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!

 

 

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!

 

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

 

Dollar Tree Greeting Cards

Dollar Tree Greeting Cards

I shop at Dollar Tree a lot – maybe not as often as I shop online, but when it comes to creating a Dr. Seuss birthday or frugal Halloween party, Dollar Tree is always my one-stop shop! So let me just tell you – when I found out they were going to soon be carrying greeting cards from Hallmark, I was ECSTATIC!!

dollar tree birthday cards

Now I do want to mention that I am being compensated for this post and the links below may be affiliate links, but this in no way impacts my opinion of this awesome product release.

Dollar Tree Greeting Cards

Normally my thrifty self is all about having the kids create cards, but they’re not always in the mood to color when I want them to color (go figure, right?) So now that I can pick up adorable greeting cards from Dollar Tree, I never again have to force creativity when the kids are feeling anything but! It’s also great that I can pick up a greeting card when I want something a bit nicer (like sending a thank you note) and not have to feel guilty about spending $5 on something most people don’t actually hang onto.

dollar tree greeting cards

 

There are over 6,500 Dollar Tree stores nationwide and starting today (August 30th) every store will have cards from Expressions From Hallmark ($1 each) as well as cards from Heartline, which is a Hallmark company, and those will actually be TWO for $1!

Personally I kept all the cards given to my children on their first birthdays and I still love pulling them out every once in a while to reminisce. It’s nice to think that I’ll be able to pick up quality cards so others can do the same and I can do it without breaking the bank. As I looked through the cards offered, I was blown away by how great they are given the price. Another great thing about Dollar Tree is that you can even shop online so you can pick up these amazing greeting cards without having to even leave the house! I very much recommend checking out all the different cards offered and maybe buy yourself a coffee with the extra money you’ll save. 😉

Do you shop at Dollar Tree often? What’s your favorite thing there? Comment below and let me know!

15 Seemingly Weird Ways to Save Time & Money!

15 Seemingly Weird Ways to Save Time & Money!

When it comes to saving time and money, everyone has their own little rituals and tricks that work for them. Whether you clip coupons to save money or pre-pack your gym bag and keep it by the door to save time, you’ve surely got a couple of these rituals yourself. Surely everyone shares some of these habits – they’re pretty commonplace.

What about the more fringe time or money savers, though? I’m not talking about re-using paper towels or renting your dog out as a clown (talk about frugal horror stories!), but what about never buying kids’ clothing from department stores? Ever considered raising worms to recycle your produce and make some top-quality fertilizer? Does it get weirder? Read on to find out some of our best-kept secrets for saving time and money and please note that the links below may be affiliate links, which means I could earn commission should you click through to make a purchase.

Unique and Interesting Ways to Save Your Family Money

Interesting ways to save money

Create an easy meal plan

Creating a meal plan is of course one the best ways to save time and money, but you can take it one step further by stacking the meals together so that one rolls into another. Monday evening roast a whole chicken with potatoes and onions, maybe some carrots and then use the leftovers. How, you might ask? Simple! Prep the leftover meat for enchiladas or fajitas the next day, and then take the leftovers and make bone broth. With a little pasta and some veggies, that’s 3 meals from one chicken.

Meal plan stacking is taking one great meal that has leftovers and making another great meal from them. Did you have shrimp tacos for dinner Tuesday? Make gumbo on Wednesday. Big pot roast with tons of leftovers? Toss it into the crock pot with some adobe seasoning and peppers, and have carnitas the next night. It will save you money and time AND be delicious!

Vinegar Uses

Vinegar has literally dozens of household uses, and at about $2/gallon, it is one of the best investments you can keep under your sink.

vinegar bottle aldi

Of course you can use vinegar in cooking but if you take an empty spray bottle and fill it with 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water and add some citrus peel or tea tree oil, you’ll have a cheap, incredibly effective cleaner and disinfectant. Most of what you’d buy in the store is about 5% acetic acid (white vinegar), which will kill most germs, but if you really want to be sure, you can look for something a bit more powerful. Health food and green living stores will often sell stronger vinegar.

