Seven Family Dinners Under $5 Each
Most frugal moms are finding that prices just keep going up every time they go to the grocery store. It’s getting harder every week to feed our families on a budget. But there are still meals to be made for less than $5 for a family of four. Here’s a week’s worth of such meals to help you feed your family without spending a small fortune on food.
Hot Dogs & Chili
1 pkg. hot dogs, 99¢
1 can chili, $1
1 pkg. hot dog buns, 99¢
Potato chips, $1.84
Place hot dogs in a small pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil until plump. Heat chili in a separate pan. Place hot dog in bun, add mustard, ketchup, onions, cheese or other condiments as desired.
TOTAL COST: $4.82
Loaded Baked Potatoes
4 large potatoes, 50¢
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese, 90¢
1/2 head broccoli, cut into large chunks, 85¢
1 can chili, $1
Preheat oven to 400° F. Scrub potatoes with a vegetable brush. Poke about four holes in potatoes with a fork. Cover each potato with foil adding 1 t. water before sealing tightly. Place on baking pan and bake for about 1 hour until tender. Place broccoli in microwave safe dish. Cover with 2 T. water. Cook on high 4 minutes or until tender. Heat chili in small pot on stove until hot. Slice potatoes in half, add broccoli and chili. Top with cheese.
TOTAL COST: $3.25
Southern Pinto Beans & Cornbread
2 c. (1 lb.) dry pinto beans, $1.05
1 1/2 T. salt, minimal
1 t. pepper, minimal
2 c. self-rising cornmeal mix, 16¢
1 1/4 c. buttermilk, 28¢
1/4 c. vegetable oil, 16¢
1 large egg, 13¢
Cull beans by removing rocks, stems, etc. Rinse. Place in large pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil. Blanch by draining and rinsing. Return to pot and cover with water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about four hours until beans are tender. Stir occasionally and add more water if needed to keep beans covered. If beans are too thick, add more water.
Preheat oven to 425 ° F. Pour 1 T. of the oil in a 10″ cast iron or heavy baking pan. Heat skillet in oven while you mix remaining ingredients. Combine cornmeal mix, buttermilk and egg. Mix just until blended, do not over beat. Remove hot skillet from oven and pour oil into batter. Mix until ingredients are moistened. Batter will be slightly lumpy. Pour batter into skillet. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Serve with onion wedges and butter or margarine for cornbread, if desired.
TOTAL COST: $1.78
Five Layer Mexican Dip
This may sound like an appetizer but it’s filling enough to serve as an entree!
1 lb. ground turkey, (can used beef, if desired), $1.19
Taco seasoning, 39¢
1 16 oz. can refried beans, 69¢
1/2 c. salsa, 50¢
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese, 90¢
1 med. tomato, chopped, 30¢
1/2 bag tortilla chips, 98¢
Brown ground turkey, drain. Return to skillet and add taco seasoning. Mix well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Layer in bottom of 13″ x 9″ pan. Cover with refried beans, salsa, cheese and tomato. Serve with tortilla chips.
TOTAL COST: $4.95
Chili Mac & Cheese
1 lb. ground turkey, (can used beef, if desired), $1.19
1 pkg. chili seasoning, 39¢
1 16 oz. can pinto beans, drained, 69¢
1 16 oz. can tomatoes, drained, 69¢
1 pkg. macaroni & cheese, 39¢
Brown ground turkey, drain. Return to skillet and add chili seasoning, pinto beans and tomatoes. Mix well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare macaroni and cheese according to package directions. Add to chili and mix well. Cook over low heat until thoroughly hot. Serve immediately.
TOTAL COST: $3.35
8 large potatoes, peeled and cubed, $1
1 med. onion, chopped, 25¢
1 can evaporated milk, 89¢
Place potatoes in large pot. Cover with water, bring to boil. Add onion, milk and enough water to fill pot at least 3/4 full. Mix well. Return to boil, reduce heat and simmer until thick and bubbly. Serve with crackers or cornbread, if desired.
