Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Resource-o-rama!

During the holidays I have failed miserably at my goal of posting weekly.  It's a busy time for everyone, so even if I had posted, no one would have had time to read it anyway, so I think we're even!

With the new year coming up, I know many of us are making resolutions about things we want to accomplish.  Most of us will probably abandon these goals by January 6th or 7th, but let's pretend that we're gonna stick with them, ok?

If saving money is one of your goals, it really is doable in the new year!  So as an encouragement to those of you who are setting this goal, here are some of my favorite money-saving resources:

Dave Ramsey
Dave is awesome!  His concepts are simple, even old fashioned, but adopting his philosophies about money really will change your life.  I highly recommend reading one of his books (checked out from the library of course!) or attending Financial Peace University.   He breaks it down to the basics:  Don't spend money you don't have!!  Freedom from debt is a gift that can completely turn your life around.  Seriously...

The Frugal Girls
Great resource for deals and ideas on DIY stuff.  Their Facebook page is also a great resource.  Simply liking their page will put them into your newsfeed, so you can keep up with all the great deals they post. 

Consignment Mommies
Fantastic site to find great seasonal consignment sales in your area.  Whether you're wanting to make some moola by cleaning out your kids closets and toy boxes or trying to find some inexpensive options to clothe your kiddos, this site has some great resources.  I've sold and bought at several sales in my local area, and LOVE it!  I find much better deals at seasonal sales rather than consignment stores, since sellers are allowed to set their own prices.  I'll devote an entire post to this topic later in the year, but just check out this site.  It's great!

Southern Savers
I get a lot of questions about couponing.  If you live in the South (mainly the South East), this is a fantastic resource.  It has an entire section on how to coupon, and keeps you up to day with lists that match store sales with coupons for the most savings! 

Pinterest
I know, you probably already know about this site for recipes and fun craft projects, but I've also found a lot of money saving resources on it!  Recipes for common household products, ways to reuse items around your house, tons of recipes for leftovers and freezer meals.  If you don't already have an account, it's much easier to get one if someone sends you an "invite."  So post it on your facebook status, and surely someone will take pity on you! 

I really hope we're all able to stick with our New Year's Resolutions (mine is to set up a cleaning schedule at my house and actually stick to it so this place isn't in chaos all the time!).  Here's to hoping yours stick!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Gifts from the Frugally Minded

For the past three weeks or so, I've been getting the same question from my daughter... every day... sometimes three or four times a day... or maybe more, depending on her mood.

Is tomorrow Christmas?

As sweet as it was at first, I do have to admit, once I've answered this question for the 13th time in a day, it starts to be a bit annoying.  But it does serve to remind me that Christmas is sneaking up on me, kinda like an obnoxious little brother who likes to hide behind  the bushes and throw bottle caps at you (yes, Momma, that reference is for you).

My main challenge at Christmas time is coming up with unique, affordable gifts to give my friends and family.  Over the years I've compiled a few ideas on how to address this problem.

Utilize your friends who are more talented than you

I have my talents, but most of them aren't quantifiable.  I'll gladly sing you a song, but it probably won't gift wrap very well.  On the other hand, my sister is a knit-a-holic.  She creates adorable knitted and crocheted items all the time.  Recently, I paid her to make a specialized baby present for my fellow science fiction nerd friends (It was a Jane hat.  You'll only get that reference if you watched Firefly).  It turned out adorable and they loved it. 

It would totally be possible to utilized this same concept for Christmas presents.  Have a friend who's a super scrapbooker?  Pay him to make a small memory book for grandma.  Have a friend who can sew anything?  Pay her to make a couple of adorable throw pillows for your sister.  Know someone who loves to make pottery?  Have her make a vase to match your best friend's living room.  Paying for the supplies and another small amount for their time, it's a win-win!  You'll usually come out MUCH cheaper and definitely more unique than if you just gave them a gift card. 

Channel Your Inner Craft Goddess

I like to think I'm crafty, but in reality, I'm not.  Most of my craft attempts come out looking like they were made by a 4 year old.  Actually, some of my 4 year old daughter's crafts look better than mine do.  But thanks to Pinterest, there are TONS of ideas out there for inexpensive cool stuff.  Here are just a couple of ideas I've found this year, but I'm sure there are directions on how to make some amazing stuff for cheap all over the internet.  You just have to hunt a little.  (WARNING:  If you expect to receive a gift from me this year and want it to remain a surprise, DO NOT click on any of the links below.)

25 Handmade Gifts for Boys
Awesome ideas for the boys in your life!  It even tells you how to make your own real life Angry Birds game!  At the end of the page are links to handmade gifts for girls, women and men!!

Transferring Photos to Wood
This video makes it look incredibly easy!  There are all sorts of ways you could use this technique!

