Category Archives: Frugality

Frugal Gift Wrap Ideas

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.

sixfrugalgiftwrap

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!

Continue reading

Free Ways to Organize Your Stuff

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…

Anyone else have this problem?Free Ways to Organize Your Stuff

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.

I confess- I’m not too good at keeping up on stuff and I’m not a natural-born homemaker. Surprise me by showing up at my house any given day and you’ll see what I mean.

Bottom line: I am sorely unqualified to give you any cleaning or organization advice. I stink at it. I need help.

However, I am working towards creating solutions that actually help me to function better on a daily basis. To me, that’s the best part of having a clean house.

Note: The less stuff you have, the less monstrous the stuff monster seems. Clearing out makes organizing a lot easier. Try this minimalist challenge if you’re looking for a fun way to kick-start your purging. I could stand to do it every month.

My husband, Tim, soulmate and amazing man that he is, has a mean organization game and can make a room really nice if given the time to work on it. One of my hubby’s trademarks is to re-purpose free things. What he can’t find for free, he DIY’s as cheaply as possible.

This also applies to our attempts at containing the stuff monster. I’ll show you some of the ways Tim created storage and organization solutions out of things that we already had laying around our house. You may not have all of the same things available, but hopefully this list can serve as inspiration for your own home.

I’m going to focus primarily on kid’s stuff, since that’s one of our biggest clutter culprits. However, a lot of ideas in this post could be used in any area that needs a little extra help!

Without further ado, here are some cheap or free ways to organize All the Things. (Note: Pictures are from our play/school room, and I did NOT do any special cleaning for these photos. Keeping it real, man.)

Baskets & bins: You know all those cube shelves and corresponding boxy baskets? They’re kind of pricey, aren’t they? Thankfully, you can fit things into baskets and bins of varying sizes. You are not limited to a cube. 😉 Here are some free or cheap alternatives:

  • Thrift store baskets
  • Homemade crates out from scrap wood or pallets.
  • Re-purposed wooden bins, plastic crates, wire baskets, or any other container you can find.

In fact, it doesn’t have to be anything special. As long as it holds things, then you can dress it up as a storage basket.

IMG_0060

Thrift store basket & old crates from my dad at the kids’ desk.

IMG_0058

A wire basket inherited from my grandpa holds toys.

Cabinets & Shelving

Instead of buying special new cabinets for your toys, look for ways to re-purpose old furniture. Could you use a side-of-the-road bookshelf or TV cabinet for storage? How about turning a yard sale dresser into toy drawers? An old desk with drawers could become a child’s crafting supply storage and work space. Lots can be done with a little creativity.

Using an old kitchen cupboard o organize kids' stuff

Side of the road kitchen cupboards serve as storage cabinets for our kids’ stuff.

Storage Caddies & Containers

Who says you need specialty caddies to organize the little things? Here’s some of what we use to keep the small stuff contained.

  • Old tins
  • Oatmeal containers
  • An old ammo box
  • A mini-filing cabinet
  • Wooden or metal trays (We like to re-use the wooden display cases from Melissa & Doug toys- like this one.)

IMG_0068

A filing cabinet holding dress-up clothes.

IMG_0063

A wall-mounted, homemade little box holds papers above the kids’ desk for easy access.

Shelving: You could buy cheap-o shelf units, but if you have access to tools you can build your own custom shelves. My husband took advantage of a little nook between our chimney and the wall to build a shelving unit for our music books.

IMG_0069

(Sorry for the blurry photo…)

Hanging Up: Snag a pack of Command hanging strips and double your walls as art and storage space. My hubby has hung up a whiteboard, an ukulele, and a gigantic book with these things. For a few bucks, it gets the stuff off the ground and up where everyone can see it and enjoy it.

IMG_0065

The kids’ reading and writing station. Cause who needs a perfectly white white board?

There’s lots of ways to organize things for free. What do you like to use? Share your genius in the comments!

P.S. Follow me on Instagram for a February decluttering challenge!

