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Category: Earning & Managing Money

Smart Shopping Tips from Ellie Kay: Part 2–Milk Your Money

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In continuing on with our series looking at , here are some of her tips on milking your money with a few of my thoughts thrown in as well:

Go on the Cash System –One consumer trend I have seen revitalized is the idea of shopping with cash. When my husband and I were first married, we had $40,000 worth of consumer debt and sometimes didn’t have enough money for groceries. That’s when we went to the cash system by taking out the budgeted amount for groceries in cash and putting it in an envelope. We had a visual reminder of how much was left for the week, it helped us stay on budget, and we didn’t go further into debt by using our credit cards. –Ellie Kay

I can't even begin to tell you how much money we save by shopping primarily with cash. There's just something about handing over green stuff which makes you more aware of just how much you're spending.

We once did an experiment where we paid almost exclusively with our debit card for a few months all the while attempting to stick to our usual budget. We found, to our surprise, how much easier it was to spend a "little here" and a "little there" without even so much as realizing until it came to the end of the month and all of these little purchases were added up.

If you've never tried going cash only for purchases like groceries, clothing, gifts, eating out, etc., I'd highly encourage you to try it out for at least a few months and see if it makes any difference in how you spend and how you consider whether or not a purchase is necessary. You just might be surprised! Plus, it's a whole lot easier to stick to a written budget if you only have cash from an envelope to spend instead of a card to swipe!

Play the Price Matching Game –I’ve worked 40+ hours a week for years with a house full of kids, so I don’t have time (or energy) to drive all over town to shop various sales. I can benefit from all the sales though, by going to a store that matches the lowest price. I save gas, time and money by going to a store that will match competitor sales. –Ellie Kay

While I've found it's more cost-effective for me to shop at two stores (Dillon's and Aldi) rather than price-matching at Wal-Mart, I definitely think everyone should consider going the price-matching route–especially if you'd prefer to keep it simple and only shop at one store. 

As always, I think it is very important that you factor in the time involved in bargain shopping. After all, time is money, too. So be careful to evaluate the return on your investment of time as well as money. If you've been bargain shopping for a few months and you're taking four hours per week to plan your shopping trip, clip your coupons, and shop at various stores and you're only saving $20 or $30 for that time spent, it's likely not worth it. I personally think you should work up to saving at least $30-$40 per hour and buying things you truly need or have a good use for, for it to be worth your while. (Of course, you are free to do whatever floats your boat, I'm just sharing what my rule of thumb is!)

Go Beyond the List –Most families know that creating a list and sticking to it can save you as much as 30% on your grocery bill. But did you know that as many as 50% of the sales or price rollbacks for the week are not advertised in the sales circular? This means that there may be clearance items throughout the store that are not on your list. Give yourself permission to snatch these up if they are a super good value. One week, I found deodorant on sale when the store was remodeling the antiperspirant aisle. There were a variety of brands marked down to $1, including my favorite brand. I matched my “$1 off” coupons with those clearances to get 16 packages of deodorant for free! –Ellie Kay

I disagree with Ellie Kay a little bit here in that I think you shouldn't bust your budget in order to snag a good deal. My philosophy is that if you can't afford something it's not a good deal. However, if your grocery budget allows no wiggle room for stocking up on unadvertised sales, you might need to raise it a tad or learn to be creative in rearranging your plan of attack at the store.

For instance, I plan our $40 menu each week before going to the store based upon what we have on hand and what's on sale at the store. This way, I know we'll have plenty to eat for the week. However, I often will find a great deal on something while I'm at the store which was not on my list–be it an unadvertised deal, marked down meat or produce, or something on clearance. I often know that I have $3-$5 in wiggle room so I can snag the extra deals without needing to cross another item off of my list. But sometimes I don't have as much wiggle room or the items I found are more than the extra room I have to play with.