TOTAL COST: $2.14
Skillet Meat Loaf
1 lb. ground beef, $2.38
1 med. onion, chopped fine, 25¢
1/2 green pepper, chopped fine, 40¢
2 T. flour, 1¢
1 egg, 13¢
2 T. Worcestershire sauce, 14¢
1 1/2 T. salt, minimal
1 t. pepper, minimal
1 sm. can tomato sauce, 39¢
Mix ground beef, onion, green pepper, flour, egg, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper in large bowl until combined well. While messy, it’s easiest to mix by hand. Divide mixture in half and press into two large patties. Place in large skillet. Cover and cook over medium heat until cooked through, turning occasionally. Pour on tomato sauce. Cook uncovered until sauce comes to boil, turning once. Serve with mashed potatoes and green beans, if desired.
TOTAL COST: $3.70
To save the cost of buying sodas, make a large pitcher of iced tea to go with your meals.
Sweet Southern Tea
8 tea bags, 16¢
1 c. sugar, 24¢
Pour about 2 quarts water into a large sauce pan. Add sugar and mix well. Bring to boil, stirring often until sugar dissolves completely. Add tea bags. Return to boil and boil for 1-5 minutes depending on how strong you like your tea. Remove from heat and let set about 15 minutes. Pour into 2-quart pitcher. Add ice and cold water to fill. Stir until ice is fully melted. Serve in glasses filled with ice.
TOTAL COST: 40¢
Losing Weight on a Budget
There is one way to lose weight: Burn more calories than you take in. Sounds simple, right? We know it’s not! As a frugal mom struggling to lose weight, you may think the only solution is to blow the food budget on those high-priced supplements, diet foods or pre-packaged meals that the “experts” swear by. But that’s simply not necessary! You can lose weight without it costing a fortune by learning some simple strategies to help you rethink your diet and exercise regime.
• Become more active. This one step will help you tremendously when you’re trying to lose weight. You’ll not only burn more calories, but you’ll increase your metabolism, which will make your body more efficient at burning calories. That, in turn, will help you burn more calories and burn them longer. Can’t beat a deal like that!
If you’re looking for ways to become more active, try walking around the block after dinner, parking your car farther away from the door at Wal*Mart, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, playing Frisbee, football or soccer with the kids, joining a volleyball or softball team, going for a hike, rollerblading, cleaning house, and even enjoying active sex! Anything you do to move more and eat less will add to your weight loss success.
• No need to join a gym when there are so many free and low-cost exercise options available. You can walk, ride a bike, jump rope, run in place, dance to the oldies, or workout with an exercise video. While you definitely need to work out at least three times a week, you can do so for no cost whatsoever except your time. And have a lot of fun doing it!
• If you’re more apt to exercise with others, try a church aerobics class, or ask a friend or neighbor to walk with you. You can enjoy the fellowship of others with the same interest in losing weight and getting healthy while meeting your own goal of adding exercise to your weekly routine.
• Hide your frying pan. Eliminating fried foods will go a long way toward cutting calories, which is key to losing weight. Learn to broil, bake or grill your food instead and get rid of hundreds of added calories every week.
• Eat less. While this seems like a simple solution, anyone who struggles with her weight knows that it’s a lot easier said than done. But disciplining yourself to eat only when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and avoid between meal snacks will make a huge difference in your weight loss success.
• Eat more vegetables. Many vegetables such as broccoli, green peppers, cucumbers, etc. are considered “free” foods so you can eat as much as you want without adding calories. And if you grow your own, these free foods become truly free–in more ways than one!
• Learn what triggers your eating. Pay attention to when you eat the most. Is it when you’re bored? Lonely? Angry? Are you seeking comfort or consolation through food? By learning what makes you eat when you do, you can learn to find alternative methods for dealing with your emotions and stop sabotaging your weight loss efforts at the same time.
• Change your attitude toward food, if necessary. Let the adage, “eat to live, not live to eat” become your mantra. Eat when your body needs fuel. Never for any other reason.
• When eating out, share a meal with someone else. This will allow you to eat out for half price and will cut your calories considerably. And since restaurants always give larger portions than we need, you’ll more than likely still go away feeling completely full and satisfied.
• Don’t bother with diet foods. Not only are they higher priced than their regular counterparts, but research shows that artificial sweeteners aren’t good for us. Instead, learn to enjoy the regular foods you love–only in smaller portions.
