Thursday, January 31, 2008

Winter Day Activity: Pudding Paints (With Pictures & Details)

Surprise! A snow day! It truly was a surprise for me because I didn't see our school listed and so I got my son ready for his day and took him there. An empty school and a completely full day of nothing to do today. What's a mom to do?

Instead of sitting in front of the television, we worked on making finger paints and enjoyed a day of painting and then a day of bathing because we were so sticky and messy from our painting. The kids really loved these, although I think Emily ended up eating more of the paint then she did actually painting with it.

I spread out a plastic tablecloth that I had gotten with some promotional materials from a company. I would recommend using a plastic shower curtain or tablecloth (both can be purchased from a dollar store) and keeping this with your craft supplies. We also have old shirts from daddy or do the all natural look (as Emily has displayed) for the really messy stuff.

We had little finger sponges that had come with a finger paint set that I had bought from Target last year. The kids started out with these and then just begin slapping their hands in the paint. The sponges were fun for awhile, but bare fingers dipped in pudding taste much better!

Please ignore the horrible colors we made. We found green and red made mud. The yellow of the pudding mix made for some interesting colors, but my little artists didn't care!

This recipe is great because I always have pudding mixes in my cupboard. Next time I make this though, I will probably use 1 1/2 cups of water instead of two cups to help make it a little less drippy.

This is one of those fun activities for a snowy day or a rainy day that will only cost you one pudding mix!

Pudding Paint

1 package of instant pudding (3.4 oz)
2 cups ice-cold water
Food coloring

Whisk water and instant pudding together in a bowl for two minutes. Refrigerate for five minutes. Divide pudding into several small bowls or muffin tins. Add five to seven drops of food coloring to each bowl or tin and mix.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Amy's Notebook 01.31.07

Well, here is your weekly time-sucker! I look forward to sharing these each week and I hope it is full of ideas for things you can do with your family!

Just in case you missed it, don't forget to sign up for our Starbucks $20 Gift Card Giveaway. There are over 500 entries! I should give away stuff more often! I also posted our results from our sweet Valentine's Day giveaway. Congrats to our winner Lori and her daughter Sarah! Take some time to read the entries- there were so many great ideas for ways to celebrate Valentine's Day. Guess what? I didn't see very many on there that would cost a lot of money!

Happy reading!


The way this gift is wrapped gave me some new ideas for shipping future gifts.

This is a great project to do with toddlers for Valentine's Day- heart flower pots!

I love these labels she created for her spice jars. It makes them look so elegant!

This sun dried tomato artichoke chicken dish looks delicious!

How cute is this quiet little family set? So beautiful and thoughtful!

These warm fuzzy cupcakes are adorable.

I love these collector's boxes.

These hugs and kisses cookies look so yummy!

These bath bomb surprises are so cool! That would be a huge hit with my kids! I also loved this idea for making marbleized paper with the kiddos.

I love this idea for making a laptop cozy!

These crowns would be a cute craft to do for Emily's next birthday party.

These updates to vintage linens was so inspiring and creative.

This pom pom craft would be a fun one for Ethan & I to do together.

Wouldn't this be the perfect art for a sewing or craft room? I see retro patterns all of the time that would work perfectly for this.

I am totally building a bar out of my kids changing table. What a perfect repurpose of a useless item in our house.

I love this thrift store jacket makeover! I am going to keep my eyes peeled the next time I am out shopping. I will need to look for some vintage chic coats.

I love these ideas for saving money.

I try to keep a few vintage handkerchiefs in my purse so I loved this post on cloth handkerchiefs.

This doll house bookcase is so cute! I am going to have to keep this in mind for Emily.

Did I mention that I want to BE Design Mom? I mean, I really want to be her. Her tips for crafts with kids are so awesome. I think she is going to think I am a stalker if I keep featuring her here, but I am content with that.

I am going to have to remember this hack the next time a diaper breaks.

A necessary reminder- unplug, unplug, unplug.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

WSBT-TV: Frugal Storage Solutions

I wanted to post my WSBT-TV segment before the crew head over and tape more of our future segments to air later this month. This morning I got to share easy ways that you can organize your belongings, without spending a lot of cash. This segment goes along with our article on Frugal Storage Solutions for your home.

Next week I will be discussing fun ideas for a frugal Valentine's Day! I look forward to sharing some of my thrifty solutions for the holiday and I hope you will check back for more fun ideas.

I promise to post our results from our Valentines giveaway later today and I will be guest-writing for Frugal Hacks so I will be sharing that later as well. In the meantime, did you enter the Starbucks $20 gift card giveaway? I am floored by how many people have entered. I don't know what I would do if I got comment love like that every day, but it has been so fun to see all of the entries for the contest. Who am I kidding? I would love comment love like that everyday. Who wouldn't? You feel like a blogging rock star and that feels pretty darn good.

Back to our topic for discussion...

Sound Off: What are some inexpensive organizers that you use in your home? Do you have an organizing project that you plan to tackle this year?

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Redbox Code 01.28.07

Today's free code for a Redbox movie is 9GS3T6. This code is good for one free movie and you can use it until midnight tonight. Enjoy a free family movie together!

Side Note: If you want to rent more than one movie for free, bring more than one credit/debit card. You can use the same promotional code, you just will need different accounts to charge to. The charge will be zero as long as you return your movie on time for the next day.

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Free Starbucks Coffee Gift Card Giveaway!

This week I am participating in the big Bloggy Giveaways Carnival sponsored by Shannon, from Rocks in My Dryer. There are tons of people participating so head over there and take a peek and enter some of the other great giveaways.

What will I be giving away on our site? How about some Starbucks coffee? Why shouldn't MomAdvice pay for your latte factor this week?

Enter by leaving a comment and I will be picking our winner on February 3rd. The winner shall receive a $20 gift card to Starbucks.

And just for giggles, what is your favorite Starbucks drink? Mine is a Triple Grande Nonfat No Whip Peppermint Mocha... Now say that ten times fast!

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ask the Frugal Momma: How Do I Track My Traffic?