Homemade Soap in Your Crockpot
One batch of soap made in the crockpot would make great gifts for friends and neighbors!  Plus, she has several other adorable ideas on this post!

There are about a bajillion other ideas on Pinterest or Youtube or whatever.  Just get searching!

Give Them A Memory

Most of my best childhood memories are of experiences and not of actual physical gifts.  Get them a membership to a local museum or zoo, which is often pretty reasonably priced and includes multiple admissions.  There are usually multiple levels so you can give as big or as little as you like.  Here are some resources for my local NC friends:

NC Zoological Society
A family membership includes year-round admission for 2 parents and ALL children in their household for only $59.

Marbles Kids Museum
A family membership cost $100, but includes a year's worth of admission for your household and some other really cool benefits!

NC Symphony Orchestra
They offer a really wonderful children's program.  Tickets might seem a little pricey, but purchased in sets for more than one show can lower the cost.  It's a great way to introduce kids to live, classical music. 

The Dreaded Re-Gifting

I'm about to spill my guts about something I haven't admitted to very many people.  I am a re-gifter.  I know, it's not socially acceptable, but I am guilty of it.  Every year, it never fails, that someone in our family receives a gift that he or she isn't particularly fond of.  It's perfectly good stuff, just not something we can use.  I have a large box in my laundry room where I keep this stuff.   It usually consists of jewelry that's not my style or candles in a fragrance I'm not fond of.  Sometimes there are books that I've already own or toys that my kids aren't interested in.  I keep them around for passing along to someone who might like them.  I know it's not considered proper etiquette, but when you're on a limited budget, and want to give a nice gift, I see nothing wrong with passing along something they would appreciate more than you!   It works great for white elephant parties!  There are a couple of important rules, though:

1.  Don't pass along used stuff.  If you've burned the candle to see how it smells, don't regift it.  If you've tried the bodywash, don't regift it.  If you've worn the earrings, don't regift it.  If you're kids have drooled and snotted all over the stuffed animal, don't regift it! 

2.  ABSOLUTELY DO NOT GIVE IT BACK TO THE PERSON WHO GAVE IT TO YOU!!!!  This would be disastrous!  Before an item enters my regifting box, it gets a sticky note with the name of who gave it to me and the date I received it.  If you're not certain where it came from, DON"T REGIFT IT!!!!!

Anyway, those are just some suggestions I have for some unique and inexpensive gifts.  Hopefully, my family will forgive me if they receive something from this post and it's not a surprise.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Monster-C Smoothie: Exclusive Guest Post!

I'm super excited! 

My amazing friend and fellow Meredith College graduate, the lovely Ms. Angela DePoy, has written a guest post for me!  Check out her yummy recipe for inexpensive, outrageously healthy smoothies below:

The Monster-C Smoothie:

Do you love those $5 "fruit" smoothies?  I hate them. They're full of crap. Ice, sugar, and fruit sitting in syrup.

I stock up on the huge bags of plain frozen strawberries - about $7 at Sam's Club. I use these as the "base" and make a month's worth of smoothies for 2 people (5 days a week) with one of these bags. Strawberries are super high in vitamin-C. I wish Sam's club had organic strawberries, I know they would cost a bit more, but at least frozen fruit is safe, high in nutrients and much better for you than what you get at the smoothie shops. That's about .17 per pint-size smoothie.

I also buy the huge bags of blueberries (the tiny wild ones are my favorite, but sometimes only the big ones are available). They are about $4 for a bag half the size of the strawberries. Mixed berries are good too, there's a bag with strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Blueberries are great. Full of antioxidants, low in calories..they're our friends. It only takes a few blueberries to flavour up a smoothie, or maybe .20 worth of blueberries.

I hate getting sick. I take Emergen-C religiously. For $17, I get a huge double pack of Emergen-C at Sam's club. Not my favorite flavours (hello pink lemonade, I wish you could be cheaper), but somehow raspberry and tangerine taste a lot better when you think about 80 packs in the box, or, .21 per packet.
I hate soy. Who knows what on earth they put in soy milk? I you've ever made it at home, it tastes nothing like what you get in the store, even if you strain it a million times. If I eat soy, I eat edamame or tofu but soy milk is scary. It doesn't taste creamy and it surely makes smoothies taste strange. I love So Delicious Coconut Milk (the 80 calorie kind). It's about $3.50 at my grocery store, and I use a half cup in each smoothie making it .22 per smoothie.

I also believe in good quality juice. I love organic grape juice, it's the cheapest kind and for around $3 you can get a small bottle - remember a little goes a long way. The little bottle is 4 servings, but you only need a half cup or 38 cents worth.

