This post from the archives is meant to encourage us ALL to find free ways to organize our stuff. It’s something I am still working on, and I have the feeling I’ll constantly be working on it throughout my life- especially my life with young kids! If you are anything like me, read on. Perhaps we can help each other.
The stuff monster lives at my house.
The stuff monster likes to scatter itself all over my living room floor and pile itself behind cabinets. It likes to stack up high on top of desks and counter tops. It has a sweet way of convincing me that no, I don’t need to put it in its proper place right now. It can always wait til tomorrow… or the next day… or the next…
Honestly, I don’t CARE all that much about having a perfect house. However, what bothers me is how much stress the clutter creates and how much time I devote to dealing with it. I have animals & kids to feed, homeschool to accomplish, and music to practice. Ain’t nobody got time to wade through piles of junk all day long.
Lunch. You’ve got that hour in the day when some of you work and some of you are home. There’s not really time to cook it. It’s not ever really convenient. But, regardless, most of us get hungry for it. Plus, for some strange reason, even if you send your kids off to school, they still have to eat during the day. Here is the compelling financial reason why you should try packing lunch instead of buying it.
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Have you heard of a no-spend month? Participants may have varying opinions of the ideal length and degree of financial restraint required, but the idea is basically the same across the board. A no-spend month is essentially a month in which you spend no more than absolutely necessary.
“No-spend month” is, perhaps, a misnomer, because there is really spending taking place. After all, your mortgage or rent can’t go unpaid. You’ve still got to eat. And what about the regular expenses of gas, heat, electric, etc?
It is for these reasons that I say a no-spend month is one in which you spend no more than absolutely necessary. You kick into penny-pinching mode, and you know you can do it because it’s only for a short time period.
Brown paper packages tied up with strings- these are a few of my favorite things! For real. I love frugal gift wrap that is both unpretentious and pretty.
I hate that wrapping a present can often cost just as much as (or sometimes more than!) the gift itself. I cringe every time I actually have to buy something to wrap up a gift. Beyond the cost, the amount of waste that gift wrap creates is incredible- anybody else have 2 or 3 kitchen garbage bags of wrapping paper to throw out after its short-lived purpose was fulfilled?
For the past few years, we started looking for other ways to wrap our gifts. We stared finding free gift wrap all over the place by using recycled and/or reusable material. Here are some ideas for you to try!
This post has been updated to (hopefully) give you real-foodists even more helpful ideas to save money. 🙂 It contains affiliate links- that means if you make a purchase through a link, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks so much for your amazing support.
Love buying organic but hate the price? I feel the same way. I cringe when I see a sticker that’s double, sometimes even triple the price of conventional food. However, I still feel it’s very important to avoid pesticides and GMOs as much as is possible within my limited budget. So what’s a girl to do?
We’ve all heard about buying the dirty dozen organic and buying the rest conventional. Helpful, yes. But what if I could do better than that? Here are some other ways to get your organic for less:
1) Check for markdowns. My local health food store has a basket of marked down organic produce at the end of the aisle. Once I scored organic pink lady apples for $0.49/lb, 6 oz. of organic pre-sliced portabella mushrooms for $0.99, and organic broccoli sprouts for $0.99. Slightly blemished or less fresh produce can save you big. Also, check the meat aisle for cuts close to their “use/freeze by” dates. I’ve gotten organic, grass-fed ground beef for less than conventional beef this way. Just be willing to be flexible with your meal planning in order to make the most of your discounted finds.
2) Compare local farmers. Farmer’s markets can go either way. Sometimes the price is jacked up, and sometimes it’s very reasonable. However, it’s entirely possible to buy quality food for less from an individual than from a grocery store. For example, I’ve bought my organic pastured chicken eggs for $3.00/dozen from a local lady rather than the standard $5.00+.
3) Look for “organic practices.” When shopping from a farm stand, you can always ask about their practices. Some farmers don’t use pesticides but aren’t certified organic yet. Consider all aspects of crop management: pesticide usage, GMO’s, crop rotation, soil management, etc. You can often get a more affordable product that is still much healthier than conventional.
4) Buy in bulk. Buy a 1/4 of an organic, grassfed cow to put in the deep freezer for the year. It will definitely save you cost per lb. Or purchase a whole bushel of organic apples and can them or store them for winter use.
