18 Ways To Practice Frugality As A Family

December 17, 2008 · Filed Under Stay at Home Sanity · Comments Off on 18 Ways To Practice Frugality As A Family 

Granny's Christmas party preparation party photo credit: Samuel Mann

When someone embraces frugality they often view it as a common sense way to live. Frugal methods and tricks quickly become a daily routine. However, it is much easier to make frugal habits permanent when the whole family is on board. One of the easiest ways to do this is to make frugality fun and to practice it together.

Here are some ideas for practicing frugality as a family.

  1. Start teaching early. Even a child as young as 2 or 3 can be taught to turn the lights off when leaving a room or to not let the water run unnecessarily.
  2. Present a united front. Dad and mom need to agree on how frugality will work in their family, or at least they need to pretend like they do. If one partner or the other is discontent and looks down on frugality, the rest of the family will as well. If there is no unity when it comes to frugality, do your best to find a happy medium so that everyone in the family can work as a team.
  3. Menu plan together. This is one that everyone can really get involved in together. Work together to plan out meals, perhaps letting one child pick out all of their favorites for a certain day of the week. (However, if the favorites don’t fall into the frugal category, you may need to present them with acceptable options first.) Make sure every voice is heard, from the oldest to youngest, and carefully consider each suggestion. If there are suggestions made that will not be added to the menu plan, make sure you explain why. This will prevent hard feelings towards both menu planning and frugality.
  4. Form a coupon-clipping team. As soon as a child is old enough to use scissors correctly, let them begin clipping coupons for you. Many children take real pride in this task and even view it as a fun way to spend some time. With older children who are less inclined to enjoy this project, let them make some of the choices. Tell them if they can match up coupons with sales on some of their favorite items that are not ordinarily purchased, you will purchase that item if it comes in under a certain amount. They will quickly learn the thrill of the bargain-shopping chase.
  5. Make lists together. A grocery list is the easiest way to teach the value of a list as well as the importance of sticking to that list. Even young children can grasp the concept that only things written on a grocery list will be purchased at the store. But once that skill is understood, move on to other lists. Encourage your spouse and children to write lists for things that they really need. Use this as an opportunity to teach what “real need” really is. Then together watch for sales on those lists.
  6. Create a set of “Frugal Family Rules” together. Frugality looks different for every family and is not one size fits all by any means. So decide together what is important to your family. Write those rules down, let the kids decorate the paper they are written on, and post them in a place where everyone can see them as a reminder. If there are financial or other goals tied to your frugality, make sure those are included on that list as well.
  7. Shop together. There is no better way to teach real world frugality to children then to have them shop with you. They can learn to price compare and quickly realize the difference between quality and price, brand names, and doing things from scratch or using second-hand items versus costlier options.
  8. Teach the importance of saving money. When a child really wants something, have them save up the money to purchase that item. Together, look for the lowest price. Help your child understand that immediate gratification isn’t such a good thing if they can save money by delaying a purchase or going to a different store. Encourage them to look for cheaper alternatives on other items, and if they find a great deal, give them the difference in price to bolster their savings.
  9. Show the benefits of hard-work. This can go hand-in-hand with #8. Show children that their hard work will be rewarded with an allowance or special treat that doesn’t cost money.
  10. Display a cheerful attitude toward frugality. When you are trying to instill frugal attitudes in your family, it is important to keep your own attitude in check. Do not let your children hear you bemoaning the fact that you can’t purchase something because it isn’t frugal. They will follow your example.
  11. Brag about yourself. There is nothing wrong with letting your family know of your frugal successes. This is really easy in the kitchen. For example, if a restaurant is advertising a dinner special of $8.99 per plate and your entire dinner for the whole family cost less than $5, tell them! Give them a break down of how much it would cost for the whole family to eat out and the savings of eating at home.
  12. Remember it’s easier to stick to a task when there is a goal in sight. Even if your goal is intangible for the children, such as getting out of debt or building up a savings account, let them know your frugality is serving a purpose. Share as many of the details as you are comfortable sharing. And if necessary, relate your goals to something more on their level.
  13. Work together to maintain your belongings. Teaching children practical, frugal skills is a great life lesson. Teach them to, or let them watch you, remove stains, mend clothing, maintain household appliances, or even fix “broken” toys. Stress the importance of properly caring for their belongings.
  14. Turn price comparisons into a game. Frugality doesn’t have to be boring. Put a fun twist on frugal shopping by challenging children to find the lowest price on an item. Give the winner a reward, even if it’s just a big smile. Let older children have a mock competition with the ads from a few different stores and a list of products you need. Whoever gets the lowest total once the “shopping” is done wins.
  15. Divide and conquer. Just like most household chores, certain family members will gravitate toward certain types of projects. Take advantage of that and use it enhance your frugality. If your spouse is great at finding the best deals on electronics or furniture, let him or her have that job. If a child likes to cook, teach him or her how to cook from scratch.
  16. Have free or low-cost fun together whenever possible. Visit the library together, take a picnic to the park, explore museums on half-price days. If someone in the family discovers a great frugal activity or outing, do your best to make sure the whole family participates together.
  17. Sometimes, let the kids have a final say. If you are planning a vacation and there are two options – say, staying at a hotel but not being able to go to a costly attraction vs. camping and being able to afford costlier attractions, discuss this as a family. If the end result is inconsequential to you or your spouse, let the kids decide which option makes the most sense. There is real pride and accomplishment in having a little power.
  18. Don’t be afraid to indulge on occasion. Rewards help maintain a cheerful attitude. On occasion, treat the family to take-out pizza or an ice cream cone. You deserve the treat, and so does the rest of your family!

25 Ways to Save Money In Your Household Budget

December 13, 2008 · Filed Under Budgeting · 2 Comments 

Financial Peace Junior photo credit: Matt McGee

Let’s face it times are tough economically, and we could all use ways to save a little green, giving us a little wiggle room in our budgets. As a long time keeper of the budget, I have always looked for ways to tweak my budget and use it to my advantage. The following are just a few of those ways, hopefully you too can make them them work for you as well.

