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School Supply Shopping Strategy

Crayons (1)I can’t believe that in just over a month, school starts again. That means the school supplies are on the store displays! Last year I developed a strategy for shopping wisely for all my son’s needs without paying a fortune. Here is what I did and am doing again this year:

The List:

I retype or rewrite my son’s school supply list into one list with the total of each item I needed. Our school’s list is broken up by Judaic and General Studies, so that you bring separate supplies for each classroom. However, when I am at the store, I need the total amount of each item (4 erasers versus 2 erasers for General Studies and 2 for Judaics).

The Plan:

To start, I go to my overflow box from the basement and pull out any supplies I had gotten on sale last year (and didn’t get used) that my son needs for the coming year. I then put any supplies that coincide with my son’s current list in a bag or box (items will be labeled later when I have everything).

Then, each week I check the sale fliers from Target and OfficeMax. I identify which items seem like a really good deal. These are the items for less than $1 or with large discounts. Even if an item is not on my son’s list, I may still add it to my shopping list because he may need it another year or we may need it at home or for my own classroom.

The Trip:

I then go to those stores EARLY in the week and buy only those items. I do not get suckered into buying other items, even if my son needs them, if they were not on my list for that week.

The Unloading:

When I get home, I mark off any items that I was able to get from my son’s list. Those items get put in my “For This Year” bag or box, as I mentioned before. The others go into my overflow box.

Repeat:

I do this each week until the last week before school starts. Then I take stock of what I have purchased and still need to get. Those last items become my final shopping list. I do still take advantage of those last few sales at the end of August and early September and those items also go into my overflow box.

Last fall I even got four backpacks for less than $7 each from Land’s End (on clearance) to have on hand for the coming year if my kids need them!

So far this year I have gotten 5 composition notebooks ($.25 each), 1 box of 12 fine point sharpies ($1), 1 pack of 5 thin dry erase markers ($1), two 1” binders ($1 each) and 10 folders (free) from OfficeMax= all for less than $5!

For weekly shopping lists and tips, check out “Kosher on a Budget.” She features the school supply sales at Walgreens, CVS, Target, OfficeMax, Office Depot, and Staples.

Related articles:

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Family ideas, Other savings tips

 

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Clever trick: Replacement closet doors

From the day we moved into our house, our older son’s closet doors have not worked right. The doors hit each other in such a way that the handle/knob on one side was bent back. We could never get to the middle part of the closet directly because the doors overlapped. Then the doors came off track and we couldn’t fix them.

Luckily, my neighbor and good friend, Bella, had a great solution. She hung curtains in place of the doors. Her daughter picked out a color to match her bedroom decor and voilà, perfect solution.

Well, when the door came literally off its track and hinges, we had no choice but to do something. We couldn’t afford new doors and installation and certainly didn’t want the same doors put back. So we opted for this great trick.

We went to Lowe’s and picked out some dark, all-purpose curtains that would stand up to a child pulling on them. We got the hardware and rod to hang them on. It ended up taking my husband only 15-30 minutes to put the whole thing up. Here are the results:

Now we can easily get to everything in the closet and it looks nice!

Do you have any tricks you have used to cheaply fix a home décor problem in your home? Please share in the Comments section. If you want to send a picture and description to me, please email me!

Related posts on organization and home décor:

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2012 in Family ideas, Other savings tips

 

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Getting ready for baby – the registry

A barcode hand scanner (scanner de mão para có...

My youngest boys are four, so I often forget to cover baby-related items on my blog. To make up for that, I am starting a series of posts related to savings on getting ready for baby. Today I want to focus on creating a smart and sensible baby registry.

It can be very easy to get caught up in the excitement of all the great baby products at the baby superstores. However, it is better to be realistic about what you might need and want and what you will actually get. For instance, don’t register for only expensive or larger items, so that there is nothing for your friends and coworkers to pick.

Tips for creating a smart registry:

Is it a good deal?

