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Showing posts with label Going Frugal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Going Frugal. Show all posts

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Going Frugal: Custom Cake: $5.75

This cake was so easy to make! I assembled and decorated it with my three children underfoot last Sunday; it only took about twenty minutes.

Directions on how to make this racetrack cake can be found here. Family Fun is a great resource for planning easy birthday parties.

Before we lit the candles at my son's birthday party last Monday, I threw a few of our endless Matchbox cars on the tracks (after washing them, of course!). Everyone loved it!

Here's my cost breakdown:

Cake mix, $1.00 (on sale at Kroger)

Frosting, $1.50 (I bought the large sized can of white frosting and used green food coloring I already had on hand)

(1) Box Good & Plenty Candy, $1.00 (I used the white ones to make lines on the track)

(1) package chocolate sandwich cookies, $2.25 (These are crushed and used to make the track)

The other ingredients (eggs, oil, etc), I had on hand.

I substituted green decorative sugar sprinkles on top of green frosting (which I had on hand) for the green sprinkles/jimmies on white frosting seen in the picture on Family Fun. One, I couldn't find a huge tub of just green sprinkles, and two, the amount needed would have cost me about $5.00.

And I used a small Ziploc baggie to make the white lines around the base of the cake and the track. I loaded the baggie with white frosting I had saved for this purpose (the rest I dyed green) and cut one corner off to make a quickie pastry bag.

All in all, I spent $5.75 and about thirty minutes (ten minutes to mix the cake and throw it in the oven; twenty minutes to decorate it) to make this cake. Everyone loved it and we still have half of it left over in our freezer.

Do you make or buy birthday cakes for your children? Do you have a great success story or a horrible disaster story? Have you bought a cake only to realize you could have done better yourself?

Share because you care!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Going Frugal: Home Owner's Warranties

If you buy a "used" home, having the seller purchase you a home owner's warranty (HOW) should be one part of your contract negotiation.


Well, when you buy a newly built home, that home carries a builder's warranty on the home and the components for anywhere from one to seven years depending upon your builder. So if your roof springs a leak, your foundation cracks, or any number of structural things go wrong, you simply contact your builder and hope they make good on their word (it's SO important to investigate your builder and their history via your local BBB if you're considering a new build).

But if you buy a home that's older, one past the new builder warranty dates, you should require your seller to purchase you a one-year home owner's warranty as part of the sale contract.

Our HOW came in handy last year. Here's how:

*Hot Water Heater Replacement: $1200 normally. Our bill: $55 service call.

*Furnace Stopped Working -- on a COLD January night: $??? for a new furnace (I was so happy to be warm again that I didn't even ask the nice repairman the retail cost of new one + labor). Our bill: $55 service call.

We opted to renew our HOW this year when it expired after the year's coverage paid by the seller of our home was done . It wasn't cheap - the total cost for the year is $500 after we added on optional air conditioner coverage to the plan. We paid cash in three installments at the beginning of the year.

And now, as my utility sink is clogged and leaking, and my front yard faucet is leaking, too, we'll pay our...drum roll please...$55 service charge to have both fixed this Friday.

While home owner's insurance will cover damages that occur due to accidents, nature, etc, when home systems fail from normal wear and tear, the cost of fixing them is on you, the home owner. A HOW is in essence an insurance policy for home maintenance and major repairs/replacements.

I'd love to hear from you: do you or have you in the past carried a HOW? Was it worth it or a waste of money? And if it did save you $$, tell your story - what happened and how much would it have cost retail to fix oop without a HOW?

*Revised Wednesday, 5/28/08: Just a quick addition to this post. If you're in a "used" home you purchased without a HOW and would like to buy one now that you own the home, you can. While HOW are normally purchased at the closing on the home, you can purchase one anytime during your home ownership. Most HOW companies will offer you a free quote online and do not require a full home inspection to purchase the warranty.

