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gift-553146_640When you grow up with a mom who has a shopping addiction and a mild case of hoarding you develop a skewed perception of stuff. My mom was one of the most generous people I knew. She definitely spoiled us, but at the same time, stuff started to take over our lives.

The Problem With Stuff

As a mom myself now, I want to get my children things they want, but at the same time I don’t want a massive amount of toys cluttering up the house. I’ve found that experience gifts are a perfect solution.

A Gift Worth Waiting For

My daughter has been asking to attend gymnastics classes for the last two years, but it just hasn’t been in our budget. So for her birthday I prepaid for six weeks of classes and presented her with a card explaining her gift. I also got her a leotard.

At first it felt weird not wrapping up a bunch of presents, but I knew I was getting her something that she really wanted. I had to focus on the quality of my gift rather than the quantity (or lack thereof). Just as I predicted, she was overjoyed. She had her first class last week and she kept telling me, “Mom, I love it!”

It also stirred up some nostalgia for me to see her up on that balance beam. That was my favorite when I was a gymnast. Watching her felt like I was passing my legacy on to her.

If you want an alternative to traditional gifts like toys, clothes, or books, here are five great reasons to give kids experience gifts.

1. Something To Look Forward To – After all the other gifts have been opened, played with a handful of times and pushed aside, an experience gift is still there, promising something fun and exciting is still waiting for them.

One of my favorite gifts my mother gave me when I was in high school was tickets to see Les Miserables in New York City. I had been listening to the soundtrack CD for months and when I finally got to see the play, it was amazing! I didn’t mind that I had to wait a few weeks for the play. If anything it felt like it extended my birthday.

2. Less Clutter – As I mentioned before, I really don’t like too many toys hanging around, especially when they aren’t being played with very often. Experience gifts like a special trip, art, dance or gymnastics classes won’t contribute to the clutter in your house.

3. Give Something That You Normally Couldn’t Afford– So many extracurricular activities are expensive. They certainly don’t fit into our tight budget, so we’ve had to be very selective about which activities my kids do. Since I would normally spend money on birthday presents, I was able to use that money to give my daughter something I normally couldn’t afford.

4. More Memories – How many of your toys do you really remember from your childhood? Maybe a handful if you’re lucky. No matter how much our children beg us for toys, they typically don’t occupy our children for long. Giving an experience gift gives children memories that will last them a lifetime.

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5. Quality Time – Experience gifts usually give parents or other family members quality time with the children. Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, an art class you take together or just watching them twirl around the floor at their dance class, what the giver receives is time. Time to watch your child really enjoying something, seeing them light up with excitement. Sure, maybe it’s hard to run them to classes on a weekly basis or to and from their favorite sport, but it’s also time that you get to spend with them.

Years from now, they’ll remember that you were there with them. Even if you were just in the background watching from the bleachers or sitting silently in the corner of the room, you’ll become part of those happy memories.

I can’t for the life of me tell you what badges I earned when I was in Girl Scouts, but I’ll never forget that my mom volunteered to be my troop leader. While it wasn’t a birthday or Christmas gift, her willingness to give me and the other girls her time every week is something I still think about proudly.

I would love to ditch a lot of my kids’ physical presents in favor of experience gifts. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get my husband on board for Christmas, but at least for birthdays it’s become a great alternative.

What experience gifts have you given your kids that they loved?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

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It’s been four years since we’ve gone away for vacation. That’s how many years I’ve been a SAHM. Coincidence? Nope. Dropping down to one-income meant making sacrifices and our annual trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was one of the first things to go. We’ve had fun camping every year, but I’m looking forward to this week when my family and I go to Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. Stay-cations and camping are great alternatives to an expensive vacation, but there are many ways you can cut the cost of going away.

1. Go Off Season – Since we’re headed down to the Jersey Shore at the very end of the season we were able to get a great discount on our hotel. Most hotels have more affordable rates during off peak times.

2. Prepay – We also got a 20% discount on our hotel stay for prepaying before June 1st. Thanks to our tax refund, we were able to send one payment, but we also could have sent installments if we wanted to just as long as our payment was received in full by June 1st.

3. Groupon Shop Your Outings Before You Go – Always check groupon for deals on excursions and resorts. We found a great deal on a water park we want to visit while on vacation just by doing a simple search.

4. Sign Up For Newsletters – Have a hotel or resort you love to stay at? Sign up for their newsletters and get notified of special deals.

5. Bring Your Own Car – If your car or van is in good shape, skip the car rental and bring your own. The car rental is usually the second largest expense after the hotel if you’re driving to your destination. If you have to bring your own vehicle I recommend getting any work done before you hit the road. A few years ago, my family was stuck on the side of the road on our way to Lake George when my husband’s car overheated.