When this happens, I usually just consider whether I can re-work the menu a bit or see if there are any non-essentials on my grocery list that I can cross off. If not, then I remind myself of my rule of thumb (if it's not in the budget and I can't squeeze it in, it's not a good deal for me) and pass over the deal. There are always plenty of other good deals to be had later on so it's not the end of the world if I have skip over a few. (Of course, like I said above, you are more than free to disagree with my personal philosophy and do what works for your family.)

I'd love to hear your thoughts, if any, on Ellie Kay's tips above. Do you agree or disagree? What works for your family? To see all of Ellie Kay's Smart Shopping Tips, go .

Smart Shopping Tips from Ellie Kay: Part 1–Brown-Bag It

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recently ed me and asked me if I'd consider taking their two-week Smart Saving Value Challenge by implementing Ellie Kay's for two weeks to see how much I'd save on my grocery bill. In looking over the tips, I realized that I already have implemented almost all of them into my grocery shopping–which is probably one reason our grocery bill is consistently $40 per week!

Since we have a number of new readers here, though, I thought it might be helpful for me to go through a few of Ellie Kay's tips in a two-part series over the next two days to give some ideas and inspiration to those of you who are just getting started on your journey towards being a better home economist–especially when it comes to your grocery budget.

For those who might not be familiar with Ellie Kay, she is a mother to eight, author of six books, and well-known "America's Family Financial Expert. I've especially enjoyed her book, and would recommend it to you if you are just getting started with saving money at the grocery store.

Here are some of her tips (in bold) on cutting your food budget by brown-bagging it. I've included a few of my own thoughts along with her points:

Bag-up More Variety –“Brown bagging it” can be a great way to save time and money, but make sure you mix it up. You can save an average of $3 per person per day by taking a lunch to work or school, that can add up to as much as $260 per month for a family of four! The key to reaping those rewards? Choose a variety of lunch options your family enjoys—this will keep them brown bagging and keep you saving. –Ellie Kay

Since we've been married, we've saved thousands of dollars alone just by packing sack lunches. While Jesse was in law school and we were living on a beans-and-rice budget, brown-bagging it was a must as there was no way we could afford even eating off the dollar menu on a regular occurrence.

It's often the little things like this that can add up to big savings and doing the math by figuring out just how much money you are saving by taking a little time to pack a lunch can be a huge motivator in encouraging you to follow through with it.

“Big to Little” Brown Bag Tips –Any time you can divide menu items from a larger quantity to a lunch bag size, you will save BIG! For example, I buy a two pound bag of mini-carrots, then divide them into snack size plastic bags ahead of time. In the morning, I just grab and go, knowing that I’ve saved as much as 40% off buying prepackaged, smaller baggies of carrots. Do this for fruit snacks, raisins, grapes, sweet snap peas, celery, cherries, and anything else your family enjoys! –Ellie Kay

One thing which has helped me in packing lunches is to divvy up serving-size portions of muffins and cookies in baggies and stick them in the freezer. Then, when I'm packing lunches, I can just pull a few of these baggies out to add to the lunch and round things out. Baggies of healthful muffins and cookies are also great to have on hand for when we'll be out and about running errands. Being prepared with our own food means we divert the urge to make a quick stop through the drive thru! 

Brown Bag Assembly Line –With the number of kids in our house, the morning ritual of getting ready for school often felt like a three-ring circus, so I developed a system that saved my money and my mind. When watching TV at night with the family, I got out all the lunch bags and labeled them with the kids’ names, then filled them with non-perishables like drinks and pre-bagged snacks. Then all I had to do in the mornings was create a sandwich assembly line to complete lunch! This also kept me from saying “why don’t you just buy your lunch today?” if I was too tired in the morning to make their brown bagged lunches. –Ellie Kay

I've found that doing sack lunch prep the night before is a huge
time-saver. For some reason, I'm much more motivated and creative at
nighttime than I am most mornings. So I try to take a few minutes after
dinner to figure out what I'll be packing the next morning and even
getting as much as possible ready.

