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beach

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.

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.

Whenever I tell people I’m the Discount Diva I usually get, “Oh you’re the Discount Diva, I love your blog,” which seriously does my seventh grade afraid to talk in class ego some good, but it’s always quickly followed by “I love to coupon.”

Though I’ll be the first to admit I coupon, it’s ranks pretty low in my money-saving arsenal. I’m much more apt to talk about buying used, negotiating bills, tracking expenses, finding alternatives, saving energydoing without, and appreciating what you already have. BUT since everybody and their mother is giving couponing a try these days in order to save money, I figured I’d do a basic crash course for those just starting out.

1. Get A Cheap Coupon Organizer – A lost coupon isn’t saving you any money. I use a plastic recipe organizer I got for my bridal shower. Set up a system that works for you. I usually organize by a few basic categories – Grocery, Baby Care, Household Items (like cleaners, garbage bags, pet food) Personal Care, Restaurants, and Other (this could be coupons for department stores, photo packages, toys, oil changes, etc.). If alphabetizing coupons by manufacturer is your thing, go for it. Whatever makes them easy to find in the store. Nothing is worse than pulling out a ginormous stack of unsorted coupons mid-aisle.

Coupon Organizer

2. Know Where To Find Coupons – Most everyone knows the Sunday paper is a great place to find those coupons inserts, but also check store circulars from department and grocery stores, reputable coupons sites like coupons.com, manufacturer websites, and in your grocery store (check the catalinas – coupons printed at checkout and given to you with your receipt, coupon dispensers in the aisle and even stuck to the outside of the product). You can also download coupons directly to your store loyalty cards or smart phones. Be aware that there are fraudulent coupons floating around the internet that may not scan. Also if you’re printing from a website, make sure you have enough ink in your printer because blurry or faintly printed coupons may not scan.

3. A Coupon Is NOT Always Cheaper – A lot of the time store brands are cheaper than a brand name even with a coupon, so really check size restrictions listed on the coupon and look at unit prices of competing brands like generics. Coupons are a great way to try brands you may not normally buy, but don’t forget they are a marketing tool used by businesses hoping you’ll become brand loyal for life. Sure we all have some products we have become hopelessly addicted to – like maybe coffee, deodorant, shampoo or diapers. Whatever you’re brand loyal to, be sure to clip those coupons whenever you find them and let friends and family know your regular brands so if they don’t use them they can pass them along to you. Offer to do the same for them.

4. Match Coupons To Sales – If you’re an old couponing pro you already know this, but newbies might think “great $1 off something I was going to buy anyway and want to use it immediately.” Hold your coupons till that item is on sale, but of course pay attention to expiration dates. Grab your grocery circulars, note sale items and match coupons you have to those items. I like to circle them and write the new price after sale and coupon next to it on the circular so I don’t forget while I’m at checkout what I should be paying. They have pay per use or subscription sites that will price match for you, but you probably already know how the Discount Diva feels about paying for something you can easily do yourself. There are free sites like couponmom.com that post price match ups with coupons by store, which are helpful. Price matching and pulling those coupons you plan to use at home saves valuable time at the store.

Next week I’ll talk about some things you might not know like when to use an expired coupon, stacking store and manufacturer coupons and even rebates for the same item to get it free, using coupons on BOGO sales, the truth about “doubling” and “overages,” and establishing thresholds for your regularly purchased items, which is between the lowest price you’ve ever paid for that item up to the maximum you’re willing to pay for it, and when stockpiling crosses the line into hoarding.

You know I love when my step dad calls me up and says oh did you know you could do this with a coupon. I could never get my mom to use them regularly so it’s neat to see him warm up to the possibilities of couponing. Stay tuned, and feel free to share your tips here.

 

Even the Discount Diva is not immune to spending binges during the holidays. In fact, it’s probably because I’m frugal by nature that I didn’t see some of the pitfalls of Easter spending coming. I totally discounted that I was not immune to the cuteness factor. If you have small kids, it’s easy to get swept up in the “magic” of the holidays and forget that all that “magic” comes with a price tag. Here are some tips to recover from your holiday spending hangover.

