Saturday, January 29, 2011

Frugal Giveaway!

Today, you get a bonus Frugal Tip AND a giveaway!

Whenever we stay at a hotel, I always collect the shampoos and soaps. Not because I'm a fan of hotel hair care but because there are good uses for them aside bailing you out when you forget your own personal care goodies at home.
1. My local soup kitchen welcomes the small-sized personal hygiene items for when homeless people come in to use the showers.

2. These soaps make for sweet-smelling bathroom cleaners. I squeeze some shampoo or conditioner into the toilet and grab a toilet brush to make quick work of a grimy bowl. I also use these hotel offerings to scrub my bathtub since I have this cringe reaction simply thinking about soaking my skin in a bath that has just been treated with Comet. (Yes, I know that's just me.)

3. These hotel sets are AWESOME for 72-hour kits and emergency kits! They're small and each bottle has just enough product to last 2-3 uses.
How would you use these? Could you use some in your emergency kits? Is it time to switch out your old ones? You're in luck...

** Giveaway! **

Below are three groupings of shampoo/conditioner/lotion/soaps. To enter this little giveaway, leave in the comments a frugal tip of any type that helps you save money and may help other women do so, too. Along with your suggestion, tell me which set you would rather win, if you have a preference. I will randomly select three winners to receive the hotel sets, but all who submit suggestions will be considered for future Frugal Friday posts.

Group 1:
2 sets
Bath & Body Works Aromatherapy,
each set includes shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and facial soap

Group 2:
3 sets!
Large set from The Spa at Green Valley Ranch,
includes shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body lotion, exfoliating oatmeal bath bar and aloe vera facial bar
The two smaller sets are La Source from Crabtree & Evelyn,
they include shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion

Group 3:
2 sets
"Purity: Basics" from Hampton Inn,
each set includes shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, body soap and facial soap

Three winners will get to add to their 72-hour kits! (Or clean their toilets on the cheap?)

All other frugal tips submitted will still be considered for future use on the blog. You may see your suggestion and your smiley face on a future Frugal Friday post!

Giveaway closes Thursday, February 3, 2011 at noon Mountain Time.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Frugal Friday: Rest Before the Hunt

We all instinctively know this tip. To tackle the grocery aisles (with or without children), you've got to go rested, confident, and with a plan. Today's tip is about the "rested" portion.

If you go shopping when you are tired, you will be less picky about your choices, you will be too tired to comparison shop, and you will buy things your body wants for the purpose of raising its energy. You know it's true.

Before grocery shopping, have a small snack, drink some cool water, and take a nap. If you're worried about sleeping too long, set a timer to wake you. If you can't sleep, lie down in a quiet, shaded place for 20-30 minutes. You will feel more sleepy immediately at the end of this rest time, but after a few minutes of moving around, you will have more energy than before you rested.

If you're still refusing to rest before going to the grocery store, you better plan on spending extra money. When it comes to shopping, being tired and spending more money go hand-in-hand like The Captain and Tenille.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It Will Oil Be Alright

The last two weeks were hard weeks. Have I been complaining a lot lately? Yes. Yes, I have. Don't worry, I'm scheduled for a mind tune-up soon.

Speaking of tune-ups...

One of the things that made things less fun the previous week was the dreaded "Check Engine" light. My husband was in Peru (no, he really was), therefore, the "Check Engine" light glowed a lonely glow while I ignored it and tended to my two little girls. I did not check the engine. By the time the kiddos were in bed each night, my brain was out like a light (a light that is not on, if there is any question).

Yesterday, my husband was motivated to take in the car for a check-up when I reported my drive home from the store was characterized by fun but unnatural jerking whenever I pressed on the accelerator. As I pulled into our garage, I suspected the large stain on the garage floor might be related. And, yep, the "Check Engine" light was still on.

The guy at the shop checked the engine. It was not there. OK, it was there, but it was hidden under black sludge. Had I checked the engine earlier, even *I* would have known something was terribly wrong, as everything under the hood had been hit by Exxon Valdez. Apparently, a couple gaskets had blown, and I had been driving around with Old (Oily) Faithful spouting his oily innards.