1. Clip Coupons. Clipping coupons truly can save you cash, especially when matched with the weekly sales.

2. Don’t be brand loyal. When you are willing to buy store brands or other brands you may not prefer because it is on sale and you have a coupon you’re more likely to save money.

3. Turn off your land phone line. Ridding yourself of this added expense can be positive on your budget as most of us are mobile these days and use our cellular phones much more frequently.

4. Have an errand day. Making multiple trips to the grocery store, post office and to pay bills can eat up gas in your vehicle quickly, not to mention that the more you go, the more money that you spend.

5. Use your real plates. Paper plates may be more convenient, but they are also more costly. You can wash the real thing for much cheaper.

6. Eat leftovers. Whether you take them for lunch the next day or serve them in a bit of a variation the next night leftovers are a money saving idea for sure.

7. Be a one car family. While this may not be possible for every family, it can truly save you money, just think, less spent on insurance, gas, and other auto maintenance.

8. Stay home. it is just a fact that the more on the go you are the more you tend to spend as a result. Staying home can save you money day after day.

9. Comparison shop. Don’t always assume the sale you find is the very best deal to be found. Comparison shop online or through store fliers to truly find the best deals out there.

10. Cook from scratch. It is just a fact that cooking from scratch can save you a load of money. Those boxed meals may be convenient, but they definitely cost you more green. Plus scratch cooking is oh so goo.

11. Be a do it yourselfer. From cutting the grass to fixing the sink those who do it themselves whether than getting hired labor can save themselves a great deal of money.

12. Don’t buy dry clean only. Though the dry clean only clothes may look nice and appeal to your sense of style they will begin to put a dent in your wallet as you have to have them professionally cleaned so look for wash and wear styles that are similar to save you this expense.

13. Use vinegar. Vinegar has so many uses that many people are not aware of, from cleaning floors to placing in your dishwasher as a rinse agent it can be an inexpensive alternative to many things.

14. Just use cash. It just seems inevitable that if you shop with cash you spend less. After all once it is gone, it’s gone and we know that so we act accordingly.

15. Pack your lunch. Maybe the leftovers mentioned earlier or a sandwich or other favorite meal. Packing a lunch saves big bucks after you think about the money you’ve spent eating out day in and day out.

16. Find free entertainment. We all like to be entertained, but it can often be pricey. So, as an alternative find free entertainment that the whole family can enjoy, whether you rent movies from your local library for free, or go out in the great outdoors for a cost-less outing it’s a great way to save.

17. Take advantage of store discount cards. Many drug and grocery stores now offer discount cards that will help you to save a little extra when shopping with them. They are free to apply for and can get your some great store deals.

18. Keep a spending spreadsheet. Keeping up with your spending on a spreadsheet for example can help you to realize what you spend money on month after month and as a result of your awareness you will most likely see where you can begin to cut back.

19. Use a programmable thermostat. It gives you the ability to bump up the heat so that it doesn’t run all day when you’re not at home or the air doesn’t cool an empty house in the summer, it can save you more than you might expect over time.

20. Pay on time. Being late on bills can often result in a late fee that you could avoid by simply paying on time or ahead of time.

21. Buy used. We all like to get new things, whether it be a new car, new furniture or new clothes, but with almost everything you buy there is the option to buy used and it can be a great one.

22. Use energy efficient appliances, light bulbs and the like. Saving energy saves you money, it is as simple as that.

23. Replace your air filters often. A dirty filter can cause your air conditioner to have work harder, which makes it more costly to operate. Changing the filter often can deter that.

24. Stay on budget. Why create a budget if you’re not going to try and stick to it. Budgeting can save money if it is stuck to. It may take some time to get a budget that works for you but don’t give up.

25. Always be aware of your spending. Spending is one thing that you must stay up on and never let it slip your mind, alwasy being aware of where your dollars are going can help you to be ready and willing ot do what you can to save.

10 Restaurant-Style Meals You can Create At Home

December 13, 2008 · Filed Under Frugal Meals · Comments Off on 10 Restaurant-Style Meals You can Create At Home 

Experimental Vodka photo credit: jvree

We all know that eating out costs much more than eating at home no matter how you look at it. Therefore, a great way to save money, is by recreating your favorite restaurant-style meals at home, allowing you to eat them more often, and save money at the same time.

The following are ten restaurant-style meals that you can easily create at home:

1. Chinese takeout. From fried rice to stir fry Chinese takeout can easily be recreated at home, especially with the vast array of items available in your local store’s international foods section, you can practically be in a different country every night of the week.

2. Mexican Fiesta. Let another night create your own Mexican fare. Anything from tacos, to nachos or enchiladas, each can be recreated at home to calm your craving without paying restaurant prices.

3. Gourmet Sandwiches. There are dozens and dozens of them out there today from the gyro, to the muffaletta you can pick your sandwich apart at your favorite local gourmet deli, take a mental note and then recreate it next time at home.

4. Greek food. Greek food is hearty and contains some key healthy ingredients including spinach, meat, usually lamb or veal, feta cheese and every Greek’s favorite, garlic, and lots of it.

5. Homemade Pizza.
Many times you can create a better pizza than you can buy as take-out. You can test and try until you create one that is as yummy as take-out or better.

6. Gumbo.
It is a Cajun tradition and a stick to your bones type food. You can find some yummy recipes for it online or can even buy the boxed variety, though homemade is better. You can choose to create the seafood type or just use chicken and sausage, either way you’ll have a yummy meal for less than the restaurant.

7. Better burgers.
You know every restaurant has it’s own variety and you can create your favorite at home, grab your grill, the meat, special buns and other condiments and build your best burger ever!

8. Catfish Dinner. In the deep south especially, a meal out at a catfish house is quite popular. Fried catfish is yummy but can be costly if eaten out. Whip up your own catfish dinner at home, and don’t forget the fries, hushpuppies and slaw.

9. Steak Dinner. Firing up the grill and preparing your own steak can result in a wonderful meal. Most times you can buy two steaks for the price of what you’ll pay in a restaurant, sides included.

