Saturday, November 22, 2014

What I've Learned About Christmas Shopping

EEEK!!! Christmas is only 4.5 weeks away! 

I love this Hobby Lobby picture! Who wants to come decorate my house like this?

Just the revelation that there are only 33 days left until Christmas creates a wide array of emotions in me. Joy and excitement since it's my absolute favorite holiday; panic and overwhelm because there is a lot that goes into all things Christmas. This one holiday really is A BIG DEAL!

So how do we celebrate this special time of year without going crazy and going broke? I've learned a few tricks, though probably not enough since Christmas tends to bring out the giddiness in me which in turn leads to sloppiness...

Really though this is about celebrating Jesus, not a competition to see who can look like this the best:

1. Set Limits in Advance
 My husband and I try (emphasis on try) to talk about what we want to spend on each person before we go out shopping. We really do need to get better about this and mainly to STICK TO IT! If you're married, talk to your spouse about what you think is a reasonable amount to spend on each person. Now this can be tricky if your husband wants a new car for Christmas versus a pack of gum, so talk through what each person wants and the associated price tag.

I used to buy gifts for pretty much everyone I knew back in the day. Let's just call that what it is- STRESS! Let me say that if you're way overspending on gifts for lots of people and it becomes a burden on you- the spirit of giving has completely been destroyed. You will feel pressure to do this year after year, your bank account will take a huge blow every year, and you will not be happy camper! We buy gifts for each other, the kids (more on them in a minute), and our parents. That's really about it, and no one has been offended (that I know of...) that we decided to limit the number of people we shop for.

With the kids, it is SO easy to go absolutely crazy and just pile presents on top of presents because you know their little faces will just light up and bring joy to your heart. That's not a bad thing- I love to give my girls gifts and watch them get all excited! However, I know what January looks like (well maybe February since one daughter's birthday is in early January so we get double whammied). Toys EVERYWHERE! I am going to do this this year- limit each kid to 2-3 presents from Mommy and Daddy, plus stocking stuffers. I'm holding myself to it this year.

2. Don't Be Afraid of Black Friday
I may be the only person with an actual Black Friday phobia. I avoid leaving my house at all costs on this one day of the year. I have zero desire to get trampled at Wal-Mart push through crowds and wait in lines for hours just to save a few bucks. Of course now I'll be afraid to go anywhere on Thanksgiving since the stores are opening earlier and earlier.

BUT, I've learned that it's not just a gimmicky day. I have found great deals on kid books and food processors during Black Friday, plus others that I can't remember right now. These have all been online though. So I save my sanity and my money, whereas before my aversion to Black Friday was just saving my sanity. Not that saving sanity is bad by ANY means.

Of course, always make sure you are actually getting a great deal! This is an extremely hyped up day so make sure you keep yourself in check. Double the check the sale price versus the normal price (preferably on multiple sites to be sure), calculate any shipping/handling costs, etc. Remember companies will advertise great deals right next to bad ones, and they all have the blinking signs that say "BUY ME!"

3. Attempt Homemade
Hear me here- you do NOT have to be Suzy Homemaker to pull this off. I'm no Martha Stewart but I've noticed family members, particularly grandparents, LOVE homemade things. I've also gotten some gorgeous homemade things from friends and they said they weren't all that complicated to make! It puts your personal touch to it, shows the other person how much you care, and it's always something out of the norm. Plus homemade items are almost always cheaper than retail costs of similar items.

Use your talents if you got them! Are you a great baker? Make cookies or candies, decorate them, wrap them in cute bags and ribbons and you're set! Do you love painting or crafting? There are tons ideas out there, and you can actually enjoy yourself while making something awesome for a loved one! Love taking pictures? Put together a photo album, frame a picture you love, or offer a photo shoot as a gift. If you're talentless or just don't care for DIY, find some easy things online for the kids to do and then all you have to do is make sure they don't hurt themselves with scissors or pour glue on the dog.

Get creative, involve your kids, have fun, your wallet will be happier, you'll save sanity of shopping around for that elusive "perfect present."

Personally I'm going to attempt some of these "gifts in a jar" I keep seeing online. Some are food and baking mixes, others are craft supplies, homemade snowglobes, etc. I'm excited!