Continuing with our series on blogging, for fun or for profit, today I wanted to talk a little bit about tracking your readers. If you haven't had the opportunity to read the past posts, in my first entry, I discussed some basic starting points for working from home and then shared in another post ways to begin building your readership.

Today we are going to talk about tracking your readership and how statistical information can actually help you build a better blog. Be forewarned, stat tracking can become highly addictive! There is nothing more fun than seeing where your readers are coming from, the growth of your site/blog, and how people happened upon your website.

First, if you have a website, it is likely that your web host offers some type of statistical information. Since you are already paying for the hosting, you might as well take advantage of any of the stat services they offer. Your host might offer a more in-depth analysis of your stats so start here if that is what is available to you.

If you just have a blog through a service like Blogger, Typepad, or Wordpress- you will need to find your statistical information through an alternative means. There are tons of places that you can use for traffic-monitoring, but a few of the more popular are Google Analytics, SiteMeter.com, or StatCounter.com.

Each of these programs offer very simple guidelines for adding a tracking code into your page. It literally will be a matter of signing up for an account, highlighting the code that is provided, and copying the code into your site. Once you have added the code, you can sign into your account and begin viewing your site traffic.

Once you have access to your statistics, you will have a snapshot into the volume of readers you are tracking, what the readers were looking for, and how they were able to discover you.

The first thing you will see when you look at your statistics is your "Unique Visitors." This is the most important statistic and something that you will need to share if you are planning to make revenue from your site. Most advertising networks will need this information to determine whether or not you qualify to be part of an advertising network. A unique visitor is the total number of people who have come to your website and it can be viewed by week, month, or year.

The next statistic you can look at is your "Number of Visits." This is the total amount of visits that you have had over the week, month or year. This number will be higher than your unique visitors because, chances are if you have excellent content, your readers will be coming back multiple times to your website.

The final statistic I like to view, and that will often come up if you are joining an ad network, is "Page Views." This statistic tells you how many times pages have been viewed on your site or blog and can tell you the average of pages a reader views per week, month, or year on your site.

Now that you know how to get your web traffic details and can understand your reports, you can begin discovering how people have found you and what it is they are looking for. One of the most fun things to look at is your keywords or keyword phrases. Lets take a peek at some of my top keyword searches for the month.

1. Mom Advice
2. McDonald's Birthday Parties
3. Aldi
4. Redbox Codes
5. Cheapest Shipping
6. Birthday Freebies
7. Recipes for Picky Eaters
8. Dinner Ideas
9. Monthly Budget Sheets
10. Powdered Milk

Using this list, I can get an idea of what people were looking for when they came to my site. I can see immediately what is popular and what I can expand upon. With a notebook in hand, I can begin drafting up some ideas for future articles that can help even more people find me. In my case, for example, maybe I could put together an article on getting cheap shipping on your packages or I could put together more dinner ideas for picky eaters. Use your statistics to your advantage so you can build a site that will attract more visitors and give your audience exactly what they are looking for.

Last, but certainly not least, is the opportunity to see what sites like to yours (also known as the referrers). Let's take a look at my some of my top referrers for this month:

1. Money Saving Mom
2. Freebies 4 Mom
3. Frugal Hacks
4. Baby Cheapskate
5. The Dollar Stretcher
6. 9 Rules
7. Festival of Frugality (hosted at Cash Money Life)
8. Simply Thrifty
9. Frugal Upstate
10. The Homespun Heart

So let's take a look at our referrers and how this information can help me. Well, first of all, if they just were talking about something I did over here or are sharing me on their blogroll, I want to head over there and give them a big thank-you or leave them some comments on the great stuff they are doing. This give-and-take is what is all about in the blogging community, so be sure to send them lots of thanks (hopefully highlighting them above will be a great way to thank them!) or head over to their neck of the woods and let the comments flow.

Looking at some of the other things on the list, I can see what has been really successful for me and what has been a dud when it comes to time and energy. Writing for Frugal Hacks, for example, has been very lucrative for me and brought lots of great (like-minded) people my way. I guest write weekly for them and I can see that being part of that community of writers has boosted my traffic and is worth my efforts.

Likewise, guest writing for other sites and sharing my articles with them is worth my time too. The Dollar Stretcher, for example, ran one of my articles and I saw a big boost in traffic. It would be worth the time to continue sending articles their way.

Partnering with Freebies 4 Mom to offer my weekly freebies has been worth my effort too. I can see that she is sending lots of traffic our way and I am returning the traffic back to her. Seeing that my traffic has grown from collaborating our talents shows me that this is a good relationship to continue.

Participating in the Festival of Frugality is worth my time and the effort that goes into being a part of this event. It only takes me five minutes to submit my entry, and it keeps traffic coming my way throughout the month. This is something I should continue.

Being part of the 9 Rules community has helped boost our traffic, but I am able to get technical advice and support through their network. It is an honor to be part of it, but the traffic has been secondary to the relationships and guidance we are able to get through our community.

Sometimes I do things just to give myself an opportunity for me to grow and become more familiar with other forms of media. Doing the news segment, for example, is a great way to learn to be comfortable in front of the cameras and learn to communicate with my readers in a different way. Writing monthly for a local magazine helps me share in my own community and build a community-driven readership. I can position myself within our community as a local expert that knows a little bit about household management which may lead to other mediums of conveying my messages. These gigs might not show up in a statistical sense, but I know that they are adding to my portfolio of work. I can use these when companies call to see if I can handle certain jobs. "Are you comfortable in front of a camera?" they might ask. "Actually I appear weekly on our local news and I can point you to some news clips so that you can see how I am on camera." Another question might be, "Do you feel comfortable writing for other publications?" My answer would be, "Here, let me show you some of my work in this magazine that I write for. This will give you an example of what my writing looks like."

In short, look at your statistics as a way to show where you should concentrate your efforts, but don't use it as a means to the end of what you should do. Remember to look at each opportunity as an opportunity to not only grow your site, but to grow yourself.

Reading Corner:

To go along with our series, I would like to highlight great reading material for building your web business. I encourage you to check this books out from your local library to help build your mad web skillz. Today's book is "The IT Girl's Guide to Blogging With Moxie," by Joelle Reeder & Katherine Scoleri.

