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Even though we may be happy about shopping for loved ones, it can still take a toll on your body. Standing in long lines, carrying heavy bags and navigating through crowds can result in tight shoulders, aching back and leg cramps. Grab a bench at the mall, and take one minute to unwind with these three stretches:

  • Shoulders: roll shoulders forward and up on an inhale, back and down on the exhale, then reverse.
  • Back: sit tall and bring one hand to the outside of the opposite knee. Inhale and lengthen the spine, exhale and twist. Repeat on the other side.
  • Hamstrings and Calves: Sit on the edge of the bench. Straighten one leg and flex the foot. On an exhale, come forward with a flat back. Tuck the chin as you inhale and roll back up. Repeat on the other leg.

Give these a try, and you might actually feel better after a shopping trip! (Sorry for the shaky video; Jenny got a little distracted while we were filming at the mall.)

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It’s that time of year again, well according to the stores it was that time in June. It’s back to school shopping time. It seems like every year the list of supplies gets longer and longer. It can feel like you’re buying enough pencils and notebooks for the entire school. Add backpacks, clothes, and sneakers to the list and you could easily spend several hundred dollars per child. Being the frugal person I am, that’s simply unacceptable to me.

Here are five strategies I use to keep our back to school costs under control.

1. Do A Thorough Inventory – The first order of business to keep clutter at bay and money in our bank account is to take a thorough inventory of what we already have before even thinking of shopping.

This means going through everything in my kids’ closets and dressers. I have them try each item on and inspect for fit and any stains or rips. Anything that doesn’t fit I donate or throw away depending on its condition. Anything ripped or stained gets set aside for play clothes. Now that you can plainly see what usable clothes your kids have, you can start your list of what items your children truly need. This way you don’t waste money on shirts for a child that’s fully stocked on shirts, but needs pants or buy pants for the child that has plenty.

If you’re especially frugal like me, you might already have a stockpile of school supplies as well from sales the previous year. I also go through the items that came back from school with them at the end of the year like scissors and folders that aren’t damaged and cross those off the list. I often stock up on tissues when they are on are sale and I have coupons and put them in the closet for back to school when each child in my district is required to provide three boxes.

2. Don’t Shop All At Once – I know this might sound counter-intuitive. I mean who wants to go to multiple stores when you can just go to one place and be done with it. Well, if you want to take full advantage of the amazing loss leaders (items reduced to a great price to get you in the store to buy more expensive items) from each store I’d suggest doing a little at a time. It also feels more comfortable to spend small amounts over the course of a month than to drop several hundred dollars in a few days. Shopping over time means being more strategic with your time and money.

School Supplies

So far I’ve found some pretty great deals at ShopRite like composition notebooks and 12 packs of pencils for .50 each. My fantastic finds at Staples include three packs of erasers for .25 each and single subject notebooks for .17 each. Since both stores happen to be next to each other, it was easy enough to walk between the two and get only the items with the best prices from each store.

3. Shop Online – I really hate driving to the mall and searching through a dozen stores to find what I’m looking for at a great price. Instead I save some of my shopping for the comfort of my home. I get my kids book bags and shoes online. No worries, they can be returned if there is a problem. You can start your shopping with a free $10 gift card by signing up at Ebates and get a percentage of cash back depending on the store you choose to shop at.

Do a quick search for promotional coupons and use them at check out to save more money. You can also qualify for free shipping if you meet a certain dollar amount or are willing to wait a little longer for your items. Many sites like Amazon and K-mart also have memberships where you get free shipping. Just remember to cancel your trial membership after you use it or you could get charged the yearly fee. K-mart also has Shop Your Way points you can earn on each purchase and they also have coupons on their site you can choose from and apply at checkout.

Sign up for the newsletters of stores you love. Because of special e-mails I’ve been able to take advantage of one-day online sales that save me 15% or more on things I would already need to buy for my kids. Both last year and this year I was able to get two pairs of shoes for my daughter (sneakers and dress shoes) and sneakers for my son for about $40 total thanks to these special e-mails.

4. Buy Used – I’ve been frugal for so long now I actually hate buying new clothes, especially for kids who are bound to outgrow, stain, or rip them fairly quickly. I love to shop at consignment shops and sales. They have a children’s Be Green sale twice a year in Fishkill where I do almost all my clothing shopping for the kids. They have clothes and shoes in great condition, as well as Halloween costumes, coats and snow pants, boots, and special occasion dresses and suits. Between the two sales I can usually get most of my kids’ clothes for $100 per child for the entire year.

