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My 20 favorite tips (that have saved us the most money!)

my logoI go through spurts of time where I am too busy to clip coupons or find new ways to save (and to blog!). However, there are some tried and true tips that have become part of our regular routines and daily life that help us save a lot of money!

Check out my favorites! How many do you do?

1) Keeping a price list – This is probably my favorite resource. I update it frequently and keep it in my purse to refer to when shopping. It helps me know when a price is right!

2) Rewards for shopping – With OfficeMax rewards we have saved hundreds of dollars! They have great clearance and sale items and coupons, too. It is one of my favorite stores!

3) My favorite find – swapping books – It used to be that you could make some money selling your used books on Amazon. One year I made a few hundred dollars selling old books. Now the market is saturated and books go for pennies. However, this site allows me to create a wish list of books I want and trade books I am done with. I have gotten many great books for my family and for teaching!

4) Preparing for gift giving = savings – My gift drawer has come in handy many times for birthday parties and teacher gifts! I always stock up on things when I spot a good deal.

5) Making your own challah – Since we got a bread machine this has gotten even easier. My husband also makes pizza crust and loaf bread in it. Between that and shopping at our local bread outlet, we spend so little on bread products!

6) Menu planning – We often get too busy to do this, but when we do, it helps so much! We make less trips to the store and eat better. Our family loves homemade meals better than pinch hit dinners like eggs and toast!

7) Brighter savings – I cannot remember the last time we had to buy light bulbs. Using fluorescent bulbs saves us a lot of money and we have to replace them so infrequently!

8) Staying on top of your kids’ clothing – We are so fortunate to have generous friends who give us their hand-me-down clothes when they are done with them. I love to go shopping in my basement for the next size clothes when my boys’ need it! I rarely have to buy things for them except for socks, underwear, and a few other items!

9) Become a member – Our zoo and science center memberships have more than paid off and give us other things to do at each place that we normally could not afford! I just wish they both weren’t up for renewal around the same time!

10) SodaStream soda makers! – I admit that I love soda, even though it is bad for me! However, SodaStream uses healthy artificial sweeteners and is much cheaper than canned and bottled sodas. It also makes a nice treat for Shabbos guests that we would normally not be able to afford!

11) The advantage of buying paper goods online – I try to limit our use of paper goods, but around the holidays (especially Pesach), they really come in handy. Buying them in the store (even Sam’s) can be so expensive. See my reasons for why shopping online is better!

12) Recycle your ink – earn money – OfficeMax offers $2 back now on each ink cartridge you recycle with them. It just gets added to your rewards. Simple way to earn a few bucks!

13) School Supply Shopping Strategy – With school supplies already out on the shelves, my shopping tips really help us spend very little on supplies each year. And with four kids, it can add up quickly!

14) Are “dollar stores” really a good deal? – I love Dollar Tree and frankly probably shop there too much! But, I find so many great deals there – teaching items, kitchen tools, containers, and more!

15) Why I love Target! – Target has so many ways for you to stack your savings – manufacturer’s coupons, Target printable coupons, Cartwheel mobile app, your Target Red Card, and gift card rewards. I always come out with a feeling of accomplishment and save at least $20 or more this way!

16) Printer ink can cost a fortune – I print a lot from home for teaching, so my tips for buying affordable ink are crucial! We also changed to a Brother printer, which has been much better than our HP printer.

17) Making the most of the whole bird My husband is a master at using as much of a chicken as possible. We let very little go to waste and end up with several meals from one chicken!

18) Follow-up on ditching cable – we love our Roku!This change has made the biggest difference in our monthly expenses. It was hard to do at first, but I cannot imagine going back and am so glad we are not wasting our money anymore!

19) Post-Christmas shopping successI love after-holiday sales. I can always find good deals on special treats, snacks, items for my gift drawer, and more. You don’t have to celebrate the holiday to save from the special seasonal items!

20) Saving on Black Friday without spending much money! I do not stand in line for hours, but I still save a ton each Black Friday. A little planning and knowing the right stores to go to make the difference!

Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think of my favorite tips and other posts!

Hope you are enjoying your summer!

 

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Goodbye Pesach 2015, but thinking about next year…

pesach closetPesach may be over, but there is always a lot to do to put it all away and go back to our usual routines. My husband and I spent most of the morning finishing the dishes, bringing our Pesach stuff downstairs, packing the leftover food away, and taking off all the odds and ends from Pesach (the signs, counter coverings, etc.). We still haven’t repacked the bins and put them away, but at least we are farther than most years! I will have to be sure to check my list to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything! See my post, “Putting away Pesach” on doing this.