And now I'd love to hear from you: Do you brown-bag-it at your house? If so, what are some of your best tips for pulling it off simply, consistently, and efficiently?

Swagbucks: Earn gift cards for searching online

I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of searching online. If I need to find the answer to just about anything, Google is my best friend.

So when Lavonne told me about — an online search engine that rewards you for searching online — I was all ears. Especially when she told me she had earned enough in in the last four months to receive hundreds of dollars in gift cards.

I did some investigation and learned that is very simple to sign up for. In fact, it takes all of about one minute. There are no fees, no credit card required and no phone number or address requested.

After that, you are credited with 30 points to your account. Download the toolbar and every day as you’re searching online, you’ll earn 10 to 20 more points. After only 450 points earned, you can get a free $5 Amazon gift card. There are dozens of other prizes, too.

Now, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal if I only earn a $5 gift card every month?” Well, you’re right, $5 isn’t that exciting. It’s something, but that’s only the beginning. You see, your earnings will exponentially multiply when you refer others.

Do you know anyone else who searches online? I thought so. Well, tell them about , send them your referral link, and you’ll not only instantly earn more points when they sign up, you’ll also earn points for the searching they do online.

Tell lots of folks and you’re well on your way to funding your entire Christmas budget with free gift cards from . I’m not kidding you, that’s exactly what Lavonne did.

For those of you who have blogs, you’ll especially want to jump on board with this. It’s free, it won’t take much of your time to do, and it could generate a nice stream of gift cards in your mailbox.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty sweet to me! So what are you waiting for? Go sign up .

Guest Post: Avoiding Work-At-Home Scams

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Guest Post by Mandi from .

If you’ve spent any time looking into working at home, chances are you’ve come across scams. The truth is that legitimate opportunities are highly sought after, and the scams take advantage of the number of women who desperately want to be work-at-home moms (not that there aren’t other demographics of people who want to work at home, but that is by far the largest).

Here are a few things you should know as you search:

1. Run far away from anyone who charges you a fee for a list of companies who hire home-based contractors or who charges you to get started working for them. I can think of a few very exceptions:

::There are private groups that charge for “exclusive” job leads. I have never paid to join one of these groups myself, but there are legitimate ones out there. However, if a company is trying to sell you a static list of companies, don’t fall for it. You can research and find the information yourself.::The only company I know that legitimately charges you to begin working for them is LiveOps, a call center company. Once you are hired, you must pay a fee for a background check. It’s possible there are others, but I would be very, very wary of any that charge even a nominal fee.

::The third exception is for home-based businesses such as Pampered Chef or Southern Living. You do need to purchase a kit to get started with them, the obvious difference being that you receive products that are worth significantly more than the price you pay.

2. Envelope stuffing jobs are not legitimate. You will NOT make any money doing this. The envelopes you are stuffing are to convince other people to sign up to do the same thing. Stay away!

3. Legitimate data entry jobs are very hard to come by. I actually have one of these that I applied and tested for over two years ago and was just able to start working. It’s worth saying again–do NOT pay for a data entry job.

Don’t be discouraged! There are legitimate and lucrative work-at-home opportunities out there. How do you find them? There have been a lot of tips and ideas shared on this blog such as selling things on Etsy and blogging for profit.

Another valuable resource for looking into opportunities to earn an income at home is to join the forums at or . Not only will you find job leads, but you can also ask the other members about the opportunities you come across so that you’re not trying to sort through them all on your own.

As has been said here before, there are plenty of opportunities for you out there. However, it does take time, hard work and patience, and you need to use discernment as you consider your options!

Mandi Ehman is the chief deal finder behind , where she and her mom find and share the best Amazon deals every day! She’s also the founder and publisher of , a magazine-style blog inspiring readers to live intentional lives.

Five Simple Ways to Earn a Little Extra Cash

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Wanting to have a cash-only Christmas this year but struggling to come up with the cash?