5) Consider an organic CSA program. Community Supported Agriculture boxes are getting more and more popular. Basically, you buy into a season’s worth of produce from a local farm at a discounted price for buying in advance. Most CSA programs also require you to put in a work commitment at the farm as part of your payment. This can be a fun and educational process for families who care about knowing where their food comes from.
6) Check big box stores. Okay, so I’m all for shopping local. I really am! But sometimes the prices of organic food are ridiculously high at a specialty health food store. If I just can’t afford it, I’m willing to look around. Oftentimes, you can find at least some organic variety at big name stores, such as Walmart, Target, or Costco.
I like Wegman’s because they offer a good compromise: Wegman’s often features local famers’ produce at a much lower price than small stores, and they also carry store-brand organics. This can really cut the bill down considerably. I’ll often buy the bulk of my organic produce at Wegman’s, then stop by our small businesses to pick up a few favorites- eggs, locally brewed kombucha, or a special treat. (And no, this isn’t sponsored. I just genuinely enjoy shopping there.)
UPDATE: Since birthing a third child, the 35 minute drive to Wegman’s is something I can only work myself up to do once every few months. I’m mostly back to shopping at the smaller closer stores and getting what organic produce I can there. We have also bought laying chickens and learned how to make kombucha, so I no longer need to procure eggs & booch. 😉
7) Check discount stores. We have an area discount grocery store that offers tons of organic options on average at 40-60% off. It’s worth checking if you have one nearby.
8) Try a membership site like Thrive Market. Think of applying a Sam’s Club membership principle to specialty organic products, and you’ve got the idea of Thrive. I don’t buy from them frequently because I make so many things from scratch (so I don’t usually need pre-made organic tomato sauce), but for the things I do need (natural laundry and dish soap that actually work, for example), I’ve found Thrive to be less expensive than other discount sites like Amazon. I tend to place a bulk order every few months to fetch those things that are hard to find elsewhere.
9) Grow your own. I have to say, this one is my favorite. Know where your food comes from, take pleasure in the work of it, learn something while you’re at it, help restore the earth and your mini-ecosystem, and save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year. A few years back, for my family of 3 (at the time), I only spent about $30/wk at the grocery store all summer long because of our productive garden. Sound appealing? (Keep your eyes out for when this summit becomes free again! We’ve found it full of very helpful information.)
UPDATE: Besides gardening, we’ve also found raising animals to be a valuable part of reducing our grocery bill. As mentioned before, our laying hens give us organic, free range eggs at a fraction of the price of similar store-bought eggs. Our goat gives us delicious raw milk and the cost of her feed is less than keeping a cat (though whether or not we’ve saved money on her overall is debatable). We are also hoping to be able to process more of our own meat in the coming year.
How do you save on organics? What’s the best deal you’ve gotten? Share in the comments!
Pssst… before you start reading this stay at home mom post, you should know that this isn’t supposed to be a “Mommy War” post! If you work outside of the home, I don’t judge you in the least. I also know that some families are dealing with extenuating circumstances- like being a single parent, or facing real financial hardships. This post is not a criticism of you or your situation. It is simply meant to be helpful to parents who want to stay home with their kids, even in the face of a limited budget.
When I was pregnant with my first, I worked at a day care. I really enjoyed and came to love the kids I had in my room. We had a special relationship- I was their teacher that they came to trust, and they were my little munchkins who I was to protect, care for, and guide. I worked hard to give them a good foundation in life and to prepare them for kindergarten.
When it came time for me to go on maternity leave, I had to make the decision whether or not I would come back after the baby. This was no easy task. I loved the kiddos in my room. I wanted to be there for them and see them grow up and head off into school. And though he wouldn’t be in the same classroom, I would likely be able to bring my son to work with me. It appeared to be an almost ideal situation.
And yet, there was part of me that really wanted to just be home with my own kids, in my own living room, without having to tend to several other children as well. In hindsight, this seemed like an especially sacred and desirable experience to have with my first child. I knew nobody would love him as much as I would. I didn’t want to have the pressure of getting up and out to work every day. I wanted to be able to enjoy him, and to be the first to see his developmental milestones.