You can also take those clothes that are in good condition but don’t fit, which you inventoried already and get store credit at most consignment shops. You can also check for special bag sales and discount days to stretch your clothing budget even further. The Salvation Army in Middletown has family day on Wednesdays and most items are half off. Check for local children’s consignment stores in your area. Like them on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters so you don’t miss their sale days.

5. Buy Off Season – We do buy our kids three new outfits for the first week of school, which always starts on a Wednesday in my district. To make sure we don’t spend too much we check for end of summer clearance sales. Since early September is still pretty hot you can get dresses, shorts and short sleeve shirts for good prices.

I typically buy my kids’ backpacks for the following year in November or Early December and they get them for Christmas. They are usually a great deal. I’ve gotten them as low as $5.

With these strategies in place, you save money on all the supplies and clothes your kids need to start the school year. What are your favorite money-saving strategies?

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.

As the holidays quickly approach , I’m feeling nostalgic for toys that don’t completely suck. You know what I’m talking about. You buy a toy for your child hoping to make their holidays super special only for your child to play with it once, it breaks easily, drains batteries quickly, or takes so long to put together you get frustrated and your child gives up and moves on to another toy.

So I polled the women in my Facebook moms group to share with me the toys they loved and hated so that we could all avoid spending money on toys that aren’t worth it. So in no particular order, these are the toys that made the naughty or nice list. It’s not my intention to tell you what to buy. I’m simply letting you know what other parents thought about these particular toys.

The Naughty List

Flutterbye Fairies – Moms complained about them breaking super easily and not holding a charge for very long.

Juggle Bubbles – Even this mom agreed, these just don’t work.

Zoomer Puppy

Zoomer Puppy just doesn’t hold the kids’ attention for long.

Zoomer Puppy – Beyond being expensive, several moms said their kids lost interest in it as early as the day after Christmas.

Ferby

Ferbys may look sweet, but they can have a bad attitude.

Ferbys – Although some moms said their kids loved them, several moms complained they took on a mean personality and because this mom would never pay good money for a toy with a bad attitude it makes the naughty list.

Remote Control Helicopters Of Any Brand – Apparently these toys make even grown men cry when they ultimately lose control and go crashing to the ground. So save the money and tears and just skip this one.

Wubble Bubble – I was told this toy popped in a day. Honestly, it’s probably a good idea to skip any toys of the “As Seen On TV” variety.

Ice Cream Magic (As Seen On TV) – Kids need to do a whole lot of shaking for the two spoonfuls of ice cream it makes.

Disney Train Tracks  – Moms complained about the numerous tiny pieces and the fact that the trains never stayed on the tracks and that’s sort of the whole point of buying your kid a train.

Thomas the Train Take & Play sets – Moms said they were hard for the kids to put together and the trains fell off the tracks. Try going with a wooden set, moms seem to agree this is the better bet.

Moon Dough & Moon Sand – Picture play dough that is way harder to clean up and you’ll understand why most moms suggest passing on these.

Mega Blocks In The Smaller Brick Styles – While parents liked the bigger sized blocks for young kids, they said the smaller ones get stuck easily and are hard to pull apart.

Expensive Air Hog Set – I’m not sure of which exact set it is, but according to one mom the $80 set broke in one day.

Bunchems – You could find yourself or your child in need of a crew cut if you have the misfortune of getting these in your hair.

Any Kids Tablet

Easy Bake Oven – Though I loved this toy as a kid, I can honestly say we bought this for my daughter a few years ago and it was broken roughly the third time it was used. I guess they just don’t make them like they used to.

Rock ‘N Roll Elmo – One mom said it broke within a week.

Carrera Go Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles X-Loop Race Set – It’s reported to be so flimsy it falls apart with the slightest touch.

Fischer-Price Imaginext Supernova Battle Space Rover – One mom said that it’s GIGANTIC and was used by her child as a plastic battering ram.

Sofia the First Princess Sofia & Walking Minimus- It completely eats batteries.

Doc McStuffins Get Better Talking Mobile Cart – It reportedly falls apart.

Disney Frozen Elsa Doll Castle Playset

Disney/Pixar’s Brave Castle & Forest Playset

 

Make sure your child doesn't hug him too hard, he might break after the first one.

Make sure your child doesn’t hug Big Hugs Elmo too hard, he might just break after the first one.

Big Hugs Elmo – From what I hear his arms break after one hug, so he’s more like Cold Shoulder Elmo.

The Nice List

Fischer Price Doctor Set or any Doctor Set – These provide hours of entertainment for the kiddos.

Dolls that make NO noise – Suffice it to say, no annoying voices to listen to.

Wooden Train Sets – Trains seem to stay on these tracks better than their plastic counter parts.

