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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’m eagerly counting down the months till March. Like most people, I live for that fantastic day when we get our tax refund. Even though we changed my husband’s withholding on his paycheck when I first started staying home to get more money per check, we still get a decent refund each year. Last year, along with our savings we were able to renovate our basement into a master bedroom, and this year I can hardly sit still for joy of thinking about paying off our debt consolidation loan. Yes, it sounds glamorous I know. This is the year we get rid of all debt save the house related debt. Three years ago, we were in deep to the tune of roughly $20,000 and come March that’ll be the end of that chapter and hopefully the end of just scraping by.

I’ve done some crazy and some not so crazy things to get us through the lean times over the years while staying home with our kids. I’ve also enlisted the advice of other moms on Facebook. In no particular order, here are 20 ways to make ends meet when you’re just scraping by.

Local U-Pick Farms like Dubois Farms in Highland have fantastic fruit and veggies for great prices, they also give the family a fun outing together that teaches kids where food really comes from.

Local U-Pick Farms like Dubois Farms in Highland have fantastic fruit and veggies for great prices. They also give families a fun outing together that teaches kids where food really comes from.

1. Budget – I can’t tell you how much having a budget helps. Even if you can’t stick to a set dollar amount per category it’s invaluable for seeing where your money is going and figuring out where you can trim the fat. Need help getting started? Try Every Dollar‘s free online budget tool.

2. Lower My Bills PLEASE – I’ve called pretty much all our bill collectors and asked for lower rates or asked how to scale back on services to lower my bill. One year, I saved hundreds of dollars on our propane bill simply because I asked for a better rate. It helps if you’re current on your bills. If a company is unwilling to match rates or help you lower your payments, it’s time to shop around for new companies. Here are some negotiating tips.

3. Meal Plan – When shopping don’t just plan for the week’s meals, plan for the week’s leftovers. Buy bigger cuts of meats and use them for two meals instead of one. Take leftovers for lunch. Read more about how to stop feeding the trash.

Not only am I not ashamed at shopping thrift and consignment shops, I'm pretty thrilled with the deals I get. I got 4 pairs of jeans for $14 on Salvation Army's family day which is every Wednesday. Most items are half off.

Not only am I not ashamed to shop at thrift and consignment shops, I’m pretty thrilled with the deals I get. I got 4 pairs of jeans for $14 on Salvation Army’s family day, which is every Wednesday. Most items are half off.

4. Buy Used – I have ZERO shame about shopping thrift and consignment shops. I think of it as a treasure hunt. I often find more expensive quality brand name clothing for my family then what I could buy new at Wall-Mart or Target. Tip: Hit up Salvation Army on Wednesday when most items are half off. Read more about what you should know before you pop them tags. Tip: Goodwill gets brand new items from Target that didn’t sell.

5. Buy GENERIC – I know there is a huge stigma for some surrounding store brands or stores like Aldi which carry very few name brands. Most store brands are just as good, if not better, than the brand name. It’s totally worth it to give them a try. Generic medicines and baby formula have the EXACT same ingredients so why pay more for them? If you’re at the doctor, make sure they write you a prescription for the generic version of the medication if there is one. If you don’t ask, you could get stuck paying a lot more for the brand name. I even found that I could get free birth control pills just by switching to a generic brand that is fully covered by my insurance.

6. Say NO A LOT – A big part of choosing or having to be frugal is learning to deal with temptation, which is EVERYWHERE. When friends innocently suggest you go out to eat, suggest a potluck instead. When it comes to sales based parties I have a strict “No Go” policy. It’s not that I’m trying to be rude, I just won’t put myself in a position to have to say no or else buy something out of guilt. Many of the fundraisers that come home from school go straight to the recycling bin. We do some fundraisers and give to charity, but we have to be selective about where we give. My kids know that if they want a new toy they have to wait for their birthday or Christmas, whichever comes first. I have a strict “don’t ask me for anything at the store” policy on those rare occasions I have to take them with me.

One of the best part of living in the Hudson Valley are the many local farms available to pick fresh produce at prices cheaper than you'd find in the grocery store.

One of the best part of living in the Hudson Valley are the many local farms available to pick fresh produce at prices cheaper than you’d find in the grocery store.

7. Buy Direct From Farms – Get fresh veggies and fruits and preserve them by canning or freezing them. Lots of people reap the benefits of food shares and food co-ops and the Hudson Valley is full of great farms to choose from.