We just finished a TON of work on my mini-van that needed to be done, as well as some routine maintenance like changing the oil, tires, and brake pads. We needed to do the work anyway, but doing it before vacation gives me more confidence in taking my vehicle. We would have spent $500 minimum to rent a mini-van.

6. BYOF (Bring Your Own Food) – Eating out is always expensive on vacation, especially in tourist areas. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that grocery store prices also vary widely from one area to another so I’ll be hitting up my local Aldi for cheap and easy breakfast items, snacks (which my kids will go through a ton of), and ingredients for easy dinners we can make in our hotel room which has a microwave and stove top. I’m also packing my crock-pot for ready to eat dinners like lasagna after a long tiring day at the beach. Loading the car up with drinks, sandwiches and snacks is also a must for a road trip with small kids. Stopping at rest stops for food is a budget killer.

7. Skip The Souvenirs –  I have a pretty firm rule on not buying souvenirs. I’d rather take lots of photos or have the kids collect shells to remember our family vacation by.

8. Find Low Cost Entertainment – My family and I plan to spend most of our time on the beach, in the hotel pool, or walking along the boardwalk. Beyond our one planned trip to a water park, which is mostly a birthday present for my daughter who turns nine while we’re away, we plan to just play and relax. Limiting paid entertainment is a great way to save money on vacation. Also check your hotel lobby for coupon booklets for local restaurants and attractions.

family, beach

9. Go Away, But Not Far Away – With three small kids and a limited budget we wanted to pick a place that was “away,” but not “far away.” My kids get really antsy on long drives so we decided to head to the Jersey Shore five hours away instead of trying to drive to Myrtle Beach and renting an extra hotel room on the way down and on the way back.

This year there was a gap of three weeks between the end of camp and the start of the new school year. Usually we go on vacation before camp starts and then by the end of the summer we’re all anxious for school to start. I’m so glad that we still have a great week of vacation to look forward to so we can savor these last days of summer with our kids.

What are your favorite ways to save on vacation?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

Tucked away on a tiny lot which you probably pass every time you make your way through the village of Catskill, is the Catamount. This kooky little people’s museum is fun for all ages. It is quite unique and if you pass by too quickly you will miss it. It sits just above street level and blends right into the greenery and the remains of an old brick foundation. The Catamount is completely hand built and the brain child of local artist Matt Bua. You can read Matt’s blog to see conceptual sketches, ideas and events held at the museum.

Catamount

What makes this museum truly unique is that it is a “people’s museum.” All the exhibits inside the belly of the bobcat are donated by members of the community, strangers stopping by and local historical organizations. You will find maps, water color paintings, a carved wooden cat puppet, newspaper articles and much more. Even you are welcome to leave behind a little work of art, a map, or a note. Have fun signing the guest book and looking through to see how far people travel to visit.

Catamount 1

Catamount 2

Catamount 3

The bobcat was installed in 2010 and it was only supposed to stay for one year. But this heart warming feline has grown on the city of cats and folks here have let it stay. Would you believe I drove passed this spot for a year to schlep my kids to preschool and I never noticed the 15 foot cat?!

We found out about this amazing little place through the Follow That Book program at the Catskill Public Library. Librarians Miss Jennifer and Miss Crystal put together a wonderful tour and story time. My girls even enjoyed a game of ping pong using a wooden plank for a paddle. Why not? The entire Catamount is made out of recycled and found objects. Even the eyes are made from old plates and light bulbs. At night you can see them glowing. So it is only fitting we used planks of wood we foud lying around to create our paddles.

Between ping pong and story time we enjoyed a lovely picnic inside the bobcat. Then it was time to chat with the artist himself. He was really great with helping the kids build their own sculpture from found objects. He let the kids take total control of the project and simply guided them with, “where do you feel that piece belongs?” It was educational, interesting and different than your usual story time.

Tips if you plan to visit: Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the table inside the museum, or spread out a blanket on the grass nearby.

Bring plenty of bug spray. Even though it is a small lot it is quite lush with greenery.

Be sure to stop by Coney Island just up the street (walking distance) for ice cream and fun kiddie rides. Take your picture with the tiny Statue of Liberty.

Bring a camera!

Bring a small piece of history or your own hand crafted artwork to leave behind.

If you just can’t get enough cats in your visit, be sure to find parking on Main Street and take the walking tour of painted cats. You can find a map at the Greene County Arts Council, or just walk on your own. If you stop by the arts council check out the latest exhibits!

Check out the secret gardens planted between buildings on Main St.

Cool off at the library in the kids books section and pick up your calendar for Follow That Book.

Stop for lunch at Village Pizza or the Garden Gate Deli. Both places are kid friendly, affordable and really yummy!