Keep in mind that not every product is a good deal at the baby stores. it may be cheaper to buy them somewhere else or online. For example, toiletry products and diapers are not always a good deal, unless you have a coupon or they are on sale. Instead of registering for every medical product and toiletry, maybe pick out a gift basket or set that you would like to try out.

Safety first!

There are many items sold for babies that are NOT SAFE for babies. Crib bumpers, comforters, pillows, sleep positioners, and stuffed animals are not safe for young children. You also shouldn’t use car seat positioners that were not made for that particular car seat. They have not been tested for use with that product. Don’t waste your money. Check out this article about Shop Smart’s advice on dangerous baby products.

Do your homework.

Read reviews on products before going to the store to create your registry. Talk to friends about products they like. Browse blogs, websites, and magazines for advice. This way you can take your time to figure out which products best suit your needs, your space, and your budget.

Register at several places.

Don’t forget about other places to register like Target (they have more selection of their larger items online) and Amazon. You can find great deals and a great selection at both! Once you register at Target, you will also receive baby product coupons in the mail.

Accept hand-me-downs.

As long as a product has not been recalled (check out the CPSC website to be sure), accepting items from friends and family can save you a lot of money. Especially if you are having multiples or you are expecting a second or third child, it may be hard to get all the bigger items on your registry. We were so fortunate to have friends that gave us cribs, clothes, bottles, blankets, sheets, and more.

Check out superstore promotions.

Babies ‘R Us has offered a trade-in event for the past few years, where you can trade in larger, recalled items in exchange for a discount on a newer item of the same or similar type. They also offer a multiples discount if you are purchasing more than one of the same item (like car seats, cribs, strollers, etc.) Ask at your local store for information. This year’s event is not currently listed on their website. 

 

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Check out my new Pinterest boards

I know I am behind, but I finally got around to checking out Pinterest. I have not really explored other people’s pins yet, but already I am impressed! The look is amazing and very eye-catching (which I guess is the point!).

I love that I can share different things I find that maybe aren’t worth a whole blog post or that pertain to only my St. Louis friends. Facebook is great for this, too, but I love the look of Pinterest and that I can organize my “pins” by type on different “boards.” I also like that you can share your “pins” on Facebook, so I can do both at once!

I have created various boards to share with my “followers”:

  • Ideas for doing a good deed
  • Favorite money-saving ideas
  • Favorite places and spaces
  • Products I love
  • St. Louis Summer Fun
  • Menu planning
  • Books Worth Reading

I have linked various posts from my blog that I thought best applied to these categories. Please forgive me, though, some of my older posts do not have art with them. I am working on updating those.

Please check it out and let me know what you think! If you know any tips and tricks, please share those, too!

 

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Clever trick: Color-coded backpack tags

My triplet boys started carrying a backpack last school year, to carry extra clothes and their swim stuff (once a week) to daycare. For that first year, they really didn’t care whose backpack they carried. Now they definitely want to make sure they have theirs. Most of the time they refuse to help each other!

The backpacks are all navy, a third birthday gift from their teachers from two years ago. It can be very hard to figure out whose backpack I have picked up and to give them to each boy to carry out of the house or into school. I do have their names on the front, but you have to pick them up, turn them around, look closely… It adds too much time to our morning routine.

I was desperate to find a solution. I know it sounds like a silly problem, but it was driving me crazy!

I thought about nametags/luggage tags, but I remember our older son’s falling off quickly and breaking. Plus, to find luggage tags in three different colors was proving difficult, after searching several stores and online. I even looked online for patches or reflective tape. Again not enough choices of colors.

Then it hit me. I had a perfect cheap solution. I had bought Veclro cord organizers/wrappers from OfficeMax for just $3 a few weeks back. There were 10 in a pack (red, yellow, blue, purple, and black). I attached one to each of the top handles of the boys’ backpacks and VOILA!

The colors go along with how we marked their bottles, sippy cups, etc. when they were babies and toddlers. Except instead of one of the boys getting white, he got yellow.

