebook she’s put together full of hands-on advice and real life examples of getting kids to do their chores. If you’re interested in getting your kids to help out around the house, take a look at http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/chores

However, she doesn’t just share why you should teach your children to do chores she gives you hope that not only are you getting your house neat & tidy, you’re also teaching your kids responsibility, important life skills and the value of doing a good job as well as facing consequences of not giving your best efforts.

Get a copy of the eBook at http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/chores

Becoming A Frugalista – An Interview With Susan Heid

I would like to introduce you to a fairly new friend of mine – Susan Heid from “TheConfidentMom.com”. Susan is a busy mom of four, a fellow Christian, a parenting coach and a Frugali$ta. She blogs about her adventures in Motherhood, running a frugal household and various parenting issues at  www.TheConfidentMom.com.

Before we dive in and find out more about what exactly a frugalista is, I would like to share one little paragraph from Susan’s “About” page on her blog. I think it sums up what I love about her perfectly.

“I am passionately committed to helping Christian Moms make small intentional changes managing their home and family giving them more time, less stress and stronger family relationships.  Being confident in your role as a mom is key to your family thriving instead of just surviving”.

Susan is launching a new eBook today calledBecome a Frugali$ta in 30 Days – Money Saving Secrets for the Frugal Family Managerand was kind enough to answer a few questions I had. Enjoy the interview below and don’t forget to grab her Frugalista eBook. Susan Heid

1) What Is A Frugalista? 

The actual definition is “one who is fashionable while being thrifty” – which I love.  Just because you are careful with how and where you spend your money does not mean you have to be “frumpy”, “less than” or not enjoy nice things.  I was actually given this nick-name by a good friend several years ago, it stuck and I love it!

2) Why did you choose 30 Days? Is it a good time-frame for forming new frugal habits? 

I thought the break-down of 30 days was perfect for allowing a busy mom to read through the book in a realistic way.  Often times we can get excited about a new book or topic of interest, and then lose our momentum and not incorporate new habits.  This book is broken down into bite size pieces to make it easier to begin making small changes a little at  a time instead of thinking you need to complete a BIG over-haul right now.  Pick a  few of the areas and make some changes and then see how that goes.

3) What’s been your biggest challenge when it comes to staying frugal? 

Honestly, it is my own selfish need and desire that I have to fight.  Sticking to a budget is hard – and especially so when you first start out.  Unless you see the bigger picture and have a goal, it can often seem very restrictive and frustrating.  A lot of times I have to say no to things that I want in order to keep my family’s budget on track and even more – not being able to do something that I personally want because the money is not there.  With the tips and tricks I share in the book that I’ve used for over 10 years, I’ve been able to still get or do extra things and stay within a budget – getting more using less.

4) Can you share one little tip from your new ebook that we can all implement right away? 

Use coupons and discount codes for everything you purchase – period.  The small amount of time that it takes to find those will result in big savings.  Remember, coupons are not only in-store, but online.  Learn to double and triple dip!

5) I find living frugally has quite a few benefits aside from saving money. What’s been the biggest  “side-effect” for you in this change toward living more frugally? 

It has been good to know that I don’t have to have “all the stuff” that a lot of people have in order to survive!  Our home has only one flat screen TV – one we purchased only because we needed to add a TV for a treadmill, when we chose to end our gym membership and workout at home (which saved a ton of money!)  We have purposely chosen to not replace our TV’s with newer versions until they just don’t work anymore!  Needless to say our kids are not quite as happy about the decision – our main family TV is racking up 14 years now, weighs nearly 100 lbs and is a bit large, but hey, it works!

6) Tell us a little more about your Frugalista ebook and where we can grab a copy. 

For two days only (March 25,26)  “Become a Frugali$ta in 30 Days – Money Saving Secrets for the Frugal Family Manager” is specially priced for only $.99, then the price will go up to $3.99.  It is an immediate download and can be purchased here.

Frugal Tips for Wearing Green

If you’re heading out this weekend for St. Patrick’s Day, be sure to put on something green to avoid getting pinched. Thankfully this year St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday, meaning that you don’t have to worry about green clothes for the kids to wear to school if you don’t want to. But for those of us heading to St. Patrick’s Day Parades and festivals, wearing at least something green is a must.

When there’s no obvious choice, use some or all of the frugal suggestions below before heading to the department store for a new green outfit.

Dig Through The Closets and Get Creative

Frugal Tips For Wearing Green on St. Patrick's DayStart with what you already have in the house and get creative. Just because your son doesn’t have a green shirt, doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy him one. Instead, put that green t-shirt you own that’s gotten a little tight and let him ware it over a long-sleeve T. Or add a belt and turn it into a dress for your little girl.

Use a small scarf as a headband, let the kids wear oversized sweatshirts etc. You get the idea. Just be creative and don’t stop at the closets. Look around the house for anything green and see if you can turn it into something wearable.

Hit The Thrift Stores

My next stop is usually one of the local Thrift stores. Several of them are kind enough to sort their shirts and blouses by color making it easy to shop for something green. You may even get lucky and find a St. Patrick’s Day shirt complete with four-leaf clover that someone else discarded after last year’s festivities.

Borrow Something

The last option is to check in with close family and friends and see if you can borrow a green t-shirt, hat or scarf. This is usually my last resort because without fail something happens to the borrowed garment. But in a pinch, this is definitely an option, especially when the closing isn’t something the person you’re borrowing from would miss terribly if it got lost or damaged.

On St. Patrick's Day Everyone Can Be IrishOn St. Patrick’s Day Everyone Can Be Irish

St. Patrick’s Day gives us all an excuse to have some fun and eat delicious comfort foods.

Just thinking about corned beef, cabbage & soda bread give me goose bumps.  Those classic Irish dishes are among some of my favorite but it’s fun when you can find new recipes that make your tummy happy.

Since St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner I thought it would be nice to put together some recipes and crafts and create a kindle ebook to celebrate.

You’ll find delicious Irish food along with a bunch of crafts that your family will enjoy creating together.

And remember, with all Kindle ebooks, you don’t need a Kindle to download them. Amazon makes it easy to put right on your computer, laptop, or other e-reader or device. And the price is right, too!