4. Coupon Hunt
It does seem kind of weird to shop for gifts with coupons. I have found it does help your gift-giving budget a ton though! No one needs to know you used a coupon to get their gift, though I doubt most people would care either way. Here are some examples of things I've found, though this is by no means an all-inclusive list: is the BEST website for finding coupons and deals for retail stores. You just type in the store name and you get a list of coupon codes or special deals that retailer is offering. Whenever I'm going shopping or eating out, I always check this site first. It has saved us a lot of money!

-Bed Bath and Beyond usually puts out coupons for $5 off $15+ purchase or 20% off one item.

-Target mails out gift cards and coupons throughout the year, and I've recently received several for Christmas. Add these to their Cartwheel App or online coupons (or do what I do and print it out- oh yeah I'm old school) and their weekly deals and you can probably score some good savings!

-Yankee Candles put our coupons for BOGO candles a lot of the time. These are so great because candles are one of those gifts that you can give to pretty much anyone and they'll be guaranteed to love them.

-Find reward programs. One friend mentioned her nephews always want Legos for Christmas. Legos are awesome, but they are EXPENSIVE! Well I was bored one day and found out that there is a Lego rewards program. I'm sure they're not the only company to have something like this, and if it's a product you know you'll buy more than once it may be worth checking out. Do some online searching and it could easily pay off!

-Follow an online bargain site or blog to find good deals on gifts. There are so many of us thrifty bloggers out there and lots of them post great deals. My favorites are,, and I've been watching Money Saving Mom like a hawk to get a killer deal on a KitchenAid mixer lately...

5. Non-Gifting
Is your budget so tight you're not sure what to do? You don't want to let anyone down and you really want to bless them with a thoughtful gift, but even spending that tiny extra amount is a big source of anxiety.

First, let that anxiety and guilt go!

Next, think of free things that people will cherish. Plan an outing with your family to look at Christmas lights, drink cocoa, and take a ton of pictures. If you and your friends love to sing, go caroling. Scrounge around in your pantry for ingredients to make cinnamon rolls for someone. Host a Christmas movie and snack night and maybe add a White Elephant gift exchange if you want. If you feel fine doing this, and make sure no one's feelings get hurt, you can re-gift those knick-knacks, books, toys, etc. to someone else who would appreciate them more. You can even "give this Christmas away" and go through your house and donate extra clothes, toys, food, and more to homeless shelters or local Christmas toy drives.

There are two very frugal things my family always did. One is my dad has always wrapped presents in the Sunday comics from the newspaper. It's kind of cheesy, but it's also kind of fun to read the comics while you're opening the gifts, not to mention you never have to buy wrapping paper! The second is when my grandma was alive my entire extended dad's side of the family (my dad came from a family of 6 kids to put that in perspective- I have A LOT of cousins) got together to do a Grab Bag, which is what they called a White Elephant exchange. Most of the time they were all gag gifts and I vaguely remember a rubber octopus that made the rounds year after year after year.

This one really puts Christmas in perspective. It's not about how much you spent, it's about the memories and the love in your family and friends. Physical items break, get lost, lose their value, and end up in garage sales but these types of gifts can last a lifetime!

6. Be Thoughtful
No matter what you do gift-giving wise this Christmas, always put thought into it. Put yourself in the other person's shoes and make sure the gift will be received well. Don't make sugar cookies for someone with a gluten allergy or give craft gifts to someone who hates to craft. You want people to know you care about them and to bring a smile to their face.

Early Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Giving Thanks, Counting Blessings

Today has been hard. Actually this week has been hard.

We've been battling stomach bugs in our house, which I'm pretty sure is the worst sickness ever. We got some discouraging news about a friend's illness. My husband's starting the crazy holiday schedule where he basically comes home to sleep and that's it. Baby is teething.

I see a lot of other people facing their own mountains, and many of them are much more daunting than mine.

So I'm choosing to dump my whiny attitude and focus on the positive. Besides Thanksgiving is just a week away right? Perfect timing.