For a really small village there sure is a lot of free art to see and fun things to find! The girls and I truly enjoyed the day. We can’t wait to make a trip back to leave behind our own piece of history.

 painted catsPainted cat 2painted cat 3

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

 

 

Foaming hand soap costs pennies to make and is so much better for your skin and health. Take a look and see how easy it is to make.

Create aBack Yard Sumer Camp

The end of the school year is only a few weeks away. The subject of summer camp started floating around in mid-April. I find  that most camps run only one week. And if they run longer it can get pretty pricey, especially for two kids. Even a one week camp for $55 per kid can break our budget for summer activities.

I feel like I am some how letting my kids down by not giving them a camp experience. Then I remember I never spent one single day at summer camp as a kid. And I turned out pretty awesome. 😉 My kiddos have many years ahead of them to get involved with different activities. This summer is our last hoorah before Kindergarten. Who knows if the future will allow me to have summers off every year? This is our last summer to live it up!

This year I am starting a back yard summer camp with my kids and their friends. I am enlisting the help of my fellow parents who are willing to open their yards for different activities. We can each volunteer a day to host, lead an activity, share a snack and just play. Sharing in activities keeps the cost low, makes for less planning and saves us from hearing “we never do anything” and “I’m bored!”  Not to mention the social benefits my kids get from keeping in touch with their friends over the summer.

You don’t have to be a teacher, or have any training to make back yard summer camp fun! You just have to be a big kid at heart! Take a cue from your kids interests and create one day of fun each week in your own back yard! Then ask your friends to do the same.

Get Organized

Gather your friends and decide on a schedule. If you run arts and crafts on Monday maybe someone could offer sports, or music another day of the week.

Play to your strengths. Are you crafty? Do you mind getting messy? Can you sing, or dance, or play guitar? Sharing those gifts with friends can make for some really great summer memories.

Will the host provide a snack for everyone? Or will each family bring their own snack, or lunch? Maybe a potluck or picnic style lunch?

Will you allow the kids to be dropped off, or will you expect parents to participate too?

Decide on A Time Frame

Hosting a group every day would be exhausting. Perhaps one hour every Monday, or every other Tuesday? Decide if camp will run for one week, one month or through out the summer.

Inspiration for Activities

Or should I say, Pinsperation? Hit up Pinterest for activities and ideas. You can also find a little inspiration right here on my blog! See below for related links, and check back each week!

Get Creative

If you are not someone who is crafty, or think you don’t have a special skill to share why not volunteer a time the kids can all run through the sprinklers together? Or host a water balloon fight? Kids can share a snack or lunch after while the adults get to chat.

Take a Trip

I know the title says Back Yard Summer Camp, but it could be fun to pick one day a week to meet at a local museum, a new hiking trail, or visit a new library. It might be fun to volunteer together as a group at a local food pantry, or animal shelter. Getting out of the backyard can help mix things up and see new sights.

Even if you are a parent working a 9-5 you can create a Saturday workshop, a week night camp time, or maybe there is a week during your summer that you can get a group together to rotate back yards. The whole idea of a back yard summer camp is to make it work for you! Have fun and enjoy your time with the kids!

Related links: Create A Mud Kitchen Storm King Art Center Frozen Dino Smash Backyard Pirate Adventure

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

 

If anyone knows the stress that living on one-income can put on a family, it’s me. While trimming our family’s budget, I had to find a way to reduce our grocery spending. One very important way I do this is by shopping at Aldi. If you’ve never heard of it, chances are you have probably driven by one and never even noticed it. You may have seen the store, but didn’t really know what it was. It’s not very eye-catching, but I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t let that keep you from giving it a try.

Sydney shopping with me

1. Low Prices Every Day – I know you’ve heard this phrase so often, it might be falling on deaf ears. Aldi is cheaper than even Walmart and most days I’d rather cut off my right arm than stand in a Walmart checkout line. Even if you only stock up on staple items at Aldi, you stand to save a good chunk of change. Here are just some of the items I bought this week. I spent $99.20 for a family of 5 for a week’s worth of groceries.
Bread – .99 for wheat ( .89 for white)
Milk –  $2.49 a gallon
Cereal (generic frosted flakes – $1.21)
Generic raisin bran  ($1.79)
Generic rice krispies($1.79)
Butter – $2.69
Sugar – $1.79 for a 4 lb. bag
Large Eggs – $1.45
Brown Sugar – $1.29
Yogurt – .39 a cup
Generic Oreos – $1.69
Dishwasher Detergent (20 count tabs) – $2.49

Though I didn’t need any this week, they also have diapers in sizes 3, 4 & 5 for $4.99 for a jumbo bag and baby wipes for .89 a package.