There are many ways you can lose weight without spending any more money than you spend right now on food. Choose the ones that will work for you… your pocketbook and your waistline will benefit!
Recycling as a Frugal Way of Life
Recycling is actually one of the easiest ways to live frugally. Whether you’re recycling things you already own, or things you’ve picked up from a thrift shop or yard sale, recycle saves money. And even things you donate to someone else help save the environment by being one less item that thrown in a landfill. So recycling is just a good thing to do all around. Here are some ways to reduce waste, reuse what you have and recycle things you no longer need or want.
• Soda cans and glass bottles of all kinds make wonderful decorations all over the house. Fill them flowers, colored sand or small stones. You can paint them or use as is. Or decorate them with glued on fabric, paper scraps or beads. They also work well to hold small items such as pens or pencils, scissors, rulers, etc.
• These days we eat a lot of carryout meals and many of those foods come in plastic or styrofoam containers. Don’t throw those away just because they’re empty. Wash them thoroughly and reuse them for food storage, carrying leftovers to work or school, or sharing a meal with a friend. No need to buy special plastic storage containers. Just save and reuse the ones you get when you eat out.
• Most of us have been carrying cell phones for several years, in addition to the laptops, cameras, video games and other electronics we buy that become broken or outdated. There are many places that will take these old items and reuse the parts in some way. Some places will even reimburse you. If the item still works you could potentially receive a decent amount of cash, but don’t worry if it doesn’t work. Electronic parts are still a viable commodity and you can usually find someone who wants them.
• On the other side of that coin, when you want to buy a new cell phone or laptop, but can’t afford one, consider buying refurbished instead. Refurbished electronics are typically secondhand or returned items that have been repaired and made as close to new as possible. You can usually buy refurbished electronics for much less than the cost of new.
• Recycle water when you finish washing the dishes by pouring it over your house plants or in your garden. Your plants don’t care if the water’s a little dirty, they’re just thirsty.
• If your blue jeans are starting to look ratty at the bottom, are beginning to fade, or just aren’t a style you like anymore, cut off the bottoms and turn them into shorts or capris. If nothing else, you they can be worn around the house when the weather’s warm, or when you need something to wear to paint, or wash the car in. Makes more sense than ruining your good clothes.
• Cardboard rolls from toilet paper and wax cereal liners can be reused in a variety of ways. Flatten out a small cereal liner and fill it with as many toilet paper rolls as will fit inside standing up with the opening at the top. Remove the rolls and tape them together with clear tape, then replace them inside the liner. Cut the liner to the same height as the paper rolls or fold it back over itself so you have a double layer of wax paper. Decorate if you like or use as is to hold small paint brushes, pens, markers, or crayons. The wax paper gives added protection against ink and paint splatters.
• Empty facial tissue boxes work well for storing small items such as pens, small pads of paper, crayons, craft beads and anything else that will fit inside. And they come pre-decorated so all you have to do is set them in place and start filling them.
• Used envelopes work great for storing things such as stamps, coupons, receipts, bills to be paid, letters from your child’s school, dentist/doctor/hair salon appointment cards and more. Just open them carefully so you don’t rip them and reuse until they fall apart.
• Never throw away an old shirt, blouse, pair of pants, etc. without removing the buttons. Save all your odd buttons in a small can or display them in a canning jar. You never know when you need to replace a button and may have just the right one to fit. Buttons also work wonderfully for crafting earrings, necklaces, bracelets, magnets, etc.
Looking Beautiful for Less
Frugal moms, like everyone else, want to look as beautiful as they can, especially when money is tight. Looking beautiful gives a woman confidence that keeps her energetic and productive. But how can we look our best when money is tight and we can’t afford to buy top of the line beauty products? It’s actually easier than you think! You certainly don’t have to spend a fortune to look good.
Baby wipes are an amazing creation. And if you have small children it’s almost guaranteed that you will always have these little wonders at hand. But they’re good for more than just cleaning sticky fingers and removing ice cream from chins… they’re also wonderful cleansing wipes for your face or to wipe off stray eye shadow blotches or powder dust. Sensitive skin or fragrance-free wipes are even delicate enough to be used for eye make-up remover.