This book is excellent for someone who is interested in just beginning to blog. They share how to start a blog, how to build your readers, and they share more technical information on blogging in a fun and easy to understand way. This is the type of book that I wish I had read when I first began blogging and I hope that it will be a wealth of information to you too.

If you are looking for even more great information, I would highly recommend visiting Blogging Basics 101. These ladies are a wealth of information and their site is a great starting point for learning all about blogging!

Please continue to keep the questions coming our way and I will continue to answer them. Send your questions to amy@momadvice.com and I will add it to my weekly frugal momma chat on here.

Sound Off: How do you track your website/blog traffic and statistics? What have you learned from this statistical information? Anything funny popping up in your keyword searches?

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Red Hot Momma on a Budget

I would like to give a big thanks to Money Saving Mom for sharing the best deal on Jane Cosmetics. I just hit our local Walgreens and got twelve products- eyeliners, blushes, concealers, powder, and lip glosses for stupid cheap.

How stupid cheap? Well, I bought twelve products and a Diet Coke (just because I deserved it, after getting us all ready to go out in that cold today) and I paid $2.54. Total savings- $46.54. Read Crystal's post on how to get your cosmetics for free and be sure to leave her a little thank-you for all of her hard work!

Being a Red Hot Momma is a hot topic on blogs these days. I guess everyone is feeling the frumpy mom syndrome and many have resolutions to improve it.

I get super frumpy in the winter- how can you not? It is so brutal cold and I have hard time looking pretty when I have to dress like an Eskimo. Stupid Indiana weather! Brrrrr...

When spring comes though...you better watch out! I am going to be walking the runways...or the um, the hallways in my house. Whatever!

So slap on some lip gloss and your giant parka, ladies!

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Freebie Friday: January 25, 2007


A big thanks to Heather, from Freebies 4 Mom, for helping us compile our freebies for the week! There are so many good ones- I hope you can take advantage of them all! Be sure to mark your calendars for those free in-store events too.

Don't forget to enter our contest for FREE VALENTINES!! Your kid would be the coolest kid in school if they gave these cute cards away- hurry!

Health & Beauty

K-Y Intrigue (click on "Connect" for free sample)

Food

Yoplait Kids Yogurt (free with coupon by mail, not available in all states)

Teecino caffeine-free herbal coffee (10 flavors to choose from)

Entertainment

Hulu.com (free service from NBC Universal and Fox to watch movies & shows on your computer)

New Free Redbox Code: MILKING expires 1/28

Home & Garden

EnergyStar Publications (like "Horton Activity Book" for 3rd to 7th graders)

One Day Sam's Club Pass

Free Tax Filing for State Farm Customers. StateFarm.com® registered customers who have at
least one product (Bank, Insurance and/or Mutual Funds) displaying on their My Account page will once again have the ability to file their 2007 income tax online for free. This service is being provided by Intuit, the creators of TurboTax.

Pet Care
HealthGuard Vitamins for Dogs

Mark your calendars!! Free In-store bag of Sephora Samples. Stop by any Sephora, Jan 6th through Feb. 15th, for a free bag of skincare samples tailored to your needs based on a skincare consultation. No purchase required.

Mark your calendars!! Watch a professional chef demonstrate how to prepare an authentic meal using fine products from Bertolli®. Come for this exclusive event on January 26 at a participating Sam's Club and enjoy some free food.

Mark your calendars!! Free sweet week in the month of January on every Tuesday for Michiana residents at our area McDonald's restaurants. Read this post for the full scoop.

Mark your calendars!! Auntie Anne's is turning 20! To kick-off its 20th birthday celebration, Auntie Anne's is hosting a Free Pretzel Day on February 2nd at stores nationwide! Stop by your local Auntie Anne's on February 2nd between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to try one complimentary Original or Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel -- no strings attached.

Mark your calendars!! National Pancake Day is coming on February 12th. From 7AM-10PM you can get your free short stack of pancakes. Donations are requested for the Children's Miracle Network that day.

Mark your calendars!! Crate & Barrel Wedding Party Events1/27, 2/10, 17, 24 & 3/2, 9-11 a.m. Crate & Barrel introduces The Wedding Parties. If you’re about to be married, we’re throwing a party in your honor. Bring your partner or your friends. Our store is yours. Enjoy great food, drinks, music and our expert advice on registering. Our knowledgeable staff will be there to offer insight, support, plus home entertaining ideas for newlyweds and our newest registry guide. You’ll also receive a brilliant hand-blown glass bowl as our gift. To RSVP today, call a store near you.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Braggy McBrag-Brag Strikes Again...

You can read an interview about how I got my start in the frugal community on Frugal Hacks today. Much thanks to Kim for showcasing my blog this week. I am awfully flattered and oh-so-proud!

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Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now!

Is the song stuck in your head? I know! I am horrible!

Head over to The MotherLoot and enter my giveaway for a personalized set of Valentine's Day cards from Pose Prints. These are adorable and all you have to do is share your favorite Valentine's Day memory to enter.

I can't wait to read the entries. Go there now!!

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Amy's Notebook 01.24.07

I love this idea for making your own grocery bags out of a bed sheet. This produce bag tutorial is great too!

I think these coffee filter roses are so pretty!

These blueberry heart pancakes look so yummy!

These birthday party ideas and gift ideas for a 3 yr old are so amazing. Don't you just want to *be* this cool of a mom? PS- This little boy is beautiful- he is going to be a heartbreaker with those cute curls.

I am going to have to keep checking this round-up for the best vacuum cleaners.

I am going to make some of this cheesy bread the next time I entertain.

Here is another way I can use my herbs from my garden for next year. This will look so elegant on our table!

These roasted chicken legs look like they would be yummy and economical...

This floor tile organizer is so inventive!

Who can resist a hot bowl of potato soup for a yummy mummy lunch?

I am bookmarking these Valentine Marshmallow Treats for a fun snack for school.

Weeding through my bathroom closet is on my priority list for next month.

I love these tips for coffee storage.

Isn't this matching memory game so creative? Thanks to Whip Up for finding that one!

I am going to have to keep my eye out for giant old televisions because I love this bar idea. So brilliant!

