Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

There are many things that I have recently started doing again that I never thought I would ever do once I had my own household to run.  But in looking for ways to get the boys more involved in helping to keep the house clean and also trying to save as much as possible, I have started reverting back to the tools I used in my childhood and the tools that the older women in my life had trained me on.

The first tool I have to say, I truthfully had never stopped using completely — I just use it more now.  The good old-fashioned broom.  I know, I know, there are many cooler and more technologically advanced tools to use, but you know the broom really does it’s job pretty effectively.  I also don’t need to read any directions on how to use it. Haha!

The second tool that I have recently become re-acquainted with is a good old-fashioned carpet sweeper.  This is an awesome thing to have especially in a house like mine that is mostly hardwood floors with area rugs on them.  The carpet sweeper does an excellent job picking up everything on the floor.  It isn’t difficult or heavy to drag around, and as an added bonus even Mini-me can use it.  Honestly I have been a little Tom Sawyer-ish in being able to convince both Mini-me and Bubba about how much fun it is using the carpet sweeper.

The final tool I have started using and truly loving is my clothes line.  I have a perfectly good dryer in my house that I still do use, but I love my clothes line.  On a good sunny day, I can wash a medium-sized load, hang it on the line, and have it dry in an hour or so.  Obviously I save money by not running the dryer, but there are so many more benefits to it than that.  I can get the boys outside while I’m hanging it all up which gives us all some fresh air.  I also end up with some great smelling clothes.  The best part though is a secret I don’t remember anyone ever sharing with me.  The sun works wonders on stains.  Forget the Clorox.  All you have to do is hang up something with a stain and let the sun do its wonders.  It is truly amazing what it can do.

New isn’t always better.  It may save time, but it will generally cost you more to use it.  There are also some benefits that you may be missing out on by not sticking with the tried and true of your past.  So what things do you use to complete chores that no one seems to use anymore but are so effective?

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Strawberries, Strawberries, Strawberries

It is strawberry season here in Virginia.  Last year I took the boys to a local strawberry festival and picked a couple of pints of strawberries.  I attempted to make some freezer jam, but that was about as brave as I got. 🙂  This year though, I wanted to learn how to preserve strawberries so that we could have some to eat all year.

Thanks to a great friend (Thanks L. !) , we found a great local farm that offers pick your own strawberries for $16 a bucket.  Which is a fantastic price!  So, I packed up the boys (and actually remembered to bring the camera) and headed out to the farm.

Once we got there I handed both boys a bucket and grabbed one for myself.  Then we started picking.  Initially everyone was doing great, but then the temptation of the strawberries became to great.

I think that every single strawberry that Mini-me picked he ate.  Haha!  Bubba was a much better helper in gathering strawberries.  We really had a great time, and the best part was we left with all of this:

Once I finished canning, I ended up with 30 pints of strawberry jam for $32.  A great way to save money and end up with a much better tasting product.

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Gardening for Dummies….

I know, I know, it’s been a while.  While life sort of got in the way– and I honestly ran out of ideas for a while.  So, now that the weather is changing a whole new array of ways to save money have become apparent.  One of my new-found favorite ways to save money has been to start a garden this year.

Those people that know me, will find this funny because in general I am not a gardening type of person.  Honestly I have never grown anything besides the unintentional mold in the fridge, so I am very lucky that I married Mongo.  Seriously, if the world ended tomorrow he would know what to do– I on the other hand would be completely lost!

Honestly, Mongo had a garden the last three years.  This year is the first year though that I have been any help at all.  With prices at the grocery store going up, it seemed like a no brainer way to save money would be to have a garden.  Little did I realize how much work that would entail.

We started about three months ago by ordering our seeds.  I really wanted heirloom seeds, so that hopefully we can save some this year to plant next year.  So I did some research and found a couple of really cool places to buy seeds.  Eventually I ended up buying our seeds from Hometown Seeds (http://hometownseeds.com/).  They have a great variety of seeds available and their prices were good.

Then about two months ago I got a couple of jiffy seed starter kits, and set up my herbs first.  Mongo started his tomato plants about two weeks later.  Then about a month ago we tilled last years garden under and tilled a new much bigger area in the side yard.  Mongo was also nice enough to till an area in our fenced in back yard for me to use for our herb garden.  At the same time Bubba decided he wanted a garden too.  So if you are keeping track– yes that’s four gardens we have going on right now.  Yes, we are over achievers. HAHA!