In the end, I decided to quit my day care job, and only continue with teaching private voice lessons one evening a week. Since then, I’ve picked up more teaching and become a little more of a work-at-home mom. However, for several years I only worked four hours a week.
You can imagine the obvious financial challenges this brought about. We went from being a two-income family (though not rich!) working at lightning speed to pay off debt and save up for a house, to being a one-income, near poverty-level family trying to make the best of life. While my one-night-a-week teaching brought in a little extra cash, it wasn’t much to write home about.
Yet, looking back, it was definitely the right decision for us at the time. I needed time with my son, and the time to transition to motherhood. (I didn’t adjust nearly as well as I thought I would.) It was worth every penny that I didn’t bring in to become a stay at home mom.
During this time, many people told me they “wished they could afford to do that.” I almost laughed. Like we could?!? (I think they thought I had a rich husband and a house cleaner and I could stay home with my feet up.) Other people asked me how we were managing to make it happen.
I’m writing this post not to guilt you into giving up every worldly pleasure and convenience to stay home with your kids. Rather, I’m writing it to share what helped make it possible for me to be a SAHM- even without a good salary to back us up. I hope it might encourage someone who wants to stay home, but doesn’t think it’s financially possible.
Here’s how I afford being a stay-at-home mom:
- We spend less than we make. It sounds basic, but I am constantly surprised by how frequently people make purchases that they can’t really afford. If you can only just barely afford the mortgage or the car payment, then you can’t really afford it. Better to only make purchases that you are confident you can comfortably pay for than to strap yourself to a bill you’ll be regretting later.
- We put any extra cash into paying off debt. Even if you only have $25 extra, put it on your bills instead of eating out. You may be surprised how those little bits of extra money can work to put a dent in your payments. I also love the concept of snowballing your debt payments. By putting nearly all of our extra income on our debt, we were able to pay off $25,000 in less than three years, and we are now debt-free except for a modest mortgage. Though things are much tighter now with three kids, we still try to put extra cash on our mortgage payments whenever possible.
- We keep our living expenses low. When we were renting, we would look for the absolute lowest rent we could possibly find in a good neighborhood. This meant at one point we lived in a tiny tin can trailer to help save money to buy a house. When we bought our house, we went for one that was about $300/month less than we could technically afford so we wouldn’t be struggling to make payments. If you can, choose to lower your living expenses (even if it means moving) so you have more wiggle room in your budget.
- We make purchases carefully. I have to say, it’s a pain to not just buy the thing I want. Picking a “new” pair of pants for us means a carefully calculated, deliberate search through the aisles of Salvation Army. Shopping for a home recording device means digging through reviews and sale prices for hours before spending $150. Granted, we’re slower than most people- but it sure stops us from impulse spending.
- We make it our job to save money. Why pay $4 for bread that I can make myself for pennies? We almost always try to make quality food ourselves for much less than we could buy it. My husband works hard to do any home improvement and/or car repairs himself in order to save us money- even if he has to take some time to learn how to do it first. Time is money, they say, and we choose to spend the time more often than we do the cash.
- Nearly everything we own is used. I can barely bring myself to spend any money on new things, so I dress us on the cheap with mostly used clothes. Our cars are used. Our furniture is used. Our chimney cap is used. Even the materials for our chicken coop are used. You get the idea.
- We live without extras. Going out to eat just isn’t in our budget, so we usually rely on gift cards for date nights. I make my coffee at home and don’t buy lattes anymore. We don’t have TV, and our internet is the lowest speed possible. We haven’t been to the movies in over four years. (Why spend the money on tickets when there’s Amazon Prime and free libraries?)
These are the basic principles we live by. Obviously, your specific situation may look different. However, if you’re willing to think outside the box a bit and get creative with the ways you reduce spending, you may find that you actually are able to afford staying home with your kids.
My new project as the kids are getting older and the bills are increasing is to make the work at home mom thing work for me. More on this another time. 🙂
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Photo credit: Icarus Image. Used with permission.
I am made increasingly ill each passing year by all the consumerism that comes hand-in-hand with Christmas. There’s too much plastic stuff we don’t need, a spirit of I-must-have-it-all-and-then-some, and far more spending than is necessary. While I enjoy the gift giving itself, I am downright sick of the commercial craze. Why can’t we find free ways to enjoy Christmas?