For more organization ideas in a variety of areas, check out these posts:

How to Get Organized and Save Money from Ever Change Productions
Ordering Seeds, Stay Organized from Little Sprouts Learning
Organizing Tips for the Unorganized from Home Again, Jiggity Jig!
How to Organize Your Life When You Are Not from The Peculiar Treasure Blog

9 Ways (and counting…) to Save Money on Organic Food

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?

Nine Ways to Save Money on Organics

 

Photo Credit

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 MarketThink 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!

 

How I Afford Being a Stay at Home Mom

Pssst… before you start reading, 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. 

How to Afford Being a Stay at Home Parent

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.

kidsandabi

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. 🙂

Like what you’re reading? Make sure to subscribe via email for homestead ideas, freebies, and deals! 

Thirty Free Ways to Enjoy Christmas

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.

30 Free Ways to Enjoy Christmas

Continue reading

Let’s Just Make Do

Let's just make do.

Photo Credit

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?

Do we really need the fancy stuff?

 

 

The Emergency Food Fund

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?

The 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.

radishchips

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?

 

 

11 Frugal Ways to Clothe Your Family

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.

Eleven frugal ways to clothe your family

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. Two of my favorite online consignment shops are Thred Up, which focuses on women’s and kid’s clothing, and Twice, which focuses mainly on women’s clothing.

Each of these sites also offer an awesome referral program, which I get to pass on to you! Click this link for $10 to use at Thred Up, or this link for $10 to use at Twice. 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.)

Jvdressedup(The kids dressed up in hand-me downs for a concert.)

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.

maternitydress(Sorry for the bad bathroom selfie.)

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.

dressing on the cheap

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. 😉

 

 

 

How I Cut My Phone Bill in Half

About two years ago, I was straight up angry at my phone provider. While Verizon Wireless may be the largest mobile network in the nation, I was also paying an arm and a leg to make my calls with them.

How I Cut My Phone Bill in Half!I always loved my basic phones (I kind of prided myself on being backwards), but Verizon was phasing out the number of available “dumb” phones, and the ones that were left were of sub-par quality- to say the least. So not only was I paying a lot, I was paying a lot for a phone that was a piece of junk without any real features to speak of.

How much was I paying? My husband and I were part of a family plan (along with a couple other members), and we were paying about $100/month for two phones with texting plans. That was IT. No data, no fancy bells and whistles. All those little extra fees and taxes really added up.

I checked out AT&T (not much cheaper), T-Mobile (no coverage), and Sprint (limited coverage). I checked out a couple of small alternative companies like Republic Wireless, but none of them covered my area either. We’re not entirely in the boonies, but even the all-powerful Verizon couldn’t completely cover our patchy spots out in the rural hills near our home. I was trapped paying a ridiculous bill to the only company that gave me any real cell coverage to speak of.

That why I was all ears when a friend told me about Ting– a new mobile provider that she had recently switched to and fallen in love with. I did a lot of research, bravely made the switch (even opting to pay a fee to cancel my contract with Verizon), and haven’t looked back since.

The result? I’ve gone from paying $100/month for two basic phones to paying $54/month on average for two smart phones. And I’m not shy about my usage. What’s more, Ting is currently offering $100 to new users to try their service, which means that you can roll that money right into your potential savings.

(BTW, this post includes referral links, like that one above. But I would recommend Ting even if they didn’t have a stellar referral program, because they’re just that great.)

It’s not just the cost that’s convincing- it’s also the company’s ideals. I pulled this quote from Ting’s website to share:

“What people are forced to put up with from mobile service providers just doesn’t make sense. It’s too complicated, too opaque, too adversarial, too expensive and frankly too inhuman. We’re changing that.” – Elliot Noss, CEO

June 2015 011So what’s the big deal about Ting?

