The #1 Way to Save Hundreds Every Christmas

The #1 Way to Save Hundreds Every Christmas

Saving money on Christmas isn’t always easy, but with this little “trick” you can save your family hundreds of dollars (and no, it doesn’t involve buying gifts ahead of time or doing a savings plan all year long!)

The Best Way to Save Money at Christmas

Save money on Christmas by implementing this one smart trick that can literally save you hundreds of dollars, even after the holiday season!

This is actually something you can implement all year long, but goodness knows saving money around the holidays is exceptionally important.

First, make sure you’ve signed up for Rakuten. If you don’t yet have an account, sign up via my referral link and you’ll earn an automatic $10. That’s right, step one of this post and you’re already $10 ahead!!

Not sure what Rakuten is? Check out what happened to Ebates!

Next, sign up for an account with Raise. Raise is a website through which you can buy and sell gift cards. Meaning not only can you pick up gift cards at a discounted price, but if Aunt Helen sends you a gift card you’ll never use, you can sell it and use the money toward something else!

Raise is also great in that if you know you’ll shop somewhere on a regular basis (like a specific gas station) you can buy a higher priced gift card and save even more! When you sign up through my Raise referral, you’ll also get $5 off your first purchase. Yep,. that’s right – we’re now $15 ahead!

So now we’re going to use both of these platforms together and really make some magic.

For this purchase, let’s assume your kid has been buggin’ you all year long for a bear from Build-A-Bear – what a perfect gift for Christmas Eve cuddles!

Assuming you’re new to both, here’s how your first purchase could break down:

  1. First, go through Rakuten to Raise so you’ll earn 1%+ back on your purchase.
  2. Search for “Build-A-Bear” and you’ll see gift cards selling at a 24% discount.
  3. Snag a $25 gift card for $19.
  4. Already, you’ve saved $6, but remember you also earned $15 by signing up for Rakuten and Raise.
  5. Oooh but it doesn’t stop there! You’ll earn earn 1% back from your Raise purchase and around 3% back should you make your Build-A-Bear purchase through Rakuten online (only .94 cents, but hey those pennies add up quick!)

Earning with Rakuten + Raise

So your final total?

$19 spent, $21.94 earned.

Yes, you’re reading that right – you just made money while buying your daughter’s Build-A-Bear!!

Now obviously after that first purchase, you won’t have that extra $15 to count on, but even without it, you’d still only be out $18.06 instead of the $25 you would’ve spent without this trick. So on just one present, you’ve saved nearly $7! And while this process might seem just a bit tedious at first, once you see those savings stacking up, you’ll be happy to spend the extra minute earning back money from your holiday shopping!

Be sure to leave me a comment below to let me know what YOU’LL be saving money on this year!

 

 

12 Must Know Thanksgiving Prep Tips

12 Must Know Thanksgiving Prep Tips

On the hunt for some Thanksgiving Day hacks? You’ve come to the right place!

You can save time on Thanksgiving Day preparations (and any holiday) by implementing a few of these quick tips that I myself use every year. After all, the holidays should be about spending time with your family, not your oven.

Thanksgiving Day Time Savers

Cook sweet potatoes quickly

Microwave your sweet potatoes to save time and stove top space. Just poke with a fork a few times, wrap in a wet (not soaked) paper towel, and microwave 5-7 minutes. For a quick and delicious dessert option, you can then slice open, top with marshmallows, and stick in your broiler for 30 seconds.

Make mashed potatoes faster

Use Yukon Gold potatoes and leave the skin on. Then turn the potato vertical and use your apple slicer to cut them beforehand so they cook faster! Just like with apples, you’ll want to make sure you cut an end off so it sits flat on your board.

If your children (or significant other) insist on skinless mashed potatoes, boil them whole and the skin will rub off. Just stick them in an ice bath and let them cool down first! Second-degree burns do not make for a fun Thanksgiving.

mashed potatoes

And with potatoes, comes the gravy!