Another thrift store item to look for, old ugly lamps so I make them beautiful like this one!

I love this idea for all of our free magnets laying around.

I just ordered a vacation book for Indiana after reading about taking a vacation in my own state.

This art table rocks- thanks GoodyBlog for sharing this great link!

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Does Your Safety Net Look Worn Out?

I have always tried to keep money in an emergency fund for the unexpected because, frankly, the unexpected seems to happen a lot in our family. About five years ago, we faced an unexpected time of unemployment for my husband's job. Without that emergency fund strongly in place, I truly believe that we could have ended up in bankruptcy. Trying to be dedicated savers, we had put all of our money into a savings account to prepare for those rainy days.

Well, that rainy day came in our house. And it rained. And it poured. And it thundered. And it... well, you get the picture. He went almost a year without finding a job and I tried to help with the finances by working full-time until he found something. Even though we were drawing an unemployment check and I was doing my part working full-time, we were just covering my husband's pay and we were missing our additional income. We had a new baby, a new mortgage, and a huge amount of student debt.

What we had to be thankful for was a fat savings account that would ride us through the storm. We had saved up around $15,000, after purchasing our home, for those rainy days that were ahead. During that time of unemployment, we managed to eat through all of that saved money and then accumulated more debt on top of that.

Now we are better money-managers, but we are working with only one income. I feel very privileged to be home with my children, but I miss being able to jump right in with my own income in these emergency situations. That safety net just isn't what it used to be. In fact, my net looks a little threadbare and it often scares me. I have found because I have faced uncertain times in my financial past, that it is rare for me to feel true certainty when it comes to my finances. What I mean to say is that I can't seem to put my finger on a magical number that would be right for my emergency fund so that I could feel at peace with an unemployment situation happening again. Gosh, $15,000 seemed like a magical number at the time and yet...it wasn't magical enough.

Now with each paycheck I am trying to sock money away into an emergency fund for our family. The big question is...what is more important- building up your emergency fund OR paying down your debt?

An emergency fund trumps debt, at least it does in my family. We are steadily paying down our debt, but we are also putting our nickels and dimes away in our emergency fund too. If given a choice between putting money towards my credit card or putting my money towards my emergency fund...I would lean towards saving. The reason is, if something unexpected should happen, I would need that money from my emergency fund a whole lot more than looking at my extra $25 payment that got absorbed into my credit card.

I am wondering what the scenario is in your homes. Do you have any emergency fund? Is your emergency fund in a savings account or do you keep your money elsewhere? What is your magical number/equation you use for deciding how much to put in your accounts?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Frugal Hacks: Is Being Frugal Entertainment?

Today I wrote about the art of being frugal being a form of entertainment for myself and our family. It truly has been an adventure figuring it all out and I wonder if other die-hards feel the same way? Stop over by Frugal Hacks and read today's post and share your adventures in frugality!

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Worth Its Weight in Gold

Last week I went to a local market to stock up on meat for the month. I have been really disappointed in the quality of the meat at our supermarkets in town so I decided to go to another town to stock up on meat there based on some great recommendations from my mom's group. I ended up getting some really excellent deals for my money and the meat was a much better quality too.

I brought home ten pounds of chicken, ten pounds of ground beef, and two whole chickens. I broke out my FoodSaver, purchased from the thrift store, and one of my favorite kitchen tools...my postal scale.

I got my postal scale off of eBay and I use it often for shipping purposes. It has saved me a lot of time and hassle at the post office, but it also has been such a useful tool for me to weigh ingredients when cooking in bulk.

I divide my meat into one pound portions because that is the amount we typically use in a meal and it also thaws a lot quicker when it is in these smaller portions. Each one pound portion was vacuum-sealed and labeled for the freezer.

The whole chickens were rubbed with my Sticky Chicken dry rub and are all ready to go for a yummy meal one night. The chicken breasts were cleaned and trimmed, and then cubed for the various dishes I will be using them for.

With the grocery prices rising, this is one easy way that I can save my family money during the month.

Sound Off: Do you buy your meat in bulk or do you have store that you usually find good meat sales at? What would be a good price on meat in your area?

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Monday, January 21, 2008

My Amazing B-Day Gifts

I had the best birthday gifts ever this year! All of these pictures can be expanded for full view and amazing real-life detail! Above, is my new apron to add to my apron collection. My crafty mother-in-law (who also made that super cute purse) made this for my special day. I just love the colors and it matches my kitchen perfectly. I just love the aprons she makes because there aren't very many aprons that fit my petite frame like hers do. This one fits me like a glove and it is going to get a workout in my kitchen. Picture me in it stirring something delicious in my beautiful red pot.

My mom & dad got me my very first set of real pearls. They are so beautiful and dainty and I feel like a polished woman in them. I have always wanted a set of pearls, but didn't want to splurge on myself for something that wasn't really necessary. What a treat to have my own set and a special gift to give for my thirtieth birthday.

My sister-in-law got me some really cute retro goodies that included a cute compact for my purse, bath salts, and a little dishtowel that says, "High maintenance doesn't even begin to cover it!" Doesn't my family know me so well?

My best friend got me two great books. The first one is "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World," by Joanna Weaver. I am so excited to read this and have heard such great things about it that I am anxious to dive in. Has anyone else read this? It is definitely something I could improve upon.

The other book, not at all religious but oh-so-funny, was, "I Like You," by Amy Sedaris. I am a huge fan of Amy & David Sedaris so I was really excited about this one. It is one that I have borrowed from the library, but is too funny to return to the library.

I thought I had gotten all of my gifts, but got up early Saturday morning for an appointment and my husband got up with me. He turned me towards him, as I was getting ready, and said, "You don't really think you got a pot and a pizza party for your birthday do you? Do you really think that is all you deserve?" And I said, "Um...I like my pot and I loved my pizza party." He told that there would be no Goodwill half off day for me because I was to come straight home for a surprise that he had planned.

His parents came to pick up the kids and instructed us to pack an overnight bag for them. They kept asking me, "You really don't know what you are getting? Really?" And I kept shaking my head and telling them that I had no idea at all.