8. Cut The Cable – We ditched our cable and now do Hulu and Netflix for a teeny tiny fraction of the cost we had with Direct TV. Streaming subscription services can cost as little as $8 a month and with Sling TV, Hulu, Netflix and others you can pretty much get anything you want a la cart for a LOT less then even those bundled cable packages.

9. Refinance – If you have a mortgage or loans, try to refinance them if you can get lower interest rates and you’ll save a ton of money on interest. We refinanced our mortgage three years ago and saved $280 a month, plus the month while the loan was processing and we didn’t have a mortgage payment we were able to pay off a small personal loan with that would be mortgage payment.

10. Take Out Your Own Trash – I know what you’re thinking- that’s gross! Honestly, I go to the dump twice a month with our coupon booklet that makes each bag $2. We used to spend $26 a month on a collection service and while saving $120 a year isn’t a lot per say, it does make you reevaluate just how much stuff you throw out, encourages you to recycle as much as you can because it’s free, and it gives you an opportunity to recycle oil, scrap metal and even drop clothing in donate bins instead of throwing them out. It might even encourage you to stop buying disposable items like paper plates, napkins, utensils, cups, and perhaps even diapers. You pay for these items once at the store and pay again to get rid of them. I’m not ashamed to admit it also gives me an opportunity to snag some free coupon inserts, which also save me money.

Read more about how to move from “survive to thrive” when money is tight. Stay tuned for the second part of this post and feel free to share your money saving tips here.

According to my husband I have committed a cardinal sin – I bought one-ply toilet paper instead of two-ply. He assumed this was another one of my Budgeting OCD decisions to save money, when in fact it was really just an accident. It got me thinking about limits, and how everybody draws the line somewhere. For my husband, he can deal with A LOT of my frugal money methods, but this is his line in the sand.

Toilet paper humor

Most people probably view frugal living like dieting and that’s probably why they don’t bother trying it at all. Here the three cardinal sins of being frugal and how to avoid making them.

1. Saying NO ALL THE TIME – Being frugal does NOT mean saying no to everything you want. It’s about making choices. Budgeting can be a lot like dieting and if you cut out everything you love, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Instead you should look at your spending as an “if then” statement – “If I go out to eat with the girls on Saturday, then I’m not going to buy myself that new outfit.” I try to find ways to say “yes” to at least some of my kids wants, otherwise I think they’ll be binge spenders when they grow up. When I take them to the mall, I tell them we aren’t going to buy any clothes or toys, but they can have a small treat. We’re usually just killing time there anyway, since I’m not into shopping just for fun.

2. Trying To Do EVERYTHING At Once – Just like you don’t wake up one morning and get on the scale and find out you gained 50 pounds overnight, the same goes for debt or financial troubles. You didn’t get yourself into trouble overnight and you aren’t going to get out of it that quickly either. As much as we pray for a winning lottery ticket, the odds aren’t in our favor. Instead try to change a few manageable things at a time like making your coffee at home and bringing it to work in a reusable thermos instead of buying that pricy coffee drink at Starbucks or my fav – Dunkin Donuts.

I was looking through my budget spread sheets for 2012, 2013 and 2014 and marveling at all the changes we were able to make in the last few years.  It’s great to see the progress we’ve made, but we probably still have years before we get to where I’d like us to be. Frugal living is a marathon, NOT a sprint.

3. Thinking “Frugal” Means “Cheap” – I would never NOT bring a gift to a birthday party, fail to tip at a restaurant, or not buy my kids something I know they need. People are worth more than money and that’s the cardinal rule extraordinaire in my book. It’s at the heart of every decision (financial or otherwise) that I make. I’ll choose time with my family over fancy clothes or a new car any day of the week. TV shows like “Extreme Couponing” or “Extreme Cheapskates” would have you believe that stockpiling items you won’t ever use, living with practically no furniture, or paying your restaurant bill in change is what being frugal is and that couldn’t be more WRONG.

Living a life completely obsessed with money (either spending it or saving it) is not what I hope most people want. We don’t want to alienate our friends and family in our effort to get ahead financially. If we do, we could find ourselves up poop’s creek with only one-ply.

To the frugal warrior practicality is king. My husband knows this and that’s why I pretty much know that whatever he gets me for the holidays or my birthday is going to have some practical purpose.

Diamond Bracelets Vs. No-Barf Bands

PSI Bands
This year, he scored a home-run gift with a set of Psi bands. For those that don’t know, these acupressure bracelets are used to relieve nausea from motion sickness or in my case morning sickness. For the past few days I’ve been wearing them I haven’t prayed to the porcelain god even once and for that reason I couldn’t love his gift more if they had been diamond tennis bracelets.