Easter Photo 4

1. Admit You Have A Problem – They say you can’t begin the process of recovery without first admitting that you have a problem. Though I was terrified to check my bank account the entire weekend for fear of seeing those awful red overdraft charges, I knew I couldn’t avoid it forever. Turns out my binge didn’t take us into the red (this time). So after you see the full extent of the damage, it’s time to refocus your budget and get back on track. Take a second to feel the full impact of your binge, but beating yourself up is counterproductive. Instead look for other ways to save money until your next paycheck comes in.

I instituted a No Unnecessary Spending Freeze in my household. That means that for the rest of the week my husband needs to bring his lunch and coffee to work in the morning and other than gas or groceries we don’t spend a dime until Friday. I’ve done these freezes before and although we aren’t always perfect at executing them, it definitely helps to get on the same page with your spouse. This is especially helpful in households like mine where one person tends to hold primary responsibility for paying the bills and tracking the spending.

2. Eat Those Leftovers – The thing that makes leftovers unappealing to almost everyone is the idea of having a rerun of the same meal (no matter how great the original meal was). Instead you need to look at leftovers as ingredients for new dishes that you would otherwise pay for at the store. If you cooked a big meal for Easter like I did you probably have tons of your main meat dish leftover (ham in my case). Meat is expensive at the store so before you throw it out, get creative in making new meals to use it up. Tonight it’ll be cheesy ham and rice casserole with leftover veggies and sour cream purchased for yesterday’s meal. For lunch today I’m thinking crumbled hard boiled egg over leftover salad and egg salad sandwiches for the kids. Even if you didn’t cook for the holiday, I bet you have some pretty colored eggs in your fridge. A quick internet search could yield tons of ideas to keep those leftovers out of the trash and keep more of your grocery money in your pocket.

3. Get A GREEN Easter Bunny – Gather all those plastic eggs, baskets, unused Easter grass, cute bunny ear headbands and the like and tuck them away for next year. At our house the kids know that we leave out our baskets for the Easter Bunny to fill, much like Santa does with stockings, so they don’t expect a new basket every year. This year, I tried to be even more practical since it was the first time I had to buy new baskets since the ones we’ve been using the past three years or so fell apart. The dollar store had great Easter pails we can use this summer or even next winter. Sand and snow are both fun for kids to shovel and scoop. Before you go shopping next year, pull out your Easter stash and assess what you have before you hit the store and you just may prevent a binge spending spree.

4. Get Dress Clothes For Less – I didn’t plan on buying snazzy new duds for the kids this Easter. That left my husband vulnerable to my daughter’s fashionista whining about not having a pretty new Easter dress. So he hit the store and bought my daughter two new dresses and my son a little suit with tie. I had to admit that when I saw how cute they were I couldn’t even be mad he spent $40 on just a few outfits they’re only going to wear a handful of times, if that. Had I planned better (this is my vow for next year) I would have begun scouring the thrift shops earlier to avoid falling prey to the high price of buying cute Easter outfits right before the holiday. While killing time before Good Friday Service we stopped in a thrift store in Pine Bush and found the cutest little suit and tie for my son. Let’s play a game, which suit in the photos below do you think was the one bought new and which was the one bought used.

Easter photo 3  Easter pic 1

If you can’t tell, that’s why you should buy used and save money on these special occasion outfits. If you don’t have younger children to pass these clothes down to next year, take them to the consignment shop and get store credit on new duds or get cash depending on what consignment store you use.

I wish you all a speedy recovery and here’s hoping next year’s holidays don’t hit our bank accounts quite so hard.

There is no doubt about one fact in my household. I am the savvy shopper. Take for instance this weekend. My daughter has been wanting more dresses because she stubbornly refuses to dress for the weather and wants to be her normal girly girl self. So I told my husband I was headed out to Once Upon A Child in Wappingers Falls. Of course while he was at Wal-Mart he couldn’t resist shopping for his little princess. The price of 3 dresses (some of which were on clearance) at Wal-Mart – $30. The price I paid for a dress, pair of dress shoes, video for my son, cheater swaddler and a ton of baby clothes for the new little girl we’ll be welcoming in July – $36.50.