You can extend the life of lip gloss to save money. Simply fill a cup with boiling water and drop in your pot of gloss. Let sit for about 30 minutes. When you remove from water, it appears to have “magically” expanded and you have more gloss left! This works because lip gloss tends to sticks to the sides of the container and really only needs a little coaxing to make it usable again.
When you do finally run out of gloss, you can make your own. And it’s a lot easier than you may think. Mix a small amount of petroleum jelly (Vaseline)–that you can buy just about anywhere–with a dab of powdered eye shadow or blush in a color you like. Use a lip brush to apply.
While most of us use curling irons instead of curlers, there are some who still prefer to curl their hair the “old-fashioned” way. If you’re one of those frugal moms, you don’t need to spend a fortune on curlers. Instead improvise and use something you already have around the house such as strips of fabric, newspaper, brown paper bags or even cardboard paper towel rolls cut in strips. Anything that can be held in place on your head with a bobby pin will work.
Instead of spending a small fortune on facials, head to the refrigerator and grab an egg. Carefully separate the whites (put the yolk aside you’ll be using that later) and whisk until frothy. Cover your face with the egg whites and let dry. Once dry, wash with lukewarm water and pat dry. Now break the yolk and massage into your face. Egg yolk has excellent moisturizing properties. Rinse lightly and enjoy your fresh feeling, younger looking skin.
You can save money on a haircut by visiting a local beauty school. Or if you don’t have a school nearby, ask around and see if you can find a recent graduate. They’re often cheaper because of their lack of experience but are typically very conscientious to do a good job. Another option is to look for coupons for haircuts, or see if an area salon is offering a discount for students, seniors, etc. for which you may qualify.
One of the best things you can do to look more beautiful… Relax! Stress not only puts a strain on your emotions, but it shows in your face as well! Smile. Think happy thoughts and let your radiance shine through.
Simple Decorating Ideas for Frugal Moms
On average, frugal moms spend ten hours every day in their homes. That’s why creating a warm, attractive, comfortable environment is so important. But how can you make your house into a home without racking up huge amounts of debt? Here are some ideas…
Paint. Decorating your walls with wallpaper can be expensive, especially if your room is large. Instead, buy a gallon or two of paint and change the entire ambiance of a room. Many hardware stores offer discounts on five gallon buckets so if you plan to paint several rooms, you might consider going with one base color throughout and changing the rooms by added a wallpaper border (available at the dollar store), or adding a second color on one wall or the bottom of the walls for accent. You can also paint tables, stools, cabinets, dressers, etc. rather than replacing them. It’s amazing how much difference a little paint can make.
Check local thrift stores for items you can use. Just because something is secondhand doesn’t mean it’s second class. You may be pleasantly surprised at some of the gems you find browsing Goodwill and similar stores. Don’t ignore an item just because it doesn’t match your color scheme. It’s simple and cheap to paint or refinish many pieces to your liking.
Thrift Stores are also great places to pick up rugs, bedspreads, draperies and other fabric that you need. And the nice thing is that even though thrift stores specialize in secondhand merchandise, a lot of times, you can find new or barely used items at thrift store prices!
It’s also worth checking flea markets and garage sales for furniture and anything else you need for your home. Even if what you find looks less than its best, you know you can easily brighten it up for a fraction of the cost of buying new.
Lamp shades make a huge difference in a room. Typically, plain white or off-white lamp shades are better value for money than bright, colorful or artistic shades. But white and cream shades can look incredibly dull if they don’t match your decor. If you’re crafty or artistic, though, you can decorate plain lamp shades yourself and come up with something totally your own. You can use almost anything to decorate lamp shades including paints, sequins, scrap fabrics, ribbons, yarn, appliques, and more. Just let your creativity flow and see what you can do!
Wicker baskets are wonderful for holding small items that clutter your home like toys, sewing and craft items, hubby’s odds and ends, and practically anything else that just needs a home of its own. Baskets also add a nice touch of warmth and decoration to plain shelves and floor space.
It’s so easy to get bored with your sofa, especially when it starts to look a little shabby as it ages. But sofas are far from cheap, so you may not be able to even consider buying a new one. You can, however, revamp yours with some throw pillows or a coverlet from the thrift store or Wal*Mart. A smart idea is to raid the fabric department for remnants and bolt ends of fabric that are too small to sell at full price. These are often sold cheap just to get rid of them. don’t worry if they’re too small for what you need. You can mix and match fabrics and stitch them together to make a nice patchwork effect.