I keep organic Demerara sugar on hand. Usually there's a Dixie crystals coupon in the paper for it and that lowers the cost. You are only using about .10 worth of it (1 teaspoon), enough to brighten up the sweetness of the fruit.



Putting protein in smoothies is optional. Most Americans eat protein in ridiculous excess. Unless you're an Olympic hopeful or playing in the NFL, I don't see how putting chemically altered stuff full of artificial sweeteners and flavours is good for anyone. Worried about protein? Take a handful of almonds, pulverize them (try a coffee bean cutter, but you can only do a few at a time, or a high power blender). You can put that in a smoothie.  I use a Ninja blender, not the fancy one, the $50 one.

12-14 whole frozen strawberries (.34)
1/2 cup wild blueberries or 1 cup blueberries or mixed berries (.40)
1/2 cup coconut milk (not the canned kind) (.44)
1/2 cup good quality grape juice (.38)
1 teaspoon Demerara sugar (.10)
1 packet Emergen-C (.21)



Throw strawberries, blueberries, emrgen-C, coconut milk, grape juice, sugar in Ninja. Pulse it until it is super smooth. You may need a tablespoon or two of water if it gets too thick. Don't overwater, use one at a time. This smoothie will be super "velvety". Yields 2 pint-glass sized smoothies. Total Cost per smoothie: 94 cents. Makes a GREAT breakfast.



Thanks so much, Angela!  Sounds delicious and ridiculously healthy!!  I still have some strawberries in the freezer that we picked at our friends' farm in the summer that I plan to use for this recipe to make it even cheaper!   

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SHUT UP!!

A few months ago at my neighborhood ladies bible study, we learned some shocking news.  One of our didn't realized that you really could check books out of the public library for free. Crazy, right?

It all happened while we were discussing a book that one of us had read.  M, our tech savvy, youngest member of the group who reads the Bible off her i-pad, piped up that the book was only $8.78 at Costco right now.  I replied that since I'm notoriously cheap, I'd rather check it out from the library, where it's free.  The rest of the conversation went something like this:

M:  Shut up!  The library is still around?!

me:  Uh ...   yes.

M:  SHUT UP!!!   And it's free?!?!

me:  Uh ...     yes. 

M:  Shut up!  I've seen them on tv and stuff, but I didn't realize they were still around!

me:  You can reserve books online now and even check out more than one book at a time.

M:  Shut up!  So it's like Netflix ...  for books ... only free?  WHAT??

We spent the next several minutes laughing hysterically and explaining the intricacies of the library system to her.  We heard the phrase "Shut up!" (used in the Stacy & Clinton tense) numerous times.  One of us almost convinced her that there was a $5 monthly fee that she could collect and pay on her behalf, but we didn't let her fall for it. 
I am a voracious reader.  If I find a book I like, and have the time to spend reading it, I can knock out a rather long book in one afternoon.  I used to buy a lot of books (and sometimes I still do, but that will be covered in a later post).  But lots of books quickly take up lots of space and are heavy and expensive to move (something we've done A LOT).  When we moved to Wake County, I started taking advantage of the local library system.

The Wake County Library System is awesome.  They have an extensive collection, with just about any title you could ever want.  And if they don't have it, they'll borrow it from another county's library.  They offer audio books and even e-books for your Kindle or Nook.  I can request a book online or through a FREE app on my smartphone and they'll e-mail me when it's ready.  We regularly attend the free Storytime, where they often have puppet shows and crafts for the kids.  The one we like to visit is located in the same building as the local cultural center, where they host tons of great free family events, like concerts, puppet shows, and movies for mom's with small children (AKA: it's ok to bring your noisy, wiggly preschooler to this showing of these movies).  For a very reasonable price, they have all sorts other events like comedy shows and plays.  They also offer classes for all ages on topics like cooking and dance and pottery.  Seriously, it's awesome.

You can save some serious entertainment moola by checking up on what you're local library/cultural center has to offer.  It's usually way more than you every realized.  We visit there so much that my kids act like seeing the storytime lady is spotting a celebrity.  (I'm always surprised they don't ask for Miss Megan's autograph).   

I honestly was shocked that my friend didn't know what all the library had to offer.  But that's par for the course with her, just the other day, she told me I'd changed her life by introducing her to crockpot liners. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Spent My 401K at the Olive Garden

I LUV going out to eat. 

I love to eat a delicious, leisurely meal, prepared by someone else, and then (most importantly) leave the mess for someone else to clean up.  It would probably be close to the top of my list of favorite hobbies.  Before we had kids, going out to eat on a daily basis was just a part of life.  Both of us were working, and going out to lunch every day just seemed to be "the thing to do."  We would think nothing of dropping $8 to $10 a day each at some random fast food joint, just on lunch.  Most weeks included dinner out at a place like Chili's or Ruby Tuesday's together at least 3 times a week.  I'd say we'd spend about $25 to $30 a dinner when we'd go out to eat together. 