Google "Home Owner's Warranty" and research the companies that serve your area. Get competing quotes and be sure to read the fine print on what's included for coverage. For instance, we paid a little more to add on coverage for our air conditioner as it's not standard in the HOW. Having replaced our air conditioner when we owned a home in Florida for $1500 (and this was a small, one-story home in 1998), we knew we didn't want to risk replacing one on our two-story home and paying full price.

Share because you care!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Going Frugal: Kid's Birthday Parties

I'm a mom to three great children who are truly blessings from Jesus; as hard as modern mommying is (and you can read my thoughts on that issue here at my personal blog), they are worth it. Every minute of every day - even when they're misbehaving!

So when their birthdays roll around on the calendar, I love to celebrate the joyful day they came into this world with our family and friends.

I do not, however, think that children's birthdays should mean their parents are required to fork over serious moola. While I do agree that certain milestone ages and cultural/religious events are worthy of larger, more elaborate parties, I think that we as a society of parents have gone completely overboard on the birthday party issue to feed our own egos.

While the Ginormo-Party-to-Outdo-the-Neighbors trend hasn't disappeared completely - you can read some examples of overboard parties here (I warn you, I had sticker shock as I read this article) - there's definitely a new trend of using the traditional birthday party as a chance to give to those in need.

One organization that can help you plan a donate-to-charity birthday party for your child, Smiling Kids Party with a Purpose, will even send you party stationary to help you plan your party. If you do decide to host a give rather than receive birthday party for your child, be sure to get them involved in the planning. Ask them which local charitable group they'd like to help, create a theme around the charity (I like the idea of borrowing a grocery cart and having a contest to see who brings the most canned goods for the local food pantry), and then be sure to contact the parents of the guests personally to explain what you're doing and why.

Even if you decide to have a traditional party, you don't need to rob your child's college fund to make it special. I'm planning my son's 5th birthday party with our family and friends; here's some of the things I'm doing to keep costs low:

*Make my own special birthday cake. I'm trying this cake here; I made a SpongeBob cake for my youngest son's birthday in January which was a huge hit with everyone. You'll save on the cost of the custom cake and can tailor the cake to the needs (I'm thinking of you mommies with food allergy children) of your guests.

*Go online to find ideas for games/activities. I plan on using a couple of the ideas from Family Fun here for a racecar birthday party. Frugal + recycling = good for the budget and Mama Earth!

*KISS. Simplicity is good for the soul. Don't over schedule activities for the party - it's a fun day, not a school day - and remember that time to just play with family and friends is more valuable than yet another hurry-up game with confusing rules.

*Party Favors. I try to keep these simple as well - a little candy, a couple of pencils, maybe some stickers. I don't send kids home with a two pound bag of candy, but it is a nice gesture to acknowledge your guests with a little something.

The most important part of the party is just to make your child feel special and loved. No pony rides, magician, or super-duper event can replace you and your love for your child -- no matter how much they might whine for a party just like fill-in-the-blank's!

And - as I also believe that as parents we have a duty to teach our children sound money management -if your child does whine for a super-duper, over-the-top party and you simply cannot afford it, you have a great opportunity to teach your child about budgeting and financial responsibility. Be open and honest, without any guilt or anger, and seize the chance to sit down with your child and plan the day and the budget together.

I'd love to hear about some of your most successful and simple children's birthday parties! Comment with details and share the knowledge!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Going Frugal: Filling the Tank $10 at a Time

I stopped for gas this morning at Kroger and nearly fainted: $3.77/gal (with my $0.10/gal Kroger discount).

By this afternoon, I noticed that gas in our town NE of Cincinnati had jumped to $3.98/gal.

There is no easy way to deal with rising gas prices; believe me, I've been noodling over this for months. Ideas my husband and I have discussed and scratched include:

~ Mass Transit. The only mass transit available in Cincinnati is regional bus and it serves primarily downtown. There is a park-and-ride station about eight miles from us; unfortunately, my husband does not work in downtown Cincy but just northwest of I-275 and I-75. He would have to take one bus, transfer to another bus, and still be a few miles short of where he needs to be meaning he'd hoof it the rest of the way. Impractical, unreliable, and a serious waste of his time.