The herb garden has since been transplanted in the back yard– and it’s doing pretty good.  We have lemon thyme, two types of basil, lavender, chives, rosemary, chamomile, and parsley.  The oregano and the sage didn’t quiet make it– so  I’ll have to get some from our local garden store to put in.

Last year’s garden has two types of lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, beans, and peas.  The new garden has corn, beans, onions, watermelons, and cantaloupes.  Bubba’s garden has a mishmash of tomatoes, lettuce, watermelons, and gourds.

When all of this comes in we will be having vegetable coming out of our ears.  So along with all of this gardening I have been researching the best way to preserve it all.  That is a whole ‘nother post though.  So far, we have been able to harvest lettuce for dinner and lunch a bunch of times.  We’ve also used some of the herbs in our cooking.  It has been really exciting seeing the seeds starting to sprout.  Of course all of this has added to our chores in the morning and evening– but it is time well spent in my opinion.  It gets the entire family outside together working to put food on the table– and really what can be better than that?

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Kids can be so darn expensive!

There are some things as a parent that you learn with having a second child.  With my Bubba I was hyper vigilant about things.  I would completely stress myself out if he cried, or even worse if he didn’t make any sounds at all.  I once even called 911 because I thought he wasn’t breathing– no worries he was just asleep.  Parental neurotics aside, I was able to save lots of money having a second child.  Here are some pointers so you won’t need the second child before you can start saving money:

Babysitting — Seriously this can really rack up for just a simple night out.  A competent babysitter usually costs me about $10/hr for both boys.  That’s $30 for a night out before you’ve even had a meal, movie, or drink.  I never thought much about this expense with my first (Thanks Mom!), but once Mini-me made his appearance and Mom moved away this was definitely an expense.  Then it hit me, I have tons of friends with children also.  Duh!  I bet they would enjoy a night out without having to pay for a babysitter either.  So we developed a baby sitting swap.  I have two friends I do this with– and if any of my other friends want to join in just let me know. 🙂  The way it works is I will go to their house once every 1-2 months and watch their children.  I usually bring one or both of mine– more fun for the kids and a whole lot less work on my part just to let them play.  Then my friends will then come to my house with their child/children and return the favor later that month.  It works perfectly.  Someone I trust and no real cost.  A win/win situation.

Diapers Who ever came up the first disposable diaper had a brilliant idea.  Then they made it even better and increased the absorbancy.  Now, parents will spend about $30-$50 a month on diapers that will be thrown away.  And if you’re lucky your baby will only be wearing them until he/she is 3 years old.  That’s a lot of money.  By the time Mini-me came around, I had widened my circle of friends and had quiet a few that cloth diapered.  And these diapers are not the cloth diapers of your mom’s generation.  They can be as easy or as complicated as you want them to be.  For the first 3 months of Mini-me’s life he used prefolds in a cover that another mom let me have.  So basically no diaper costs at all for the first three months.  Now, cloth diapers can be a complicated world and I could have an entire post just on that topic– but suffice to say there is a diaper type for every budget and personality.  We have tried them all, and in the end settled on pockets and All-in-ones (AIO).  They cost anywhere from $15-$25 new, but there are many places you can buy them used.  Our favorites were Thirsties and Happy Heineys.  I bought about 5 Happy Heineys (our night-time diaper), and 12 Thirsties AIO’s.  And for the most part was set for my diapering needs.  I did have to up size twice, but I sold my used diapers for about 1/2 their original cost and bought new ones which still put me ahead.  The best part for me was that Mini-me is now day time potty trained and has been since he was about 2 1/2.  Much shorter time in diapers then Bubba had been by about a year.

Pull-Ups Like diapers pull-ups are expensive items that just get thrown away.  Since Mini-me has been day trained, we have only needed one a night.  But that still adds up.  I have purchased these awesome night-time trainers from Ladder Hill Designs that I couldn’t recommend more.  They have super cute designs on them and are really absorbent. The best part is, Mini-me doesn’t see them as diapers and really does try hard not to pee in them.  Not that we have even attempted night-time training yet, but he has gotten up a few times in the middle of the night asking to use the potty.  Awesome in my book!