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I’ve been excited to head out to Once Upon A Child for awhile now as the only children’s consignment shops in my area are pretty small. Here’s how it compares.

1. Better Organized Than Some Consignment Shops – They are better organized compared to some local shops, yet still require a little digging for sizes especially when it comes to the bins of shoes. You do get a similar vibe to being in a regular retail store with fairly organized racks, BUT at Once Upon A Child (as with other consignment shops) it’s up to you to double check sizes and check for stains and rips.

2. The Price Is Right – The prices are really great and range anywhere from $1.50 (at least in the baby aisle) to $10. BONUS: I signed up for their e-mails on their website and got a $5 off a $30 purchase coupon e-mailed to me, saving me even more money.

3. Brand Oriented – I personally am not one to ooh and ahh over particular brands or stores so I don’t usually use that as a considering factor, but I know a lot of shoppers like certain brands for their durability, fit, etc. for their kids. If you’re willing to view shopping as more of a treasure hunt, you can find a lot of great brands here. I got an outfit for my baby with the Babies ‘R Us tag still on it.

4. Clothes in Excellent Condition – A lot of the clothes and equipment looked brand new. With the exception of a pair of pants I picked out for my son that had a grass stain on them (which I noticed at checkout and put back), everything else I picked out was darn near sparkling.

The one drawback to this place over my local consignment shop was that they were unwilling to negotiate on price, even when the article is damaged. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve had luck negotiating prices with other consignment stores especially if there is minor damage. I recently got about 17 maternity items (roughly half a bag’s worth) for $25 at my local children’s consignment shop, negotiated down from her asking price of $40 for the full bag or $5 a piece. I love being able to negotiate.

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My son Jayden, giving me his best mug for the camera.
My little guy was forced to look at dresses with mom and big sister Hannah.
Luckily my neighbor Allison joined me with her two kids so we were
able to browse in shifts while watching the kids.

5. Selling Was A Breeze – What I liked was being able to just drop off my items at the desk after filling out a short form with my info on it and then find out what their offer was when I was ready to checkout. Some consignment shops do store credit or consignment only, which means you only get paid when they sell the item, which could be months down the line or not at all. Once Upon A Child does straight buys and pays you on the spot or takes the offer amount off your bill. They don’t take everything and may be a little pickier than some places, but that’s why their things are in great shape.

Now you probably understand why I almost never shop retail for my kids clothes. Even paying clearance prices at most retailers is more expensive than shopping second-hand.  If you’re strictly a retail shopper, Once Upon A Child offers a perfect transition from retail into the world of second-hand. What are your favorite local consignment shops?

When I had a conversation with my Aunt last summer, I mentioned that I wanted to have another child. She asked me if I was sure because it’s so expensive. My response- “it’s as expensive as you choose to make it.” I’m not saying having a baby is free, but there are plenty of things you can do to save money.

1. Wait a little while before you go shopping. Don’t rush out to the store the minute the pregnancy test comes back positive.  Wait and see what you get at your baby shower if you’re having one.  If you’re not having a shower, inventory hand-me downs from previous children, cousins, friends’ kids, nieces and nephews, etc.  It’s important to know what you really need BEFORE you venture out to the store to buy it.

2. Buy it used.  With few exceptions like car seats and cribs, most baby gear can be found a lot cheaper used. Check your local children’s consignment shops, Craigslist, Ebay, and Freecycle.  You can always check with manufactures to stay up-to-date on recalled items.  Here’s the kicker about babies, you could spend big bucks on an item your baby will absolutely HATE. They are very fickle little people when they are first adjusting to life outside the womb.  If you have friends or family members with babies, ask if you can try out their baby gear to see if you’re little one likes it.

kid's consignment photo

3. Accept hand-me-downs with grace and gratitude. Babies often grow out of clothing or stop needing gear long before it gets worn out so put it out to friends and family that you are willing to gratefully accept any and all hand-me-downs that come your way. Sure some of it may not be your style or what you were looking for, but in my experience it’s best to accept it all. If you start pawing through these gifts and saying I’ll take this but not that, then people will become frustrated with you and not want to give you anything anymore.