Sugar Pallate

2. They Don’t Take Coupons – I know for some of you you’re thinking, “why is this a good thing?” That’s because it means less wait time at check out and for those who just don’t like the idea of spending time cutting and sorting coupons, you can feel confident that you’re still paying low prices without having to use coupons. I still shop at ShopRite when I can get really great deals on loss leader items like shampoo, toothpaste or cereal, but I know I can get a lot of my family’s basic needs at good prices at Aldi all the time.

3. Double Money Back Guarantee – You literally have nothing to lose and something to gain by giving Aldi a try. They have a double money back guarantee that if you don’t love one of their products you can bring it back to the store and they will replace the item AND give you your money back. I was a little hesitant to try their meats at first, but I’ve never had a single problem with their quality.

Shipping boxes

4. They Don’t Take Credit Cards – Ok, before you beat me up on this one hear me out. Not paying for credit card transaction fees is one of the ways they keep their prices low. If you’re a frugal person or trying to get out of debt, you can be thankful that Aldi gives you no reason to rack up more charges on your card for groceries. They do take debit cards, cash and EBT cards.

5. You Bag It – If you’re like me and get super frustrated by the way they bag your groceries at your local supermarket, then Aldi is for you. At Aldi, they return all rung up items to your cart and you go to a bagging counter where you bag your groceries however you like them. I also tend to hate how stores sometimes only put one or two items in a bag, leaving me with 20 bags instead of the 4 it would take if I just bagged them myself using my reusable shopping bags. This is another way they keep costs down, by not hiring extra people to do your bagging. You’ll want to bring your own reusable or plastic bags with you. They do have bags for sale for five cents each or you can grab empty boxes you find around the store to pack your groceries in.

6. Fewer Items – Sometimes I just want a jar of peanut butter and don’t want to spend twenty minutes looking at all the different brands, comparing prices. I just want to grab a jar and keep moving through my list. If you get overwhelmed in big stores, Aldi’s smaller selection is a welcome change of pace. There’s only 4-5 aisles to maneuver through and less options means less indecisiveness for a quicker shopping trip.

7. Household Items & Toys – Sometimes you can snag really good deals on dishes, household appliances and even toys at Aldi. I grabbed a steam mop for $40 and some really great camping chairs a few summers ago for $11 each. You never know what great goodies they’ll get in. You can keep an eye on these items as they typically get marked, but don’t wait too long cause once they’re gone they’re gone.

Glutten free

8. Growing Organic & Gluten Free LinesAldi is working on growing their organic and glutten free product lines, which is great for shoppers looking for these items.

Organic at Aldi

Other Things To Consider

Don’t forget to bring a quarter with you for a cart. You’ll get it back when you return the cart to the corral at the front of the store. This is yet another way they save you money. There are no employees running around collecting the carts.

Much like Walmart, Aldi tends to sell produce that is already at its ripest so buy only what you plan on using right away or you might find that it’s gone bad before you have a chance to get to it.

Most of their items are their own store brands. You can find one or two brand names, but they are few and far between. Generics save you loads of money and if you don’t like an item you can return it for a new item and get your money back.

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It’s not going to be as big or fancy as other supermarkets, but let’s face it, you aren’t getting married in the building, you’re getting your groceries and getting out with the least amount of hassle as possible without spending a ton of money. I would definitely recommend suspending your instinct to judge this book by its cover.

Would you consider shopping at Aldi to save money?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found blogging at The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent Magazine when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her otherwise three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails.

 

What does debt have to do with parenting?

When you’re a parent you are always aware that your kids are watching, listening and learning from you how to be an adult. Even if you think your kids don’t know you’re up to your eyeballs in debt, chances are they know something is up. They have an uncanny ability to sense your stress and frustration like little bloodhounds.

Christmas Presents

Did the holidays leave you in debt? Give yourself the gift of getting out of debt and you’ll give your family a legacy of financial security.

When I was a little girl I remember bountiful Christmas mornings, but I also remember many occasions in which our lights or cable were shut off as a result of overdue bills. I remember the constant calls by debt collectors and being warned not to pick up the phone. All of it made an impression on me. Though I might not have made the connection clearly until years later, I got the point that while we weren’t in dire financial straits, we weren’t on a good path either. It’s one of the reasons it’s always been my goal to be able to pay all my bills on my own (laughs the Stay At Home Mom). That to me became a marker of success, not being chased after by bill collectors, but that was only one part of the picture. It took enough mistakes with credit to make me realize that we would NEVER be successful without first getting out of debt. The lesson I inadvertently took from my family’s financial missteps were that your stuff should never own you; you should own your stuff.