Toys If your children are anything like mine, they have way more toys than they could possible ever play with.  And like any other child, they want more. 🙂  Well a smart friend of mine suggested a couple of years ago that before Thanksgiving we have a toy swap.  Basically you get a group together of at least 4-9 people.  Each person brings toys in good condition that your children don’t play with anymore.  We usually divide up the toys into boy/girl/gender neutral.  Then we draw straws to see what order we go in.  At this point each person gets to pick one “new” toy to take home.  We keep going until there’s nothing that we want left.  At this point all of the left over toys are packed up and taken to Goodwill.  And everyone has “new” toys to either give at Christmas or keep as presents for later in the year.  I usually have these toys be the ones from Santa.  A great way to save money!

Clothes Again, can I say it anymore that it’s so helpful having a circle of friends with children?  Most of the clothes that Mini-me wears are hand-me-downs from either his older brother, or the three other “big” boys that we know.  Basically after Bubba grew out of his clothes, we passed them on to my smart friend from earlier.  She then added to it (some from other friends) and passed them down to me when I needed them for Mini-Me.  As Mini-me outgrows them, I pass them down to another friend of mine that has boys that are smaller.  Some items (winter coats, boots, etc) have seen 6 children wear them and you wouldn’t even be able to tell at all.

These are some of the ways I try to save a few pennies and not compromise on what I want/need for the boys.  What are the ways that you save money if you have children?

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Hi ho, hi ho, off to Kroger I go

One of the ways that I do normally pretty well with is my budget for grocery shopping.  I usually will shop at Kroger even though they aren’t the nearest grocery store as they have the best deals in my area.  I hear stories often of people who are able to go shopping with coupons and end up having to pay little money if anything at all.  I even have one friend who has had to put a couple of non-coupon items in her cart because otherwise the store would have to PAY HER to shop.  I wish that was me….

But alas, it’s not.  But I am pretty proud of the deals that I do get. The first thing I did once I wanted to start getting all of these great deals is I took a day to go to all of the stores in my area to compare the base prices on items that I most buy– ground beef, cereal, applesauce, etc.  Then I did a price book to show which place had the cheapest prices.  For me, that was Kroger with a few minor exceptions at Target.  This did take me time one Saturday, but in my opinion it was time well spent.

Before I go to the store I make a shopping list.  I know, I know it sounds really old-fashioned, but it keeps me on task and helps curtail all the impulse buying I used to do.  The first place I start when making my shopping list is one of my favorite websites– Southern Savers.com.  If you live anywhere in the south, this is the deal making place for you.   Each week Jenny at Southern Savers lists the sales going on in the various grocery stores.  She than does something really awesome.  She will tell you where you can find the coupon that matches up with the item– to get you even more savings.  Sometimes the coupons are ones you can load right to your store’s card, sometimes they are printable coupons, but most frequently they are the ones you can cut out from the newspaper.

We get the newspaper every day– Mongo loves to keep up with the news the old-fashioned way.  I love it on Sunday for all the coupon inserts.  I follow a suggestion from Jenny at Southern Savers, and I keep my coupons organized by the date they were printed and which type of coupon company they came from (Smart Shopper, P & G, or Red Plum).  Then when I look at what’s on sale, I just go to the envelope that has that coupon, and wallah I now have an on-sale item at an even greater discount.

Because for me Kroger is the best place to shop in my area, that’s where I go.  Kroger doubles manufacturer coupons up to fifty cents.  They also often have mega deals where if you buy 10 things you can get a much cheaper price.  So I will stock up when something is on sale.  I definitely plan my menu by what’s on sale.  If split chicken breast is on sale for $1.79/lb, that’s what I’m buying a lot of that week.  If ground beef is on sale, that’s what I’m getting, etc.  My family does like certain name brand products, and Kroger has those things the cheapest, so I buy them there– even though I may not have a coupon for it.

I then make my list and mark which items have coupons.  This is so that I can make sure that I am meeting the requirements of the coupons.  I total it up, and I go to the grocery store with this amount of money.  That way I know I can’t pick up impulse items.  Generally every two weeks I buy about $120 worth of food/toiletries and this will last us until the next time I go in.  The only exception will be that we sometimes need to go and buy more milk before the two weeks have passed.