10. Appetizers as a meal. We all have a favorite appetizer. Whether it be the buffalo wings or the spinach and artichoke dip. Why not create a whole meal based on your favorite appetizers? It could turn out to be a family favorite.

25 Low Cost Or No Cost Ways to Celebrate the Season

December 12, 2008 · Filed Under Cheap Holiday Ideas · Comments Off on 25 Low Cost Or No Cost Ways to Celebrate the Season 

Sweetness overload x2
photo credit: lepiaf.geoWe all long to celebrate the holidays but often times we lack the funds to do the things we see others doing or that we wish we could do, but, there are ways that you can celebrate this wonderful season of the year if you’re strapped for cash.

1. Chop down a tree. Especially if you or a relative has property with trees on it you can get your Christmas tree for free, by simply going out in the woods and chopping it down. It will also be a great learning experience for your children. Make sure you ask permission first.

2. Make your own decorations. From stringing popcorn to creating a paper chain you can create your own holiday decor and will enjoy the process as much as the actual decorating itself. Make memories with your family that will not soon be forgotten.

3. Bake cookies. There are many recipes that are quite inexpensive to make and you’ll enjoy the time spent together as well as the yummy treats to eat afterward.

4. Go Christmas Caroling. There are many places to go in every community such as nursing homes, children’s homes, and homeless shelters that would love a visit from you as well as to hear some holiday tunes. Why not share the joy of Christmas by doing so. Check with the facility beforehand to make sure you’re welcome and following their rules.

5. Serve at a local charity. Whether it’s a soup kitchen, or packing boxes to sending overseas or writing letters to our troops for Christmas, serving others is a great way to celebrate.

6. Make Christmas crafts. There are a ton of sites that have directions for crafts that use things you already have on hand. You can make them just for fun, keep some and give some away as gifts.

7. Attend church. This is the time of year for family and friends. Nothing can be more special and significant than to remember the reason for the season together.

8. Looking at lights. Pile everyone in the car and go looking around town at all the Christmas lights. Don’t forget to check your local paper for other free activities.

9. A candlelight dinner at home. Start a new tradition. Show your family how much fun and different eating by candlelight can be. It’s a great way to celebrate.

10. Dollar store finds. Take a trip to the dollar store giving everyone a set amount of money and allow them to purchase gifts or stocking stuffers for the family members. This is a low cost way to enjoy gift giving even on a small budget.

11. Send E-Christmas cards. Rather than purchasing Christmas cards or photo cards why not send the same type thing online. They are free, and can be sent to anyone with an email address.

12. Hot Cocoa Night. Take one night during the season as an honorary hot cocoa night and make up a batch of steaming hot cocoa to enjoy with your family or maybe even invite the neighbors over for a cup. Buy some extra special cocoa mugs to make it even more special.

13. Build a snowman. That is if there is actually snowfall in your area. This can be a fun way to celebrate this time of year. If you live in a warmer climate think about dressing up one of the kids or even a tree with Frosty’s hat & scarf.

14. Attend local Christmas events. From musicals to tree lighting ceremonies there are usually lots of events associated with this time of year and can be a great way to celebrate on a budget.

15. Shop the sales. If you have a little money to spend why not use it on sale items that will make great gifts. Amazon.com has some great Christmas deals.

16. Make a list of things for which you’re grateful. Teach the family an important lesson of thanksgiving. After all there is nothing more celebratory than enjoying what you have already rather than worrying about what you can get.

17. Sing Christmas carols around the fireplace. Taking some time as a family to sing favorite songss can be a great way to spend time together and to celebrate the season all at once.

18. Take pictures. Nothing says you HAVE to get them developed but dressing up and standing out in the snow or in front of the tree to snap a few shots can be fun plus with today’s digital world you can use them to create digital cards or just save them on your computer for later.

19. Go window shopping. It is fun to ohhh & ahhh over all the gifts that are available even if you can’t buy them. It’s good exercise after all those holiday yummies, too.

20. Build a gingerbread house. Make it during family night or better yet make it a family tradition. It”l be something you can always think of during this time of year and they are fun and inexpensive to create.

21. Fill a penny jar and send the money to your favorite charity. There is nothing like giving to help you feel that you’ve truly celebrated, especially giving to those who truly need it.

22. Visit Santa. You know you’ll find him every where this time of year so make a date to go let your children climb up in his lap and tell them their wishes. If the kids won’t sit on Santa’s lap consider having Santa give them a call – ask a friend for help with this.

23. Write letters to each other. You can use this time of year to write loving letters to each other as your “gifts” helping to show each other how truly special you are.

24. Light the advent candles. During the advent time of year it is a great way to celebrate by lighting the candles each day together.

25. Read the Christmas story together. It is a wonderful way to celebrate and remember what made Christmas possible.

Remember that this season isn’t all about the gifts we get but about the memories we make.

Credit Card Debt Reduction Circa 1992: Nothing Much Has Changed

November 18, 2008 · Filed Under Being Frugal, Budgeting · Comments Off on Credit Card Debt Reduction Circa 1992: Nothing Much Has Changed 

I discovered treasure in the doctor’s office! As I was pawing through stacks of magazines to pass the time, I stumbled upon a vintage 1992 magazine. How fun! I had a grand time devouring the way-cool fashions (fussy), the amazing hairstyles (big), and the over-the-top recipes (high fructose). Then I came across an article about credit card debt reduction. Were we really concerned back then about reducing our credit card debt? Compared to today, it all seemed so, well, loose.

In truth, 1992 may not seem particularly “vintage” with respect to clothing and hairstyles, but certainly in the credit market, 1992 feels like a century ago. I wondered how the 1992 world of debt relief differed from the 2008 version, what with the collapse in the credit industry. Certainly, the “tight credit” economy today is a much more complicated arena than the “loose credit” economy of 1992. Therefore, credit card debt relief circa 2008 has to have different strategies than credit card debt relief circa 1992. Yes? No.