Instead, take it all, say thank you and go through it at home alone. Don’t forget to thank those that bless you with hand-me-downs. You could be spending big bucks for these items, which you are getting for free. You can always give away, sell or trade items you can’t use (provided the giver doesn’t expect these items to be returned when you’re done with them).

4. Buy big ticket items in neutral colors.  If you aren’t finding out the sex of your baby before it’s born or if you’re planning to have another child someday, this tip is key.  Sure that pink stroller was super cute when you bought it for your daughter, but if your next child is a boy you’ll find yourself shelling out a bunch of money for a new one just because you don’t want to keep correcting everyone when they say, “Aww, what a cute little girl.”  Stick to neutral patterns and colors for playpens, cribs, highchairs, strollers, swings, etc. If you can pass the gear down to the next child, you’ll save yourself a bunch of money.

Stay tuned for more tips, and feel free to share your money saving tips here.

Last week I talked about five ways to make your child’s birthday party more affordable, so here are the other five.

6. Decorations – I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not one to go crazy decorating for anything.  That being said, I know decorations are a part of building excitement for the party. You could enlist your child’s help in making decorations and blowing up balloons. Home-made decorations are sure to be a lot cheaper than store-bought, plus you get your kids involved and psyched about their party all at the same time.  You could also forgo expensive themed items or just purchase one or two themed items and keep the rest of the decorations neutral, but within the same color scheme.  Simple “Happy Birthday” banners and table cloths can be reused for the next party, saving you money.

7. Invitations – Again, you can enlist your child’s help in making and delivering home-made invitations.  As parents we tend to be lured in by the super-cute invitations and thank you cards in the store, but to friends and family, hand-made cards are always more personal and provide a snap-shot of who your child is at that age.

I’m a super procrastinator so I’m a huge fan of doing Facebook events and inviting people on my friends list because there’s no cost, time or money needed for delivery.  Plus guests can RSVP with one click and even leave comments for the hosts.  If by some chance they are not on Facebook (I have a few family members who aren’t), pick up the phone and let them know when and where the party is.  Just be sure to make a follow-up reminder phone call a few days before the party so they don’t forget.

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8. Toys – I am not a big believer in showering my kids with expensive gifts for no reason, so birthdays and Christmas are pretty much the only times my kids get gifts (with the exception of small trinkets).  If your child wants a present that’s very expensive you could try to find it used on Craigslist or Ebay first. I wish I had been able to find my daughter’s big gift this way last year.  She wanted a Go Go My Walking Puppy.  It was $50 and I can count the number of times I’ve seen her play with it on one hand.  So find out early what your child wants so you can keep your eyes open for a truly good deal.  In order to keep costs down, I try to keep it to one big gift and a few others (at least one or two of which is something he or she actually needs).

9. Disposables – Being the “green” mommy I am, I truly hate buying things I know are only destined for the trash can. To keep costs down, I try to limit my purchasing of paper products and disposable utensils and cups.  You can use what real plates, cups and utensils you already have or if you’re afraid of them being broken you could head over to the dollar store and buy reusable plastic cups, plates and real silverware that can be washed and stashed away for the next party.  Bonus: you could also use them for camping or picnics so you don’t have to buy disposables. Yes, I admit that sometimes I do use disposable items, but I often wash the utensils or plastic cups instead of throwing them out so I have them for next time.

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10. Destination Gifts – I’ve toyed with the idea of doing “destination gifts” which is a card with a note and/or picture explaining that I will take my child to a place he or she really wants to go in the future. I think this would help diffuse the cost of gifts over a longer period of time and give my kids something to look forward to after the party is over.  It could be as simple as lunch with mommy at a restaurant of their choice, a trip to the movies or mini-golf.  You can tailor these gifts to what your child loves to do.  Destination gifts also mean that they get special time with mommy and daddy and isn’t that really the best gift anyway? Maybe at Christmas I’ll give it a try.