I didn't know until we arrived in Chicago, thirty minutes before the show would begin, that my husband had two tickets for us to see, "Wicked." Not only did he have two tickets...he had two FRONT ROW tickets to see the show.

I have been dying to see this show since it opened. We read the book for my book club and I was so excited to see how they would turn this great book into a musical.

The show was the best I have ever seen and I have seen and been in my share of musicals. The music was great, the writing was so fast and smart, and the singing was phenomenal.

Of course I was a teeny bit concerned about how much it all cost, but Ryan assured me that he scored an amazing deal for us. The nosebleed seats and our seats cost the same amount because a couple was needing to sell them because of a wedding that conflicted with it. We thank that amazing couple that decided to get married that day so that we could enjoy such a wonderful show.

And a big shout out to my husband who did his very best to make sure I had the best birthday ever and for his family for taking our children so that we could enjoy a fabulous day like that.

It was truly the best birthday ever!

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Free Subscription to Parents Magazine

These offers go fast, sign up for a free subscription to Parent's Magazine from Start Sampling. You will need to create an account with them, but they offer freebies all of the time, so it is worth the effort to create your account. The freebie is good for 24 free issues of the magazine- what an amazing deal!

Be sure to visit this week's freebie list and today's Redbox code for more great freebie offers.

Who says you can't get something for nothing?

**Please note - you can only receive one sample per day on the Start Sampling site**


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Ask Frugal Momma: Brunch Birthday Ideas?

Dear Frugal Momma,

I need your birthday party help. I read your post about Emily's last birthday and loved the at home ideas you listed. We usually have our parties at home just like that, and they are perfect. This year though we are having my son's first birthday at the local park's carousel. We have to bring all the food etc. The kicker: the party is at 9am b/c that is the only time we could reserve it. What types of easy, portable, breakfast foods would you recommend?? Of course, on top of the sugary, yummy non-breakfast birthday cake we will be eating!! :)
Thanks!
L.

First of all, can I just say that I am green with jealousy at anyone who is able to plan a birthday party outdoors right now? This just makes me want to move to the South right now and leave this cold Indiana weather behind....but, I digress!

I think birthday parties at brunch hours are ideal for entertaining because brunch food is so inexpensive and children are so much happier during the earlier part of the day. You beat all of the grumpiness that happens closer to the nap hour and you also get the rest of the day to kick your feet up and just relax after all of that planning. If I had my choice, I would always do birthday brunches because of those very reasons.

The best part about breakfast foods is that most of them are perfect for eating at room temperature and can easily be made into portable servings. Here are some of my suggestions for the perfect birthday brunch.

Mini Frittatas

Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray
8 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces thinly sliced ham, chopped
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray 2 mini muffin tins (each with 24 cups) with nonstick spray. Whisk the eggs, milk, pepper, and salt in a large bowl to blend well. Stir in the ham, cheese, and parsley. Fill prepared muffin cups almost to the top with the egg mixture. Bake until the egg mixture puffs and is just set in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, loosen the frittatas from the muffin cups and slide the frittatas onto a platter.

Fruit Dip

1 (8 ounce package) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1 jar Marshmallow Creme

Using an electric mixer, whip the two ingredients together. Store in the refrigerator until it is time to go.

(Amy's Note: Cut up fresh fruit to go along with the dip and put the cubed fruit on skewers for fruit kabobs. Place all of the skewers in a covered container to take with you to the picnic.)

Spinach & Tomato Orzo Pasta Salad

1 pound spinach, washed, dried, stems removed
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 lemons, zested
1 1/2 cups orzo, cooked to al dente
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the bowl
24 basil leaves, torn or thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

Pile spinach leaves in stacks 1 on top of the other. Thinly slice stacks of leaves to make spinach confetti. Pile shredded spinach into the bottom of a medium sized mixing bowl. Halve grape or cherry tomatoes with a paring knife and add them to the mixing bowl. Add the zest of 2 lemons to the bowl and save the lemons in the refrigerator to juice for another recipe. Add hot cooked and drained orzo pasta to the mixing bowl. The heat of the pasta will wilt the spinach and warm the tomatoes at the bottom of the bowl and get the juices flowing from veggies. The heat of the pasta will also release the flavor and oils in the lemon zest. Drizzle 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over the pasta and toss to combine the veggies and orzo. Add basil and salt and pepper and toss to combine. Taste your orzo to adjust seasonings and serve.

(Amy's Note: This might not be as big of a hit with the kids, but it will be something that parents can enjoy! To make it a heartier main dish for the parents, throw some cooked, diced chicken in. This can be served at room temperature, cold, or hot).

You could also do a simple cheese & cracker platter and a veggie tray to help round out your table a little more. You could do juice boxes for the kids and transport coffee in a coffee carafe or just do soda/water for the adults.

As for the cake, it sounds like you have this covered, but we did a wonderful brunch for Ethan one year that I just had to share. I used a coupon for buy-one-dozen-get-one-free on Krispy Kreme donuts. I bought plain and chocolate glazed donuts and then piped decorations onto the donuts (blue stars for boys, pink hearts for girls). If you stacked these on a beautiful cake platter, you can stack them just like a cake and everyone would get their own donut to take home! While not as cheap as making a cake out of the box, this is a simple portable solution and takes the pressure off of you to make the perfect cake.

Wishing your son and family a wonderful celebration day together!

Sound Off: Do you have any recipes that you could share with our reader for making her son's birthday extra special? Please leave a comment!

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Redbox Code 01.21.07

Today's free code for a Redbox movie is 33MM6L. This code is good for one free movie and you can use it until midnight tonight. Enjoy a free family movie together!

Side Note: If you want to rent more than one movie for free, bring more than one credit/debit card. You can use the same promotional code, you just will need different accounts to charge to. The charge will be zero as long as you return your movie on time for the next day.

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Apple Pie Muffins

Practicing hospital hospitality this past week for my nephew, I put together a basket of treats for the family to take down to the hospital with them.

I had lots of apples to use up and thought this recipe for Apple Pie Muffins would be perfect for a yummy treat. I made a double batch for them and for our family. I also made a triple batch of the crumb topping and put it in our freezer to help save a step the next time I make these or my Banana Crumb Muffins.