I also try to stockpile those items that we consistently use.  For example last week General Mills cereal was on sale.  So I printed off extra coupons, and ended up buying 8 boxes of Cheerios for $1.50 per box.  Awesome when you consider it’s normally $3 a box.  We usually eat about a box of cereal a week, so this will last us for about two months.  Hopefully in that time I will hit another cereal sale and be able to stock up again.

With the time I spent every Sunday (about 30 minutes) I can usually save anywhere between $50-60.  Wouldn’t you take the time also, if this was the outcome???

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Cheap Thrills

The other night Mini-me was sitting in his little jeep pretending that he was driving around the living room.  At one point he turned asking Bubba to get into the jeep to go with him to the library.  After laughing over how cute this was, I realized that I really do go to the library ALOT.   This is another way that we are saving money and making our budget work for us.  In case you haven’t stepped into a library since you actually had to when you were still in school, your public library has a ton of free entertainment to be had.

We generally go to our local library once a week during the school year as it’s one of our Saturday errands.  In the summer we often go even more.  Our library has a small children’s section that has puzzles and games for Mini-me to play with while Bubba and I look for our weeks prizes.  I’m sure you already know that you can get books at a library, but the library has so much more to offer.

Audio books.  I love getting these to listen to in the car.  I don’t work too far from home, about 20 minutes– but I can usually finish an audio book during the week.  Audio books are also awesome for long road trips.  One of the first ones I got was The Chronicles of Narnia which provided entertainment for the whole family.  There are also children’s books available, which can provide another form of entertainment for little munchkins that might not have long attention spans.

Movies.  We usually check out 2-3 movies every week from the library.  Both boys often will get one each to watch at some point (or over and over in the case of Mini-me) during the week.  We have found some great movies to introduce our boys to such as The Wizard of Oz which has become a family favorite.  We will often then have a family “movie” night with popcorn and the lights out.  It sure beats the $40+ it would cost to have all of us at the movies.  Not to mention the added bonus that we can all get comfy and wear pajamas while we enjoy our movies.

Computers.  Most libraries these days offer computer access and some even have free Wi-Fi that you can use while you are there.  Granted, I rarely get to use this benefit as I’m usually trying to keep one eye on Mini-me while I attempt to find my books.  But if you had cut out the internet from your budget, this could be one way you could still get on-line.

Children’s programs.  Our public library offers reading hours during the week and special programs monthly.  We have sailed boats in the summer, made snowboarding snowmen in the winter, and Easter baskets in the spring.  All for little to no cost at all.

So, even though we have really cut back on our entertainment budget we are still finding ways to have fun.

Hey, boys is there any room for me in that jeep???

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You Don’t Know Until You Ask…..

I’ve heard this said often, but never really tried it out myself until I really wanted to start cutting back things in our budget.  I have many friends that shop around for every monthly item on their budget such as car insurance, cable, phone, etc.  Recently, I did the same and netted some great deals.

I first looked at my cable bill, and started doing my research.  Many companies will do bundle packages if you get more than one service from them.  Even here in the boonies, I was able to shop around for bundle packages through my local cable company, telephone company, and satellite company.  I looked online and compared the prices for the various bundle packages offered.  The best deal initially was with my local phone companies bundle package– and this was not who I was using at the time for all of my services.  So I called the company I was using (my cable company), and basically told the salesperson that I wanted to stay with them, but this other company was able to give me a $25 a month discount with their bundle package.  I also told them, that I would rather stay with them– but I needed to have this either matched or beaten.  Well they beat it, by $5.  So every month I am now saving $30 on the same services I was getting before I called.  SCORE!

In this same time frame our insurance premium had come in the mail.  Now, we usually pay our premium in full every 6 months which nets us a small discount.  But I decided to shop around and see if I could get a better deal.   Again, I went online and visited the various insurance company websites (Progressive, Allstate, etc).  Most of those companies have a system where you can enter in your information and how much coverage you want.  They will then show you the prices of coverage from them and their competitors.  In taking the time to do this, I was able to save myself $300 every 6 months!  Cha-Ching!

If you take your time to do your research, you can go with actual numbers of competitors prices and really get some great deals.  These companies want your business.  Remember that you are the reason they are there, so just ask and you just never know what you might get.

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