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If anybody has already given their kids “destination gifts,” please let me know how they liked them. If you have other great money-saving ideas for kids’ parties, please share them here.

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, you know one thing for certain about me – Free is for me. As usual, I get a ton of offers every day to try new businesses and “switch and save.”  Well, lucky for me I was in full-blown budget OCD mode and scouring my budget for places to save money, when this sweet deal landed in my mailbox.

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If you have NYSEG as your electricity provider, you can choose which company you want to be your energy supplier, which was news to me.  So I got this offer from North American Power offering not only a lower rate for my electricity, but also a welcome bonus in the form of a $50 VISA prepaid debit card. 

Before you get any ideas, no I don’t work for them and I don’t get anything out of endorsing them. I always encourage people to shop around to get the best deals/rates for their monthly bills. I called another company at the same time, but their rate was higher and there was no incentive to switch.

According to North American Power, you can get the same service and bill from NYSEG even if you elect them to supply the electricity, can cancel at any time, and can get this $50 Visa prepaid debit card for free as a part of a mail-in rebate.

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I’m always game to let a new company sway me with swag, especially free money.  If you want my business you’ll have to work to get it and work harder to keep it.  If you haven’t already guessed what I’m planning to do with my FREE $50 based on the pictures, I’m adding it to our Christmas fund.

As any parent knows, nothing detonates a budget better than holidays, birthdays, or unexpected emergencies. So, I’ll take my bonuses and freebies where I can.  

What’s the best deal you’ve ever gotten?  Share it here and maybe we can all get in on the savings.

If I could have found a clean version of Macklemore’s popular song “Thrift Shop,” I would have included a link because it’s main hook “I’m gonna pop some tags” has become the anthem of bargain hunters everywhere.  Despite lyrics that poke fun at thrift shopping, it has undoubtedly made it acceptable, if not pretty cool, to shop at your local thrift shop.  Since this is one of my favorite ways to save money, I wanted to share 6 tips that make it even more fun to “pop them tags.”

1. You can find designer clothes.  I’m not one to tout the idea of being a slave to brand name/designer clothing, BUT if you are inclined toward this type of shopping, thrift shops have every brand under the sun. You just have to be up for the hunt.  I have found Polo and Burberry shirts for my son for $3 a piece at the Salvation Army in Middletown.  

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2. You CAN and SHOULD ask for discounts.  Always check the clothing thoroughly for rips and stains before you buy.  If you can mend small tears and are willing to wash out stains this can be a big negotiating tool, especially with smaller shops.  Two years ago I found this super cute pumpkin Halloween costume for my son, but when I opened it I found (as any mom could already anticipate) chocolate stains on the front.  I pointed it out to the sales clerk and she immediately gave it to me for half-price.  For $5 I was willing to wash the costume and as it turns out it looked good as new.

Also, ask when their discount days are and you could end up filling a bag of clothes for a few bucks.  Follow your favorite stores on Facebook and get the inside track on new deals and inventory.  Plus, you can request specific items and they’ll tell you when it’s in stock and possibly even hold it for you.

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3.  Look for MORE than clothes.  You can find great deals on book bags, Halloween costumes, prom dresses, books, toys, furniture, etc.  All it takes is patience. Only true bargain hunters may have what it takes to comb through the chaotic aisles, but if you do, chances are you’ll be rewarded with some seriously great deals.  

4. Clothes are used.  Seems redundant to state the obvious, but there is a big perk to that.  Clothes are less likely to shrink since they’ve already been washed and worn.

5. There’s no assembly required. Sure we all love spending hours putting together kitchen sets and toys designed with 6,000 parts (eye roll).  When you find toys at thrift shops, you benefit from some other parent’s hours of labor.  You get the prize without the work, now that’s smart “tag poppin.”

6. Shopping second-hand is Eco-friendly. I love that “tag poppin” encourages people to use things that might otherwise go to the landfill and saves enormous amounts of resources needed to produce new goods.

I encourage my fellow frugal warriors to check out thrift and consignment shops in their area.  Share your favorites here with fellow readers because a good bargain hunter is always on the lookout for prime hunting ground.  

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