Okay to be honest – I really hate gravy. Lookin’ at me, you can tell there’s not much I won’t eat, but gravy? Mmm nope! That said, I know most folks love it, so if your family feels gravy is a must, put it in a thermos so it’s off your stove and out of the way but still stays warm.  Then you can pour into a gravy boat just before serving.

Make room in the fridge

Clear out the dressings and condiments and store them in an ice-filled cooler in the garage. This will also help ensure they don’t get lost in the crowded fridge when it’s finally time to eat!

Pre-Cut Veggies VS Cutting Them Yourself

Weigh the cost of prep time versus the cost of buying pre-cut and cleaned ingredients from your grocery store’s salad bar. Sometimes the cost of letting someone else do it is worth it! This can go for a lot of different parts of your meal, not just veggies.

Like Niki from Toots Mom is Tired says: “I always bring something store bought to the family Thanksgiving dinners. Someone has to bring the Hawaiian rolls. That person is me. I’ve also been known to pick up pies, cookies, and veggie trays. I like homemade food, but I’m aware of my own limits (skill-wise and time-wise) when it comes to cooking.”

Print out your recipes

Don’t risk destroying your tablet as you swipe through various recipes. Print out what you need and use painter’s tape to secure to cabinet at eye-level. Better yet, tape them up in the order you plan to cook and use post-it notes in between if there’s something that needs to be done prior to starting a recipe (like preheating the oven or boiling water).

Sarah from IHeartFrugal.com knows what I mean – “When I’m cooking, I always make a detailed meal planning list. This saves me from having to run back to the store where I will waste time and spend more by throwing unnecessary items in my cart. I also have some make-ahead recipes I whip up the day before so I can concentrate on cooking the turkey the day of. Cooking can be a lot of work, but if you are prepared you will save time and money!”

pretend recipe card for thanksgiving day time saver

Fix overcooked turkey

Did your bird cook just a little too long? Moisten your turkey meat slices by drizzling a bit of warm chicken broth over them prior to serving.

Have a houseful of guests coming that love to “help”?

Have tasks planned ahead of time for those that just insist on assisting. Child-wrangling, table setting, hors d’oeuvres serving, and wine glass filling are all great options to keep people busy and out of your way. While it might a bit more prep work, having a fun but easy craft ready is also a nice way to keep everyone occupied while you finish up the prep work.

Put your slow cookers to use (borrow if you need to)!

Figure out how much space you’ll need for prep work and then use whatever you have left to lay out those crockpots. There’s countless delicious dishes you can make and it’s so nice to just set it and forget it. Check out this Black Friday hack to see how I score slow cookers every year for FREE!

Skip the Mixer

This one comes from Tony of Fit2Father.com – “Wear latex gloves to mix by hand without getting yourself and your sink covered in food (plus bare hands in food is pretty gross!)” This is especially great for easily creaming together butter and sugar if you’re making cookies.

Soften butter easily

Forget to take your butter out prior to sitting down to dinner? Heat up a drinking glass by running warm water over it or by putting it in the microwave for a few seconds then place it upside-down, over the butter. The butter soften quickly and will now be the right consistency to easily cut and spread.

Don’t forget dessert!

If you plan to bake cookies, bake them ahead of time and keep them moist with apples! Store them in Tupperware along with an apple wedge and the cookies will draw in moisture from the apple, ensuring they taste fresh from the oven once your guests arrive. If you are storing them for more than 24 hours, replace the wedge daily.

Thanksgiving Day shouldn’t be a time of chaos, so hopefully with these quick tips you’re able to enjoy the day and spend time with the ones you love. 

If you want even more time savers, check out my post on Holiday Hacks!

And if you have any of your own time saver hacks, please be sure to comment with ’em below!

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Candy Free Trick-or-Treat Idea

Candy Free Trick-or-Treat Idea

Many children have food allergies so trick-or-treating can be…well, tricky.

So this year why not skip the candy altogether and make something super fun for the kiddos? This is also a great project if you have children in school who need to bring in goodies for their class.