"No problem," said the mechanic. "We can fix it up, and the car will be just fine!"


"It will be around $1200."


Um... Yippee?

What would you do? For a lot of people, such news would be not only a car emergency but also a money emergency. Who the heck needs two emergencies like that at once?

Guess what? An Emergency Fund takes care of your money emergencies and, interestingly, also takes care of car emergencies! When something happens to the car, you are only inconvenienced, instead of devastated.


Emergencies of various types happen to all of us; they're not a matter of "ifs" but "whens". So, get going! If you do not have an Emergency Fund, start one and get it to $500 or $1000 as quickly as if you know an emergency is due in the next two months! Start an automatic deposit into a savings account, even if it is only $2 a week. Sell stuff. Get additional part-time work. You know how to find money, go find it! Now, this beginner Emergency Fund won't cover EVERYTHING that comes along, but it WILL buy you time later when you get about the business of eradicating any debt you have.

Let's go, let's go, let's go! The sooner you get on the path, the sooner you will be able to later beef up your Emergency Fund to cover most anything that comes your way. And won't that be a convenient thing to have when the storms roll in?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Frugal Friday: Birthday Clubs

When David and I lived in an apartment, we had an awesome couple as neighbors below us. During one of our evening hang-outs, we realized that three out of four of us shared a birthday month, and the other couple knew that a great ice cream shop nearby allowed free orders for customers visiting in their birthday month. As a cheap couples date, we went to the shop and all enjoyed our huge ice cream concoctions for free (except for my husband, who whined about paying for his own treat.)

Isn't it nice to get yourself a little treat now and then? Birthday clubs, people! They aren't just for kids! Just last week, I had another birthday (those things just keep on coming...), and on my way home from an appointment, I stopped at Baskin Robbins for a birthday ice cream scoop and later swung by IHOP to get a birthday meal to go. Both treats were absolutely free (except, for the $2 tip I left my IHOP server since he still did the same mount of work as if I had paid for my meal).

We all know there are a bazillion birthday clubs for kids. You can find them E.VERY.WHERE. For example,KMart sends your kid $5 birthday bucks to spend at the store, Burger King gives them a free kid's meal, and Olan Mills gives gets them a free photo package. However, most people forget there are still hundreds of birthday clubs out there for people of all ages. Some give outright free gifts and others give big breaks on their product or service cost.

Just ask in-store or look up the websites for some of your favorite stores and restaurants. Or you could simply google "birthday clubs" to find lists of businesses offering birthday gifts or discounts.

When signing up for birthday clubs, give yourself two to three months before your birthday to give businesses enough time to process your membership. I also suggest using an email address just for this type of stuff or creating an email filter to send all the emails into a special folder. Although these businesses do not sell your contact information, they still send you a lot of newsletters and offers throughout the year.

Here are a handful that give completely free gifts:

There are tons more of free tokens, depending on where you live, and tons (x2) for birthday discounts and bonuses. Most businesses will give you 2-4 weeks to celebrate your birthday with them, so don't worry about redeeming everything in one day.

This year, for your birthday, treat yourself to something special (and free)!

Monday, January 17, 2011

One More Word About Christmas

How much did you spend on Christmas? Was it too much? Was it too little? Did you put any of it on a credit card?

"Um, why are you asking me this? Christmas is sooo last year!"

While you're in the process of creating a new money plan, plan your Christmas. Choose an amount you would like to spend next Christmas (including gifts, decorations, lights on the house, cards, stamps, food, charities, travel, services, everything). Now, divide it by 12. That's how much you will set aside each month into a savings account you will label "Christmas Fund."

If you cannot save that much each month, then you have three options:
  • Re-think what you will spend on this year's Christmas.
  • Take on extra work or a second job to contribute to Christmas.
  • Cut down what you are spending elsewhere in your budget.
You can do this same thing for birthdays, tuitions, registrations, home/car maintenance, taxes, and anything else that you pay annually or at random times of the year. This technique will relieve lots of stress throughout the years.

Keep up the good work!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Year, New Money Plan

Have you got your budget set to start the year out right? January is a great time to renew your money plan!

There is a common misperception that budgets are restricting and suffocating, but the opposite is true. When budgets are used correctly, they are actually FREEING. Isn't it nice to know that everything you need is being taken care of? That there is enough money to be on the path you desire?