These muffins are super delicious and just the right balance of sweetness and tartness (from the apples). Serve these with a big glass of milk to wash them down.

Our house smelled so good after I was done baking these that I wanted to extend the scent longer. I used the peels and apple cores from dicing my apples and threw them in a pot with some lemons that were no longer good anymore. I topped the pot with some water and extra cinnamon and let it simmer away while I packaged the muffins up for the trip to Chicago. It smelled like an apple pie for the entire day. Thanks to whoever supplied that tip on Works-For-Me Wednesday because it really worked.

I thought these looked so beautiful in this red gingham basket that I had purchased from Goodwill. I put a little tag on it with a description of the muffins on it so that people knew what they would be diving into.

Although I couldn't sit in the waiting room with them, it was my way of showing that I loved and supported them during that time.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Good Cheap Fun- BUNCO!

I don't know if any of you participate in Bunco or any other fun game like this, but I joined a Bunco League that has been an ultimate blast for me once a month.

This past week's was probably the most fun yet because our theme was so great! The theme was "Weddings" and we all were told to wear our wedding dresses or favorite bridesmaid dress to the event. Considering how much people pay for these dresses, any opportunity you have to wear this more than once seems like a great idea to me!

I borrowed a dress from a girlfriend, who has been in her fair share of weddings, and got all dressed up for the event. My husband got a big kick out of me dressing up like this, complete with warm socks and snow boots. Considering the freezing Indiana temperatures, I wasn't about to brave it in a sexy pair of strappy shoes.

Our host went all out with a Polish Wedding Buffet complete with a wedding cake, made by her aunt. The food included homemade Polish sausage, herb-buttered noodles, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, and lots of yummy appetizers. We stuffed ourselves silly and then played Bunco by the light of her Unity candles.

In our league, the cost is $5 to play and a booby prize to be given to the person with the most losses. I eat more than $5 in food and sometimes I win my $5 back (or more) at the end of the game. For an entire evening of great fun and good food, it is totally worth the investment.

The booby prizes were a hoot and many people graciously passed on their ugly wedding gifts that they got from their own weddings. It was hilarious to see the gifts that were given and the hideous gifts that people got.

Each person went home with a wedding favor of chocolates wrapped in netting. Every detail went into the event and we all had such a blast dressing up and hanging out. Much thanks to our hostess for the evening for making the night so special!

If you are thinking of starting your own Bunco league, you can get more information at this website. I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for some good cheap fun. Best of all, it is a great way to build friendships and get away from the kids for a night.

Sound Off:
Do you do a game or activity regularly with your friends? What are some cheap ways that you have found to socialize?

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New Article: Running an Energy-Effecient Freezer

I am trying to work through all of the great article and topic suggestions, for our site, that you shared with me during one of my giveaways.

One of the requests was to feature more articles on making our appliances more energy-efficient. People have loved our Amazing Dishwasher article so I have added another appliance article to the mix..."Running an Energy-Efficient Freezer." The article offers a tutorial on easy ways to defrost your freezer and basic freezing guidelines for foods.

Sound Off: Do you have a deep freeze? Do you have any of your own special tips for keeping the appliance running efficiently?

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Freebie Friday: January 18, 2007

Once again, a big thanks to Freebies 4 Mom for helping me compile our weekly list of goodies. Enjoy all your fun freebies in the mail and think of us as you enjoy all your special freebie goodies!

Health & Beauty:

FDA Health Kit
$1.50 off of Luvs Diapers Coupon (Target Coupon)

Food:

Glad Microwave Steaming Bags
Hamburger Helper Singles
Hillshire Farm House Party
South Beach Granola Clusters

Entertainment:

Boating Magazine
Hollywood Video Free Rental (Sign up for their newsletter on their homepage)
Dime Magazine
Office Depot Catalogs (School Book or Office Book)

Home/Garden:

Post-It Pop Up Notes
More free Post-It Stuff (Pick your prize!)
You need these answers:
18
Durable Tabs
Command Adhesive
Pop-Up Note Dispenser
2 inches
All of the above
22 inches x 18 inches
Tripadvisor Luggage Tags

Pet Care:

Aquadine Fish Food sample

Mark your calendars!! Auntie Anne's is turning 20! To kick-off its 20th birthday celebration, Auntie Anne's is hosting a Free Pretzel Day on February 2nd at stores nationwide! Stop by your local Auntie Anne's on February 2nd between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to try one complimentary Original or Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel -- no strings attached.

Mark your calendars!! National Pancake Day is coming on February 12th. From 7AM-10PM you can get your free short stack of pancakes. Donations are requested for the Children's Miracle Network that day.

Mark your calendars!! Watch a professional chef demonstrate how to prepare an authentic meal using fine products from Bertolli®. Come for this exclusive event on January 26 at a participating Sam's Club and enjoy some free food.

Mark your calendars!! Free sweet week in the month of January on every Tuesday for Michiana residents at our area McDonald's restaurants. Read this post for the full scoop.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Special Prayer Request

Update: Austin's surgery went really well and he is now in recovery. Thank you for your prayers and thoughts. Please continue to keep him in your thoughts and prayers, as he has a long recovery ahead of him.

I don't often ask for a prayer request on here, but we have so many amazing readers that I would love to tap into that today. My nephew will be going in for a very serious surgery tomorrow morning. He has a rare condition called, Congenital Nevus that covers one of his legs.

They are attempting to get skin to use for a grafting and the past few surgeries have failed. They will be expanding his tissue in a different place this time, in hopes that this tissue will be stronger and give them more to work with. The more skin that they can get, the more of the nevus they will be able to remove.

Please pray for their family this week and ask God to help heal him. He is only six years old and it breaks my heart that they have to go through all of this. They are a young family and need all the prayers and support that we can offer them.

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Amy's Notebook 01.17.07


Thank you to everyone for your sweet birthday wishes- it made my day! We had a wonderful dinner with our family and I got some beautiful gifts that I am looking forward to taking a picture of and sharing with everyone. No one knows you better than your family and I got some really great stuff this year! They all picked gifts that went along with my retro-housewife theme. So chic!