Surprisingly, the process of getting and keeping your credit card debt in control hasn’t changed significantly in the past 16 years. We lived in a vastly different economic climate in the 90’s than we do today. Credit was King. So then, why hasn’t getting out of debt changed to reflect the credit market conditions of today?

The tenets of credit card debt relief remain the same for all these years because basic financial strategies never change. Spend less than you earn and save the rest. When credit cards became the norm for everyday spending, we entered a new “credit poor” world. And, after some years, we are all suffering. I suspect that in 1992 an article about debt relief didn’t get as much readership as, perhaps, the clothing and hairstyle articles. Today is a very different story. Today when people thumb their way through a magazine, they are looking for some help designing their future financial stability, and not their clothes.

Then what are the basic strategies for a family like yours to get rid of their credit card debt for once and for all? Briefly outlined, here they are, just like they were 16 years ago:

1) Cut-Up, Burn-Up, Shred-Up, or Blow-Up Those Credit Cards.

Painful as this is, Get Rid Of Those Credit Cards! I don’t know how many people try to pay off their credit card debt while clinging to their credit cards! Why don’t you try to lose weight while clinging to that donut. It makes as much sense. If it wasn’t a crucial step, it wouldn’t be The Number One Step, now would it. Begin with those ridiculously high-interest department store credit cards, and destroy them all. Yes, all of them. They’ve offered you 10% off your next purchase; figure out what the interest on that so-called “savings” is going to cost you. Not very pretty, is it.

Now lay out your major credit cards, then stop. You’ll need to keep just one major credit card, meaning a Visa, Master Card, American Express, and the like, for the purpose of booking flights, hotel rooms, and any emergencies. Of those major credit cards, which has the lowest interest rate, no annual fee, sky-miles, and other special incentives? Keep that ONE card and destroy the others. If you can’t trust yourself with one major credit card, do what the financial experts do: put it on ice. Literally, put it in water and freeze it. If you need to book a flight or have emergency maintenance done on your car, thaw it out and you’re set. Sort of eliminates impulse buying, doesn’t it.

2) Do the Household Money Math.

Take a good, long, honest look at your income. How much money do you bring into your house each month, after taxes of course. Now, map out your monthly household expenses that keep your family sheltered, clothed, schooled, and fed. Don’t forget gas for the car, insurance, medical needs, and anything you need to live. Be sure to include every expense so you don’t find yourself dipping into your “debt reduction fund” later for incidentals that you should have planned for. It’s better to plan a bit heavy on the expenses column because you’d rather have a few extra dollars to pay on your credit card debt than come up short.

Now you have your so-called “disposable income” which is what you need to know before you take your next step. This is the actual money you have each month to apply to your credit card debt. Take out your last month’s credit card statements and review the total on each credit card statement. Decide if there are any “local” store credit cards in which you would like to maintain good customer standing. Prioritize your credit cards and divide up your disposable income between them. That is the amount you are able to pay each month on each credit card. Write that figure down and make thorough notes on each statement about what you can pay and cannot pay, such as the late fees or over-charges, or 18% interest. Now, you are ready for the next step. Take a deep breath.

3) It’s Time to Call Your Creditors.

This is probably the most unnerving step for most people. However, you cannot avoid this unpleasant step because it is necessary if you want to achieve your goal of credit card freedom. It’s unrealistic to think that you can just make monthly payments on a credit card with high interest rates and gain any ground toward paying it off. If you have already tried this you know what happens. The interest escalates and your little payment gets swallowed right up, not even making a dent in the principle. It’s discouraging to say the least, and impossible.

You’ve already gone through the last month’s statements from all your credit cards when you divided up your disposable income. Review your initial notes and make any adjustments you think you may need on each of last month’s credit card statements. You want a good solid dollar amount that you can pay each month figured out on each credit card statement before you make your calls. Remember, you will also be asking for a lower interest rate and a reversal of any late fees or over-charge fees that you may have incurred as this is the only way you will be able to send that amount each month.

Calling the credit card company’s customer service number is a heart-pounding experience for most people. As a former customer service employee, let me tell you that the person you are talking to is nothing more, and nothing less, than an employee. He or she is paid to do a job for a company. Now, go ahead and call the first credit card customer service number. When you get a real person, tell them that you want to pay off your credit card, but cannot afford to make the monthly payments as they are currently set. You may want to practice this line several times; even writing it down: “I want to pay off my credit card, but I can’t afford to make the monthly payments as they are right now.” Then you will tell them how much you can afford to send them each month, but you’ll need late fees and over-charges reversed. Then ask for a reduced interest rate, and let them know that this is the only way you will be able to send them money each and every month until it’s paid off. You may not get everything you wish on the first call. They may reverse the late fees, but not the over-charges. They may not come down as far as you want them to on the interest. Do what you can. The most important thing here is for you to do your homework first. Know what you can pay each month, and negotiate the rest. Keep in mind that you can call them again as your situation changes and you want to renegotiate.

If you have received letters offering you a one time payoff for a particular credit card, ask the credit card company customer service employee if it is a legitimate offer. If it is legitimate and if you have the money, you may want to consider that as an option. One note though, the difference between the debt you owe and your actual one-time payoff to satisfy the debt may be subject to income tax. Check your state and federal guidelines before you decide. It may still be a viable option, but you want to be prepared at tax time.

Back in 1992 when credit was easy, you may not have gotten very far in negotiating with the credit card companies. In 2008 we have a whole new economic scene out there. These credit card companies are living and dying by whether or not they can get YOUR payment each and every month. They WILL negotiate, but you need to be firm and do your homework.

4) Sacrifice, Sacrifice, Sacrifice.

Don’t you just love it when you get your income tax refund or a bonus at work? It’s so fun having some “found money” to spend any way you please, isn’t it? Not anymore. I hate to be a Scrooge here, but somebody has to watch out for your frivolous ways. That’s how you got here in the first place. Now that you have a plan, every extra penny you have MUST be used to pay down your debt if you expect your plan to work. Any time you spend that extra money that fell into your lap on something other than paying off your debt, you have just also tacked interest on it. Think about it. If it doesn’t go to paying down your debt, the principle you owe on your credit cards didn’t get any smaller, so you are paying interest on that money. How many times is that same money going be spent when you pay interest to a credit card company because you still have a balance with them? Ouch! You’ll get a faster return on that found money when you use it to pay down your credit card debt.