But the most important part of ending Pesach is thinking about next year! I always like to think about a few things before wrapping up the current year:

1) Any things I want to change or do differently next year (see below for details).

2) Wish list for next year

– For us it was things that had broken (like our cutting mats) or more plastic containers, which always seem to disappear.

– We also plan to remember to buy more margarine. We got only one pack and it was not enough! We had to borrow from friends!

3) Inventory of what food we have leftover and plan to save for next year.

This list is very important so you don’t overbuy the next year. We have so many boxes of cake meal and matza meal left, that we won’t need it for several years! I also take the time to adjust my shopping list based on what we used. For example, we used 8-9 dozen eggs this year. That was a bit more than past years.

I will share with you the lessons I learned from this year.

∞ Changing your cleaning order is okay! I ended up cleaning in a backward order this year. When the week of Pesach came, I had only cleaned the two kids’ bedrooms. We normally would not turn over the kitchen until all the rooms were done (except maybe the living room and dining room). However, I knew with my husband’s and my work schedule, we had to take advantage of that Sunday to turn over the kitchen no matter what.

So I just ended up cleaning our bedroom and the basement (which were only an hour and a half or so total) and then the living-dining room last. It is funny how no matter how long you have been keeping Pesach, each year is so different. You might think that things will get easier as your children get older, or you are not working, or… But what I found in talking with my coworkers, every year brings something new. One friend had lost her father and was helping her mother move, another had a few-month-old baby, and another had a sick mother she was caring for. We never know what life will throw us. I think being organized, but willing to be flexible to get it all done, really helps!

∞ This year I also had to really resist the urge to spring clean to get it all done. With working three jobs and taking care of my family, I did not get as much cleaning done the month before as I had hoped. So with encouragement from friends that “dust is not chometz,” I forged on and lightened my standards, My house did get clean, but we do have some things to continue cleaning (and that is okay!), i.e. dusting, mopping a few areas of the house, and decluttering!

∞ Order paper goods early. In years past, I have compared prices on paper goods from websites and placed a large order with friends. However, I just never got around to it this year. I just couldn’t bare to buy from anywhere else (like a brick and mortar store) because you pay so much more! Thankfully, I was able to get within $.02 an item for most of the paper goods I needed from Amazon Prime. I ordered on Tuesday and my stuff was here Thursday, just in time for Pesach. Next year, I plan to remember that even if I don’t have the time to do the research and do a big order, Amazon has great prices and I should just order right after Purim so I will have some for that week before Pesach!

∞ Planning the week before Pesach is just as important as the cleaning and menu planning for Pesach. This year, I used some tips from a friend of mine, and planned some easy, but not necessarily chometz-free meals the week before (shul dinner, pizza bagels, soup and salad, salmon hash, hamburgers and chips). What helped make it a success was that we:

  • ate outside every night
  • only let the kids eat chometz outside
  • had kitnios snacks and cereal that week
  • used appliances outside the kitchen for meals (like we moved the toaster into the dining room for one night’s meal, grilled for another and heated a frozen soup in the crockpot for one)

∞ Don’t wait to do your Passover shopping! We kept waiting until closer to Pesach to get our groceries, but by the time we did our shopping, some popular items were already gone (like margarine, salad dressing, and pickles). So I will remember to at least get those few things early, even if I am not ready or do not have the money to do my full shopping trip yet.

Do you have any tips you learned this Pesach to share with the rest of us? Please share in the Comments!

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Need last-minute shaloch manos ideas?

I am a bit behind this year with blogging and Purim preparations with juggling my family, teaching, freelance writing, and household tasks. I am sure many of you can relate. Some years I start early and don’t have to wait until the last minute to do everything. At least I still have a week to go!

In case you are behind and want some ideas, I have a few tips for shaloch manos from those we received and made last year. Take a look!

Shaloch manos:

Last year, we made shaloch manos inspired by a teacher appreciation gift I saw somewhere.  I found the instructions by Googling “teacher appreciation water bottle gift.” I unfortunately cannot find the site I used, but if you look on Pinterest there are many similar ideas. They each vary in complexity and difficulty. I chose an easy idea that did not use brads or lots of different layers of paper. It was cute, but the holders did keep sliding off during delivery (even though they were tied on).