I just saw Money Saving Mom came out with a brand new Gratitude Journal  that I just ordered as an birthday present to myself, so this is all just working perfectly together! I figured I'd blog 30 things I'm thankful for, from the "deep stuff" to the completely random things. I'm spreading some Thanksgiving spirit! :)

1. Jesus, especially how patient He is with me.
2. My hardworking husband.
3. My normally (it's her turn to be sick now) rambunctious and bouncy 4 year old.
4. My cuddly and lovey 19 month old.
5. My parents being willing to help me out with two sick kids, even though they're two hours away and have lives of their own.
6. Coffee. Nuf said.
7. My dryer. Even though I've been not using it much these days, I'm SO happy we have a good working one for stomach bug times!
8. Hot water
9. Netflix
10. A warm house
11. My awesome friends!
12. My new love of writing
13. Good books
14. Overall a very healthy family
15. Soup!
16. Snow that we can make snowmen out of
17. Warm sunny days
18. Receiving cards in the mail
19. Taking walks
20. My closest friends who encourage me, laugh with me, love on me, but still hold me accountable.
21. Being free to study the Bible and grow and learn with grace and forgiveness.
22. My little girls' curly hair
23. This country and those who serve it so sacrificially.
24. My garden, which we're still enjoying the fruits of into November.
25. Pedicures
26. Music
27. Laughter
28. Cheese
29. Rain
30. This little bucket head and the associated silliness.

May we all remember to count our blessings every day, treasure each moment, and take nothing for granted.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Deal or Not a Deal?

(Actual receipt. I spent $53.88 and saved $39.49! Yes this is typical of my shopping trips.)

It is virtually impossible to know what a rock-bottom price is on every single item produced. I am going to try and list a lot of the products I buy and what I consider to be staple items (or just random products that I happen to know the price on lol). Hopefully this helps someone out there to know how to spot a good deal versus a bad deal. Did you know that stores like to put fancy signs that say "SALE" on items that are not good deals at all? Yeah, I was surprised too.

All these prices are prices that I won't-pay-more-than 99% of the time, and when the sale price drops below it then I do a happy dance and stock up. Now there are times when I HAVE to have something and will pay some ridiculous price for it. When that happens you can find me muttering curses under my breath for a good day until my husband has to tell me to stop. That is just me though! Please don't feel any condemnation if you're not a super extreme couponer yet! I am the queen of self-condemnation so if I beat myself up, know I am NEVER beating you up.

Without further ado...

Ground beef $3.68 per pound (If this goes up in price much more I'm buying cattle. The price is kind of a weird number on this, but that is solely because Sam's Club sells it at this price for 90/10 consistently whereas everywhere else is a minimum of $4 per pound. You can get 73/27 for cheaper, but that is A LOT of extra fat.)
Boneless Chicken $1.99 per pound
Bone-In Chicken 99 cents per pound
Ground turkey $2.50 per pound
Salmon (whole) $2 per pound
Salmon filets $6 per pound

Eggs 99 cents per dozen (Yeah I know they're not dairy, but they're next to all the dairy in the store so I'm giving them honorary dairy status for simplicity's sake of this list.)
Milk $1.99 per gallon
Cheese $3 per pound
Yogurt 25-50 cents per 6 ounce cup. Bulk containers of it can run cheaper than this, but it just depends on the sales.
Butter $2.50 per pound (Again, I'm going to raise cows here soon if this doesn't stop skyrocketing. I used to buy this for $1.50 per pound or less just a year ago. Sheesh!)
Sour Cream $1 per pound

Dry Goods
Flour 28 cents per pound
Pasta 50-75 cents per 12-16 ounce box
Oatmeal 69 cents per pound
Bread $2 per loaf (I buy the multi-grain, nut and oat, and wheat varieties at this price.)
Dried Beans 69-99 cents per pound (all varieties)
Rice 35-99 cents per pound (all varieties)
Canned tomatoes 50-70 cents per 14.5 ounce can
Canned Tuna 75 cents per can
Applesauce 4 cents per ounce
Peanut Butter 10 cents per ounce
Canola Oil 6 cents per ounce
Juice (bottled) $2 per half gallon

Toiletries/Home Goods
Toothpaste FREE
Diapers 10-15 cents per diaper
Baby Wipes 1.5 cents per wipe
Toilet Paper 33 cents per roll
Paper Towels 50 cents per roll
Vinegar $1.94 per gallon
Baking Soda 43 cents per pound

Produce- This is tricky because a lot of produce varies drastically based on when it's in season. I try to always buy produce when it's in season because it tastes way better and is cheapest- aka don't buy watermelon in January! :)
Apples 99 cents per pound
Bananas 40-60 cents per pound
Lettuce 99 cents per each
Tomatoes 49-90 cents per pound
Celery 99 cents per pound
Carrots 60 cents per pound
Onions 33-50 cents per pound
Garlic (whole cloves) $2.50 per pound
Bell peppers 33-50 cents per each

Yes I do pay this prices quite frequently. 100% of the time? No, but if I pay a few more cents than these numbers it still ends up being WAY less than a normal retail price. Shoot for the moon, land among the stars!