Skip the candy this year and give away monster kits instead! DIY idea for trick-or-treaters that doesn't include food, great for The Teal Pumpkin Project! Candy-free trick-or-treat idea for Halloween, great for class or party favors. Fun Halloween project to do with your kids.

Last year we made these for my son’s preschool class and on the note at the top, I included a link to this website. Some may see this as shameless promotion but hey! There’s quality stuff here and why not use this as an opportunity to not just share a fun craft, but share more parenting and frugal living ideas.

So without further ado, I present to you…

The Candy-Free Trick-or-Treat Monster Kit

monster kit halloween trick or treat

What You’ll Need for the Monster Kit:

Note: Most of the components are linked to the exact products I bought for mine from Amazon. Clicking through to make a purchase may earn me a small commission, but this in no way impacts my recommendation of these products or the cost to you.

Total cost per kit: $.59

In each baggie, put a can of Play-Doh, 2-4 puff balls, a few googly eyes, and a pipecleaner (you can either fold and put in a whole one, or cut one in half to fit).

Staple the bag shut and then put the label over the staples – this helps people understand what exactly this goodie bag is while also keeping fingers safe from potentially pointy staples.

I then used packing tape to seal the label so that they wouldn’t tear when put in a bag with other trick-or-treat Halloween goodies.

Candy free trick or treat idea

You can even enlist the help your little ones as you assemble these, though I can’t promise they won’t get distracted and start making monsters themselves.

halloween monster making kit

While this may cost a bit more than your usual giant bag of candy, it’s a lot more and the leftovers won’t cause you to put on 5lbs!

And don’t forget to grab your free resources from The Teal Pumpkin Project! The Teal Pumpkin Project is a way for families to let trick-or-treaters know that they have non-food treats available. This is such a kind way to ensure those with food allergies or other conditions are included in the Halloween fun!

What was your favorite thing to get when trick-or-treating?

Comment below and let me know!

 

15 Tips to Save Time on Holiday Prep

15 Tips to Save Time on Holiday Prep

Saving time during the holiday season doesn’t always seem to be a priority for some – it’s a lot of “rush rush rush” and “oooh I can’t wait for (this day)!!”

What we need to remember, though, is that saving time during the holiday season is of the utmost importance, as our hours should be spent relaxing with family, not sweating in a kitchen or stressing over entertaining house guests.

Disclosure: The links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Thanksgiving hacks! Save time whenever you entertain house guests by utilizing these creative tips on saving time when celebrating the holidays.

One of the very first posts I wrote for this site was on Thanksgiving Day Time Savers and today I present you with fifteen more tips on how to save yourself time during the holiday season –

Holiday Time Saver #1: Invest in Coffee Carafes


This is one I’ve talked about before in a post on Weird Ways to Save Money as it’s something we actually do on a regular basis, not just the holidays!

Coffee (or hot chocolate, cider, etc) are great for chilly winter gatherings, but the need for heat can be tricky – you either have to leave something plugged in and turned on, or use the microwave to reheat each time someone wants a cup. A good coffee carafe is relatively inexpensive and will save you time by allowing you to make big batches of your favorite warm drink in advance and store it hot for hours.

You can also make use of leftover coffee this way. By pouring what you don’t use into the carafe, you can keep it warm for the next day without wasting half a pot (like we used to in my house). Since it never cools completely, you don’t get that stale, microwaved coffee taste and you’ll be surprised at how much money you save by not tossing leftover coffee!

Holiday Time Saver #2: Make Your Cookie Dough Ahead of Time

If you love the smell of freshly baked cookies but simply don’t expect to have the time on the day of your party, mix up a big batch of cookie dough and roll it into a tube on wax paper. Cover it up and place it in your fridge, and then on the morning of, slice and bake! Homemade yumminess without the stress!

Holiday Time Saver #3: Label Your Serving Platters

Take the time a few days before the dinner to sort out your serving platters and put a post-it or some other label on each, corresponding to the food that will be on them. This way you know where everything is going to sit when you serve it and you don’t run the risk of scrambling at the last minute to find “one more” serving dish.