Nearly four years ago, I became a Stay-At-Home Mom and it became more important than ever to get out of debt. Here are 6 surprising strategies that have helped us. Once we get our tax refund in a few months, all our debt except our house debt will be paid off. WOOO HOOO!

1. Ditch the Denial – Sometimes we don’t even want to know how much debt we’re in. That denial keeps us comfy and cushioned from our mistakes and allows us to play the “I pay the minimum balance” game, which keeps us focused on making payments instead of paying off debt. The first thing you have to do is get real with yourself and your spouse. Lay it all out, every balance, every minimum payment and look at it. If that doesn’t get you fired up to see how much money you’re spending each month on stuff you already “own” I don’t know what will.

2. Find a Financial Guru – For me it was Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman that I looked to for advice when I was first staring down our mountain of debt. Dave Ramsey breaks down saving, debt repayment, retirement, college funds and even giving into baby steps. Get your butt to the library and check out what the experts have to say (sorry Dave and Suze, but I didn’t have the money to pay for your books). Follow them on social media. Follow their blogs. You’ll find helpful advice and inspiration to keep pushing you forward.

3. Get an Emergency Fund Stat – Why does Dave Ramsey tout this as Baby Step #1? Because life happens, cars need repair, hot water heaters go, or an unexpected trip to the ER are all bound to happen. We don’t know when or where they’re going to happen, but I guarantee you they are coming. In our second year into paying off debt we had both cars taken out of commission in the same week. Without savings, you’ll go running straight to credit to bail you out. That’s like walking the treadmill while eating Oreos. Sure you think it’ll all balance out, but the more debt you stack on top the harder it is to get out from underneath it. Dave recommends $1,000 to start and once debt is paid off to move onto saving 3-6 months of your income.

4. Start Small – This seems counter intuitive to start paying off the smallest balance first. Why not start with the highest payment or the highest APR? It’s because we’re creatures that need constant motivation. If we go years before we see our first debt erased most of us will quit before we get there. Get some quick wins by erasing small balances first and you’ll want to keep going.

Similarly, when you’re looking for ways to cut your budget start small. Start by giving up things that don’t hurt so much, like that extra night of eating out a month, the manicure, or the subscription you don’t use anymore. It can be SO tempting to cut all the fat right away, but when you start out small and give up one or two things at a time it doesn’t feel so hard. Just like dieting, cutting too much out at once makes us feel deprived and we eventually decide we can’t do it. Small changes are what add up over time. Start with the small changes in your lifestyle and then challenge yourself to do more. It’s how you build lasting lifestyle changes that’ll keep you financially fit even after the debt is gone.

5. Stop Thinking Saving Money is the Answer (By Itself) – There are thousands of articles floating on the net about how to save money. Heck, I’ve written a ton of them. The truth is that if you don’t apply those savings toward your debt, it’s going to fall through your budget cracks and get spent on other things.

When you don’t take those savings and unexpected financial windfalls (raises, bonuses, tax refunds) and apply them right away, chances are you won’t. Put together a debt repayment plan. The first thing I did when I became a SAHM was to track our prior month’s expenses and then set up a simple budget. The second thing I did was create a debt repayment plan. It’ll help you see at a glance what debt you have, what money you’ll use to pay it off and the time frame it’ll take you to do it. Here’s a sample of mine – Debt Repayment Plan Template. If you love charts, by all means do those too. Whatever motivates you, will keep you moving forward during setbacks.

6. Get Excited!!!! – Looking at debt repayment as a chore will get you nowhere. I know it can be hard because it seems daunting when you’re in a lot of debt. It’s probably going to take you years to get out. You didn’t get in debt overnight, so can you really expect to get out that quickly? You gotta find joy in it. I think of each debt gone as one less link in the chains that bind me and our family. I know some people can’t even imagine what it would be like to be out of debt, I URGE you not only to imagine it, but to know it’s going to happen. Let that thought take up residence. When you can’t picture it, you don’t usually move forward let alone start sprinting toward it with open arms.

I’m so excited for our tax refund I can hardly sit still. I don’t dream of new cars or expensive vacations. I dream of what it’ll be like to actually have the money we earn instead of just watching it come into our account and go right back out. Don’t be bummed by the sacrifices you are making. Be proud of each stride, even when something throws you temporarily off course. Don’t be upset every time you say “No” to your kids, your friends or your spouse. Think of how many more times you’ll be able to say “Yes” in the future. Think about how much less stress you’ll have.

Game of Life

If we want to teach our kids how to win with money, we have to show them by example. The Game of Life is a good game to show kids the importance of making good financial and life choices.