A budget does NOT tell you what to do.
A budget is YOU telling money what to do.

Say it aloud: "A budget is ME telling money what to do."

I am showing you my budget as an idea. Make yours in whatever format seems logical to you (and your spouse, if married).

David and I argued for the first few years of our marriage just on how our budget should LOOK. I am very visual; David is very wrong technical. I wanted a calendar I could print out and write on, a "picture" of when things were due or needed to be sent out. Dave hated it because it seemed disorganized and his brain could not make sense of it. He wanted a list on Excel and said something about writing "macros", and I hated it because I needed a "visual", not just numbers inside boxes.

Here is what we ended up with, and we both love it.

Yep! It's on Excel! I'm not too proud to admit his idea was better in the long run. I got tired of manually writing a new budget every month, and there were times I forgot to copy everything over. Notice it's not a long column though. I wanted to see everything on ONE page and in logical groups (or "pictures" for my mind). We blended what we wanted in a format that works for both of us.

You've got to use something that works for YOU, so don't copy my format if it looks confusing to you.

I won't go into details about this form in this post, but I LOOOOOVE that it tells me how much money is left as I type in numbers (which is awesome for ZERO-based budgeting [scroll down to section labeled "Zeroing Out"]).

If you’re starting from scratch, create a basic budgeting form:
1) All income is recorded. (Ours is in the box at top left.)
2) All expenses are recorded.
3) The Essentials are highlighted. (Ours are in green; if we had to drastically reduce costs, we’d be most concerned about covering the essentials.)

I have some extra features on my budget, which I may or may not go into detail later. Who cares anyway? For now, just get started!

January is the best time to get your money plan written out. If you want 2011 to be different, then YOU have to behave differently. Your plan doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get started!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Frugal Friday: Homemade Shopping Bags

(This tip will be familiar to those who have been following my personal blog for years. "Rags to Bags" was originally posted in August 2009; the following post is exactly as it was written in 2009.)

Despite all the random things I seem to try, this project surprised even me. It's a little out of character for me.

I took three of David's old T-shirts (with his permission), cut off the sleeves, cut the collar wider, then sewed up the bottoms of the shirts closed.

TAH-DAH! Reusable shopping bags!
(Re-use before you recycle!)

Of course, since Dave wears size XL, these are XL shopping bags, great for carrying 24-count packs of toilet paper and a dozen loaves of French bread. A size "Medium" is probably the best size for my shopping.

I stamped these shirts with the word "green." When the buzzword falls out of favor, then I will cut up a blue shirt and stamp it with the word "blue", and no one will be the wiser. ;)

I cut the neck on this yellow shirt a lot deeper than I would prefer because I couldn't bear to cut through the beloved phrase printed on the shirt. I then sewed the phrase onto the finished bag.

So as not to waste, you can use the sleeves to deck out your little elves.

I DID take the bags with me on my next shopping trip and -- heck yes-- I used them (to the confusion and inconvenience of my cashier) but --heck yeah-- I did it and --heck yeah-- I'll do it again. I found a surprise benefit to using these new old bags: They are really comfy to sling on my shoulder. I carried the groceries inside my house with comfort and ease.

Had I a group of tree-hugging, organic-shopping fashionistas for friends, I'd totally be cool. If only I hadn't stamped these bags with the paint made from dolphins...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


This week is crazy! Can't blame anyone but the person who keeps saying "yes" to everything. (Oh, hello, mirror!) Why do I keep doing that? I see something interesting, and I say, "Yes, I'll do that!"

Teach personal finance classes through the winter? "Yes, I'll do that!"

Accept twice as many registrants than the conference room can actually hold? "Come on in!"

Tromp through snow to ask business owners to let me use their offices for free? "Yes, I'll get my coat!"

Be an extra for the Church's New Testament projects? "OK, I'll do it!"

Schedule an audition to be a cast member even though I have no acting experience? "Sure, why not!"

Choose for the toddler a weekly "special" therapy program a few cities away rather than the "regular" program that meets in the same city? "Check! Check!"

Wake up and decide to enter my city's photography contest with entries due in 36 hours? "Well... OK!"