Holiday Time Saver #4: Chill Your Impromptu Wines in No Time

Wine chiller..or sonic screwdriver?

When guests bring their favorite wines to the party, often waiting for a delicious white to cool to a palatable temperature can be a long time investment. Rather, get a metal skewer that would fit inside of a wine bottle and keep it in your freezer (or invest in one purposefully meant for chilling wine!). When you pop the cork on the fresh bottle, put the skewer in the bottom and put the cork back. It will help chill the wine much faster than simply popping it in the fridge.

Holiday Time Saver #5: Measure Once, Cook Once

Prior to the big day, get your recipes together and measure out, store, and label dry ingredients, cut vegetables and meat, and prepare dough for rolls, sweets, and crusts. Doing all of this ahead of time will make a HUGE difference in time spent on the actual day of cooking (plus you can pretend you’re on a cooking show, where everything is already magically set for you! Surely I’m not the only one who does this…right?)

Holiday Time Saver #6: Prepare Crockpot Meals (Way) In Advance

Depending on what you’re making, certain crockpot recipes are great to measure, cut, and store in the freezer until the day-of. I make a delicious fall squash soup, for instance, that is a simple matter of dicing, slicing, and freezing, until it’s time to dump it all in the slow cooker to set and forget.

Holiday Time Saver #7: Never Fear Warm Beer

If your guests are more the beer-drinking types, use an old bartender trick to ensure any beer is chilled when served. Spray down your beer glasses with water and then toss them in the freezer. The thin layer of water will quickly freeze, creating frosty receptacles for your bubbly brewed beverages.

Holiday Time Saver #8: De-stuff The Bird

I know it seems like stuffing in the bird is a holiday staple, but it increases the cooking time of the turkey, which increases the risk of food-borne illness and runs the potential of drying out the meat. Opt instead to make the stuffing outside in a separate container; you’ll be glad you did (and so will any vegetarian friends who stop by!)

Holiday Time Saver #9: Use An Ironing Board For Extra Counter Space!


Just like it sounds, an ironing board makes a great temporary island if your house is short on counter space.

Holiday Time Saver #10: Don’t Turn Down Help

If someone asks if you need anything, don’t be afraid to say YESSSS!! Ask them to bring a dish you know will be easy for them to prep, preferably in a disposable container you won’t have to remember to return.

Holiday Time Saver #11: Write Out A Schedule

We’re not talking a simple “to-do” list here; in advance, write up a very specific schedule for prepping, storing, plating, serving, and cleaning-up. It will help keep your wasted time down to a minimum and it can also aid in directing any extra help you’ll have to where they’re needed most.

Holiday Time Saver #12: Invest In An Extra Folding Table

Versatile and useful outside of holiday situations, an extra folding table can help you prepare for unexpected guests, or to set up a buffet for your meal, rather than serving everything in courses. These are also nice to have on hand if you want to hold a successful garage sale in the summer!

Holiday Time Saver #13: Keep The Kids Occupied By Having Them Design Placemats

Little ones always want to help but it’s not always helpful. Give them a fun activity that requires minimal supervision/clean-up, like asking them to design the place mats for each guest. This way you’re keeping them out of the way but still making sure they know they’re an important part of the gathering.

Holiday Time Saver #14: Sharpen Your Cutlery Ahead Of Time

Whether you have them professionally sharpened or simply do it yourself, make sure all of your knives are ready to go for the day of the dinner. Not only do sharpened knives better ensure less frustration as you try to slice and dice, but dull knives can result in you slicing and dicing a finger. Let’s avoid injuries this year, mkay, Uncle John?

Holiday Time Saver #15: Prepare For Optimal Storage     

Carving the turkey up at the table is a tradition for some, but if you slice it up ahead of time, your hungry guests likely won’t complain, and this will save you time when you go to put it away after the meal (and you can always utilize tip #7 from my original Turkey Day Time Savers article). In addition, having planned storage containers out and ready to go when you’re done eating is a good way to ensure everything has a place and that putting food away takes minimal time.