Real Lessons From the Game of Life

Most importantly, remember what you’re teaching your kids during the process of getting out of debt. You’re teaching them how to be responsible with money. You’re teaching them to be patient and work for things instead of just expecting to get them right away. I was playing the game of Life with my kids a few weeks ago and I thought, “Man, this game is spot on!” If you want to get a higher paying job you have to take the college path which is longer and delays your paydays. If you take out debt you have to pay more back to the bank than you borrowed. It was an awesome game to teach your children to make smart choices.

I hope this year will be a better financial year for you and me. How much debt have you paid off and how did you do it?

Looking for ways to scrape up cash to pay down debt? Check out – 20 Ways To Make Ends Meet When You’re Scrapping By, Part 1 and 2.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found blogging at Hudson Valley Parent Magazine and thenodramamama.com when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her otherwise three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow me on Facebook or Twitter for my delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails.

We’ve all been there, living on Ramen and a prayer until pay day. Broke is a place we’ve all been, so don’t be ashamed, just keep moving forward and hopefully broke will be a place you’re just passing through, instead of where you put down roots. Last week, I talked about ten ways to make ends meet when you’re scraping by and here are ten more.

toothpaste

11. Pack It From Home – If you’re leaving the house for work, recreation, church or wherever you’re going whether it’s solo or with the family, pack your food and drinks from home. It’s going to save you a lot of money. It takes some foresight sometimes, but if I even suspect we’re going to be out of the house near a meal time I pack sandwiches, snacks and water bottles. It’s tempting especially when the kids are whining to hit up the drive thru, but trust me that your wallet and waistline will thank you if you just pack it from home before hitting the road. The same goes for coffee.

12. REWARDS, REWARDS, REWARDS – If there is a loyalty program out there for a store you shop at, sign up. If your credit cards offer points for cash back or rewards sign up (IF, and only IF you can and will pay off the balance quickly). I got a great tip from that Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union and Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union offer rewards based on transactions you make with your debit card. I just saved $15 on my recent K-Mart purchase using their Shop Your Way points, making each pair of pajamas I bought for my son’s birthday about $5 each.

13. Use Less/Use It Up – My husband has been known to nearly empty a bottle of dish soap onto a sponge before washing a single pot. It makes my frugal-self cringe to watch it, fortunately/unfortunately for me it’s not something I have to worry about often. To me it’s simple, use less = stuff lasts longer = don’t need to pay full retail just because we ran out of something. Stock up on items when on they are on sale, but also don’t waste what you’ve got just because it was cheap or free. The same goes for using something up. Just because something is almost empty doesn’t mean toss it. I will confess that I’ve been known to cut up the tube of toothpaste when you can no longer squeeze any out and scrape it into a small Tupperware container. Sounds extreme maybe, but if you’re scraping by, you really can’t afford to throw out what actually is weeks worth of a product just because it seems empty. I’ve been known to rise out bottles of shampoo, laundry detergent, dish soap etc. to use every last bit. You think that’s not going to help much? Well you know the saying – watch the ounces and the pounds take care of themselves.

14. Prepaid Phone – My husband has a smart phone with prepaid minutes through tracfone and it works just fine. It costs us a little less than $50 a month and I don’t even have a cell phone. I know what you’re thinking – how does she even survive without a phone, but rest assured I’m alive and well and I can be reached by (shutter) landline. For anyone who still has a landline check out phonepower which is a voice over internet provider. We prepay ours once a year, but it works out to roughly $8 a month. You just need to make sure your internet is fast enough or you’ll have to upgrade your internet service to accommodate it.

clothes line

15. Go Green/Save Green – Look around your house. If you regularly buy something for the simple purpose of using it and throwing it out, find a reusable alternative. I’ll give you a pass on toilet paper and diapers, because even this frugal mama has to draw the line at washing human feces. Cloth diapering can save you money if you have the special washer and detergent required and of course the stomach to clean it. Kudos to you cloth diapering Mamas! I considered it, but my husband drew the line in the sand on this one. We use dish towels and rags, cloth napkins, and homemade cleaners (despite my husband complaining that my all-purpose cleaner made of water and white vinegar smells like pickles). I hang our laundry out to dry as many months of the year the weather permits. Become an avid recycler and you may even be able to cut down on trash pickups saving you money.

16. Don’t Keep Up With The Joneses – If you want to live richer, pretend you are BROKE. Don’t worry about what other people have and don’t be ashamed of what you don’t. Chances are the Joneses have high mortgage and car payments and are really burdened by living beyond their means. Just because you can afford the payments, doesn’t mean you own something or that you should try to own it. I always tout the fact that my (now three bedroom) townhouse is what kept us out of the poor house when I started staying at home. Do everything in your power to live below your means. Often times we think that if we just had more money we’d be fine, but the more you make, the more you will spend if you don’t make a conscious effort not to. The other day I wanted to make a recipe, but didn’t have buttermilk. I thought about running to the store, but after a quick google search I found out I could make my own using milk and vinegar. The internet is chock full of hacks, tricks, and secrets to saving money, but you have to be willing to forget what that might look like to the outside world. Sometimes we go to great lengths to make ourselves appear wealthier than we are, and this is precisely what is making us broke.