5) Stick With Your Plan.

This may very likely be your financial plan for a long, long time, depending on the amount of credit card debt you have. We’ve all seen the commercials; “How I Got Out Of Debt In Six Months”, and we know that is simply not true. It took you some time to get in this mess, perhaps years, and it will take you some time to get out. After about the six month mark, you may feel a little restless and want to spend a bit of your hard earned cash. You may even see your credit card balances drop within a sort of “comfort level” for you after awhile. Before you decide to splurge, take a look back in time, browse through your credit card statements, and tell me what incredibly important item you see on any statement. Now, add up the interest you’re paying every month and tell me again if any of those items you purchased were so valuable that you were, and are, willing to pay two, three, or four times their value. Well, that’s what just one little indiscriminate spending spree will cost you in the end. The trick is, if you get comfortable with your money, pay even more down on your debt. Your freedom will come that much quicker. Be smart and stick to your guns.

6) Give Your Income a Boost.

This is an area of debt relief that is seldom approached. Partly because not everyone is able to easily supplement their income with another job. That’s understood. But, just raising the issue of more income is a reasonable step. There are many variables to increasing your income. If you feel worked-to-the-bone every day, it’s hard to imagine how you could earn additional money. Where will you find the time? Or energy? If you fall into this category, this option may not be for you; but wait. Are you being honest? Are there things you can, and would, give up to earn more money? Do you currently volunteer for a group that you could beg off of for awhile so you can pick up a temporary second job? Do you rush home from work to make meals for the family when someone else could get things started so you could put in some overtime? Can your household adjust to a different schedule so you could pick up extra money in a shift differential? How about some temporary work just over the Holidays, like gift wrapping? Are you a clever baker? Could you make and sell cookies at your local grocery store? Could you tutor students after school? Does an office building in your neighborhood need a weekend cleaning person? Are you currently making something that other people would buy? Take a look at your schedule. If you knew that you could do something to make extra money, and you knew that it was temporary, would you do it? I believe it’s something worth considering.

7) Carefully, Very Carefully, Check Out Debt Consultants.

The one thing that has changed since 1992 is the use of credit card debt consultants. There are hoards of companies out there today trying to sell you the light at the end of the proverbial debt tunnel. But be careful, the light could be an oncoming train, because not all debt consultants are what they appear to be. If you decide to look into using a debt consultant, interview as many as you possibly can. Ask direct questions, don’t beat around the bush. Ask how much of your money they are going to keep before they pay your creditors. If a debt consultant says things to you like, “don’t worry about that” and “it will be okay”, start worrying about that because it won’t be okay. Listen to your gut, ask people who have worked with a consultant for a recommendation, and check the Better Business Bureau. It will cost you more to hire a third party debt consulting company than it does to negotiate directly with the credit card companies. Consider first checking into non-profit debt consulting groups. Your own bank may even have consultants free of charge. Here again, you must do your homework thoroughly. You don’t want the solution to be worse than the problem!

Back to the 1992 credit card market versus the 2008 credit card market. As they say, The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same. Handling your money comes down to the same sound economic advice that it has for centuries, and yes, your grandparents were right – Don’t spend more than you have, and save a little each week.

Are you ready to get rid of your credit card debt? Now, of course, credit was too easy for too many people for far too many years. We all fell into that, so don’t beat yourself up about it. But, do you want the credit card companies to continue to reap the benefits of that soft market when you’re struggling to meet your monthly bills? Many of us find ourselves with the difficult and long drawn-out task of getting ourselves out of debt, and staying out of debt. The methods outlined here are pretty basic; the same now as they were back a decade or more ago. We know they are tried and true. We know that if you develop a good financial plan and stick to it you will accomplish your goal of credit card freedom. Okay, now everyone, nose to the grindstone and hang in there!

5 Simple Ways to Use Canned Black Beans when Frugality Rules

November 10, 2008 · Filed Under Frugal Meals · 1 Comment 

Beautiful beans photo credit: net_efekt

If your family budget is stretched just about as far as it will go, and who’s isn’t, you need some proven tools to stretch your money even further. One of the methods most of us use to squeeze a few more pennies out of our paycheck is to cut back on the grocery bill. Let me introduce you to your new best friend; superbly nutritious and wonderfully delicious, the Black Bean.

If you find yourself wandering through the aisles of your grocery store, searching for something to make for dinner that won’t rob you of your last dollar, mosey on over to the black bean display and check out the price. Read the label and you’ll learn that black beans are loaded with nutrients like protein, iron, calcium, and potassium, and they are high in fiber, and low in fat and sugar, so they really offer a lot of bang-for-your-buck. With those kind of credentials, it is obvious that black beans should be a staple in every household, frugal or not. So, let’s think up a few simple and delicious meals to create using your new best friend… the black bean.


1) Simply Delicious Four Bean Soup
You’ll need 1 can each of black beans, garbanzo beans, butter beans, and navy beans, drained but not rinsed, and set aside. In a large pot, pour 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil, add 1 cup finely chopped celery and 1 cup diced onion. Cook over medium to medium low heat until celery is a little transparent and tender. Then, add 1 clove garlic, minced, crushed, or grated, and cook for just about a minute. Add 1 small can fire-roasted diced tomatoes and 1 small can chicken broth. Simmer slowly for about 20 minutes. Give it a taste and add salt and ground black pepper to taste. You may also want to sprinkle in some hot red pepper flakes if you like a bit of spice. That’s all it takes and it’s ready to eat, and healthy, too.