The key here is to remember that the holidays should be a time to savor a wonderful meal with the people you care about most, not an event to leave you stressed over entertaining guests; the more time you save in preparation/clean-up, the more time you get to actually enjoy with them!

Will you be entertaining this holiday season? Comment below with YOUR best tip!

Emergency Fund – How to Start from Nothing

Emergency Fund – How to Start from Nothing

How much do you have in your emergency fund? $100? $500? Or are you reading this thinking “Emergency fund? Yeah right!” Finding ways to create a savings account shouldn’t be overwhelming. I’ve got some tips and tricks to putting a little bit of cash aside so you can begin developing the emergency savings you need.

Disclosures: The links in this post may contain affiliate links through which I can receive a small commission at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

What is an Emergency Fund?

An emergency savings is just how it sounds – funds that have been set aside to be used only in the event of an emergency. These emergencies can range everywhere from losing your job, crashing your car, or an unexpected illness that leaves you with outrageous medical bills.

It is impossible to be ready for any emergency that comes your way, but one of the best things you can do for yourself and your credit is to create an emergency fund to bail you out of any unforgiving financial situations.

If you’ve seen how I create a budget, you know that we don’t have a lot of wiggle room. Between daycare costs, student loans, mortgage – it’s hard not to live paycheck to paycheck!

When we bought our house in 2014, we obliterated our savings and then some. Despite a thorough inspection and a supposed HUD-regulated appraisal, we ran into a few issues shortly after moving in and had to pay for repairs with a credit card. A year later and $276 in interest later, I’m happy(ish) to say we’ve paid that off and no longer hold any credit card debt. If we’d had an emergency fund, though, we could have used that $276 as an additional payment on our mortgage or car loan, thereby saving us not just the $276, but whatever interest was charged on that payment that was never made.

Why a Credit Card is NOT a Savings

A credit card can be great if you use it properly. Because we do so much of our household shopping through Amazon Prime, we have an Amazon.com Rewards VISA. It’s great because we earn 3% on anything bought through Amazon plus 1-2% on everything else. We even got a $50 gift card when we signed up! The trick is making sure that we only use it on things we already have the cash for. This way we can immediately pay it off once the bill comes but we still earn cash back that we can put towards future purchases. I love going to check out on Amazon and spending next to nothing because of how quickly the rewards stack up!

Notice, though, that I said we only use our credit card when we already have the cash to pay it off. Whether you have the cash tucked away in the bank or you have the freedom to pull it out of a paycheck, the only time a credit card is a reliable option is if you absolutely have a way to pay it off. It is not an option as an emergency fund.If you use your credit card as a way to get yourself out of an emergency, how will you pay it when that bill comes due? For particularly expensive emergencies, that bill could sit on the credit card for months, or even years, before it is paid off and then you’re looking at hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in interest!

The interest on credit cards can be high, and as you continue to go months and months without being able to pay your debt off, the interest will only continue to grow. If you can’t afford the emergency in the first place, you definitely can’t afford to pay more in interest than you expected. Continuously avoiding paying down credit card debt will also negatively impact your credit. If your credit score gets too low, you will have a difficult time should you need a car loan, money for college, or you want to buy a house. Emergencies are unavoidable, but you don’t want to make one worse by giving it the power to ruin the rest of your life financially.

Why Having an Emergency Fund is a Must

If you’re already living thrifty, you may think you don’t have enough cash to set aside for an emergency fund. I know, I’ve been there. When you’ve created your budget and you’ve got every penny accounted for, it’s easy to say “I KNOW I can’t afford to save…” but truthfully, you can’t afford not to.

It’s frustrating, I know. You know your finances and they already feel stretched to their limits. You may want to click away now, angry that I should so presumptuous as to say you have to start an emergency fund. But, please, stick with me for just another minute.

Any money you can save, even if it’s just $5 a week for now, will add up eventually. Hopefully you won’t experience any emergencies any time soon, but even if you do, any actual money you have will help make a difference in what you have to put on credit.