1) The payment system is different- and fair. Instead of paying for a contracted amount of minutes/message/data, you pay only for what you use each month. (How novel!) You pay $6/month per phone line, then simply pay for whatever minute/data/message usage you happen to make. Usage costs are bracketed off into different sized “buckets.” E.g., the small minutes bucket (1-100 minutes) is $3, the medium (101-500) is $9, the large (501-100) is $18, etc. The rates for all types of usage are very reasonable- and it’s sure nice not to have to pay for unlimited everything when you just don’t use unlimited everything.

2) What about overages? Unlike other companies, Ting’s overage prices don’t skyrocket. Even if I go above the extra large bucket in data usage (2000 MB, $29), the extra usage is only 1.5 cents per megabyte. That works out to be $7/500 extra MG. Not too shabby.

Still want to stay within a certain budget? The nice part about Ting is that you can choose a usage limit in advance. Say I don’t want to go over 1000 texts/month. I can request a warning when I’m approaching that limit. And if I so choose, I can even ask them to turn off my texting abilities once I’ve reached it.

And you know something else exciting? There have been a few times I’ve gone just a little over my certain bucket usage. And Ting- get this- are you ready?- rounds your usage DOWN instead of up. What other company have you found who doesn’t jump at the chance to charge you a little extra?

3) Can I use WIFI for my usage needs? Yes! If you’re running off of WIFI for calls, texting, or data, it’s all free. In fact, that’s a big reason why I switched to a smart phone on Ting. I could use the Google voice app for free calls and texting, or Facetime with my friends who also have iPhones. I just access the wireless network in our house or at a store, and it doesn’t cost a cent.

4) How does coverage work? Ting now has both GSM and CMDA coverage- meaning that they now have more coverage options than they used to have! You can check your device’s network compatibility on Ting’s website (under “coverage”) and choose which option works best in your area. With my phone, I run off of Sprint’s CMDA network with free roaming to all other network coverage for calls and texting. Works for me. (FYI, free data roaming is not currently available.)

How is my coverage personally? I have a few patchy spots, but it is mostly very good. You must remember though, I had patchy spots with Verizon too. (The number one network for speed, reliability, and coverage. Yup.) That’s just what happens out where I live, and so far no network has it perfect. My friend’s husband, however, tested Ting while driving across the desert in Nevada, and had no problems.

5) What are my device options? Ting does not offer subsidized phones. That’s one downside to offering awesome rates in other areas. But, many devices are already compatible with Ting! You can check your device’s compatibility here if you want to bring your own.

Ting also has a shop of new, used, and refurbished devices that can be purchased quite reasonably. Make sure you keep reading to find out how to get $100 off the cost of your device (or of your service if you bring your own device) to try Ting.

6) How is Ting’s customer service? Excellent. In fact, when you call Ting, you will find no automated menu options or long waiting times. The phone rings once or twice, and a real person picks up right away to answer your questions. Don’t feel like calling? If you email, you will likely receive a helpful response within an hour or two. It makes everything so much easier- and more pleasant- when you don’t have to try to chase down the right person after talking to 50 robots first.

7) Are they trustworthy? YES! This is what I love about Ting- they are transparent. They’re a relatively new company, so they are always working on improving their services- and they keep their customers informed on the positive changes they are working on. If for any reason you don’t like their service, there are no contracts to wiggle out of. There are no hidden fees. There is no twisting your arm to buy more than you want.

Is Ting right for you? It depends on your area and your usage habits. If you really LIVE on your phone, maybe you want to pay through the nose for a plan that has unlimited everything. But if you’re like me and you want more autonomy in where your monthly phone money goes- and you don’t want to have to pay for what you’re not using- then you should give Ting a try.

If you want $100 off the cost of a device with Ting (or $100 off your first bills if you bring your own device), click here and sign up by June 8th, 2015. If you miss that deadline, you can still get a $50 credit by using the same referral link.

I love this phone company and what they stand for. I love that they save me money. I love that they are trying to “fix” the mobile industry with honesty, fair prices, and personal service. If I’m going to be paying anyone, I want it to be someone like this.