Ideally, I would spend my December enjoying the season instead of worrying about gift giving and receiving. I would love to just be content to read Christmas stories, cook festive meals, decorate the tree, and sing carols.
I’m not against a gift exchange at all! I do love a sweet small exchange of meaningful gifts among family or close friends. However, I don’t like how easy it is to fall prey to excessive spending each Christmas season- and how much the gift buying can take our focus off of what’s more important.
I pull into the outdoor shopping mall to meet my friend for lunch. I park my 18 year old van with the sheet metal patched over a formerly rusty hole next to some shiny new SUV I don’t take the time to recognize. I walk inside the restaurant and see the leggings, boots, and designer handbags adorning the women in line. I’m swimming through a crowded sea of perfume and name brands and chai tea. I spot some possibly vegan yogis who look gorgeous despite their recent workout.
I’m keenly aware of the raggedy gape in the knee of my left pants leg, the worn-out Birkenstocks I’ve had for years, and the circus of juggling spit up, screaming, and strollers. My family is anything but trendy at the moment, and I feel hot and unkempt in my one-size too big puffy coat. I manage to survive the meal with a minimum of dropped food and temper tantrums and make it back to the car in one piece.
I’m know quite well that everything I own is either old, second hand, or half-worn out. Most of the time I don’t mind at all. In fact, I’m often rather proud of the fact that I don’t need your fancy watchamacallit that will make me prettier, smarter, or more put-together, thank you very much.
But sometimes (only sometimes) I wish I could just afford the dark coat that fits well and has a secret pocket on the inside. Sometimes I wish my car wasn’t from two decades ago. Sometimes I wish I could invite a stranger to my house without apologizing for the torn brown and yellow 70’s linoleum that doesn’t match the blue 50’s boomerang pattern on the countertop. Sometimes I wish I could go to work in clothes that I actually bought from a store and weren’t passed down to me– you know, the ones that fit well, and that don’t have tiny holes or stains.
Ah, first world problems.
Sure, it would be nice to have the boots, the tech, the new gadget and the car that drives like I’m really somebody going someplace important. My house might make friends feel more comfortable if I had, say, a furniture set. Or a dining room table. Life would certainly be more pleasant if my children looked more like a baby Gap poster and less like a hoard of monkeys.
But think about it. Wouldn’t that be awful if that was what I spent my whole life yearning after?
When I catch myself wishing that I could just have a little bit nicer stuff, I get disgusted with it all. Why is it so important to us as a culture to look good? What is with our obsession to have just a little bit more stuff, to make our lives a little bit fancier, a little bit more convenient?
I may not be able to afford clothes I really love, but I have a closet full of clothing appropriate for various social situations. I may not have the beautiful coat that fits perfectly, but I have four–count them– four coats that I could wear out at any given time. I have shoes, I have reliable transportation, and I have a comfortable roof over my head. Am I really that bad off?
Let’s take a step back from all this consumerism and envy and keeping up with the Jones’s. Can we just make do with what we have?
Most of us are familiar with the concept of building an emergency fund for when finances get tough. But what about an emergency food fund?
Now, I’m not talking about building a store of canned goods for a natural disaster or for survivalist prepping (not today, anyway). While there’s good reason to discuss that, I want to address a much more common occurrence. What about having food sources in place for when you’re short on cash?
We have had to rely on our garden and our food stores more than once when our finances were looking grim. The nice part about having homegrown food sources available is that your grocery budget can be a flexible expense. Sure, you may want to have certain ingredients in the pantry, but if you can’t afford it, at least you have lots of other food options available to you.
I don’t think most Americans think this way. There’s food stamps and WIC available for when you get into trouble, right? I don’t begrudge anyone who truly needs government assistance (we are on government insurance because of our income level), but I personally don’t like the idea of taking more than we need from government programs.
And of course there’s credit cards. If your financial dry period is just temporary, why not just swipe now and think about it later? Why can’t a credit card serve as your emergency fund? I personally really don’t like the idea of having to pay off our food bills later in life- with interest. It makes me squirmy to think of deferring payment for something that is here and gone so quickly.