Cleaning fruit with vinegar is also a great way to remove the waxy grossness from apples and a lot of the pesticide residue from both apples and strawberries. Considering both the aforementioned fruits routinely make it on the dirty dozen list for most contaminated foods, giving them a quick wash in a 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar solution can really decrease the pesticides your family ingests. Vinegar will also help your strawberries stay fresh longer!

Invest in a Water Cooler

We bought a water cooler when we had our son because we wanted an easy source of distilled water. Flash forward four years and we’re still using it daily.

We did the math and the water cooler was cheaper over the expected two years of needing bottles than filters for a faucet-mounted system. The trick is after using the jugs (we bought them at Lowes), instead of swapping them out for new filled ones ( at $6.99/apiece!) we disinfect them with vinegar and refill them at about .25c/gallon at a local grocery store.

The cooler we bought also has a tap for hot water, which makes it great when I’m in need of my daily matcha tea fix or just a nice cup of chamomile before bed!

Make Notes on Your Food

This one sounds ridiculous, but consider the number of times you look at something in the fridge and simply can’t remember when you cooked/opened/bought it. We realized we were throwing out stuff that might still be good, so we bought a Sharpie specifically for the kitchen. We glued a magnet to it so it sticks to the fridge and whenever we have leftovers or open a container, we date it. This makes sure we know when things are still good and when we should actually toss them.

Because my husband follows a keto diet, we also tend to have at least three containers of heavy cream in our fridge at any given time. It can be incredibly frustrating to have to open two containers only to realize its the third one that’s already open. It’s a simple thing, but marking the cap with an “O” really helps save time each and every day!

Vermiculture – Yes, We’re Talking Worm Farming!

If you’re unfamiliar with vermiculture, you’re likely not alone. It’s a fancy word for “worm farming” and it’s a really interesting way to reduce your food waste. It’s surprisingly simple to raise worms, and though they’re not cute and cuddly, they DO provide some fantastic benefits for growing your own garden.

Essentially the worms break down organic waste like apple cores, vegetable scraps, etc. into nutrient-rich castings which you can use as a fertilizer. They also produce a sort of waste fluid called “worm tea” that is a wonderful addition to plants, making them healthier and more vibrant.

blonde boy smiling brown hair girl smiling worm farm

We set up our worm farm using a couple totes, but you can also buy relatively inexpensive ones online if you don’t have the desire to DIY. 

If you DO want to DIY, you’ll want to check out this post on how to start your own worm farm.

Vermiculture is great because it helps you reduce your food waste while also making your garden significantly healthier, and if you don’t already garden, it’s a nice extra bit of encouragement.

Toilet Paper Tube Projects

Got some kids stuck in the house all day with nothing to do? Toss some art supplies at them and give them toilet paper tubes!

Ok, maybe that alone won’t help, but toilet paper tubes are very versatile pieces of cardboard. Some ideas include:

Poke two holes in the top (opposite each other) and run a string or piece of yarn through them. Smear peanut butter around the outside of the tube and then roll them in birdseed, and voila! You have a quick, simple bird feeder that will absolutely attract some feathered friends to your yard.

Decorate the outside of one by gluing on a strip of leftover fabric and use it to hold your excess extension cords, or when you store them!

Fold the undersides in at one end and fill them with soil, and use them as seed starters in the late winter to get a jump start on that garden!

Stuff them with dryer lint to use as campfire starters!

Use your imagination for a variety of artistic endeavors – their shape lends itself well to making candle holders, for instance. With some interesting decorations you can have a spooky candle holder for Halloween, a cheery one for Christmas, or a turkey for Thanksgiving. Of course use battery operated candles!

Encourage your children to use their imaginations and you’ll be surprised at what they’ll come up with. My kids love to create monsters with lots of googly eyes, of course!

Garage Sales

As long as we’ve had kids, we have been very intentional about buying presents and clothing ahead of time. Every time we’re at a garage sale, if we see something that will fit them, we typically pick it up if the price is right. I’m honestly not sure if our kids have ever had brand-new shoes, and that’s 100% fine with us.

If you have kids, trust me – you will WANT to sell all the clothes you get, and you’ll feel WAY less bad about selling them for .50c apiece if you bought them for .50c apiece.

garage sale

The “Present Tote”

Another way we make use of garage sales though is by taking a look at what toys and games our kids might eventually like. When they’re really little this is especially easy, but basically just buy up any cool toys or games you see that are super cheap, and store them in a “future presents tote“. For instance, we found about $50 of Play-doh toys and accessories for $5 a garage sale, and it happens that our kids love the stuff. Boom, big Christmas gift, bought and paid-for.