Light Up Cars With Race Track from QVC – Moms said these really stand the test of time. They are still entertaining and running strong years after they were purchased.

Big Mega Blocks and Lego Duplos – Parents said they were easy for toddlers to use and didn’t have the ability to hide on the floor and attack your feet like the smaller versions.

Legos – Despite the high probability of stepping on them, they are still a fan favorite for parent’s whose kids will spend hours playing with them. I’m guessing that’s why Leggo is coming out with slippers now.

Melissa & Doug Toys – They are wooden and durable.

Toys R Us Journey Girls Dolls – They have the appeal of American Girl dolls without the hefty price tag.

Step 2 Kitchen Sets

Loving Family Dollhouse
Fisher Price Loving Family Dollhouse & Accessories

Hess trucks – These old favorites can still be found online.

Metal Tonka Trucks

Any Little People Toys

Hot wheels/Matchbox cars – Just be prepared to put the big track sets together yourself.

Wooden Blocks

Shopkins – I’ve been informed these are quite annoying, but kids love them so I guess it depends on your tolerance level.

 

Lil Woodzeez – If your kid likes Calico Critters these are a cheaper version. They can be found at Target and on Amazon. Moms described them as being good quality for the price.

Bikes, Roller Skates or Skateboards

Sporting Equipment/Gear – My oldest two are both doing basketball this year so as a combined gift we’re getting them a basketball hoop so they can practice at home.

Indoor or Outdoor Trampolines

Keyboard/Musical Instruments
Magna Tiles
Magna-Tiles

EZRoller

EzyRoller

vtech Go! Go! Smart Wheels Cars and Playsets

Tinker Toys

Lincoln Logs

Playmobil Toys

Foam Building Blocks – I’ve been informed these are excellent gifts for toddlers.

Vtech Go! Go! Smart Animals Zoo Explorers

So there you have it folks, the nice and not so nice list of toys. And while it’s tempting to obsess about what toys to get our kids, I know like me, most of you have kids with tons of toys already. One mom really put things in perspective when she said that her kids’ (ages 12 and 14) toy collections have now dwindled down to a single little box per child consisting of mostly Happy Meal Toys. After all the money spent on toys, isn’t that a kick in the teeth? So  I say, forget what’s hot now and go instead for classic toys that are built to last and check out my list of non-toy gifts for kids. Happy Shopping!

*All toy images found on amazon.com

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.

 

Our homes may come in different shapes, sizes and price ranges, but one universal truth is that we all have clutter. That stuff that creeps up, hangs around and by some bizarre trick of nature seems to multiply. With a new baby coming in a few months, I’m realizing that with all the gear and things this new little person is bringing into my house I truly have to cut the clutter and make room for the people in my house.  Here are 4 tips to help kick clutter to the curb.

1. Separate The Sentimental – When I was younger we weren’t encouraged to get rid of our excess stuff because my mother believed everything was sentimental. Now I’m learning to figure out what is sentimental and what is just stuff. Yesterday I donated my wedding dress (GASP) to a photographer friend who is going to turn it into a new creation. I know what you’re thinking- “how is that not sentimental?” If I’ve learned anything in life, I’ve learned that memories do not live inside of things, but inside of us. My wedding day was one of the best of my life, but was it really necessary to keep a dress I wore once in the back of my closet for the rest of my life? Nope, especially since I have tons of great photos of it. At least now it’ll get a chance to see the light of day again and maybe make someone else happy in the process.

Honoring Lost Loved Ones

What is sentimental then? For me, it’s those few special items that really remind me of lost loved ones. Unfortunately I have a LOT of those items collecting in my closets right now. I hope to buy some shadow boxes and display them with some photos of those family members who have passed. If it doesn’t fit, I’ll take a photo of an item that meant a lot to that loved one. At least they would get looked at and not forgotten about.

Make Kids Part Of The Process

I’ve also taught my kids to make decisions when getting rid of their old toys. It took a good four hours, but every toy has been gone though, and put in it’s place – in a toy box, in a box for the new baby, consigned or thrown out. I think it’s important that they see value as something they use, not something they own – big difference. Before birthdays and major gift-giving holidays is a great time to do this. It also gives you some perspective on how much your kids already have before you embark on a shopping spree.
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Thanks to some decluttering I can actually close toy boxes now and keep the floor clear (most of the time anyway).

2. Value Is Relative – Another lesson I’ve learned is to forget about what an item cost me. The cold fact is that once you take something home from the store it’ll never be worth that purchase price to anyone else. This is also a good rule to remember when making those purchases in the first place. So when clearing out the clutter, price it fairly (start at half off retail) and be willing to donate it if it doesn’t sell.