There are many ways to change your decor enough to give your home a fresh new warmth without spending a fortune. Try these or let them jumpstart your creativity for other ideas.
Effective Time Management for Frugal Moms
Frugal moms often struggle with a long list of tasks that need to be accomplished every day. These can range from preparing meals to bathing the kids, and from working an at-home business to cooking three meals every day.
A frugal lifestyle requires organization to work. And time management is simply organizing yourself. But going from knowing to doing in organizing your day requires some planning. Here are some ideas to help you get on track and stay there so your frugal lifestyle isn’t “derailed” by lack of planning and disorganization!
Lists are your friends. Learn to make them, trust them and most importantly – follow them! Use one notebook for all your lists instead of jotting things down on odd bits of paper or self-adhesive notes that are easily lost.
Get a planner in a size that works for you and use it. Choose from pocket size, 3″ x 6″ (this one doesn’t allow much room to write but fits easily in your purse), standard size 6″ x 9″ (which is the most common), or a large desk-size 8.5″ x 11″ (which allows the most room for writing but isn’t as portable). The idea is to get a planner you will really use.
Your planner doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. But it’s important to have something that will work to help you manage your calendar, keep your to-do list and other important information in one place. There are even free printable planners online. Search Google and you’ll come up with several options. Or create your own by hand or on the computer.
If you choose to go with the larger size, you can easily design your own forms in Microsoft Word or another word processing program and print pages at will. Then you simply three-hole punch the pages and place them in a one-inch binder. You can use index tab sheets to divide your binder into as many sections as you need.
Create a section for Daily To-Do, Weekly To-Do, Monthly To-Do, Goals, etc.
A Master To-Do list of everything you want to do in the coming week is also helpful. This can be used to prioritize your daily lists and help you see at a glance how well you’re progressing. Taking the time to write down what you want to accomplish will help you manage every day more easily.
While a master list may seem like extra work, it won’t take only a few minutes to complete and it will make a huge difference in keeping you focused on everything you want to accomplish. Without it, it’s easy to get distracted by all those separate to-dos.
Create a new list of to-dos first thing every morning. Carryover anything that you didn’t accomplish the day before and add what will need to be done today.
Combine similar tasks such as household management, computer tasks, telephone calls, email, places to go, etc. That way you can batch similar jobs and accomplish more in the least amount of time.
Prioritize each task. Ask yourself what has to be done that day and give it a 1. Then consider what you’d really like to finish that day and give it a 2. Everything else gets a 3. That includes things you want to do, or even that you enjoy doing, but that–if they don’t get done–won’t create any real problems.
Remove distractions before you begin working on a task. If it’s a computer task, close programs and browser pages that you don’t specifically need to complete the project you’re on. If it’s a telephone task, close the door so the room is quiet and you can focus on what you need to say.
Do what’s important, not urgent. Do what you must do during the day and save the “want tos” for spare time. Email is a prime example of something that appears to be urgent and yet seldom is. There is nothing that says you have to reply to a message as soon as it’s received. Learn to recognize what really needs to be done and when.
If a specific task will help you manage your home better, earn money to pay the bills, or provide something your family really needs, that’s important. Noting these type tasks will help you plan long and short term goals and help you decide what needs to be accomplished during the day.
While multi-tasking seems admirable, research has begun to show that it actually hinders you from doing your best work. Instead, focus on one task at a time until you complete it. You’ll accomplish a lot more throughout the day.
Mark off every task you complete, then go back to your list to see what’s next on the agenda. Add tasks as they come up such as when you need to make a follow-up phone call to a call you made earlier, or when you need to send a letter in response to a discussion you had that day. Keep your list current and you can more easily stay on top of all you have to do.
Don’t be afraid to change priorities during the day if needed. Something may come up that becomes more important than other items on your list. Shift your priorities to make room for the change and don’t let this cause you undue stress.
Life is full of change, so things will happen that force you to adjust your priorities. But the goal is to manage your life, not your lists. Your planner, to-do lists, written goals, and other time management tools are just that… tools to help you accomplish what you need to.