I used a variety of scrapbook papers, scrapbooking stickers, small labels (for the message), and my tape runner (to adhere the pocket). We inserted a Crystal Light drink mix packet and attached a granola bar to the back. A bow and tape secured it all together.

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Some other FAVORITE SHALOCH MANOS we received last year are shown below:

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Movie theme – popcorn box, chocolate bar, microwave popcorn, Coca Cola, and hamantashen. (Great idea Larry & Lori!)

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Pizza theme – a whole meal in a pizza box: hamantashen pizzas, peppers, Bissli, chocolate bar, chocolate drink and a few other goodies. (Thank you Michelle and Ephraim!)

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Red, White and Blue theme – Red licorice, white Airheads, Oreos (blue package), and hamantashen. (Thanks Wende and Don!)

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Berry theme – all foods with a berry flavor! (Thanks Shari and Rabbi!)

FAVORITE CONTAINERS:

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Nautical theme – this family always chooses a container and costume themes to match. They include a photo of the family on their shaloch manos container or label. They are amazing! (Thanks Bella and Yosef!)

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Decorative box – I loved this box so much that I use it in my classroom for treats! (Thanks Tammy and Mark!)

For more inspiration, check out my friend Mara’s (from Kosher on a Budget) awesome Shaloch Manos ideas:

Related posts:

 

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Save big on your phone and cable!

Money

During my quest to save money, it has been much easier to find small ways to save. And those small ways can add up over the course of a year. Finding those big-ticket items can be more problematic. However, in the last two days I have found two new things that will together save us more than $1600 a year!

Phone service:

The first came from my friend, Mara, who writes the blog “Kosher on a Budget,” which I often refer to and link to. She did a post on an internet-based phone service. The Ooma system hooks up through your internet connection and you pay as little as $120 for the unit (yesterday’s price on Amazon). Then you pay less than $4 per month for fees (this may vary based on your area). Our current phone bill is up to $64 a month!

THE BOTTOM LINE:

ooma deviceFor one year that means we will pay $120 + $48 = $168 for Ooma. The unit would be paid off after three months compared to what we paid before.

In contrast, a year of AT & T is $64 x 12 = $768!

That is a savings of $600! Now, I do have to add one more expense to this. I bought the Ooma wireless adapter to make sure the unit would work with my wireless internet, because I wasn’t sure we had all the parts to do it using cords. That was an additional $40. However, even adding that in we save $560 the first year! After that we save $720 a year! That is quite a savings. I can’t wait to get the unit and try it out (and tell AT & T goodbye!).

I have heard of other internet-based options out there, but none as cheap as this. The Straight Talk unit from Wal-Mart costs $100 for the unit and $15 a month for service, which adds up to $280 a year.

Cable:

After the excitement of yesterday’s find, I started looking into other ways we might cut some of our biggest expenses, one of which is cable. We got suckered into getting AT & T U-verse a few years back when they first came to our neighborhood. They offered to upgrade our internet service to fiber-optic cabling and we could try out U-verse for a month for free. The cost for the Internet was not much higher than what we were paying them for DSL and I was glad to have a faster connection.

Then I got hooked on the DVR. We had previously used our VCR or DVD player to tape our favorite shows to watch after the kids went to bed. However, there were many times we would forget to program something, the time would change, or the tape or disc was full. The DVR offered a way to not have to deal with all of that. Plus, we were enjoying getting to watch the Disney Channel and a few other cable networks.

Our financial situation has changed for the worse again and this seems like a luxury that we should adjust. I also hate that I am paying so much to the cable company when we really only watch a few channels. So I think we are going to make the leap one of the new streaming device offerings.

Roku unitI did some research today and there seems to be a lot of evidence out there that the Roku device is best. It hooks up to your TV via the internet and allows you to watch tons of free programming and have access to a variety of streaming channels, the most popular being Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video. Through some research I have found that Netflix offers many Disney shows and Hulu Plus allows you to be fairly current with the regular timely offerings on TV.

I am no expert on any of this and have been reading many articles on the different channels, their programming, and the pros and cons. But for me, the bottom line is that I can still watch my favorite shows and my kids can still see the Disney Channel. We will be able to use our Netflix account or Amazon Prime right on the TV (currently my husband used Netflix on his iPod and our Amazon Prime was mainly for the free two-day shipping).