One Woman’s Trash…

I had a glider with an arm that needed a screw and once my son wasn’t a baby anymore it was taking up much-needed real estate in my house. It would have cost me money to throw it out so I listed it on Freecycle.org. A lady came and picked it up at the end of my driveway within a day and wrote me the sweetest e-mail thanking me for something that would have ended up as trash, but which she was thrilled to have.

3. Use The One In Two Out Rule – You’ve probably heard this rule to taming clutter before, but it goes for every one item you bring into your house you should take two out. Since acquiring things is so much easier than getting rid of them it’s also a great rule to keep in mind when shopping. My husband recently asked to purchase some fishing gear that is not in the budget and he offered to sell his brand new power washer (still sitting unused in the box) in order to get it. It was given to him and he really wanted it, but he has come to see that he’ll most likely never use it and I’m proud of him for learning to let go of something he won’t use for something that he will. Now to list that along with at least a half-dozen other thing in my basement. Craigslist.org here I come.

4. Don’t Let It Live Forever – This baby is a blessing in more ways than one. I really need to renovate my finished basement into a master bedroom so I can’t afford to let the clutter live down there for too much longer. It’s a great idea to set a time limit like a year. If you haven’t touched something in a year it’s probably time to let it go. A cool trick with clothes is to hang all your hangers facing out and then when you’ve worn something rehang it with the hanger facing in. At the end of a year, any item still hanging on the out hangers can go.

Many towns hold spring clean up days so this could be a great deadline for your clutter. If you can’t donate it, sell it or give it to someone by that date then throw it out. Check with your town about times, locations and limits on what you can throw out.

How do you tame the clutter in your house?

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?

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?

So if you read my last post, you know that I took a debt free Christmas pledge this year. I truly hope I’m not the only one because I know firsthand how sucky it is to be stuck paying for presents when the holidays catch up to me the following year. It isn’t an easy journey, but here are 5 more tips to get you through the holidays debt-free.

4. Stack Rewards – If you have store loyalty cards, earned rewards, or coupons now is the time to use them. When you combine sales with coupons, cash in rewards from credit cards or have discounts you earned through your loyalty cards this is a great time to pull them all out of your hat to save a bunch of cash. Also don’t forget to turn in any mail in rebates for your holiday purchases.

5. Shop Online – So I’m expecting to get some flack from the avid Black Friday shoppers out there who live for the thrill of the bargain hunt, but I believe something about the adrenaline filled spree to elbow others out of the way for that great deal brings out the animalistic nature in us to outdo the rest of the pack. I think it creates a mob mentality that pushes us to buy things we might not normally buy simply because we don’t want someone else to get “our great deal.” Shopping online reduces competition spending, saves on gas, and many times you can score free shipping with a minimum order amount.

mob mentaility pic

6. Use the Internet to score cash back or discounts. Signing up for Ebates lets you earn a percentage of cash back just for going through their site to find the retailer site you want to shop at. During the holidays a lot of the cash back rates have been doubled. A quick internet search could yield you promo codes you can use online or coupons you can download to your smart phone or print.

7. Pull out your gift cards. Ok I don’t care if this earns me a bad mommy rap, but I’ll share a secret with you. When my kids get gift cards for their birthdays I silently tuck them away. They usually have so many other presents they don’t even notice and it helps us pay for presents for Christmas. If you have gift cards you or your kids accumulated during the year, now’s the time to use them to reduce your holiday spending. Speaking of gift cards, this time of year many restaurants have special deals on gift cards. You can also check out sites like Cardpool that sell gift cards at discounts of up to 35%.

8. Share the cost. If a family member has their eye on an expensive gift see if another family member will split the cost with you. Also share your kids wish lists with family and friends. There’s no rule that says you have to get all the items yourselves and many times grandparents and aunts and uncles appreciate not having to guess what your child wants. Just be sure to give a few options in different price ranges to be respectful of whatever amount they have decided to spend.

I think we forget how truly blessed we are in this country. If you have a roof over your head, food in your belly, your health and the love of family and friends, then we are truly blessed. Getting and giving gifts is great as long as it doesn’t mean acquiring a load of debt we can’t repay.

Now that I’m a mom, blaming my problems on my own mother is not cool. I don’t want my kids to do that to me. Still, I know, inevitably, my kids will one day be relaying all my parenting mistakes to their friends, spouses, kids or shrinks. There is absolutely NO such thing as a perfect parent.

My mother was the most giving person I know. She’d let me bring friends on family vacations and showered me with tons of stuff for which I probably was never truly grateful. She helped my brother and me whenever we needed money, whether she had it to spare or not. She was a great mom, but by not saying “no” very often, she inadvertently taught me things that I spent years unlearning.