Basically, we feel that if we can grow and source our own backyard food, why shouldn’t we? If we have learned the skills to do it ourselves, then why not be self-sufficient in that area? Why rely on someone else for something that you can do yourself?
(I know that not everyone is immediately able to do this. I am not criticizing you. At one point, we didn’t have permission to dig up our landlord’s yard for a garden, and I didn’t know how to can, and I bought everything we ate. I get it! I’m just encouraging you to consider this type of preparation as an option if you have the ability to do so.)
You don’t have to have a large garden or lots of land available to you in order to prepare your own emergency food fund. Here are some ideas to help you build a stash for when times get tough.
1) Buy store-bought canned goods ahead. When times are good or if you spy a great sale, buy a stash of non-perishables to keep in your pantry. Focus on the most nutrition for your buck- beans, vegetables, canned fruit without added sugar, rice- you want to be able to stretch your dollar when you don’t have that many to spend.
2) Learn a preservation method. Arm yourself with knowledge. You can learn how to water-bath can, pressure can, dehydrate, ferment, vacuum seal, salt, or smoke. I don’t have all of these under my belt yet, but we try to add a new skill every few months. Even preparing vegetables and meals for the freezer is better than nothing, so long as you use them before they get past their prime.
3) Buy bulk produce. Late summer and fall is the perfect time to stock up on fresh, delicious vegetables and fruits from your local farms and markets. You’ll get better prices than at the grocery store, and better quality food, too. Once you have the produce, go exercise one of the preservation methods you learned.
4) Start a ground or container garden. Start small and add a little each year to your home garden. We began with a few tomato plants, and have now ended up with one large main bed and several smaller beds scattered across our property. I would guess it provides at least half of our total produce needs year-round- and more when we don’t have the money to be picky about it.
5) Learn to hunt, trap, or fish. My hubby fishes regularly in the warm months, and we freeze his catches to eat year round. About a $30 investment in a license and a trout sticker gives us a good return in healthy protein. Of course, these skills can become expensive when you are constantly buying equipment for them. See what you can get for free or used to ensure that the meat actually pays itself off- otherwise you negate the point.
5) Raise your own meat or protein. We have laying hens and a milk goat. The chickens provide us eggs for breakfast and cooking, and the goat provides us all we need in milk, yogurt, and cheese. We haven’t specifically raised meat animals yet, but we may at some point in the future. (UPDATE: We since have taken on raising meat rabbits and butcher the occasional chicken.)
Learning one of these above skills not only provides you with healthy, frugal food sources, it also helps to prepare you for when times get tough. There have been several times when money was tight that we’ve said, “Well- we won’t starve, anyway.” And it is a real blessing to know that our family can still eat healthy food without us having to go to the store for it.
How do you plan for your food needs when money is short?
I’m often surprised when I look at budgeting worksheets to find clothing as a regular category. People actually budget to buy clothing?I guess normal people do- but maybe I’m not normal. 😉 Our clothing budget has almost always been zero.
Bear in mind that I am not fancy, and I’m home with the kids most days. However, even jeans can be expensive, and mine wear out quickly from being on my knees a lot. My husband’s work clothes wear out about 10x faster than mine, as he is usually doing about 10x more hard labor than I am.
However, I do still need some professional clothing for teaching, performing, and at least something semi-presentable for church. My husband needs dress shirts and pants for his middle school gig. The kids can go about in pretty much anything, but I also find that they’re the easiest to clothe for free.
Today I’m going to give you some ideas for clothing your family on very little money. Some ideas will work for you better than others depending on your job and age of your children. That’s okay- just take what works and leave what doesn’t.
1) Thrift Shops- Some folks would never in their life buy something from a thrift store. But me? Salvation Army is one of the first places I check. I’ve scored like-new dress pants for each of us for as little as $2. My husband got a down-filled Structure winter coat for $3 once. Our kids have gotten many pairs of shoes in nice condition that last them through the season, all for a much lower cost than buying them new.
2) Consignment stores– Often, you can find clothing that costs slightly more than a thrift store, but is also in like-new condition at your local consignment shops. Added bonus? You can consign your old clothing while you’re there to get a little extra cash in your pocket.