Here are is my little notebook of ideas for the week- I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I enjoy putting them all together!

This granola recipe looks delicious and healthy too. I am going to have to add that to next month's menu planner.

When Emily gets a little older, I would love to try this tea party activity for her birthday party.

This indoor ice fishing looks like a fun activity when the weather is too cold to play outside.

I love this idea for creating a list of free things I can do that will keep me out of the stores.

I am going to have to think of some thrifty ways to add more yellow into our house. The color just makes me happy and these photos offer great inspiration!!

This looked like a fun project to unload some buttons in my junk drawers.

I love this how-to guide on reading a sewing pattern. Great information for someone learning to sew!

Another great instruction tutorial on making your own reusable grocery bags.

I really love this idea for decorating jar lids and her pop of color on her cabinets has me thinking about maybe adding a touch of color to mine!

I adore this patchwork skirt. I can just picture myself in it!

As we continue to get rid of the ugly dated eighties look in our house, I am thinking staining the banisters might be another thing we could do.

I need zippered pillows for our playroom. The kids wipe their faces on them all of the time and it would be so nice to be able to wash these.

For the knitters- how cute are these color-coded knitting needles. Super smart!

i just love these candles in this picture. I am going to have to do this next year around the holidays. They look so elegant!

This is a great inspiration for creating and finishing some of my projects at our house for this year.

I am going to have to try this recipe for these tiny calzones. I bet the kids would gobble them up!

Here are some more creative ways to wrap gifts- I am all about those!

I adore this little felt book- that would make a beautiful birthday gift for one of my children!

I like these ideas for post-holiday recycling!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

One of My Birthday Gifts

We are celebrating with our family tonight, but Ryan decided to give me my birthday present early so I could stop lusting after these at TJ Maxx. Here is my beautiful Cuisinart Cast Iron Pot. It is such a beautiful shade of red and I can't wait to cook in it. I have wanted one of these forever and I finally got it!

Along with this, I have gotten the go-ahead to get myself a new set of pots. Here is the thing...I don't know what kind of pots I want, but I know I want something that will be good quality and last me for the rest of my life. The only qualification is that I do not want nonstick cookware. Any suggestions from my favorite peanut gallery?

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It's Official! I'm OLD!

I turn thirty today! Isn't thirty the new twenty? Or the new ten? I keep hearing those rumors so I am hoping that they are true. Does it help that I feel much younger than I am? Or that I still get carded?

How do I know that I am getting older? Well, I was mortified when I saw someone in our family wearing fishnet stockings at a holiday get together. I actually felt sorry for her... until I discovered that fishnets could be something that was not only fashionable, but was encouraged by fashion experts this year. And yet, I thought these were just for street walkers. I am starting to show my age!

How do I know I am still young? I still indulge in stupid teenage shows like "The Hills" & "Gossip Girls." I stay up too late playing the Wii and hanging out with my husband. Last but not least, I still feel like I am playing dress-up & house over here even though we have been doing this for years now.

In honor of my special day, I offer you a vintage post from my archives. This is one of our more infamous posts that brings searches in by the hundreds. Here is my link to all of those great birthday freebies that you can score.

Be sure to bookmark this for your special day. After all, Friday shouldn't be the only day you get free stuff on our blog!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Don't Cut Up Your Princess Express Credit Card!

I ran across this from Life, In a Nutshell! This is classic and a great laugh (and lesson too!)


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Frugal Hacks: Choosing a Hobby Wisely

Each Tuesday, I get the opportunity to guest blog on Frugal Hacks. My specialty is the entertainment category and what could be more entertaining than exploring your hobbies and passions?

It is a goal for me this year to get my craft supplies back in order and really make some time for myself to explore the hobbies that make me happy. I love to do crafts and make gifts, but my family and the website take up the majority of my time and I don't have the time to really devote towards crafting it up.

As you can see in my notebook entries each week, I am constantly fascinated by creating crafts and the people who have made those passions a priority.

I hope you can check out this post and share some of your own tips for organizing your craft supplies and what hobbies you are interested in doing!

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WSBT-TV: Making Gourmet Coffee at Home

Each Tuesday I share my frugal ideas with our community on the morning show for our local news station, WSBT-TV.

This week I shared on a topic that is near and dear to my heart- making your own gourmet coffee at home. I share some of my tips for replicating a gourmet coffee experience and how I manage to keep my latte factor to a minimum.

I am working on an article to put up for our site, but wanted to share some links to some of the ideas that we have incorporated in our house.

Here are some related posts on making a Starbucks Coffee experience in your very own home! Imagine that I have over 116 references to coffee on my blog so scanning through our archives or searching under coffee can also yield additional fun ideas to create a gourmet coffee experience.

All About Coffee:

Make Your Own Flavored Creamers
Get Your Java Fix (Chock full of tips for replicating the Starbucks experience!)
Where to Get Free Wi-Fi (You need that while you are sipping your coffee)
Make Your Own Starbucks Iced Peppermint Mochas
Make Your Own Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Make Your Own Dried Coffee Drink Mixes (great for gift giving)
This is Coffee (a fun retro movie on how to make the perfect cup of joe)
A Little About My Coffee-Making Process
How to Score Free Starbucks Coffee

Treats to go with your coffee:

Make Your Own Biscotti
Make Your Own Starbucks Banana Pound Cake
David's Skinny Chocolate Chip Cookies
Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
Chocolate Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Frosting

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Ask the Frugal Momma: How Do You Do Your Menu Plans?

Q: What is your experience and advice on planning a standing weekly dinner menu rather than planning out a month of meals? To save time, you pick either a meal or theme for each night of the week, and repeat it for the most part each week. This way you always know what you need to buy (in general) at the grocery store without spending much time planning each week. I would like to set one up for my family and right now we have Sunday - Something New, Monday - Mexican Fiesta Night, Tuesday - Leftovers, Wednesday - Italian Feast, Thursday - Leftovers, Friday - Breakfast for Dinner, Saturday - Homemade Pizza Night. I'm just playing with this idea and have only partially implemented it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

A: Menu planning, although it is a huge chore, is something that I really enjoy doing in our house. I really find a lot of pleasure in trying and implementing new dishes in our house. Sometimes the dishes are a roaring success, other times we find that a cold bowl of cereal would taste a lot better than my experiment.