Here are the three financial lessons my mom taught me that I had to unlearn:

1. Stuff equals love. My mother loved to shop. Spending money was how she relaxed, spent “quality” time with her kids and showed her love. Unfortunately, at a young age, I took that to mean stuff equals love. The more she bought me, the more she loved me, right? WRONG!

My “ah-ha” moment came during Christmas with my Dad when I was 7 or 8 (my parents divorced when I was 5). Opening presents with my Dad and his side of the family, I felt a stab of jealousy when my cousin got this cool singing bear from my grandmother. I thought, “Boy does my grandmother love him to give him such a cool toy.” Then I opened a Rainbow Bright doll from my Dad and I immediately ran, crying, to the basement. “He must not love me very much,” I thought “because I don’t even like Rainbow Bright.”

My poor Dad—he probably just didn’t know what toys I liked because he didn’t live with me. He took my tantrum in stride and with his love, patience and understanding I was reassured that he loved me and that stuff was inconsequential. The two things have remained divorced in my mind ever since. That’s why I’ll tell my kids “no” without the slightest flinch of guilt.

2. You don’t have to wait for what you want. My mother didn’t often make me wait for something I wanted. If she didn’t have the money that day, she charged it. I cringe when I think of the $100 dress coat she bought me once. We saw the same exact coat on sale a week or so later for $50. When I showed her the reduced price, I felt bad that she had paid double. She wasn’t upset in the slightest—”Well, you needed it, so what does it matter?” My budding frugal mind understood that waiting meant the difference of $50.

I don’t mind telling my kids “No” when they ask for something. I know one of two things are guaranteed to happen with time: 1) they’ll forget entirely about the toy that absolutely had to be purchased right then or 2) I can get it for a much better price when it goes on sale later. I want my kids to really think about they want and not be tempted by marketing or peer pressure.

For example, my daughter kept bringing book-sale flyers home from school last year and would ask me to buy books because her classmates were buying some. After the second flyer came home, I drove her to the library. “Here you go Hannah,” I said. “Pick however many you books you want.” She asked me why I’d brought her there—I told her that she could read as many books as she wanted, get new ones when she’s done, and it doesn’t cost any money. She looked at me with big eyes, “You mean they’re free books?” When I said yes, she looked at me like I was a superhero. I knew she understood why I had said “no.” Money is about choices and if you make smarter choices you have more of it for other things.

3. Spending what you don’t have is ok, if it means making others happy. We all want to make our kids happy and I think that’s what my mother tried to do. She would help anyone, even if it cost her dearly to do it. Unfortunately, in my adolescent mind, I associated giving money or paying for things as why people like you.

In high school, I’d give my lunch money to kids I barely knew, without registering why. Well, all I ended up with was a hungry belly. I don’t want my kids to think that people like you for the things you give them. I want them to be confident that their friends like them for who they are as a person.

I’ve taken my kids to an outreach on Long Island that provides food, clothing, and entertainment to people in need. I want my kids to see that there are so many ways they can be of service to their community. I want them to be monetarily generous, but without sacrificing their own financial health. I want them to love others and be loved in return for no other reason than because that’s what they deserve in life.

I miss my mother every day—the way she would say, “Oh Erin, that’s so great!” or “I’m so proud of you!” I miss her voice, her hugs and seeing the way she was with my kids. I wish she knew her incredible value in my life was priceless. Nothing she could buy me would make me love her more and there’s no amount of money I wouldn’t pay for just the chance to tell her so.

So march on you awesome parents! Keep telling your kids “no” with your wallet and “yes” with your heart. Tell them often because the world we send them out into will tell them “no” plenty of times. I figure maybe, just maybe, they will be more confident in their own abilities to navigate their finances and lives when that day comes.

By day, I am a mild-mannered sales representative for Hudson Valley Parent magazine. By night, I am a sales associate at a local store in the Hudson Valley.  I love kids, I even have two of my own, but one question I have is; why do parents think when they bring their children into a store it’s a playground?  I see kids running up and down the isles, spilling their drinks on the floor, dropping food on the floor, throwing tantrums, running in between the clothes racks, and playing hide and seek in the dressing rooms.  If that is not bad enough, what about the men that think they need to follow their wives/girlfriends into the dressing room, because without their opinion there will be no purchase? Or, how about the women that return items saying “MY HUSBAND DIDN’T LIKE IT”, who cares??  Keep shopping and let me know what shopping nightmares you have encountered. It’s safe to vent here as you can see!

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