This post contains referral links. That means when you sign up and get $100- or $50- off your bill with Ting, I get money off my bill too. Thank you in advance for supporting my efforts with this blog!

Post linked up at Frugal Family Linky.

When Spending Less Became Less Glamorous

There’s this ugly gloating monster inside of me that loves to tell people how comfortably we can live on a low income. Yup, we’re near the poverty line. Yup, we’re homeowners. Yessiree, we eat organic food and don’t break the bank doing it, because- get this- we grow it ourselves! Sure, I can my produce- it’s how we survive. Mmmhmm, we paid for our kids’ births ourselves and cloth diapered and breastfed and we all wear hand-me-downs and we’re doing just fine, thank you very much.

It’s funny how frugality can become an idol. The lowest spender deserves a prize, right? It’s like a contest- who can get by on the least money without any help? Don’t get me wrong- I am all for frugal, prudent living. But it can quickly become a source of pride if you’re not careful.

When Spending Less Became Less GlamorousGod must have decided I needed a piece of humble pie a couple of years ago. It was the spring I was pregnant with my daughter, when Tim had only one year of grad school left. When we sat down to rework our budget and the painful reality set in:

We couldn’t make it on the money we were bringing in.

I checked and double checked it. We kept coming up a thousand or two short. I didn’t know what else we could cut. We already didn’t have TV service, we are smart shoppers, my clothing budget is practically zero, we grow a lot of our food, and we needed internet service so Tim could finish his degree.

He almost quit grad school, because he felt like maybe the money wasn’t worth having the degree. But he was SO close, and we had already invested thousands in this thing, and you only have so much time to complete your credits before the ones you already have become null and void.

We never do this- purposefully go ahead with something we feel we can’t afford- but we decided he needed to just finish the degree.

There went the dreams I had of not having to drive a half hour to teach every week. The hope of taking our kids for ice cream on the spur of the moment. The desire to let J have private piano lessons or go to camp in the summer or attend art class all the time with the middle class families.

Suddenly, I found myself compulsively hanging laundry on the line so that I wouldn’t spend the money on running the dryer. I would ask Tim to fire up the mud oven so I wouldn’t be paying to run our electric oven. I literally thanked God for the vegetables from the garden as I picked them. This was the summer I learned to bake sourdough. It was when I really took interest in foraging & my husband’s desire to fish (with a $1 lure and a broken pole). I needed all the free food I could get.

That summer, I wore my newborn baby as I canned the produce that came in from the garden. I had my mom and friends come over to help watch the kids so I could continue storing all the food that would get us through. Anything we needed for the garden or home was purchased second hand, traded for labor, or gifted to us. Any meals offered after my daughter’s birth or invitations to dinner were gratefully accepted.

That was the year we didn’t eat out much at all. It was the year I started writing drafts for this blog, in hopes that I could turn a long-time hobby into a business that would allow me to work from home while being with my kids. It was the year I was painfully conscious of our bank account.

I don’t know how it happened- maybe I picked up a couple extra students, maybe I saved enough on grocery bills, maybe we had enough people who helped us at the right time- but somehow, we never came short. We never had to worry. Everything always worked out- and we were still able to pay our midwife, still able to live with heat in the house, still had plenty of food on the table.

It’s funny- once we really needed to be frugal, it stopped being a game to see who could spend the least. I started getting quieter about my pride, because the whole thing was- frankly- a little embarrassing. Frugality wasn’t a choice then- it was a necessity, and it’s not exactly cool to keep turning down your friends on fun activities because you don’t have the money to join them.

But it also taught me to be more grateful. More hard-working. Less judgmental. A little bit quieter about my mad frugal skills. (Though now that we’re doing alright, it’s still easy to forget that sometimes. Me and my big mouth.) And more thankful for my sweet family.

familtphoto6I know that God provided what we needed to get us through, and I hope I don’t ever forget that.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers  of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” –Matthew 6:25-34, Net Bible.