17. Gift Giving For Less – Gifts don’t have to be from a retail store, purchased full price or be frivolous. Gifts can be found at yard sales, consignment shops, on craigslist, or Facebook swap sites. They can be homemade or for things that are needed vs. wanted. I’ve gotten into the habit of giving my kids book bags for Christmas when they’re on clearance and they have them ready to go for the following year (cross that off my back to school shopping list). My son is getting pajamas for his birthday because he really needs them. He’ll get a few toys from us and I’m sure from friends and family. Some moms on Facebook suggested following www.hip2save.com for their special deals on great gift items. You can also look for coupons in newspapers, sales flyers, online promotional codes, etc. I sign up for e-mails for stores and restaurants I like and they often send me coupons and alert me to great sales I might have otherwise missed.

18. Get Paid To Shop – Since I don’t have a cell phone, I can’t say I’ve ever used a lot of these aps that reward you for shopping, but there are plenty to choose from. There’s Ibotta, Saving Star, Checkout 51, Receipt Hog, the Walmart savings catcher and Ebates. The only one I’ve actually used is Ebates and while I don’t do a ton of online shopping, they do give you a free $10 gift card to either Kohl’s, Target, Walmart or Macy’s just for signing up. You simply go to Ebates first and then to the retail store of your choice through their site and you can earn anywhere from 3-14% cash back when you make a purchase. You can also go old school and clip coupons from the paper, check coupons.com, track your store’s price matchups on livingrichwithcoupons.com, and load coupons directly to your store loyalty cards. You can often use a paper coupon with a digital coupon for the same item making it cheap or completely free in some cases. New to couponing? Check out my couponing crash course posts – part 1 and 2 to learn how to get started.

19. Take A Defensive Driving Class – You can take a defensive driving class entirely online for under $25 and you can easily save 10% on your car insurance.

20. Barter/Swap/Negotiate – Sometimes no cash needs to exchange hands at all in order to get what you need. There are online swap sites for things like clothes, toys and household items. You can also set up swaps of kids’ toys and clothes with your friends. You could also try bartering for goods or services. A mom on Facebook shared that her husband does snow plowing for someone in exchange for auto repair work. You can also set up babysitting swaps with friends. If you have to pay for big ticket items like purchasing a house or buying a car ALWAYS try to negotiate. I’ve gotten every used car we’ve ever purchased for $500 off the asking price just by negotiating. If you have cash in hand it definitely gives you an edge. Most people will take less than asking price for the guarantee of money in hand. They know if they turn you down they may get full asking price from someone else, but they also might not get anything at all. A common tactic for negotiating lower prices at yard sales is a bundling technique. If you find multiple items you can offer a lower price for all items than what each one cost individually. Most people would rather get rid of more stuff at once then haggle with you over each individual item. BUT, don’t be that rude person who low balls every offer.

I hope these posts help you move through the land of broke more quickly. Have some stellar money saving tips? Share them here or on my Facebook page.

I found myself yelling at my husband the other day over an $8 purchase of clothing from the Salvation Army. I know what you’re thinking, crazy, right? You’re right it was a bit crazy, till I realized what was really going on with me. I was suffering from a brutal case of Single Income Syndrome (SIS). This is the part of being a SAHM that still gets to me after three years. This is the thing I struggle with daily.

Money

Image found via http://jessefewell.com/how-to-succeed-with-fixed-price-agile-projects/

Symptoms Include…

Symptoms include feelings of guilt about spending money on oneself, overzealous budgeting, worrying about money more than once a day, irritability with your partner’s spending habits, and stress about paying bills. Three years ago, I would have said kudos to my husband for shopping at the Salvation Army instead of the mall. I have taught him many of my frugal ways and I’m grateful for that, but his impulse purchases keep slowly tapping our resources. I realized we have a problem with our “deserve” spending. He feels he deserves clothes or pricey lunches just because he’s earned it. I, on the other hand, never really feel like I deserve to spend money on myself because I haven’t earned it.

From Joint To Full Custody

We started with the “his, mine, and ours” system where we each paid certain bills and split others. When I started staying home, I lost my income and gained full custody of the bills. It forced an intimacy between me and our finances I hadn’t had before and my husband handed over his share of the responsibility and never looked back. I had to stop my Single Income Syndrome (SIS) from causing a major rift in my marriage. So here are some of the things I need to recognize in order to combat my SIS and I hope they help others as well.