~Carpooling. This option is still on the table should my husband find someone in our neck of the woods who keeps a similar schedule at his new location (he recently took a new position in the same company and his office is no longer at their main HQ). But his job is demanding of his time (big corporate giant-type job) and he often has early calls/meetings. And at the end of the day, he often has either a volunteer meeting/coaching duties to attend here in our town...or I do, and he needs to watch our three children. Still, carpooling is definitely a viable option for even one or two days a week if he lucks into a good match.

~Cycling. I biked all over Aquidneck Island when we were first married and living in Newport, RI with only one car. Of course, as newlyweds we had no children so transporting passengers wasn't a consideration for me. Cycling isn't an option for me now three kids later; for my husband, who travels over twenty miles by highway to work and would need to travel further by bike on cycling-safe roads, it's an option with slim chances for success.

~Trade In One of The Cars for a Hybrid/High Mileage Vehicle. Makes sense in a perfect world, right? Wouldn't we all if we could without the trade-in costing us more than the gas savings? My husband's car has been paid in full for years; our van (my vehicle) will be paid off by the end of the year as long as my debt-buster plan stays on track. While gas prices plain old stink, the net savings effect of a trade-in on either of our vehicles is nil; we would have to assume new debt for a longer period to make either trade work. Not happening until someone unveils a 100 mpg vehicle that will fit our family of tall people (my husband is 6'4" and believe me, height effects what you can and cannot drive) and our two 70 lb dogs.

~Walking. I love walking everywhere. When my two oldest were small, my parents bought us a double stroller and let me tell you - I wore out the wheels on that thing taking my kids all over the small town where we lived in Illinois. We live in a small town again now, too; but I happen to live on the opposite side of all the pedestrian-friendly sidewalks that will take you everywhere in our town. A big bypass, two double-lanes and a median, separate me from all those easy sidewalks. Me, and at least 50% of the real estate tax base for our town. Can you tell I'm steamed and getting ready to contact my city manager?

And while I can somewhat safely navigate crossing the bypass at the traffic light close to my neighborhood, it is in no way safely navigable with one child, much less three. No gas savings is worth risking my kids necks. I'll be on the phone with the city manager later this week to discuss this issue; in the meantime, one thing I do plan on doing this summer is driving the 1.4 miles to the town park and using the park as a home base to walk to our around-town errands.

So as gas prices climb and climb, I try to be attentive to my driving (I take my kids to school - yes, the bus is an option for my oldest (first grade) but her 4 mile ride home takes 1.5 hours -seriously) and combine trips as best I can.

I've gotten to the point where I only put $10 or $15 dollars in at a time; my van is a gas hog and would happily gobble eighteen gallons, but my stomach and my budget just can't swallow a fill up that costs as much as a week's worth of groceries. It's a small strategy that forces me to think twice before dashing down the road.

And as we look to the future, one that I hope includes sidewalks and crosswalks for my side of the hill, we'll replace our vehicles with more fuel-efficient ones as time and finances allow. I'm certainly looking forward to summertime, too, since I won't need to drive to both my first-grader's school and my preschooler's school.

I'd love to hear how you're dealing with the current gas prices and your plans for the future as gas prices won't relent for a long time and will never return to those heady days of $0.97/gal.

Comment and share!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Going Frugal: Investing in High $$ Items

With the tax stimulus rebates coming via e-deposit or snail mail, you have the chance to not only pay down debt, save, or invest those $$, but to actually spend a little on higher $$ items that are normally out of reach of your monthly budget.

Some high $$ items are true frugal investments, ones that will save you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars over many years. Here's a list of a few of such items we've invested in ourselves.

~Bread Machine

This cost us around $100 on four years ago; we'd received gift cards and chose to use them to purchase this.

I use this CONSTANTLY, at least once, if not twice a week. Our family loves homemade bread, cinnamon rolls, pretzels and pizza, all items I can quickly make with the bread machine.

By making, not buying, those items, I'm saving $$ every time I use it. And homemade just tastes better!