The unit costs about $100 across the board at various retailers. However, Amazon has it right now for $99. I had thought Target might be a good place to get it with my 5% Red Card discount, but the tax eats that discount up and you end up paying more than $100. Netflix and Hulu Plus are about $7.99 each per month.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Even if we add Netflix and Hulu Plus on top of the cost of the unit, our yearly cost for this first year using Roku will be $100 + $192 = $292.

Our U-verse cost (taking out our Internet fee which we will still to pay) = $90 + $10 (bundle discount we will lose) per month. That means $1200 a year!

That is a savings of $908 a year.

In two days, I have figured out how to save us $1628! I would say not bad for a few days work!

Please let me know your experience with phone systems and cable so that we can all learn from each other. I will be excited to share our results with you after we install both. However, from what I have read of reviews online, both seem like great options to save a bundle and take advantage of some great new technological options.

Related articles:

Some other ways we save significantly:

 

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Summer savings guide

Summer Fun

With our current predicament of job uncertainty for both my husband and I, spending as little money as possible this summer has become even more important. This is the first summer since my little boys were small that we have all been home, too. That means more expenses than usual – food, excursions, utilities, etc. Here are the tips I have discovered so far for doing summer on the cheap:

Ahead of time:

Prepare for summer the summer before. Buy towels, hats, etc. at the end of the season so you have them for the coming year. When all the kids are in camp, we needed a lot of swimsuits and towels to avoid doing laundry every day! It helped to shop ahead.

Get some of your essentials at the dollar store. Sunglasses and water bottles are best to get at the dollar store because my boys lose them often. I don’t have to feel bad when this happens if I have only paid a $1! See my post on “Are “dollar stores” really a good deal?”

Watch throughout the spring and summer for sales on swimwear. Last year I got rash guards and swim trunks for a great price at the end of the season for my boys for this year. They actually still fit into their size from last year, but I am ready when they need a size up! Good online stores to check include The Children’s Place, Land’s End, and L.L. Bean.

Stock up on sunscreen before summer is here. Last year with all four of my boys in camp every day, we went through a ton of sunscreen. On top of that they broke out from many brands, even Aveeno, which you would expect not to be a problem. They have excema, which can make their skin break out more than usual. Luckily I found out about The Honest Company. I love their products! Their sunscreen is a great consistency, has no bad or perfume smell, and my boys don’t break out or scream in pain from it.

You can try a free sample pack (you pay only shipping). Then you can sign up to receive a bundle every month. The Essentials bundle includes five of their products. (They also have a Diaper & Wipes bundle and Health & Wellness bundle, too, with other choices of products.) I can’t afford to order a bundle every month, but get them a few times a year. You can choose how often you want them delivered. Every time I order, I get a sunscreen, so I am ready for summer!

Be on the watch for great deals on memberships to local attractions. These deals usually don’t occur during the summer. For the St. Louis Science Center’s 50th anniversary of their planetarium, they had a sale on memberships – $50 off! It has been our best purchase ever! See my post “Become a member!”

Early summer or (late spring):

Plan ahead for where you would like to go. The first week of summer that I was home, we had no official plans or schedule. We were making it up on the fly. This really made the days long and me stressed! Putting together my Summer Bucket List really helped because now I have done the research ahead of time and can either choose activities for the whole week or the night before. See my post “Summer Bucket List (aka Camp Mommy).”

Take advantage of the many free or cheap excursions in town. These include:

Watch for sales on crocs and sandals! We were fortunate to get new crocs (fake brand) a few weeks ago at “Five Below,” of all places!

Throughout:

Pack food wherever you go. Even if you won’t be there for long, pack at least a snack and water. This helps with cranky kids and avoiding high cost emergency food purchases.

Take advantage of your local library. We have been going to their great events all summer and check out books and movies each week while we are there. It is so nice to have the time to do this and with the summer reading programs, we all earn prizes for reading! We are enrolled in the county’s program and the local Jewish library’s. I have not updated my Summer Reading programs post, but see last year’s here.

Look out for ice cream coupons. We have found ice cream coupons in our coupon mailer that comes in our mailbox every week. Check local calendars, too. Here in St. Louis, we have a calendar called the Town Planner. It is mailed to families every year and has coupons tailored for your area. They also have coupons on their website. Another source for ice cream coupons is your local Valpak. These come in the mail in some areas and they also have a website, too. You might not always find coupons for the location you want, but sometimes the drive can be worth the savings! You might also earn ice cream coupons from your Summer Reading programs.

