Monday, November 8, 2010

(I'm finally a) Budget Friendly Mama

"There is no dignity quite so impressive and no independence so important as living within your means." -Calvin Coolidge

Ever since this post on being a budget friendly mama I’ve become obsessed with finding ways to save. Money is tight right now while we’re still adjusting to the extra cost of childcare so I’m doing whatever I can to make ends meet. I know a lot of my mama friends are in the same boat so I thought I’d share my own tips and tricks on saving money and hopefully help somebody stretch their dollars a little bit further. So here you go, faithful readers. A few of the ways that I've been saving money:

  • Sign up to receive deals and promotions. This can really help those of you who do a lot of online shopping at your favorite stores. I know I used to un-check that box (you know which one I’m talking about) whenever I created a customer account online to avoid getting spam mail, but I discovered that it’s really worth it to sign up (and you’ll probably get the spam mail anyway). You will get emails letting you know when a sale is coming up, free shipping codes, and discount promotions. I created a folder in my inbox specifically for deals and offers so whenever I get one I think I could use I move it there (this keeps my inbox manageable) and delete the ones I know I won’t use. Some of my favorite websites that send out the best coupons via email are Old Navy, Babies R Us, Carters, Shutterfly, Amazon, Michael's, and TGI Fridays. I rarely check out without using a 20% promo code or free shipping!
  • Buy from Craigslist, Ebay, or consignment shops. Don’t get me wrong there’s some things I would never buy used (car seats for one), but for some baby gear or household items I always check these places first. Cayden is growing so fast that I started buying his clothes at our local Children’s Orchard (consignment shop). We got him a little pair of jeans, a winter coat, a sweater, sweat pants, and a plaid button up for less than $20! Baby clothes are always in great shape because they are worn for so little time and I can always find the most adorable outfits! I also advise looking for a baby gear on Ebay or Craigslist first because you can usually find brand new or very gently used items for extremely low prices. And I love going to thrift and vintage shops to find cute and quirky items for my house. I try to make a fun day out of it and go with my mom or a friend and browse through all the thrift shops!
  • Check daily deal websites. Groupon and Living Social are my favorites because they offer deals for local activities such as spa treatments and restaurant deals. I even got one today for a helicopter ride! I like sites like this because it gives you an opportunity to save on special things for a date night or mama’s day out. For kids, there’s Kids Woot, Baby Half off, and Baby Steals… these are all 1-day only deals for baby/kid stuff!
  • Buy things on sale. Okay, this sounds obvious but if you’re anything like I was BEFORE children you never glanced at the sale rack. I’m here to tell you DO IT. I always find cute things at Target or Old Navy on clearance. Sure it can be hit or miss but it’s ALWAYS worth a shot. Especially baby clothes! Also, check your mailbox for sale ads and coupons! I always look through ads before shopping (especially Target) to find out what's on sale that week.
  • Product reviews and giveaways. Now I know it can get annoying to see review after review on your favorite blog and they start to look like a commercial so I try to keep a good balance between personal updates, reviews, giveaways, crafts, and recipes. With that being said, doing product reviews IS a good way to get new stuff and save money on things I would buy anyway like kitchen items or toys for Cayden. I only ever review products that I personally need and/or want and would never promote something I don't like. A lot of bloggers can be greedy and try to hide their PR contacts and companies but I’m not that way… I’m here to help! CSN stores is almost always willing to let you review an item of your choice and if you find an Etsy seller you like it doesn’t hurt to ask for an item in exchange for some promotion! And there’s deals like the Shutterfly one I just participated in that ANY blogger regardless of stats can do. And I got 50 free holiday cards! That? Awesome. And I always encourage people to enter giveaways. I used to get discouraged when I didn't win, but if you keep at it you won't be disappointed. I've won 2 or 3 giveaways in the past few months and I barely try!
  • Make things yourself instead of buying them. Yes, being crafty can actually save you money (who would have thought?). Now whenever I'm browsing the aisles in stores I always think to myself 'I can make that!' and walk away without buying. I like to find used items and jazz them up with a fresh coat of paint for the house like picture frames or vases. You can also take pictures, print them in large sizes and frame them, or print them on canvases for wall art. My next project is a DIY daily planner using a recycled notebook and free printables online. I also started doing handmade gifts instead of store bought ones. Handmade does not mean cheesy either. You can make gift baskets filled with yummy baked goods (presentation is everything!) for the men in your life and handmade picture frames and photo blocks for the sentimental type. And don't even get me started on all the DIY projects for parties. That's a whole other blog post!
  • Sell your unwanted things at garage sales. My mom's neighborhood has a garage sale every 3 months. The home-owners association pays for advertising and there's ALWAYS a great turn-out. Most neighborhoods do this and it's a great way to make money off your un-wanted or un-used items. Mando and I usually make about $200 per sale and that's on stuff we would have thrown away in the trash! Things that typically sell well at garage sales are adult and baby clothes (not shoes), baby gear and toys, dishes/cookware/bakeware, tools, electronics such as old game consoles, TV's, or speakers, and furniture. Sell things cheap (we always do $1 for clothes) and make sure prices are in plain sight. And don't be afraid to make deals with people... remember, if it doesn't sell it will most likely be thrown away!
  • Meal plan and make a list before buying groceries. I used to go to the store with a vague idea of what I wanted to make and no list. What ended up happening was me wandering every isle and throwing anything that looked good in the cart. Now? I'm an obsessive list maker. I have a whole system before going to the store. First, I get my grocery store ad, my recipe books, and a notebook and spread out across the table. Then I pick figure out 10 meals I want to make over the next 2 weeks (I allow 4 days off for leftovers, dinners out, or nights at our parent's house for dinner). I choose meals that have similar ingredients in them to avoid buying a million different things. Then I look through the ad and find the items that we need that are on sale and write them down. I buy a lot of store brand items which saves a lot of money. I make most things from scratch because it's usually cheaper than pre-made things. Also, we will usually buy canned vegetables if they're cheaper than fresh. Below is a quick example of what my meal plans look like. I won't list the recipes but if anyone wants them just leave a comment with your email address and I'll be happy to provide it!

1 3lb roll of ground beef makes: tacos, spaghetti, hamburgers
1 package of (6) boneless, skinless chicken breasts makes: chicken casserole and baked chicken
1 3-4 lb roll of pork tenderloin makes: Ritz cracker fried pork and a roast
1 bag of potatoes makes: mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, and rosemary potatoes
Canned corn, canned green beans, canned peas. Fresh asparagus, broccoli, oranges, bananas.
Essentials such as milk, eggs, cheese, butter, bread, flour, and sugar.
Bacon or sausage for breakfast and lunch meat for sandwiches
Something frozen like pizza for a quick and easy dinner

That's pretty much it! The meals vary week to week and there's a few other sides in there, but those are the basics. I make desserts from scratch so I always have those ingredients on hand and we don't eat junk food like chips or soda. We try to buy bulk items like drinks, toilet paper and paper towels at Costco.

So there you have it! I hope you can take a few of these tips with you on your path to frugality! If you have any more tips and tricks to saving dollars please leave a comment and let me know! I'm sure everyone would be pleased to see them!

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