Now it is so much easier for me and the boys to know whose bag is whose! This trick will also work in the future if I am unable to find four different colored backpacks!

Related posts:

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Family ideas, Other savings tips

 

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Family Control Journal: Babysitter information

Going out for the night or anywhere without kids can involve a lot of planning and preparation. No matter how much we try, we always seem to be running late, too. So it is comforting to know that the most important information is always ready.

Years ago I created an information sheet that hangs near our phone in the kitchen. It has phone numbers and other emergency information the babysitter might need. It hangs on a hook in a plastic sheet protector.

I have included a blank version of mine below. Just fill in your own information as applicable (in the red areas). If you are a single parent, please adapt it to fit your needs as well.

Babysitter Information blank

* NOTE: If you do not have kids, it is still not a bad idea to have such a form hanging up by your phone, just in case of an emergency. Fill in your own information for the children’s names, birthdates, and blood types. Fill in your own doctor’s information as well.

Hope this form is helpful!

For my previous post on creating a Family Control Journal, see “Starting a Family Control Journal.”

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Family ideas, Forms for everything

 

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Gratitude is always cheap!

We have been so fortunate that during our tough times since becoming parents (two pregnancy bedrests, hospital stays for me before all our boys were born and for them many weeks after, and the challenges of being parents to newborn triplets) to be the recipients of much support, meals, volunteers, and gifts for us and our little ones. We are now going through a tough time as my husband was recently laid off from his job of 15 years.

I am constantly amazed by our family’s, friends’ and community members’ generosity and thoughtfulness. I do not know what we would have done and do now without their help and support.

I am not the best at keeping up with it, but have tried over the years to always be thankful to those who have helped us. Before my triplets were born I was determined to catch up on the thank you notes from my older son’s birth. This year I finally caught up on all the notes from when my triplets were born to the present. I am now doing a much better job at keeping up. People may think I am crazy to send a thank you note so late, but I feel it is important. I do not want anyone to ever think I take their help or gift for granted or don’t appreciate it.

After my older son was born, I created a form to keep track of all the thank you notes I had to write. Here it is if you want to use it for yourself!

Thank yous to write form

As I was working on some cards yesterday, I thought about how gratitude is really such a cheap thing to give. I thought I would highlight some very inexpensive ways to show your thankfulness to others – the most important being a good old-fashioned handwritten thank you note!

My favorite places to buy thank you cards or blank notecards are:

∞ Target – They sell a large box of 50 cards for $10.99 that end up being about $.22/card. Their 24-count Green Room cards for $5.99 come out to $.25/card. This past weekend I also found Mary Engelbreit notecards in the dollar section. They had 8 cards for $1 each. That is only $.13/card!

Michaels – In front of the registers, they sell packs of 8 cards for $1 each. That is also only $.13/card.

Free card offers – There are many online card stores popping up now. They allow you to choose your design, personalize the message and various features, and even add photographs. Check out Kosher on a Budget for the latest deals. Some of my favorite card sites include Cardstore.com and Ink Garden.

Donate to nonprofits – We are on the mailing lists of various non-profits that we have given to over the years. Some send address labels, notepads, or notecards as a gift to encourage you to donate to their charity.

Photo collage card – My friend Lori came up with this idea. She uses Google Picasa photo software (a free photo storage software) to make a collage for a particular occasion. She personalizes each 4 x 6 collage to have photos from that occasion that feature or relate to the person she is thanking. She then adds a message right on the card/photo. You then save your new collage and upload it to whatever photo printing website you use. The cost is whatever that site charges per print. These become a one-of-a-kind thank you card. All you need is an envelope and a stamp!

∞ Photo cards - For my triplets’ birthday thank you notes, I made a photo card on a photo sharing website (like the kind people send out for holidays). Many of them offer various themes, colors, number of photos, etc., so you can send them any time of year for any occasion. I took advantage of a free 10 cards offer one site had and only had to pay shipping! The price on these cards will vary based on the size and whether you are choosing photo paper or cardstock. The photo cards normally are cheaper.