Forget about your thermostat timer. Keep your thermostat set as if you are not home and then adjust as you feel it is too hot in the house! See my post Saving money and energy on Shabbos.”

Use your birthday freebies. If your birthday falls in the summer, or if your kids’ do, be sure to sign up for those birthday freebies! See my posts:

Enjoy your summer and share your summer tips in the Comments section!

 

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Printer ink can cost a fortune!

This image shows an opened Canon S520 ink jet ...Our printer recently died and HP told us that it could not be fixed. They offered us an upgrade at a lower price. I checked out Amazon and it was a lower price than they could offer. Our new printer came very fast and I was excited that I can scan, copy, and print from one device. But who knew that the ink would run out so quickly. I have been buying ink every few weeks! Here are my tips for saving as much as you can on printer ink.

1) Print in draft mode as much as possible. This will limit the amount of ink used on each printout. Print your coupons in black ink instead of color to limit your color usage, too.

2) Buy ink online whenever you can and be sure to compare prices with your local stores so you know when you have found a good deal. I often can find my ink for $5 – $10 cheaper than in stores. I mostly purchase through Amazon, so that if I need to return the ink, I have a reputable company to make sure the return goes well.

3) Buy remanufactured ink when you can, but be sure to check the reviews for that company and product. Some remanufactured inks are not as good as others. I have read many reviews of products that did not last long or didn’t even work when they were first opened.

4) Check reviews online for your printer ink. I almost bought a set of three colors and black ink together. By reading the reviews I found out that the four-packs for that ink number are only available as the setup packs that the printer comes with.

5) Buy XL inks when you can. These have more ink for the cost. However, be sure to read the specifications for these. You printer may take that number model of ink, but not the XL version, as mine does not.

6) Get your ink refilled at an office supply store when possible. Many inks can be refilled for a minimal cost instead of being replaced. See what your local store provides.

Related posts:

Other related articles:

 

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Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions 2012When I was in high school and college, making New Year’s Resolutions was a big deal. I used to pore over magazines coming up with plans for how I would lose weight, exercise more, etc. However, now that I have become religious, I tend to make more serious goals around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, thinking about how I will become a better wife, mom, daughter, friend, teacher, and Jew.

With New Year’s approaching, though, I realized it might not be a bad idea to come up with some New Year’s resolutions related to our finances. My husband’s job has not turned out to be what he expected and finances have been really tough. He is looking for new work and I am hoping the new year will provide that. But in the meantime, new job or not, we need a plan to get us in better financial shape.

Here are my goals for the new year. I hope they will inspire you on your own quest to get your family set.

1) Get back to menu planning on a regular basis.

With money being so tight, my husband has become a master at creating meal plans based on whatever is in the house. We haven’t had the money to make full shopping trips and therefore have let our menu planning slide. However, it makes extra stress for him every morning to have to also figure out what to make. I want us to get back to menu planning each week regardless if we can buy two things or a loadful! See my posts on “Menu planning” and “Monthly menu planning.”

2) Keep up with our receipts.

Bill paying and entering receipts into our Quicken program are my least favorite tasks. So of course, I procrastinate. But then we are more likely to bounce or to encounter fees for paying things late. I am going to work harder at entering them every few days instead of waiting until I have several weeks worth! See my post on “Make your checkbook digital!”

3) Get our oil changed on a regular basis.

I always think of car maintenance last. When we don’t have much money, I think we can’t possibly afford to spend money on the car. Well, that thinking got us into big trouble this past year. We have neglected to change the oil on our van, for probably years. As a result, the engine died completely. After several hundred dollars of repairs the auto repair shop thought could fix the problem, we had to get a whole new engine. The repairs were then several thousand. It was the most expensive and embarrassing mistake we have ever made. I guess I should take my own advice. See my post on “Pay now to save later” and “What does an oil change cost?”

4) Really watching our budget.

During my husband’s trial period at his new job (when they were paying him a base), we were doing a bit better financially. I started a new routine that really helped us budget better. I virtually set aside a certain amount for our monthly and irregular expenses each half of the month. Then whenever we spent money in those categories, I would debit it from that amount/transaction. I knew how much we had left to spend in those categories by what amount was left in that transaction. It really helped us stay under our budget for the month on categories that we have more control of.

What are your financial New Year’s resolutions? Please share in the Comments section.

 

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