It's also a very frugal time-saver; pour all your ingredients in, set the timer, and *POOF*! All done!

~Carpet Cleaner

We bought our carpet cleaner in 1996 from Sears when we bought our first house. Our two dogs were puppies and our new backyard featured a lot of dirt beneath Florida pine trees. We knew we'd need something to keep up with the carpets.

We paid over $300 for the best one they had, one that came with all sorts of attachments and options.

This purchase has saved us easily hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the years.

We still have two dogs and now have three kids. Kids + dogs = carpet ruining messes of all sorts. If we had to call in a carpet cleaning company every time someone got sick on the floor or furniture or in a vehicle, or when the spring and fall muddy footprints overtook our carpets, we'd easily pay $100/visit. It adds up quickly!

It's also SO important to keep your carpets clean if you're trying to sell a house (we've had to sell three houses now). That first impression of cleanliness is a key selling point!


This one was recently gifted to us by my ever-so-fabulous next-door-neighbor. She's smart, talented, and kind. We're so thankful for their friendship.

If you've ever had water in your basement - not a flood, just a little - this is a valuable purchase to have on hand for cleaning up the mess yourself. Calling a water extraction service in, even with home owner's insurance coverage, is spendy.

Other uses: garage clean-up, and backed-up kitchen sinks/garbage disposals. Again, doing the work yourself with the right tools will save you mucho $$.

~Power Tools

If you're handy and have the time to do the work yourself, you can add a deck, finish your basement, add insulation to your attic, build furniture, and fix all sorts of household problems.

But you have to have the right tools. This is my husband's passion, not mine; he built our crib and changing table and has plans to build more furniture for our home along with finishing our full basement. Investing in good power tools and doing the work yourself - or with a more-skilled and more-experienced friend or family member - will save you thousands of dollars.

These are just a few of the higher dollar items we've purchased over the years as frugal investments for our family.

I'd love to hear what items you've bought that cost a lot up front but have turned out to be moneysavers over the long run. Comment and share!

Happy Savings!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Going Frugal: Gifts for Graduations and Weddings

Evelyn, who posted a comment today, had this great question within her comment:

This is an expensive month for me. I have lots of graduation and weddings. How much is reasonable to spend? I have 10 invitations sitting on my table now. I guess the people in the blog sphere are young and have not run into this problem. Everyone gives money. So how do you be frugal?

May and June are busy months for weddings, graduations, Mother's Day and Father's Day.

I wish I had an easy answer for you on this, Evelyn, but we've run into this issue ourselves over the years.

You have to decide which events you can feasibly attend. Ten invitations means ten events to fit into your busy schedule, a difficult task unto itself. And with rising costs of for gasoline, which affects both travel by car and air, you need to factor in your travel cost for attending, too.

First, you need to decide which events you absolutely must attend and which you can politely decline.

Then, you need to be honest with yourself about how much you can afford to give as gifts. And, as callous as this might sound, you need to create a gifting hierarchy; for example, a gift for your daughter on her wedding day is likely to be far more expensive than a gift for your co-worker Susie's son's graduation.

Don't feel guilty about making such discernments; and if you feel you received an invitation to an event just for whatever gift you might bring, absolutely do not feel guilty about deciding to send a congratulatory card with no gift.

Once you know which events you'll attend, who will receive gifts and who will receive cards, and just how you want to allocate whatever money you have in your budget for gifts, you'll have a clearer picture of what you can realistically do.

Whatever you do, don't let all those invitations create a weight of guilt on your shoulders, making you feel "obligated" to gift beyond your financial capacity.

The people who love you best, you family and friends, know that your presence at those important life moments is the real gift you bring to the party.