1. There Is Only “Our” Paychecks Now – While I still struggle with the fact that I don’t bring in equal share of our income, I need to remind myself that his paycheck is in fact OUR paycheck. While I’m not punching a time clock and my name isn’t on his pay stub, all my work at home allows him to do his job to the best of his ability. Case in point, he just recently got a promotion. Would he still have gotten it if I was working? Maybe, but the fact that he had me covering the childcare so he could spend extra hours preparing for his trainings, volunteering on work committees or taking out of town business trips certainly didn’t hurt.

2. There Is Only “Our Debt” As Well – Living separate financial lives until I became a SAHM let us acquire separate debt as well. Becoming a single income family meant that we changed the way we viewed our individual debt as well. It was an eye opening experience. We have been diligently working on it and have paid of $15,000 in debt in the three years we’ve been living off of one income. It is my hope that by next year we will be debt free except for our house. I know some people would be concerned about sharing responsibility for your partner’s debt, but in all the years we were going it alone we have NEVER made anywhere near the progress we’ve made tackling it together. I figured we had two choices – get mad and throw our hands up or say “alright, let’s get busy fixing it” and that’s just what we did. It takes a lot of trust to do this.

3. Get On The Same Page – My husband’s “I don’t want to know” approach to our bills simply isn’t working anymore. I asked for his help. I need him to know where our money is going without me having to tell him. It’s my hope that if he sees it with his own eyes, I won’t feel ALL the pressure of making sure our bills are paid and we have enough money between paychecks.

4. No Room For Guilt – I have to stop feeling guilty every time I need to buy something for myself. Guilt is keeping me from being truly happy about staying at home; a choice I have been very happy with otherwise.

So I’m throwing guilt overboard, handing my husband a paddle, and we’re going to start rowing this family’s finances together. There are no lesser roles.The 20 something feminist in me will just have to shut up. She didn’t know anything about raising a family. I’m no less of a woman, mother or wife for not bringing in a paycheck. We all make our own choices and I choose this life every single day.

Have you ever suffered from Single Income Syndrome? How do you cope?

Playing Just Dance on the Wii at my neighbors house with friends Nicole and Ashleigh. Instead of resolving to lose weight in 2015, I resolve to play this game 2 - 3 times a week.

Playing Just Dance on the Wii at my neighbors house with friends Nicole and Ash-Leighh. Instead of resolving to lose weight in 2015, I resolve to play this game 2 – 3 times a week.

Women’s Magazines – Eat This Not That

Since we’re less than a week into 2015, I’ve been thinking about why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. It’s not because we set the bar too high. But if we could simply “resolve” to lose 10 pounds we would have lost them last year or perhaps 10 years ago. I think it’s because we set some broad goal for ourselves without any plan to get there. In the spirit of those magazine articles that suggest swapping this food for that to lose weight, I’ve come up with three of The No Drama Mama’s Resolve This Not That swippy swaps.

1. Swap This – “Lose 10 Pounds” for This – “Play Just Dance 2-3 Times A Week.” Thinking back to the year I was at my skinniest since becoming a mom and how I got there, it wasn’t because I joined a gym, it’s because I spent a summer pushing my two kids in a double stroller around my neighborhood and dancing with my baby in the living room. I think the key was that I was having fun with my kids. My personal resolution is to play Just Dance on the Wii till I’m good at it or at least having so much fun with my kids that I’m not focusing on my post-baby body. You can substitute any physical play you want.

2. Swap This – “Get Out of Debt” for This – “Pay All Cash For One Year.” I’ve been saying for years that I’m on a quest to get out of debt, but like losing weight crash dieting or financial dieting doesn’t work. Sure you can be good for a while, but eventually you fall off the wagon and decide there’s no point in getting back on. The best way to get out of debt is to stop using credit cards. I’m not going to lie, we have a small balance on one card, BUT I also have the cash to pay that card off right this second if need be. The first step towards getting out of debt has to be to stop packing it on. After this card is paid off, my goal is to not use any credit cards this year, hopefully allowing me to pay my last non-home related debt off one year early in 2016.

 

3. Swap This – “Yell Less” for This – “Create Love Banks.” Parenting kids, especially small ones, can be super frustrating. Like many parents, I wish I could contain my frustration better, but I am probably going to lose my patience and yell sometimes so I want to build my kids up so they know that no matter what they do that might make me mad I will ALWAYS love them. I’m going to find a small bank or jar for each child and fill it with strips of paper describing the many things I love about them. Everybody experiences anger and frustration, but the lesson I want to teach my kids is that those emotions are temporary, while love is permanent. While I may not like everything they do, I love everything that makes each of them special.

Do you have some swap this for that resolution ideas? Share them here or on my Facebook page The No Drama Mama.

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