While you shouldn’t just buy anything all the time “because it’s on sale”, if you get a really good bargain on something you know your children will love, it will save you money in the long run. 

Multitasking Hurts

The single biggest time saver (and mind saver) you can invest your energy in is to avoid multitasking. Multitasking simply doesn’t work! There may be a few exceptions to the rule, but we’re essentially single-core processing units; undivided attention to a single task proves much better results than trying to do multiple things at once. Not only will you have better results, you’ll also get it done faster and more accurately, and then you can move onto the next task with undivided attention!

Make Use of In-Store Pick-Up

This one is two-fold — first of all, using in-store pick-up will help you avoid impulse purchases while also better ensuring you don’t forget something on your list because you’re too busy minding the kids to remember you need dish soap. It’s also a huge time saver, but did you know it can also save you money? Whenever you do in-store pick-up, check with Ebates first and you may very well earn a percentage back on your purchases (meaning FREE money!!)

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

Using Gift Cards through Ebates

Speaking of Ebates, this is a great way to stack up your savings.

If you know ahead of time that you’ll be shopping at a certain retailer, be on the lookout for discounted gift cards through sites like Raise.com. Even if you don’t do a lot of online shopping, be sure to check out Raise.com – if you know you spend money on a regular basis somewhere (like a certain gas station!), why not buy gift cards for yourself and save even more?

For example, I recently purchased a $50 Sears Gift Card for $41.90. Then I made a purchase through Ebates for $53, using mainly that gift card and earning myself a nice $4.24 back. So instead of spending the full $53, I’m actually only looking at a total deficit of $37.66 – a savings of nearly 30% and that’s just on one purchase!

Sign up via my referral link for Ebates and you’ll earn an extra $10 back on your first purchase! Worried about a catch? There is NONE! Check out my Ebates review to learn more.

Use Bubble Wrap on Windows

Seems silly, yeah? Heh or maybe you’re like me and think it just seems fun! When I first heard about this trick, I was skeptical. I’m a fan of using shrinkwrap packs to insulate my home against the winter cold, but when you have bubblewrap for free thanks to holiday packages, I figured I’d give it a shot…and it worked! Click to learn more about how to use bubblewrap on your windows as insulation.

Winterize Your Home: The Bubblewrap Method

Winterize Your Home: The Bubblewrap Method

No Inside-Out Clothing!

This one might seem a little neurotic but I consistently demand that no one throw inside out clothing into the wash. While it might only take two seconds to flip the clothing right-side out, those seconds certainly add up when you have to do it as you’re folding an entire load. Make laundry easier by asking your family to right their clothing before it goes into the wash.

Six Smart Tricks to Tackling Laundry, Make Doing Laundry Easier and Faster, Do Laundry Quicker, Spend less time doing laundry!

Click to read more laundry hacks!

Sell-By Dates

It’s not secret that we love Aldi, and one of the things we love is that they drastically mark down their meat when it’s close to the “sell-by” date. Without getting into food waste politics and such, I will say that food doesn’t magically become inedible when it’s passed it’s “sell-by” date.

When you see great prices on food at your grocer, pick it up and freeze it, or work it into your current meal plan. Obviously use common sense when it comes to food, but don’t consider food automatically spoiled just because it’s 12 hours past the sell-by date.


Invest in Amazon Prime

One of the best ways to save time and money is to shop online. I do believe in shopping local whenever possible (particularly at our Farmer’s Markets) but I’m a work-at-home mom with two very young children – I’m lucky if I remember to brush my hair every day, let alone have the stamina to leave the house. Amazon’s reach is wide, and it makes getting what we need fast and affordable. Prime does that to the next level – offering free 2-day shipping on almost anything you buy from Amazon is a huge deal. The price is $99/year if you elect to enroll annually, or $12.99/month, and while that might seem steep, it does offer a great amount of discounts, including the free 2-day shipping which will pay for itself. You can check it out for yourself with this free 30-day trial!

 

What are some weird ways YOU save time and/or money?

Comment below and let me know!