Kind Readers: how do you deal with our over-gifting society? Does guilt win out, or do you stand your frugal ground and find creative ways to gift without breaking the bank? Comment and share your stories and strategies.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Going Frugal: Summer Fun with Kids

It's hard to believe summer is almost here; May is always a very busy month filled with school, sports, and family events. It flies by quickly and then...BOOM! School is out for the summer and I have three busy kids (almost 7, 5, and 2 1/2) with me

Don't misunderstand me; I'm thankful that the financial choices my husband and I made long ago (we met after our first year of college and have been together almost sixteen years) about spending, investing, and living a life filled with family, friends, and people rather than with stuff, allow us the freedom to have one dedicated parent at home with our children. I know many people do not have that freedom of choice and/or are working hard to create that freedom for their family. I do not take it lightly.

But I won't lie to you, either; mothering is tough duty. And when you have three children at such different ages and stages with you every day for weeks on end through the hot summer months, it's a good idea to have a few plans in place.

I'm not advocating for creating a jam-packed schedule for your summer where every day is filled with yet another fantastical activity. One, summer break should be just that, a break from the regular routine. And two, fantastical activities are generally pretty spendy. Summer break shouldn't break the bank.

But it does help to loosely schedule your week. One morning a week can be Park & Lunch day. Another day is Trip to the Library Day. Yet another is set aside for Moms Group/Play Group/Friends Come Over Day.

You follow my drift - a flexible schedule of weekly events to keep everyone a little busy, a lot happy, and in a simple routine.

Summer break also allows you extra time to do some fun things that are hard to fit in during the regular school year; the list below is a starting point to spark your imagination as you begin making your own summer plans.

1. Zoos and Museums

These are not always the most frugal choice; admissions are spendy and everyone clamors for a trinket from the gift shop.

Your best bet is to research the museums and zoos in your area and make a list of the ones you'd actually like to visit more than once during the year. Then check the lists of zoos here and children's museums here that offer reciprocity benefits for members.

If you know you'll use a membership to your favorite children's museum or zoo a number of times over the course of a year, it can be a wise investment, especially if it that membership will allow you free or discounted entrance into other zoos or museums you might want to visit.

Memberships usually come with nominal gift shop discounts, too.

If investing in a membership isn't for you, check your Entertainment Book for coupons to local museums and zoos. And ask at your local grocery store; where I live in greater Cincinnati, Kroger often offers discounts on tickets to local venues when purchased at their customer service desk.

You might even be lucky enough to live near a zoo with free admission; check the AZA's list of free zoos here.

2. Free Attractions

A week or so ago, iMommies posted about Free Attractions, a website dedicated to free fun events around the USA. It's worth a look to see what free fun might be happening in your zip code.

3. The Library

I love the written word, so libraries are a second home to me. They're also a great place for summer fun; most libraries have summer reading programs with small rewards for children who read (or have read to them) the required amount of books. There's usually a weekly story time for the little ones. And if you're lucky, you might live near a bigger library that offers great summer programs for kids of all ages.

Find your local library here and check out their website to see what they've got cooking for the summer. And while you're there, find the community bulletin board; you might stumble onto some more frugal fun!

4. Swim Lessons

Summer is the perfect time to schedule swim lessons for your children, from Mommy and Me classes for your youngest all the way up to specialized classes for your older children to learn a new stroke, boating safety, or lifeguard training.

Swimming isn't just fun, it's a survival skill that everyone should learn while they're young. Check the Red Cross and the YMCA for swim lessons near you. And if cost is a factor, ask about scholarships or sliding-scale payment based on your income; both the Red Cross and the Y want children to master this important skill and will help you find a way to pay.

5. Farmer's Markets and CSA Farms

Visit your local farmers market; call your local Chamber of Commerce to find the the location of the ones in your community.

You can also contact your local CSA Farm (Community Supported Agriculture) and ask if they'd allow you to visit with your children at their convenience.

6. Pick Your Own Fruits and Veggies Farms

This is a great way to get fresh fruits and veggies throughout the summer months and is fun for everyone! Check here for local U-Pick Farms near you.

7. State Parks

Summer offers a great time to explore the state parks near you. Click here to find links to state parks in your area.

8. Festivals

Find local festivals of all kinds around the USA at

9. Give Back

Volunteering can offer your kids a great way to help their community during the summer. Start small; Zoom! at has a great list of ideas and links here for kids who want to help others.