Here are just a few ideas you might try:

1) CoinStar–Gather up all your loose change and take it to the nearest CoinStar machine to be converted into gift cards or cash. If you can come up with $40 worth in change, you can get an additional $10 bonus. Read more .

2) –Look around your home and find used books you no longer need or use and sell them to . They pay promptly through Paypal so you can quickly have your money in hand after shipping off the books.

3) Turn your "trash" into cash–Sam's Club, Amazon, and Costco all offer programs of rewarding you gift cards for old electronics, cell phones, and so on. Read more details , , and .

4) Etsy–If you're skilled in the area of arts and crafts, consider setting up a simple shop on Etsy and selling some of your handmade goods. Read this article here for ideas on getting started.

5) YouData–You won't make a lot of money off of this, but if you have some extra time to view some commercials online, you can earn a few dollars each week through YouData. Best of all, they pay via Paypal at the end of every week so it's a very quick turnaround. More details on this are here.

Those are just a few simple ideas I had for quick ways to generate some cash. I'd love to hear ideas from the rest of you–especially if it's something you are personally doing this year to help shore up your Christmas budget.

Guest Post: Using Your Freezer and Cooking from Scratch to Save Money

I recently shared about our regular Baking Days (see posts here, here, here, and here if you missed those posts) and many of you were interested in doing something similar. Michelle's guest post below is packed with tips to help you get started using your freezer and cooking from scratch to save money. Enjoy!

Guest Post by Michelle from

I have always enjoyed cooking and baking from scratch. In my quest to be more frugal, I have been able to utilize my kitchen
enthusiasm to prepare wholesome food for my family; adding convenience by
making mixes ahead of time or freezing foods to use later. This helps me
to save money by not buying reducing the need for prepackaged convenience foods
or needing to rely on fast food or take-out meals during our often busy
weekdays and weekends.

Recently, many manufacturers have been putting
less product in the same package and still charging the same. The stakes
on the game of feeding your family for less just got higher. The
following are my tips for using your kitchen to save you money.

Tip #1: Work ahead. I love to cook. But I do not love to cook when I am under the gun to prepare dinner in a
hurry. Taking time to plan out meals and prepare the foods we will be
eating during the week ahead saves me a lot of time, headache, and money. 

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For
example: I recently committed to making all of our bread at home. The bread machine is a convenient way for me to mix the dough (which I prefer
to bake in the oven), but sometimes even measuring all the ingredients feels
like too much to fit into my busy day. 

I now mix together the dry ingredients to up ahead of time and store it in the
cupboard. When I need a loaf, I just put in the wet ingredients and yeast
and press a button. That makes it more manageable for me.

In addition, it saves me time because it is easier to measure the ingredients out five times, put
them in individual containers and be done that to drag the ingredients out five
different times. I also do this for our ,
cookies, quick breads, pizza dough, etc.

Tip #2:  Make Extra. When I make a dish
for my family that can be frozen, I always make two. I have all the
ingredients out, so why not? In the end, you save time, mess and
money.

Simply make two of the same dish and wrap one for the
freezer. You can put the dish into a freezer bag, work the excess air
out, zip the bag, and put it into another bag and do the same. You can
also use disposable baking pans, cover the top of the dish in plastic
wrap, and then cover the top again in foil. 

This works well for
casseroles, meat with sauces, and marinades. For a marinade, I make two
batches at once, use the first, and store the second in a freezer bag (double
wrap as described above). When you are ready to use the marinade, simply
put the frozen meat in with the frozen sauce (in the bag) and store in your
refrigerator for a few days. As the meat thaws, it will absorb the
marinade. Turn the bag once or twice a day to evenly distribute the
marinade. Be cautious when freezing casseroles, as dishes with uncooked
potatoes, sour cream or mayonnaise do not freeze well.

Another wonderful thing to make extra of is cookie
dough. I usually make a double batch, bake one batch, and then freeze the
other.