3) Online Consignment- I’ve found some great deals and freebies on spectacular clothing in perfect shape by searching online. My favorite online consignment shop is Thred Up, which focuses on women’s and kid’s clothing.
Thred up also offers an awesome referral program, which I get to pass on to you! Click this link for $10 to use at Thred Up. No additional purchase necessary. You’re welcome.
4) Accept used clothing. My kids are clothed in about 90% used clothing, often in near-perfect shape in reputable brands. Carters, Baby Gap, Ralph Lauren… they’re stylin’, and I haven’t paid for any of it. Where to find used clothing for free? Friends with older kids, church communities, cousins, even random acquaintances. I’ve had SO many people offer me free kids’ clothing that I often have to turn them down- simply because I’m out of room. Usually, if you make your need known, someone out there has an outgrown something-or-other that they would happily pass on. (And then you can pass on the favor when your kids outgrow them too.)
5) Shop yard sales. I’ve found nice winter jackets and brand new kids clothes (with the tags still on) for a dollar or two a piece. It’s hit or miss, but it doesn’t hurt to look.
6) Host a clothing swap. My favorite idea. Gather a bunch of friends in varying sizes, and have everyone clean out their closet and bring what’s still in good condition. Categorize items (either by size or style), and you can all “shop” each others’ stashes. I got some nice jeans, shirts, a dress, and cute sandals this way. Don’t want to make it an official event? Just trade clothes with a friend who is the same size for a wardrobe refresher.
7) Smart shopping– When all else fails, don’t hit retail stores planning to pay full price. Come armed with coupons, gift cards, sale flyers, etc. Check the clearance section. I got myself a cute maternity dress for $14 instead of $35 because of an old gift card and a sale.
8) Take freebies. Much like accepting used clothing, we also accept free t-shirts for working in. We have a lot of free event t-shirts that we may or may not really care about- which is perfect for when my husband is tearing apart the porch or when I’m spraying goat milk on myself. (This applies more if you’re doing a lot of outdoor work/cooking/physical labor where you can’t really wear nice clothing. If you regularly go from office to kitchen-freshly-cleaned-by-the-housekeeper, you may or may not have a need for this category.)
9) Wait to buy it. The biggest way to save money on clothing? Just walk away for a while before you buy something. If you’re still daydreaming of that beautiful sundress a week later, then either give yourself permission to buy it- or reevaluate your priorities. (Just kidding. Sort of. 🙂 ) Before you buy, ask yourself:
- Do I really need this?
- Do I have an item at home that’s similar?
- How frequently would I wear this?
- What else could I spend this money on?
I’m not trying to be a damper on everyone’s fun, but when saving money is a priority, it’s good to ask yourself realistically if it’s a true necessity before you splurge.
10) Repair what you have. It doesn’t take much to sew a button back onto pants, stitch up an open seam, or patch the knees on your toddlers’ pants. Few of us repair our clothing these days. However, before a time of so much excess, clothing repair was an absolutely necessary skill. Consider a few simple repairs with a sewing kit before tossing a worn-out piece.
11) Keep what you have longer. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Take care of what you have. I’ve had dressy clothes that last for years because I just don’t update. If you can still swing it, keep wearing it.
A word on teenagers: Some people say that their teens are difficult to clothe inexpensively- and this may be true, depending on their preferences. Not yet being the mother of a teen and having no idea what I’m talking about, I would encourage them to look at saving money on clothing as a fun challenge.
See if they can find a unique piece that’s just their style at a thrift store. See who can find the lowest price on Aeropostale jeans at the consignment shop. (Or wherever kids think it’s cool to shop these days.) See if they like the idea of hunting for a cute designer dress on Thred Up instead of buying retail (where all their friends are buying the same old, same old). See where I’m going with this? It may or may not work for you, but it’s worth a shot.
By clothing my family in this way, I probably spend less than $50-$75 a year on clothing for all of us. I know I’m a cheapskate and not everyone would be happy with getting dressed this way, but probably most people could find something on this list that would help to save them a bit of money.
What’s your top tip for saving money on clothing? Leave it in the comments below.
This post contains a referral link. That means if you use my link for a free $10 gift card, I get a free $10 too. We both win. Thanks in advance for helping to keep us dressed. 😉