How I do all this is a completely other blog post, but it boils down to weekly sales and matching coupons to the sales. This should just give you an idea what to look for in the store so you know if you're paying crazy amounts or not.

Questions? Ask away!

P.S. I'm so sorry if I overwhelmed anyone! This has taken me 3 years to master (well, kinda-sorta master). Don't be discouraged!

Friday, November 7, 2014

4 Money Saving Things I'm Doing

Don't worry, I still plan to post another grocery saving post soon. I just keep getting sidetracked and whenever I write it ends up being all scatterbrained. I do promise to type of a price list of grocery items so it's clear when a store is running a good deal. Stores can be sneaky...

Although I'm sure 0% of you are losing sleep over this, so moving on.

I'm going to share just a few things I do to save us money that are a little unconventional. Hopefully they can inspire some of you!

1. I stopped using my clothes dryer. 

A couple months ago I realized I had a ton of liquid fabric softener that I had moved from our old house, to our apartment, then finally to our new house. It wasn't getting used, but I had to pack that heavy bottle up and keep moving it. In case you know nothing about me, I HATE wasting things. It pains me to throw things away (unless of course it's covered in mold). So I finally decided to use this stuff up! We have a big unfinished basement with a built-in clothes line and a folding clothes hanger to boot so there was absolutely no reason to at least give it a shot.

The result? After a month of doing it, our energy bill came. Just by hanging our laundry up our bill went from $80 to $30! That is a $600 per year savings! I'd say that's a huge win! Now I only use my dryer when I have a lot of extra laundry that can't wait an extra day to dry, which ends up being once or twice a month.

2. I posted on Facebook yesterday that I started using white vinegar as fabric softener.

It has been amazing! I finally used up all that liquid fabric softener after about two months of hang drying the laundry. I saw online that vinegar is a great fabric softener, and since I always have a ton of it for a little of everything (really, vinegar is amazing...) I figured it wouldn't hurt to try it. I just put 1/4 cup in the rinse cycle and WOWZA it works great! The clothes don't smell like vinegar and they are way softer. It's kind of weird how much better it works than the stuff I was using since, you know, that stuff is "formulated" to soften your clothes...

I buy my vinegar at Sam's Club at $3.88 for 2 gallons. So if I just use 1/4 cup each load, my vinegar will last 128 loads. The cost of the vinegar per load is 3 cents per load! I do about one load per day, so these two gallons should last me a good 4 months. Yes please!

3. I made watercolor paint from scratch
 My 4-year-old absolutely loves to paint and she goes through paint like crazy. You wouldn't really think paint would be a budget buster, but it did get a little crazy so I needed to find alternatives.

I found this recipe from Jenae at I Can Teach My Child. It's so great! Easy to make, each ingredient is dirt cheap, and it lasts at least twice as long as store bought paint! My daughter loves it when we make homemade paint so a happy kiddo is a great added bonus!

I didn't have the baby food containers like Jenae used, but ice cube trays worked just as well!

4. I make my own chicken broth

I never buy canned/boxed chicken broth. Last I checked it was $1 per can or more. We almost always buy bone-in chicken due to flavor and price (almost always it's half price of boneless) so we save the bones and make broth!

Every time we chop an onion, cut celery, peel a carrot, and mince garlic we save all that stuff you normally throw away. The peels, the somewhat yucky ends- all that stuff goes into a bag in the freezer with the chicken bones. When the bag is full we put it in a huge pot on the stove, fill with water, add a bay leaf and cook it for a few hours. Voila! Homemade chicken broth! We make at least 4 cans worth of it at a time, sometimes even more. It just depends on how long we cook it for since water does have a tendency to evaporate...

It's essentially free because otherwise all that stuff would just be thrown away. Plus I'm in control of how much salt to add, unlike the store bought stuff that is close to 99% sodium. :)

I actually do a lot more things and will keep adding to this list. However, just with these four measly things I've estimated I save our family a minimum of $800 per year. They don't take much effort, are actually fun, and work amazingly well!

Share any weird ideas you have for saving money!