Learn to say no. While it’s easy to fall into a “super woman syndrome” and think you can do everything, that’s simply not true. Learn to set limits for yourself and your children.
An administrative assistant had a sign on her desk that read, “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Let that saying become your motto. Do only what you truly feel you can do, and kindly refuse to allow others to create your priorities.
Keep your goals and your lists achievable. If you find you’re consistently listing so many tasks that you never seem to accomplish them all, it’s time to lighten the load–and the list. Ask yourself what would be the worst thing that can happen if something doesn’t get done.
Typically, you’ll be able to honestly say that the roof won’t fall in. Unless it might, cut yourself some slack and realize that you may not be accomplishing everything you’d like to do, but by managing your time creatively you can accomplish so much more than you imagined!
Natural Sunscreen for Frugal Moms
Most frugal moms will admit the necessity for sunscreen for themselves and their children. Not only does sunscreen protect the skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, it also hydrates the skin which is extremely important in maintaining healthy skin. Sun exposure not only causes premature aging, but skin cancer as well so sunscreen is critical.
But when commercial sunscreen contains chemical ingredients that we can’t even pronounce, it makes us cautious of using them! There is a solution, though… and that’s to make your own sunscreen. That way you know exactly what it contains and you can feel safe using it on yourself and your family.
While homemade sunscreen contains several ingredients, most of them are easily purchased from a drugstore or health food store.
Natural Homemade Sunscreen
1 T. almond oil
1 T. avocado oil
1 T. jojoba oil
3 T. sesame oil
1 T. shea butter
2 T. cocoa butter
1 t. beeswax
1 t. soy-lecithin liquid
2 T. aloe vera gel
2 T. rose water
½ t. borax powder
20 drops carrot seed essential oil
3-5 drops coconut essential oil
Combine the oils, butters and beeswax in a small pan. Stir over medium heat until melted and soft. Add the soy-lecithin liquid. Mix together well and remove from heat. Combine aloe vera gel with rose water in another small pan and stir over medium heat until warm. Add borax powder and stir until well blended and powder is dissolved. Remove from heat and place in a bowl filled with ice. Combine the oil mixture and the rose water mixture until well blended and creamy. Add essentials and mix well. Store in a tightly sealed container.
Homemade sunscreen can also be made with zinc oxide, but to do so you must set aside pans used to heat the ingredients for use only in preparation of the sunscreen. Zinc oxide can be found in the diaper rash aisle in the grocery store. It’s advisable to wear gloves when handling zinc oxide. Here’s a recipe using that method:
1 c. olive oil
1 oz. crumbled beeswax
2 T. zinc oxide
In small pan that will not be use for food preparation after making sunscreen, heat olive oil on low heat. Add beeswax and stir until wax is completely melted. Remove from heat and immediately add zinc oxide. Mix well. Store in a tightly sealed container. If separation occurs, shake before using.
There are also foods that are said to boost your body’s natural sunscreen capabilities. These include dark chocolate, green or black tea, cold water fish, tomatoes, peppers. carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, goji berries, watermelon, apricots, strawberries and blueberries. Any food that is said to provide antioxidant properties is also considered a natural sunscreen.
Don’t forget that clothing will protect your skin, too. Hats, caps and visors, shoes with socks, long or three-quarter sleeve shirts (even those made from gauze) and any other clothing that covers the skin is good.
While summers are always too short, and it’s easy to overdo our sun exposure after being trapped in the house all winter, it’s still a good idea to protect ourselves from the harmful aspects of the sun. Healthier, more youthful skin is one reward that makes it worth the effort.
Great Gifts Under $5
Every year frugal moms struggle to come up with creative, yet inexpensive, gift ideas for everyone from family members to neighbors, teachers and coaches to mail carriers and delivery persons. Some people have comfortably settled into giving the same thing each year such as an aunt’s fruitcake or a friend’s crochet slippers.
These ideas are for the rest of us who find it hard to generate new ideas every year and who aren’t comfortable giving the same thing every time.
• An eye mask for a friend who works nights and sleeps days.
• Bubble bath is a pampering gift. Add a bath pillow for added luxury.
• Coffee mugs filled with candy, pens and pencils, tea bags, or other small items work well for anyone but are especially nice for co-workers.