10. Camp Week

A week of summer camp may already be on your child's schedule through Scouts, sports, the Y, or other organizations.

You can also make up your own camp week: pick a week where you have little going on and create a themed week of fun for your kids. Maybe it's Bugs and Butterflies or Halloween in July or even something silly like Circus Week. Ask your kids now what kind of things they'd like to do if they were in charge of planning camp activities for a week, then plan for one themed activity a day that week.

Make it even bigger by painting t-shirts with your kids to match your theme. Plan a silly menu of lunches to match your camp theme. If you're lucky enough to have a good friend with children close in age to yours, ask if they'd like to join forces in planning a fun camp week.

Other ideas to spark your imagination when making your summer plans:

*Call your local government or Chamber of Commerce and ask about Fourth of July events and parades in your town.

*Growing container plants like tomatoes and peppers; if you're brave enough to tackle dedicating a corner of your yard to a garden, go for it!

*Plant a row of sunflowers - they're hardy and happy and make great hide-and-seek spots!

*If your children are old enough to work safely under your supervision in the kitchen, let them plan and make dinner a few nights. Give them a budget to spend and tell them they'll need to plan the menu, make a shopping list, set the table, and cook the dinner. You'll be on hand to supervise, but they're in charge. A fun teamwork event for siblings or best friends. Take pictures and be proud of their efforts!

*Bubbles and sidewalk chalk, those two summer mainstays. Sidewalk chalk is a fun way to work on handwriting, letters, numbers, art, coloring, etc, during the summer months.

Remember to take it easy the last two weeks of summer; a new school year is on the horizon with the schedule that comes with it.

Enjoy that last little bit of freedom from The Schedule but don't forget to prepare your child for a back-to-school schedule during those last two weeks of summer. Read here for tips on how to do that with children aged preschool through high school.

And don't forget to give yourself some downtime, too, time away from your children. Whether you join a book club, go for a walk alone, or just take a visit to your local coffee shop without your children, be sure to find time each week to revive, reflect, and rejuvenate.

Happy Summer!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Going Frugal: Gardening

They look yummy, don't they?

Gardening is a great way to go frugal, if you have the time, the space, and the patience for it. I've tried my hand at it both before children and after; while I enjoy the harvest, there is much work to be done before you pick and eat those tasty fruits and veggies.

I've not gardened for the past few years because our family went through several life changes in the space of two years (moving, buying and selling homes, job changes, third baby) and gardening is most successful when you have constancy in your life.

If you've never gardened before but want to give it a try this year, start small. Try potted tomato plants and potted peppers. They're easy to grow, hardy, and delicious alone or together in salsas and other summer-friendly recipes. You won't need much space but you will need a sunny spot for those plants to flourish.

Gardening, as I said above, is most successful when you have constancy and stability in your life. And a garden isn't just a one or two season a year endeavor; good gardeners work their soil year-round to keep it healthy off-season and in the garden to maintain their crops in-season. And a daily time commitment is necessary or you'll find it difficult to see the peas amidst the weeds.

For those of you who try to live greener, gardening offers you the chance to reduce or eliminate any chemicals in the foods you grow yourself. Add in a small compost pile, pail, or tumbler, and you're doubling your efforts to be organically green.

I'm no gardening expert; in fact, my first published article (out this summer) is about one of my hilarious gardening adventures involving an eight-month pregnant me, overgrown peas, two German Shorthair Pointers (mine), and baby bunnies. So before you take my advice, check out these links:

More info that you can shake a stick at here at the Backyard Gardener.

Find your local Master Gardener (classes, seminars, school programs, and help of all kinds offered by avid gardening volunteers around the USA through local university extension offices) here.

This post is part of Be CentsAble's Tipster Tuesday; have a Frugal Tip to share? Post about it, then join in the linkylove here.

For those of you who do garden for fun, for the harvest, and for the overall frugality of growing some of what you eat, what are your best bits of advice to newbies? Share your knowledge; comment below and help the frugal faithful.