2) Beans and More Beans Salad
Like any salad, you want to use a variety of color and textures. Choose solid beans, like black beans, butter beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, waxed beans, and the like for a nice mix of colors. Drain and rinse all the beans and put them in a big bowl. Now, you want to add some nice crunchy texture and more color. Be sure to add some sweet onion, or green onion with the tops, some beautiful chopped sweet red pepper, finely chopped celery, maybe some chives, a little parsley, dill perhaps, or whatever herb you have that sounds good, and top it all with a drizzle of a good vinaigrette dressing like Paul Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette. Give the salad a good, but gentle, toss so all the ingredients are distributed. This is a surprisingly easy and flavorful recipe and makes a really refreshing salad. Even the kids will enjoy this salad, which is great because it’s loaded with nutrition.


3) Under a Minute Black Beans and Taco Sauce
My daughter actually created this recipe and, although it may appear a little strange at first, it certainly has its merits and has made me a true believer in sometimes simple is best. You’ll need to drain and rinse your canned black beans, being sure they drain thoroughly and you don’t end up with water in your bowl. After your canned beans are rinsed, pour them into a bowl and simply top with any favorite taco sauce, like those little leftover ones we seem to accumulate from getting take-out. Mix the taco sauce in gently but thoroughly, give it a taste test, add more taco sauce if you like, and enjoy! You just have to trust me on this one. It makes a great side dish or after school snack, and is loaded with nutrients that you don’t get in a lot of other snacks. You can also use taco sauce you have in your refrigerator, or even a bit of salsa. Just don’t overdo the sauce. You want the flavor of the salsa or taco sauce to enhance, not overwhelm the black beans.


4) Black Bean and Celery Cottage Cheese Salad
Creating salads that use black beans is a great way to add another nutritional element to any meal. This salad is almost a meal in itself. Start by putting a 1 cup scoop of cottage cheese in a serving bowl, and sprinkle a little salt and freshly ground black pepper on top. Drain and rinse a can of black beans, being sure they drain well. Top the cottage cheese with about 1/2 cup of the black beans. Add about a handful of chopped celery on top and you have a great, crunchy, creamy lunch that’s packed with protein, calcium, iron, and fiber. Did I say this was almost a meal in itself? It IS a meal in itself!


5) Whatcha Got Black Bean Burrito
If you have a few staples in your pantry you can whip up this simple and nutritious burrito. You’ll need a flour or corn tortilla, heated if you like, placed on a plate. Drain and rinse your black beans thoroughly, then start building your burrito however you want with whatever you have in the kitchen. I add my black beans first, then some diced tomatoes, leftover rice if I have it, a little onion, lots of shredded cheddar cheese, a little sour cream or cottage cheese, some chopped parsley or cilantro if it’s in the refrigerator, some leftover fish is nice, and whatever else I have to use up. Depending on how my stash of leftovers is, I go a little heavier on the black beans and lighter on the other stuff. Then, sit down with your bottle of taco sauce or salsa, and enjoy!

These are just a few of the countless ways to enjoy cooking and serving the incredibly nutritious and inexpensive black bean. You can see why I’ve befriended black beans and added them to my pantry staples. The five meal ideas I’ve given here can easily be built upon to add your own personal flair and create black bean dishes that you can call your very own family favorites.

Please stop by often and share your own frugal ideas for living.

Be Creative With Halloween Decorations!

October 22, 2008 · Filed Under Being Frugal, Cheap Holiday Ideas · Comments Off on Be Creative With Halloween Decorations! 

by Jill Cooper

I just stepped outside and took a deep breath and then another one and another one. No I don’t have a breathing problem or anything. It’s just that for the first time in months, I don’t feel like I’m breathing in an aquarium. The air is crisp and cool and that means fall is here and the humidity is gone!

At one point in our lives, that would have been the signal for us to haul out boxes and sacks full of Halloween decorations and go to work. It would usually take us at least a month to put everything out. We were one of those families who would put out a “monstrous” (Ha!Ha! No pun intended) display. We literally had hundreds of people drive by our home just to see our decorations. It really was a lot of work, especially because back then you couldn’t really buy much to use for outside Halloween decorations. We had to use our imagination and make our own.

We like to have fun at Halloween and not scare the wits out of everyone, so we try to keep our decorations cute and funny looking. To us, Halloween is a time for children to dress up and for one night a year be what they always dreamed of being, whether it’s a fairy princess, a ballerina, Superman or even a robot. They get to be on the “stage” for one night to show everyone how beautiful, strong or funny they look. And to end a perfect night they get tons of candy, bags of candy and did I mention, a whole bunch of candy??

Here are some ideas of things we did to have a whole lot of fun for very little money. You can use these same basic principles for any holiday decorating.

1. You don’t have to have a lot of decorations for your display to look nice. I drive by one home every year and each season the owners put out one simple something. For example, in the summer they have one beautiful pot of flowers sitting on their porch. In the fall a pot of mums, for Halloween, one pumpkin with a smiley face and at Christmas one pretty lit up wreath on the door. It’s never a lot, but I always get pleasure when I drive by the place and see their one simple decoration.

2. We work all year buying things at garage sales or thrift stores for our decorations. We started out with about 25 plastic pumpkins to set out for a pumpkin patch. The next year we added another 50 and drilled holes in the bottoms so we could put lights in them. After a few years we had 200-300 of them that we had collected. We never paid more then 5-10 cents for them. If you want to have a big display, start small and just add a little bit more to your decorations each year.

3. Cute homemade decorations make Halloween fun! If you see something in a magazine or somewhere that you think is cute but too expensive, try to copy it and make it yourself:

* I saw a cute rake in a magazine that I loved. It was an old rake that had a few silk flowers tied on it and a sign that said “Free leaves, rake all you want.” I just happened to have a dead 50 year old rake in my shed I was going to throw away, so I pulled it out, found an old board and some paint (I could have used a marker too), painted on the words and tied on a couple of stray silk flowers that I had and voila! I had a cute rake and saved about $25.

* It takes nothing to stuff some old clothes with plastic bags and make a scarecrow family.

* If you are a little handy, put your talent to good use. My husband took and old metal trash can and motorized it so that the lid moved up and down and when it opened it popped out a Sylvester the cat.