• Ear plugs for the swimmer in your life. Be sure to include a neat little carry-case.
• Games such as pick-up sticks, cards, Old Maid, dominoes, Uno are great for kids of all ages.
• Magnetic notepads and a magnet-backed pencil for the refrigerator.
• Puzzles such as jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, word search, and others are good for shut-ins or people who have a lot of time on their hands.
• Travel kits can be customized for men or women with lotions, hairspray, deodorant, shaving cream, soap, bath mitts, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, hand sanitizer and more.
• Wind chimes make a melodious gift (pun intended!).
• You can’t go wrong with a key chain, especially for people you don’t know that well. Choose something that fits their occupation, one that makes them laugh or inspires them.
Handmade items are always a hit! Possibilities include:
• An Amish Friendship Bread starter in a nice jar is great for the bakers in your life.
• A pound of fudge or a tin of cookies are traditional gifts that are still well-received today.
• A quart-size canning jar can be filled with a variety of things such as jawbreakers, jelly beans, gum balls, red hots, marbles, buttons, miniature cars, toy soldiers.
• Canned items make wonderful gifts for those who don’t can. Options include jams, jellies and preserves, salsa, soups, barbecue sauce, vegetables, sauerkraut, pickles, relishes and more.
• Compile a family cookbook, print, three-hole punch and place in a 1″ binder that allows you to insert a custom cover.
• Consider a small tote bag in a bright or flashy color, or a set of zipper cases to carry in an existing tote.
• Fill large tins with caramel or cheese flavored popcorn.
• Gift in a jar mix ideas are unlimited! Hundreds of recipes can be found online to make soups, cookies, cakes and more. Fill a quart-size, wide-mouthed jar with the dry ingredients, add the recipe, and tie with a ribbon.
• Handmade candles, soap, bath bombs, or bubble bath make wonderful gifts. And you can make enough in one batch to meet most of your shopping needs.
• Homemade potpourri is much nicer than any you can buy. Fill a bag, tie with a ribbon, and include a list of ingredients.
• Insert a popsicle stick into crispy rice cereal treats, dip in melted almond bark, place inside a sandwich bag and tie with a ribbon.
• Mix up dry seasonings for dips, dressings, etc., put them in a small zipper bag, make a topper on the computer and staple to the top.
• Padded clothes hangers. Cover with fabric and stuff to make them puffy, or crochet a cover to protect expensive clothing.
• Print coloring pages, mazes, word games and other printables from the computer and fill a three-ring binder for the kids.
• Sachets to make a closet or drawer smell fresh.
• Smelly jellies (scented gel in a small canning jar), or gel candles are easy to make and very popular.
Also consider these quick ideas:
• A Bible
• Assorted chocolates
• Brooch or lapel pin
• Floral bouquet
• Gourmet coffee or tea
• Photo frames
Good gifts always show the thought that went into creating or buying them, so use your imagination and make or purchase gifts that have a little bit of your personality in them. The recipient will be sure to love what you give!
Track Your Finances with a Bill Paying Schedule
Have you ever had to pay a late fee because you forgot a due date? Or ever “lost” a bill in a pile of papers on your desk? Or ever caused an overdraft in your checkbook because you neglected to enter an automatic debit payment? Many of the most frugal moms can sadly say yes, that at one time or another we’ve cost ourselves money by not having our finances better organized. Well, there are ways to stop this aggravating problem! The simplest way is to create a monthly bill paying schedule.
This is especially easy if you have Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet program on your computer. But even if you don’t, you can create a simple form to help you track monthly bills and payments so you don’t spend money on mistakes like the ones above.
To create a bill planner in Excel:
• Open the program and create a new spreadsheet.
• Title the first seven columns: Date Due, Company/Bill, Amount Due, Amount Paid, Date Paid, Check Number and Balance.
• Date Due is the date the bill must be paid to avoid late charges. If you mail a bill rather than paying it by phone or online, you may want to allow five days for the bill to reach the office.
For instance, If you have a bill due the first of the month, enter the Date Due as the 25th of the previous month, just to be sure the bill gets to the billing office on time.
• The Company/Bill column is for the name of the company you pay the bill to.
• Amount Due is the Net amount due before any late fees are added. This is the amount you hope to pay each month.