There are two ways to freeze the dough. First, you can make
the remaining dough into logs (about 12 cookies per log, so if your batch makes
3 dozen, make 3 logs), wrap the log in plastic wrap, wrap again in foil and
freeze. When you are ready to bake, you can slice the log into disks and
bake the cookies that way.

The other way is to use a scoop to make balls
of dough. Place the balls of dough close together on a baking sheet and store
in the freezer (uncovered) for about 1-2 hours, or until hard. Once the
dough is hard, place the dough balls into a freezer bag and double wrap the bag
into another freezer bag (being sure to remove excess air). 

Freezing the cookies individually first prevents the dough
from freezing to itself and being one big clump.  That way, you can take
out just as many as you need at one time. 

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I do this with hamburger
patties, freezing them individually, then store them in a bag until we need
them.  Read the details . 

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I also do this with waffles, making a double batch and freezing the extras to
be popped into the toaster on busy mornings. Read about that .

Making extra muffins (our favorites are Banana Chocolate Chip and Zucchini),
packaging them individual, and freezing them makes mornings much easier. Simply toss a bag of muffins into your bag, and by the time you get to work or
school, the muffins will thawed and ready to eat.

When freezing, but sure
to label and date each item, so that you can find what you need, see what you
have and use what you have before it goes bad.

Tip #3:  Preserve Nature’s Bounty. Have
you ever seen those convenience bags of pre-chopped frozen onions or
peppers? You can easily do this
for yourself during the peak of the season.

When you find a great sale on
onions, stock up, and freeze some for later. I like to prepare mine a
couple of different ways: I like to chop some to be used in casseroles or
sauces and I like to slice some to be used in stir-frys or on hamburgers and
pizzas. 

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Follow the same directions above for freezing cookie dough balls:
lay out the onions in a single layer on a baking sheet (you may want to cover
onions to prevent the smell from taking over your freezer!), freeze until
frozen, and then pour into bags and double wrap. That way, you can take
what you need and not have to fight a big clump of frozen mess. Read more
about freezing onions .

This tip works beautifully for red, yellow, and green peppers
(ones destined for cooked dishes); woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary; and
fruits such as blueberries and strawberries (for baking or smoothies). Again,
you will want to label and date your bounty, so you can find and use the
food before it expires, generally about 3–6 months for fresh produce,
assuming a zero grade freezer and well packaged foods.

Tip #4: Prepare In Advance. Sometimes it is
just not physically possible to get home and get a meal ready all at the same
time. On those days, I rely on my crock pot to have a hot, nutritious
meal waiting for me at the end of a long day. I prepare what I can the
night before, chopping vegetables, opening cans of tomatoes or beans, and
assembling the dish in the crock pot bowl before storing it in our refrigerator
overnight.

In the morning, I finish any last minute details and set the
bowl into the cooking unit and let it go to work. Often, I prepare rice
in the rice cooker using the delayed function to accompany the crock pot
meal. It is such a relief to know that dinner is already done on those
busy days! For more crock pot tips and links to hundreds of recipes for
the crock pot, read this post .

Even on days when I am home, I notice that my stress level
is much lower when I have menus planned out for the week in advance. Not
having to scramble to figure out what is for dinner makes all the difference in
my day.

It also enables me to look in my freezer and pantry and see what
needs to be used. I can then plan my meals around those items, to be sure
I am wisely and efficiently using the foods that I have taken the time and
money to prepare ahead of time. When I know I am using chicken in two
days, I can take it out to thaw in the refrigerator so that I am ready to go
once the dinner hour strikes.

Finally, I would like to share that preparing foods in
advance and using the freezer may be heading into the unknown for you, but it
is not hard to do. If you have specific questions, feel free to leave a
comment on my blog, here on this post, or do a search online with the ingredient
you want to freeze or store in the search title. Just put one foot in
front of the other and enjoy the journey!

Michelle is a CPA, turned stay at home mom to four,
turned somewhere in between.  She challenges the excesses that society
tells us we need and experiments with living a simple, uncluttered life on her
daily blog, .