4. We found decorations in unusual places. Once we went to the grocery store where they had a gigantic pumpkin. The thing was about 8-10 feet across. We asked the manager it they threw it out at the end of the season and he said no. We told him what we needed it for and discovered that he had seen our display and liked it. He said “Come by on Halloween morning and you can take it to use and then bring it back.” It doesn’t ever hurt to ask about anything. Most people aren’t mean and hateful, but are usually kind and helpful.

5. Get more bang for your buck. Buy things that have a big impact but cost little. A couple of bags of spider webs and plastic spiders can cover a lot of area and look “cool” but cost very little. I use spider webs for everything. They’re great to use to cover throw pillows for a party, put in your hair, hang on the lights or wrap around the handles of silverware. You just can’t have too much.

6. Use what you already have around the house.

* We were having a Halloween party and to add to the effect, we dug out some black sheets and covered all the furniture. It changed the whole look of the room.

* Another year, my husband found some 10 foot long, thin metal rods. We stuck them in the ground, added styrofoam wig heads to each one and hung some large pieces of sheer fabric I had gotten for free from a friend over the tops of the heads. Everyone loved them. The sheer material had a much more realistic see through look then just a sheet. At night, you couldn’t see the rod so it looked like these ghosts were floating 10 feet up in the air.

7. Start the day after Halloween to prepare for next year. If your kids get a bunch of plastic spiders when they go trick or treating, save them and add them to the decoration box. If your child dressed as a pumpkin this year, save the costume, stuff it next year and set it out with the decorations. Try to think of ways to incorporate any old costumes into your decorations.

To Roast or Not to Roast!

October 22, 2008 · Filed Under Frugal Meals · Comments Off on To Roast or Not to Roast! 

By Tawra Kellam

Peter Piper Picked a Profoundly Plump Pumpkin — Now What does he do with it?

Every fall I get many questions about what to do with pumpkins. Many people find curious fascination in imagining what it would be like to grow these versatile little gems, as if growing something that produces a large fruit is somehow more respectable than growing, say, a serrano pepper. Many people eventually venture into pumpkin experimentation. Some succeed and many fail. Much like a dog that chases a car, many people never give thought to what they would do if they actually succeeded in successfully raising a patch of these fall favorites. Whether you have found yourself with more pumpkins than you know what to do with or you are one of the people who had to buy pumpkins and duct tape them to the vine, these tips for roasting and using pumpkins are sure to help you make the most out of them (no matter how you acquired them)!

How to Roast a Pumpkin

You can only do this with a freshly carved pumpkin! Do not use on a pumpkin that has been carved and sitting out for several days. To bake a fresh 6 to 7 pound pumpkin, halve the pumpkin crosswise and scoop out the seeds and strings. Place halves, hollow side down, in a large baking pan covered with aluminum foil and add a little water. Bake, uncovered, at 375 for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until fork-tender. Remove. When cool, scrape pulp from shells and puree, a little at time, in food
processor or blender. Mix with a little salt.To freeze pumpkin puree. Put 1-2 cups in freezer bags along with spices and use in pies.

To use pumpkin puree for recipes: Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or a flour sack dish towel and let the pumpkin sit to drain out the extra moisture BEFORE cooking with it. Pumpkin is very moist, so in order for your recipe to come out correctly, you MUST strain it.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Boil seeds in water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Sprinkle with salt or seasoned salt. Place a thin layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 250 . Stir after 30 minutes. Bake ½-1 hour more or until crunchy.

*Squash seeds may also be used.

Pumpkin Smoothies

½ cup pumpkin
¾ cup milk or vanilla yogurt
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. brown sugar
4 ice cubes
whipped cream (optional)
sprinkles (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into 2-3 glasses. Serve with a small amount of whipped cream on top. You may also add orange sprinkles if you like. Serves 2-3.

Pumpkin Pancakes

2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 ¼ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. salt
½ cup nuts, chopped (optional)
½ cup pumpkin
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cups milk

Combine ingredients. Stir just until moistened; batter may be lumpy. Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat; brush lightly with vegetable oil. Pour ¼ cup batter onto hot griddle; cook until bubbles begin to burst. Turn and continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with Pumpkin Maple Sauce and nuts.

Pumpkin Maple Sauce

1 cup maple syrup
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1 ¼ cups pumpkin

Mix together until well blended.

Frighteningly Frugal Fun!

October 22, 2008 · Filed Under Being Frugal, Cheap Holiday Ideas · Comments Off on Frighteningly Frugal Fun! 

By Tawra Kellam

The average American family spends over $100 per year on Halloween goodies. As your kids drag you through aisles full of ghosts and goblins, the scariest thing about Halloween is threatening to leave bite marks in your pocketbook. No wonder so many moms flee screaming from the store… It can be much less expensive and a lot more fun to devise your own chilling creations. Here are a few tips that you can use to stave off the greenback gremlins and exercise your creative muscle. It won’t hurt a bit! These and other free frugal tips are available at http://www.LivingOnADime.com/.

Face Paint

1 tsp. corn starch
1/2 tsp. water
1/2 tsp. cold cream
food coloring

Mix all ingredients together in an old muffin pan and you are ready to paint. This amount makes one color.

Fake Wound

1 Tbsp Vaseline
cocoa powder

2-3 drops red food coloring Place Vaseline in a bowl. Add food coloring. Blend with a toothpick. Stir in a pinch of cocoa to make a darker blood color. Separate tissue. Using 1 layer, tear a 2×3 inch piece and place at wound site. Cover with petroleum jelly and mold into the shape of a wound. The center should be lower than the sides. Fill the center with the red petroleum jelly mixture. Sprinkle center with some cocoa. Sprinkle a little around the edges of the wound to make darker.

Fake Blood- Mix 2/3 cup white corn syrup, 1 tsp. red food coloring, 2-3 drops blue food coloring to darken and 1 squirt dish soap (helps blood to run well).