Other ways to show your thanks:

Some of these may seem trite, but think about how it would bring a smile to your own day to receive one of these!

Send an email.

Recommend a friend’s business to others.

Patronize a friend’s business by either buying a product from them or using their service.

Post a comment to Facebook and recognize someone in it.

Make a comment on someone’s Facebook post to show appreciation for something they have shared.

Make a comment on someone’s blog or website to give a compliment or response.

Send an email to an organization, school, shul/church, or business expressing thanks for a particular program they sponsored, speaker they brought in, or product they offer. All too often we forget to tell people/groups when we like things they have done. Compliments and comments are so much better than just complaints!

Remember your doctors, hairdressers, repairmen, postal workers, service providers, etc. when you are sending out holiday cards.

Make extra food and give it to a family member, friend, or neighbor.

Add someone to your shaloch manos list who may not otherwise get one.

Call the supervisor of an employee who gives you good service.

Leave a note in a colleague’s mailbox at work (and maybe include a small treat).

Challenge yourself to express gratitude to someone each day!

 

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Starting a Family Control Journal

3 ring binder (opened)

I have mentioned before in several posts (“Office in a bag: A great Flylady tip,” “Setting up your Pesach Control Journal,” and “When did we repair that last?”) the benefits of putting together helpful tips and forms in one place for a specific purpose.

  • My routines list in my planner helps me stay on top of things at home (I also have one for work).
  • My menu planning, grocery list forms, and price list make menu planning and shopping easier.
  • My Home Maintenance Journal helps me keep track of home repairs and information about our home and appliances.
  • My Pesach Control Journal helps me keep track of all that needs to be done before Pesach and all the articles and tips I have gathered for it.

But I have been thinking a lot lately about how many things that I take care of in our home that my husband doesn’t necessarily help with. He is definitely a big help with so many things (cooking, dishes, changing the laundry, errands – to name just a few). However, I do a lot of the “home management” stuff. It made me realize that if G-d forbid something were to happen to me, my husband might not know where all that important information is (or even where important things in the house are!).

I decided that I am going to babystep my way (as Flylady says) in putting together a Family Control Journal. A fellow blogger at OrganizedJewishHome has her own Control Journal called a Shalom Bayit Book. She uses hers mostly for her own purposes, but she has some great tips and forms, which complement those on my blog.

What I am proposing is a slightly different book – one that would be good for emergencies, long-term stays away from our kids, etc. It will have a variety of information in it that my husband may not know where I keep. Now, I have had two long-term stays in the hospital on bed-rest where my husband had to take care of everything at home without me. However, some things were just too complicated for him to handle – like the bills. He didn’t quite know my system or where everything was kept. One part of this control journal will include that.

First get a 3-ring binder just for this use. We are going to add one component at a time.

For this week, print and fill out a “Medical Consent Form for your Children.” If you are single, this is good to have for yourself in case of an emergency. A good friend of mine, Michelle, keeps this information by her door in a marked envelope.

Here are two resources to create yours:

When might my child need a medical consent form? - can come in handy in a variety of situations

Printable Medical Release Form for Children - just print and fill in your information

You might want to put the finished form and the article in a page protector. Step one complete to starting your own Family Control Journal!

* If you decide that putting together this binder is too much for you, print this form and keep it with your babysitter information, so you will have it if needed.

 

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Coupon websites – updated!

my coupon organizers

As I have mentioned before, one great way to save money on a regular basis is to use coupons. I am not a super couponer, but I do save a lot per month by pairing coupons with sales (and Keeping a price list) and I have found a few ways to make my couponing more efficient.

VARIOUS SOURCES FOR COUPONS:

1) Cut those from my Sunday paper and mailed circulars.

2) Print coupons from various online sites.