What I really want now is some good, restful sleep.

Sometimes, I forget I'm already a wife to a traveling husband, a mom to two little children, and a teacher in the Sunday School. It's like I've been pre-programmed to accept a certain amount of stress. When the stress levels lower, I add something to the mix to bring them back up to a predetermined setting. Do you ever do that? How do we stop doing that to ourselves?

Speaking of being programmed...

One of the funniest things I heard tonight was from a guy in the personal finance class (first night was tonight!) who was sharing a personal experience with bad investments. I am not making it up when I say he started his story in all seriousness with "There is this guy at work who is persuasive, really persuasive. Actually, he's a hypnotist..." He kept going with the investment details. I HAD to interrupt him.

"Wait-- were you joking about him being a hypnotist?"

"No. He really is." And he continued on for about a quarter second before being interrupted by hearty laughs.

My financial tip of the day is to never take a hypnotist at his word.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am now going to say "yes" to sleep.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Frugal Friday: A Handful of Color

As I was unpacking a shipment of children's clothes I received today, I remembered something (else) I learned as a (surprise) foster mom. The 6-year-old girl loved to dress herself; as we know, when kids dress themselves it can sometimes lead to gasp-you-are-not-going-to-school-like-that moments. I quickly figured out if I bought her clothes from a handful of coordinating colors, she could dress herself and minimize the damage.

Whenever I purchased her clothes, I bought pinks and purples (her favorite) and chocolates and blacks. These were her main colors; anything else in a different color had to coordinate or be of a similar shade strength as the main colors.

Does this make sense? I wish I knew the terminology to describe this. I intuitively know this, perhaps you do, too. If not, google to find blogs or websites that explain color wheels or ask a well-dressed friend what colors best suit you.

You can do this for husbands, too. Er, I mean adults. (wink wink) Buying from a handful of colors in similar shades or tones helps eliminate the "need" to buy a pair of pants to go with "that one shirt" that doesn't go with anything else the husband you own. You can also cut down on those harried mornings when you are trying to get out the door but half your wardrobe is still in the washer and what's left in the closet doesn't coordinate with each other.

For myself, I prefer browns, reds, and black. Splashes of hot pink and teal are my second-string color choices, which also coordinate well with my main colors.

For my toddler daughter, I choose a base wardrobe of pink and blues (purple obviously being a blend of the two) when I purchase clothes for her. This doesn't mean that she (or you) will get stuck in a color rut. Take for example my daughter's clothes in the photo.

Some other colors she can also use (such as in accompanying hat, scarf, belt or shoes) are black, dark brown, denim, whites, creams, and certain reds or pinks. And of course, I can get her a dress in any other color since it will most likely not be paired up with anything else in the closet.

I admit this tip is harder to apply with hand-me-downs that can come in a rainbow of colors, which we receive also, but it is not impossible. But definitely, when you're going to put a dollar toward your wardrobe, go for something that you will be able to match or mix well with most of your clothes. You will save hard-earned money, shopping time, and dressing frustration in the short and long run.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I am proud of myself.
Well, I wasn't originally proud, but my husband helped me get there.

There's a road in my little city that my husband and I use often to get almost anywhere. One day, as I was driving on this road, I realized that a vehicle parked near the road had been sitting there for a long time, months even. I immediately called my husband on my cell phone and asked if he had ever noticed this vehicle. He, too, had noticed, "Yeah- it's been there a long time. Kinda odd."

It was odd because it was a beautiful automobile that looked to be in great condition, and the interior was immaculately clean, but there were no license plates on it. On separate occasions, my husband and I left notes under the windshield wipers expressing interest in the vehicle.

The night before Christmas Eve, I found myself driving past the lot the car sat on and decided I was going to get that car. I stopped at the police station on the way home and asked if they knew anything about it. They did not. They also did not know if the land it was parked on was public or private, and they directed me to call the city. Being the end of the day before the holiday weekend, no one was at the city offices, but I left a voicemail message anyhow.