Abrasions -Dab brown, red and black eye shadow on area. Apply blood over area with cotton balls. Use comb to gently scratch area in one direction. Apply cocoa or dirt over wound with cotton balls.

Black Eye -Apply red and blue eye shadow to depressions around eyes.

Bruises-Rub red and blue shadow over bony area to simulate recent bruises.Blue and yellow eye shadow to create older bruises.

Look Old – Cover face with baby powder. Draw dark lines on your skin for wrinkles. Smooth edges to blend. Cover again with baby powder. Add baby powder to your hair to create gray hair.

Deviled Eyeballs- Make deviled eggs. Add a green olive with pimento in the center for an “eyeball”.

Radioactive Juice- Mix equal parts Mountain Dew and blue Kool-Aid

Toxic Juice- Add some green food coloring to lemonade for a spooky color!

Brains- Scramble eggs with some green, yellow and blue food coloring

Bloody Eyeballs- Boil cherry tomatoes 30 seconds. Allow to cool; then peel skin.

Goblin Hand- Freeze green Kool-Aid in a rubber or latex glove, float in punch.

Use the tape from old cassettes or black yarn to make spider webs.

Use cotton balls stretched out for small spider webs.

Glass Jack-o-Lantern- Outline a pumpkin face on a spaghetti or pickle jar with black paint. The paint around the outside of it with orange paint. Place a candle inside for a jack-o-lantern.

Halloween Guess It Game

In this game, you challenge the participants to reach into mystery boxes filled with creepy things and try to guess what each item is. The person with the most correct answers wins the game. An example is if you want them to guess “grapes”, you might try to confuse them by saying, “I think it’s eyeballs…”

Cut a hole in the top of a shoe box or laundry box for each item to be used. Cover the box with black spray paint. Decorate each box with pumpkins or spiders for a more festive flavor.

Place the following items inside, one per box. Be sure to place enough of each item so the guests can adequately “feel” the guts.

Eyeballs – grapes or peeled cherry tomatoes

Intestines- Cooked Spaghetti

Skin- oil a piece of plastic bag

Brains- scrambled eggs

Hair- an old clown wig

Bones- thoroughly washed chicken bones placed in some sand

Vomit-chunky salsa

Fingers-hot dogs cut into finger sized pieces

Teeth- corn nuts, pine nuts or popcorn

Have a Pumpkin Hunt

Hide mini pumpkins like you would Easter Eggs. Let the kids find and decorate them. For small children use glue sticks with construction paper cut-outs for decorations.

Edible Slime

Pour lime gelatin into a glass bowl. After it is partially set, add gummy worms. Chill until lightly set. Then serve slopped all over the plate.

Bloody Popcorn- Add red food color to melted butter and pour over popcorn.

Freeze gummy worms in ice cubes and add them to drinks. Cut gummy worms in half if needed.

Acres of Apples, Frugal to the Core

October 22, 2008 · Filed Under Frugal Meals · Comments Off on Acres of Apples, Frugal to the Core 

By Jill Cooper

I’ve always dreamed of having an apple tree in my back yard. You know the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for?” Now that I actually have my own apple tree, I stand in my yard watching the apples piling up around me thinking, “Oh no — What do I do with this mess now?” If I could make gasoline out of apples, I could retire, but since that is not an option and my frugal mind will not allow me to waste one apple, I have had to come up with some yummier “apple disposal” methods. If you find that you have a few dozen more apples than you know what to do with, these recipes from LivingOnADime.com will help settle your frugal dilemma.

Other Uses:

~When you have a partially eaten apple, save the good part and chop into pieces. Place in a microwave safe dish. Blend together 1 tsp. each brown sugar, flour, oatmeal and margarine and a dash of cinnamon. Top the apple with the topping and microwave until tender.
~Core and slice apples very thin. Dehydrate and use in granolas, eat alone or soften in warm water to use in recipes.
~Slice and use in Pancakes or waffles.
~Freeze. Peel, slice and core and then store in 2 cups portions in freezer bags.
~Use soft apples in cooking.
~Cut into small pieces and add to salads with a fruit based dressing.

Apple Butter

9 to 10 apples, cored, peeled and chopped
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/8 tsp. salt

Place everything into a crockpot. Stir, cover and cook on high 1 hour. Cook on low for 9-11 hours or until thick and dark brown. Stir occasionally. Uncover and cook on low 1 hour longer. Stir with whisk until smooth. Refrigerate or Freeze. Makes 2 pints.

Apple Pie Filling

9 cups baking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
5 cups water
2 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

Toss apples with lemon juice and set aside. Combine the rest of ingredients in Dutch oven and bring to a boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add apples and return to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until apples are tender (6-10 minutes). Cool for 30 minutes. Then ladle into freezer containers or bake immediately. Makes two 9-inch pies.

Fried Apples

4 large apples, cored and sliced
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Cut apples into 1/4 inch slices. Heat butter in a large skillet. Put the apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon in the skillet and cover. Over medium-low heat, cook apple slices 7-10 minutes or until they begin to soften and the syrup thickens. Serve coated with excess syrup on top. Serves 4.

Baked Apples

apples, cored
raisins (optional)
1 tsp. margarine
dash of cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1 Tbsp. honey or brown sugar
(These amounts are per apple.)

For each person use 1 apple. Fill the center of the apple with all the ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees until tender or put in a Dutch oven on top of stove and simmer on very low until tender.

Apple Snack

2 qts. apples, peeled, cored and halved

Coarsely grate apples. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 225 degrees until dry. Remove from cookie sheet and break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Apple Crisp

6 apples, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon and/or nutmeg
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange apples in well-greased baking dish. Blend all remaining ingredients except water. Spread evenly over top of apples. Pour water over the topping. Bake 45 minutes until apples are tender and top is crisp. Serves 6.

Peach Crisp

Use peaches in place of apples.

~When you have a partially eaten apple, save the good part and chop into pieces. Place in a microwave-safe dish. Blend together 1 tsp. each brown sugar, flour, oatmeal and margarine and a dash of cinnamon. Top the apple with the topping and microwave until tender.

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