3) Join the (postal) mailing list for stores that I like and frequent often. Sometimes just by making a purchase from a website, they will add you to their mailing list. For example, I get coupons from Target, Children’s Place and Gymboree in the mail.

4) Use coupon codes and go through rebate sites when shopping at online retailers. My favorite site for online codes is Retail Me Not. Before making an online purchase, I also check my email to see if I have gotten any online offers from stores I like.

See my related posts:

To make computer coupon printing easy and as quick as possible, I have bookmarked my favorite coupon sites in my Mozilla browser. Then I can just go from one site to the next to print coupons each week.

BEST COUPON WEBSITES:

Coupons.com

SmartSource

Redplum

Mambo Sprouts - coupons for natural and organic brands.

Freeflys - offers links to free samples as well.

Target - Scroll down to the bottom menu and select Coupons.

Box Tops For Education – Sign up for a Box Tops account and then you will have access to their coupons.

All You Magazine – Only print the exclusive coupons, the rest are duplicates from Coupons.com. Also check out their free samples section.

Whole Foods Market - You can also pick up their in-store booklet with more coupons. These often differ from what is online.

Recyclebank – Participate in activities to earn points good for redeeming on coupons and other offers.

Seventh Generation – You can earn points for completing various activities on their website. These points can be redeemed for various offers from Seventh Generation. See my post “Get rewarded for shopping – Part 2″ and “Get rewarded for shopping – updated!”

Valpak – Type in your zip code to see what offers are available in your city.

Kosher on a Budget – This blogger posts special coupon offers (like from manufacturer’s websites) on a regular basis as well as weekly pair ups with sales from Target, CVS, and Walgreens. Occasionally she will also feature Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods deals.

Firestone Complete Auto Care - Tons of great coupons on products and services at Firestone.

St. Louis Town Planner - This website offers great local coupons for services, products, entertainment, and more. The calendars are mailed to households before the new year. The coupons may vary from website to calendar.

RELATED ARTICLES: 

 

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Lessons learned from Pesach 2012

note

Every year I reflect on what went well and what didn’t go well with before, during, and after Pesach. I, of course, make notes for next year on my prep file, as I mentioned in my post “Putting away Pesach” and “Pesach is coming!” Here are my notes for this year that I thought I would share with you. Maybe they will make you think about something you would do differently next year!

We need to save (or get) some empty boxes for moving non-Pesach stuff down to basement.

We always use some plastic milk crates to take down the pantry stuff, but the utensils, mitts, paper towel holder, and all the other stuff on the counters, needs somewhere to go, too! We ended up using lots of reusable Whole Foods bags, but they didn’t stack so well and the laundry room looked a mess!

Be sure to read all of the alerts and shopping guides before you go shopping for your groceries!

I had four kids in tow and was looking for the kosher for Passover Dannon Yogurt. After searching for the marked labels to no avail and making several calls, I had to pay $1.19 a container for several small KLP yogurts! I could have gotten them for much cheaper at our local deli if it wasn’t Friday Erev Pesach! Next time I won’t just print the alerts and read them as needed. I will read them all before shopping! You definitely can’t assume that the rules will be the same from year to year. Products change and unfortunately you have to read the alerts and guides carefully to find those changes!

Read recipes carefully before putting them on the menu.

We have put a cauliflower popcorn recipe on our menu two years in a row. However, when it comes to making it, it never happens because it takes too much work! It looked great, but was not in our “time budget.” Maybe someday when our kids are grown we can undertake a recipe that takes more time!

When you buy things during the year, add them to your “Pesach Prep” box so you will be sure to tovul it before the next Pesach.

We had a cheese board and knife we received as a gift several years back. We had never used it and decided to make it Pesadik. However, it was forgotten in the bottom of the parve tub and we never got to tovul or use it this year! My husband decided yesterday to put it in our Pesach Prep tub, so it will be one of the first things we see next year when we are starting to get ready for Pesach.

Did you make notes for yourself for next year? Please share in the Comments section.

 

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