• Amount Paid may be the full amount from the previous column, or–in the case of paying only a partial bill, or a monthly installment–that amount. This is the amount paid on your account for this payment only.
• Date Paid is the date you mailed your check, or paid the bill online or by phone.
• Check Number may be the number of an actual check, a money order number, or a confirmation number if you pay by one of those methods.
• The Balance will be $0 unless you pay a partial payment or the bill is an installment loan or credit card with a carry-over amount. The more $0 balances, the better.
Once you’ve created the necessary columns, you can design the format to suit your needs. You may prefer to leave a blank column between each of the columns above, shade the headings, add lines, etc. Do whatever works best for you and makes this a comfortable form to use.
To create a bill planner manually:
• On a blank sheet of paper, draw the seven columns as mentioned above. Create the form on lined paper to make it easier to enter data.
• Draw a line between each column to help you keep the data separate and make the completed form easier to read.
• Make several copies of the form then write “Original” on a self-adhesive note and stick to the front of the original so you don’t accidentally use that one and have to recreate the form again each month.
To use your new bill planner:
• Take each bill at the beginning of the month, or as they arrive, and fill in one line for each payment due.
• Enter bills in line order by date due when possible to make it easier to track in order by due date.
• Enter only regular monthly bills such as utilities, telephone, mortgage, credit card payments, medical bills, installment loans, etc. Don’t enter items like clothing, food, gasoline, or books. You can track them on a similar sheet, but this one is for fixed monthly expenses that you have less control over.
• Check your bill planner at the beginning of every week to see what bills are due that week and what can wait until another payday. This will help you see every bill that must be paid from that week’s paycheck in order for the payment to arrive to the company on time.
Tracking your finances with a monthly bill planner doesn’t have to be elaborate, complicated or difficult. The goal is simply to write down what you owe, when you owe it, and when and how you paid it.
A bonus to using a monthly bill planning schedule is that after a couple months, you’ll begin to get a clearer picture of your overall financial situation and begin to see where you may be able to save money by paying off certain bills or eliminating other expenses.
The ABCs of Frugal Living
Always return items you buy that don’t fit when you get them home.
Bake your own cookies, cakes, bread, etc.
Christmas shop during “day after” sales and have your gifts ready for next year.
Do it yourself… anything you or a family member can do free will save money. This includes lawn care, hair cuts, car repair and more.
Evaluate every purchase you plan to make–before you buy!
Fix what’s broken. Leaky faucets, cars that burn oil, ovens that waste heat, and other things that need repair cost money every time you use them.
Grocery shop on a full stomach and without the kids.
Host birthday parties and celebrations at home rather than going to the local pizza place.
Invest at least a portion of your money every year, or every month. Penny stocks, gold, even real estate are possible investments that could pay off well in time.
Join a recycle group such as Freecycle and give away what you don’t need or want, and find things you do… free.
Kick the habit! Save your lungs and hundreds of dollars a year.
Leave the oven door open to let it help heat your kitchen in the winter.
Manage your budget. Pay bills on time to avoid late fees, balance your checkbook to save overdraft charges, etc.
Never buy something you don’t want or need because a friend is having a party and earning rewards!
Open a savings account and deposit 10 percent of everything you make every week.
Put your change in a jar every day and see how the savings add up at the end of the year. You may even have enough to pay for a family vacation!
Quit beating yourself up when you overspend. Sure, you don’t want to make excuses or get in the habit of blowing your budget, but a little splurge here and there probably won’t hurt that much.
Rearrange your schedule, if possible, to save on child care. Work while the kids are in school, shop when your husband is home, take classes when a friend or relative can watch the children.
Stop spending! Every penny saved is indeed as good as a penny earned!
Take your lunch to work instead of going out to eat.
Use everything you own until it wears out.
Visit free local attractions, museums, parks and other places of interest that don’t cost anything when you want something to do.
Watch movies you borrow from the library instead of renting them, or going to a theater.
eXamine monthly statements to be sure the charges are correct. Large companies often make mistakes on what they charge.
Yield not to temptation where your money is concerned. If you feel you shouldn’t buy something, then don’t.
Zipper bags are expensive! Wash and reuse any that haven’t contained raw meat.