Surprisingly, someone returned my call the following Monday. They were not the correct contact but they had gone the extra mile and looked online for the information for me! I called the referred number and was told I needed to speak to someone else, who then told me I needed to speak to someone else, who referred me to county land records. After guesstimating which property on the map actually held the car, I found the name of the owner of the property. I googled and found their home phone number and address on the internet (along with other interesting information about the person, including their income.) (Slightly disturbing, right?) I called the phone number and the landowner turned out to be a relative of the vehicle owner.

I'm telling you all this so you can see I was bound and determined to acquire this car.

I left my phone number and the car owner called me the following morning. Yes, he was interested in selling the vehicle! After some back-and-forth calls and my researching the vehicle online, he offered an AWESOME hot deal! I was so excited. I set up an appointment to drive the car and lined up a mechanic to check out the vehicle at the same time that early evening.

Fifteen minutes before the time to leave for the appointment, I felt a little tug in the back of my mind. I didn't completely shrug it away, but I did not give it much attention since I was hurrying to get the kids ready to leave for this test drive. There was another gentle tug. And then, through my mind ran a couple pointers discussed in my personal finance class.

In a moment of pause, I finally spoke these thoughts to my husband. He didn't really have any feedback, as he was just following my lead, but he did reassure me about calling the seller to express my newly-realized concern.

This was my concern. We had a few thousand dollars in our car fund, but the seller's awesome price was still thousands higher. And while we had those extra thousands, they would have had to come out of our Emergency Fund. (You know, the account to cover emergencies.) (Did you know a car is not an emergency when you already have one that runs?)(Also, did you know we have two cars that run?)

From past experience, I remembered that when I take money out of our Emergency Fund for non-emergencies, I get a pit in my stomach that doesn't go away until the Emergency Fund has been brought back up to at least 4 months' worth of living expenses.

Have you ever justified getting something a little more expensive than you intended just because it was such a good deal? Ever dip into some other account to get an it's-such-a-great-deal-we've-gotta-get-it deal? Have you ever had buyer's remorse?

I called the seller and told him that while his asking price was extremely awesome (Have I mentioned it was AWESOME?), it was still several thousands higher than I had intended to spend when I began tracking him down. I went so far as telling him the price I originally had in mind and asked how far he was willing to meet me. In the end, he went down a few more hundreds, but it still did not make up for the amount I was not willing to yank from the Emergency Fund. I decided to decline the offer. I left the relationship open though by letting him know I would call him if his vehicle was still out on the lot a month or two later; I asked him to give me a call if ever he changed his mind on the price.

When I hung up the phone, I knew I did the right thing for our family, but I felt an emotional let-down. I sat quietly in a corner of the loft with the cell phone resting on my leg. That's when my husband came in and told me he was proud of me. While he was impressed with my resourcefulness in tracking down a random stranger, what he admired most about me was my restraint.

I'd like to say I was instantly cured of my pout as I rested in his embrace.

This afternoon, I logged into my online savings account where the majority of our Emergency Fund is kept. I was looking for banking information when my eye was caught by the balance on our Emergency Fund. I looked at it and realized that four days ago, I would have cut it down by almost 40% if I had purchased that awesome deal of a car. The car would have been great, but it would not have been great enough to squelch the uneasiness in my stomach over having to replace such a big portion of the Emergency Fund. Who is to know what kind of emergency will show up and when? Emergencies don't generally wait until we're ready for them.

Have you ever bought something just because it was such an awesome deal you just HAD to take advantage of it? I understand that feeling. But I am also understanding a "great deal" isn't a great deal if we give up something more important for it. Are we willing to give up adding to a safety savings account? Are we willing to give up peace of mind to take advantage of "a great deal"? Are we willing to put off retirement or socking away money for college so we can wear, drive, or do something exciting and new? Regardless of how great a deal something is, it always -ALWAYS- means that money cannot then go to something else. Is the "something else" more important or less important?

A few days after dropping the deal, I finally appreciate restraint. But it didn't happen until I took a moment to look at and appreciate the thing I had gained instead of replaying in my head the thing I gave up. The excitement of the deal and the purchase are long gone and I am grateful we still have our family's financial safety net. There will always be great deals out there of different sorts; we cannot allow the percentage discount be the only deciding factor in our purchasing or investment decisions. And we must always trust that there will be a great deal again when the season is right.