If you didn’t get what you wanted for the holidays, here are four strategies to make the most of your exchanges or gift cards.

Save Money By Skipping The Sexy Items

1. Get Items You REALLY Need – It’s not a sexy choice to redeem gift cards or use store credit from gift exchanges on things you need, but it’ll certainly benefit your budget. I used some store credit from a return on a pair of maternity pants. That is pretty much the definition of an unsexy gift, BUT my belly is much happier not having the circle from the button on my jeans tattooed on my skin.

Use the money you would have spent from your budget on that needed item wisely. You can put it toward your emergency fund, toward that big purchase you’ve been dreaming of, or toward paying off debt. Frugal warriors like myself know that there is nothing sexier than freedom from debt.

Shop Like A Frugal Rock Star

ClearanceLogo

2. Hit The Clearance Racks Hard – Now that the holidays are over, stores will be clearing out winter merchandise that didn’t sell so there are some great opportunities to save big by hitting the clearance and sales racks. Plus that store credit or gift card will go that much further when you can get twice as much stuff.

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

3. Re-gift It or Sell It – Got a gift card to a store you never shop at or a gift you can’t possibly use? Then why not re-gift it to someone who can use it? Or you can sell it online, think ebay, craigslist, cardpool and the like. But keep in mind you aren’t going to get the full retail value, but something is definitely better than nothing.

Recycling With HEART

Salvation Army

4. Donate Unwanted Items or Gift Cards –
Consider donating unwanted gifts to charity. It’s like recycling with heart. You can get a tax credit for gifts made to IRS registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, just be sure to ask for a receipt.

What are you going to do with those gifts that really didn’t fit the bill?

The grocery stores are already filling up with bags and bags of candy, which signals to most parents that it’s time to get ready for Halloween.  Buying the treats is usually the easy part.  It’s figuring out what your child is going to be for Halloween that can be a real nightmare.  Here are 5 tips to keep the cost of costumes in check.

1. Set up a costume swap with friends, family or neighbors.
My neighbor Allison and I have already agreed to get together with our kids and sort through all our costumes from prior years and let the kids pick out what they want to be this year.  Since her daughter Jordyn is Hannah’s age and her son Avery is Jayden’s age, there’s bound to be plenty of things to choose from.  Getting new costumes for all the kids free of charge; nothing scary about that at all. You can also check with your local library or school to see if they are hosting one. Our library here in Fallsburg is hosting one in October.  So check to see if you can find one in your town and you could score a new costume for FREE.

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2. Buy it second-hand.
Local consignment shops, especially those that cater to kids, are a great source for cute costumes at a fraction of the retail price.  Don’t forget to check for chocolate stains from last year, but don’t let that scare you away. Instead negotiate a better deal and get out the stain remover. Get online and start browsing Craigslist and E-bay early while there are still plenty of bargains to be had.

3. Don’t be married to a specific costume or character.
My kids are still little and only care about getting candy so I pretty much suggest/tell them what they are going to be.  If your kids like specific characters, try to steer them to generic versions of their favorites. Say they love Jake from the Neverland Pirates, a specific character costume is going to cost twice as much as a generic pirate costume. There are plenty of fantastic deals to be had for parents when their kids aren’t picky about a specific costume.

4. Use dress up clothes or objects from around the house.
If you still have little ones, chances are that you already have a plethora of dress up clothes just ready and waiting for a special outing like Halloween. Take my advice and “shop” through the stuff you already have at home and you could pay absolutely nothing for a costume this year. Also inventory what household objects you have on hand. One year when I was a kid, my neighbor dressed her daughter up as a Lipton tea bag using a clear garbage bag, fall leaves courtesy of her lawn, a piece of string and a piece of oak tag.  It was simple, frugal, and obviously memorable because I still think of it some 20 plus years later.

Halloween Blog photo 2

5. If you’re going to make your child’s costume, make sure it’s actually worth it.

There are some Martha Stewart-type moms out there who live to spend hours hand-crafting their child’s Halloween costume.  I’ll be the first to say that I’m not one of them.  Make sure you check the price of fabrics and other materials, and try to gauge how much time it’s going to take you to make a costume yourself. If it costs more to make it, then to buy it second-hand then it  might not be worth it.  Ok, so if you want to do it for the sheer joy of it and have the time then by all means go for it.  There are some cute costume ideas out there that don’t require much more than household items and a great imagination. Pinterest has some cute ideas.

Check out Hudson Valley Parent for more great money-saving ideas! What’s the most memorable and least expensive costume your child ever had for Halloween? Share your photos here.

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