Here's the breakdown on what we were spending (I'm estimating on the low end here):

Lunches:
$8 a meal   x  2 adults  x  5 lunches out during the work week  x  52 weeks a year = $4,160 annually

Dinners:
$25 a meal (for the both of us)  x  3 dinners out during a week  x  52 weeks a year =  $3,900 annually

Total:  $8,060

Let's face it, that's a LOT of money, and we weren't even having to feed children yet!   On average, I'd say the meals I make at home (lunch or dinner) cost about $3 per serving.  It's probably a lot less than that, but for the sake of argument, I'll go with $3.  Let's do the math on the same number of meals:

Lunches:
$3 a meal   x  2 adults  x  5 lunches a week  x  52 weeks a year = $1,560 annually

Dinners:
$6 a meal (feeding both of us)  x  3 dinners a week  x  52 weeks a year =  $936 annually

Total:  $2,496

That's a yearly savings of $5,564.  (and that's just what we save during the week, not including weekends!!)

Can you imagine what we could have done with that money???  Taken a cruise, bought a cheap used car, saved up for college tuition!   And that was a conservative estimate.  I'm sure we spent much more than than during an average week when we were going out to eat a lot.  I'm CERTAIN that most of the meals I make cost less than $3 per serving. 

So now, I'm sure your question is how do you eat at home so cheaply?  It's a simple matter of planning.  I watch the sale flyers for my local grocery stores and try to plan my meals around what's on sale.  I also stock up if the price is good, utilizing my freezer (I have two stand alone freezers in addition to the one attached to my fridge)  I'm also a couponer.  I am shameless about utilizing coupons to save as much as I possibly can. 

There are also some GREAT websites out there to help you plan:

http://www.5dollardinners.com/
This site is great!  All the recipes are designed to be made for under $5.  Not $5 per person, but $5 total

http://e-mealz.com/
This site does charge you to use their services, but I've heard great things about it, and if you're not into meal planning, this does the work for you!  Even though you have to pay for it, it's still a money saver.

http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/
I'm in love with my crockpot.  Apparently, so was this lady.  She spent a year cooking from her crockpot every day.  She has some really great, creative recipes.  Most of which can be made pretty inexpensively. 

I'm not saying we never go out to eat, but we've cut down on it drastically.  I'd say we go out about twice a week.  We usually go on Sunday's right after church, and on Wednesday nights to the fellowship dinner at our church.  We're very mindful of what we spend.  The Wednesday night dinner at church costs us $12 for the whole family, about the same as eating at home.  We use coupons and share meals at restaurants on Sundays, usually spending less than $30 for the entire family when we go to a "sit-down" restaurant, and less than $20 for the entire family when we hit up fast food.   My husband takes leftovers to work for his lunch almost every day, and the kids and I eat at home almost exclusively.  There is the occasional trip to Chick-Fil-A for a playdate or dinner out with my hubby, but on the whole, we don't spend a lot on eating at restaurants anymore.

Try evaluating your own numbers sometime.  You'd probably be surprised at how many waitresses you are putting through college, just by the amount of tips you pay out!

Welcome to Famously Frugal!

Hello.

My name is Louise, and I'm a spend-a-holic.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.  Well, my problem was that my husband was good at making money and I was good at spending it.  This situation worked pretty well for the first seven years of our marriage.  He worked incredibly hard while I worked in a low-paying career that I loved.  We made pretty good money, and we spent that pretty good money.  We traveled, we lived in exotic, expensive places, we bought houses, we sold houses, we made lots of frivolous purchases.  We had a lot of fun, but dropped a lot of hard-earned money in the process.

In 2007, that all changed.  We had our first child.  I gave-up my low-paying, rewarding job, where the salary would have barely paid for daycare costs, and decided to be a stay-at-home mom.  Seemed like a GREAT idea at the time, although we didn't fully think out the financial aspects of it all.  While my piddly salary didn't seem like much, it actually was the extra dough that was keeping our spend, spend, spend lifestyle afloat.  It didn't take long for me to realize that some drastic changes would have to be made.   We totally revamped our lifestyle and found new ways to have fun, but save money. 

In 2009, shortly before we added a second child to our family, we watched all of the videos from Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University.  While we were already on the right track, this program got us totally committed to never repeating the bad financial habits we had practiced before we had kids.

Now with two adults and two preschoolers being supported by one moderate income, we are using some pretty great tips and tricks to keep our family budget in the black every month.  Whether you're a die-hard bargain hunter or in credit card debt up to your ears, hopefully, this blog will have some useful tips for you!