Let’s say you have a credit card that sits at a 27% interest rate and you experience a medical emergency that costs you $2,500. With a $100 now owed each month (and that’s $100 you already said you don’t have but are now required to find), that bill will take you over three years to pay off and end up actually costing you $3,800.

If, however, you had even just $750 in savings, that same bill (while still costly) will only cost you $2,300 to be paid off in 23 months. So that $750 in savings is actually saving you more than TWICE that in the long run.

A general rule of thumb on how much to have in savings in around 6 months of living expenses; for us, that would be $19,000. I see that number and I immediately want to laugh and cry at the same time. We are no where near that $19,000 mark. In fact, I see that and I’m right there with you – it seems IMPOSSIBLE!

But then I remind myself -it doesn’t need to happen overnight. I think back to what a difference having only $750 makes and then I can breathe again.

How to Grow Your Emergency Fund

Begin saving by making a small goal, maybe one month of mortgage and utility payments. Then take a good long honest look at your budget. What can you cut out or cut back? I bet you can cut your budget by at least 5%.

Here are just a few ideas on how to cut back:

  1. Your cellphone plan. We were paying $160/month for our two phones until we switched to Republic Wireless. Now our bill averages $38/month. Why? Because with Republic Wireless, you only pay for what you use. For example, if you pay 2GB per month ($30) but only use 1GB, you’ll see a $15 credit on your account the following month. I love it!
  2. Check out my post on how to eliminate kids clothes from your budget (don’t worry, they won’t go naked!)
  3. Get rid of cable. I’ll admit, this one was tough for me. Not because we watch a lot of TV but because the one show we do love to watch isn’t available on Hulu or Netflix until after the season is done. Guh. So many spoilers!! But we did it anyway and I’m glad because it saves us well over $600/year.
  4. Have a little one in diapers? There are many ways to slash costs on those, including switching to a generic brand. Check out my best tips on how to save money on diapers!
  5. See if your gas company has a flat rate budgeting plan. This way you know exactly what you’ll need to pay each month versus having more money in the summer and scrambling to find it in the winter.
  6. Declutter your home and put any extra income you earn into your savings account!
  7. Consolidate your student loans and secure a lower interest rate.
  8. If you have credit cards, call and ask them to lower your interest rate. They might refuse, but they might not. It never hurts to ask!
  9. Eat breakfast. Wait, what? Yep, I said eat breakfast. Start your day off right so you’re less likely to splurge on vending machine treats or fast food for dinner.
  10. Do a majority of your shopping online. Not only will you save on gas, but you can often buy in bulk and save on a lot of your groceries or household goods. For example, I never buy baggies in store. At Target, they’re $4.59 for 38 (or .12 cents each). On Amazon, I got 500 for $28.36 (or .05 cents each!)

Once you decide on ways to trim, you will slowly but most certainly reach the goal you have made for yourself. It is also important for you not to view the money you set aside as a typical savings account. Only take money from this particular bank account in the event of a true emergency, which doesn’t include a new cellphone or a new car.

Begin saving by making a small goal, maybe one month of rent or mortgage payments. Set aside as much of your paycheck as you think you can do without, even if it is only a few dollars. You can also spend a bit of time each week earning some extra cash and automatically put that aside for savings. As you continue to set aside little bits, you will slowly but surely reach the goal you have made for yourself.

For many people without much disposable income, developing an emergency fund seems like something completely out of reach. While restructuring your budget can seem overwhelming or stressful at first, it’ll be well worth it in the long run. Setting aside just a few dollars a week can get you on track to a decent emergency fund and keep you from making a bad emergency even worse!

I also encourage you to check out this additional posts on how to make “extra cash” in your spare time:

How to Earn a Steady Income from Home

Ebates – How to Stop Losing Out on Free Money!!

How to Make $1,000/month with Affiliate Marketing

Earn Money Writing for Textbroker

Get Paid to Lose Weight with HealthyWage