Over the years, my menu plans have changed a lot depending on the needs of our family. Here are some ways that we have made our menu plans work for us and have saved our family a lot of money in the process.

1. Menu plan according to your family style- This might sound like a strange phrase, but I will try to explain. Generally, you probably have a style to your homemaking or the kind the of parenting that you do in your house. For example, some people live by a fly-by-the-seat of their pants mentality and may parent even in a similar way. For a family like this, expecting them to keep a rigid schedule would be awfully difficult because it just doesn't fit with their general personality. Likewise, a person who cleans the floors on Monday, recycles on Tuesday, changes sheets on Wednesday, etc... will find going without a menu plan would be extremely difficult.

I am one of those weird people that falls somewhere in between. I would love to be more rigid with the things we do in our house and set up more days of scheduled activities, but I am laid back and constantly trying to fight the clutter over here. I like to menu plan and enjoy knowing what I am going to eat throughout the week, but I hate to feel like I have to do exactly what is planned because I often give into my cravings. That is where my menu planning style comes into play. I just plan out a month's worth of meals and then pick from my twenty or so choices so that I always feel like I have lots of options. This gives me a game plan, but not a detailed game plan that I must stick to or else.

Think about your personality and what works best for you, but having a plan in mind will truly save your family a lot of cash. It is time-consuming, but it is only as time-consuming as you want to make it. If your family has simple tastes, don't feel like you have to be a gourmet chef.

2. Get creative with your planning- I love to be creative with my menu plans and have found lots of great recipes to add to my collection by spending lots of time researching new recipes and constantly being open to trying new things. I utilize websites like Recipezaar, All Recipes, and Food Network.

I also love to check out cookbooks and magazines from our local library to help inspire me in the kitchen. Many times I don't necessarily want to make exactly what is in the book, but I can flip through the cookbooks and get general ideas for recipes I can search for on the internet.

One other place I love to hunt for ideas is by saving take-out menus from our favorite restaurants and using these to do my planning off of that. Since eating out was such a temptation for me, I could take those menu plans and use those to build a menu off of them. Let's say that my favorite take-out food in the world is Chicken Lo Mein (which it truly is!) then I can take that menu description or dish idea and try and replicate it through a site like Recipezaar or Food Network.

When I began doing this something very strange started happening. I began to replace my cravings for food out with my own version. In a way it is really great because there are very few places that I really love to go out to eat at anymore, but in some twisted way it is a little disappointing because I don't enjoy dining out anymore. I just have to keep in mind all of the money that we are saving and then it all seems worth it!

3. Theme it up- Themes are definitely a great way to being menu planning and I loved the theme ideas in this question. Themes make planning a lot easier for families because it takes some of the work out of the planning.

One way to make themes easier to implement in your house is by arranging your recipes by your theme night. My recipes are in a giant Word file and are set up by my themed days. My theme was a Brunch Sunday, Slow Cooker Monday, Chicken Tuesday, Italian Night Wednesday, Casserole/Comfort Food Thursday, Kid Food Night Friday (usually pizza, but they have other options too), & Seafood Saturday. Sunday night is also Seek-And-Ye-Shall-Find Night. This is just a fancy way of saying, "Momma ain't cookin'."

You can pick from any variety of themes and you can go to town with your theme or just keep it a general night. You can make it special or keep it super simple. What I hope my children walk away with isn't just that their mom is the best darn cook in the world, but that they have fond memories of our family sitting around the dinner table being together.

4. Involve your children- Things just seem to go better if the family has some input into the week's meals. My son is five now and he is at the stage where he loves to express his opinion and feel like he is contributing towards the family.

That is why each Friday is his day to pick what he wants and I try to come up with a few ideas for things we can eat. Pancakes, waffles, calzones, pizza- those are just a few of the options that I offer. We usually watch a movie with them and have a special snack like popcorn or hot cocoa to make the night completely about them. He looks forward to this evening a lot and we look forward to indulging in some of our favorite foods too.

He doesn't get to pick the rest of the week, but I have made it a rule to only introduce one new thing at a time so that we can avoid the fights over the dinner table. I will always offer one thing that he is familiar with and likes, but I might introduce one new food in with the meal. My son is big on the routine and to hand him a plate of food that he doesn't recognize can make for a really stressful dinner hour. I try to always plan the meals with them in mind, but also like to indulge in trying new dishes. This is a happy compromise that we can all live with.

5. Remember it doesn't have to be all about the menu plan- There are so many elements to making the dinner hour enjoyable in your home. Is the kitchen table not cleared? Are you eating off of paper plates parked in front of the television? Is the baby is crying through the entire meal? I can picture all of these scenarios happening in our house at one point or another. Heck, it might even happen tonight.

Try and make the dinner hour at home fun because it curbs the temptation to want to go out to dinner. If you have an enjoyable dinner hour at home, there is just no need to go out and brave the crowds.

Now it doesn't have to be all fine dining and elegant candlelight, but keeping the dinner table clear for eating can be a great start. My ideal dinner hour has nice dishes and soft music and no children crying or whining at the table. It doesn't happen all of the time, but I try to make an effort so that we all want to be at our table instead of Steak & Shake's table.

6. Visualize your choices- I feel very accomplished when I have our menu plans hanging on our refrigerator and it makes me feel good to see all of our choices neatly typed up and ready to go. If I prepare a dish from the list, I take a highlighter and swipe a line through it. Seeing all of the things we ate all neatly highlighted also proves to me that I did not go out to eat. It makes you feel good and it also gives you ideas for food you can look forward to in the coming weeks.

7. Grocery shop according to your family style- Just as I mentioned in the first part, you need to grocery shop according to your family style or finances. I love, love, love to menu plan, but I hate, hate, hate to grocery shop. This is why menu planning once for the entire month works best for me. It keeps me out of the place I hate and I only have to sit down once a month to do my plans and grocery list.

If you only want to eat fresh produce all week long, then you will need to go weekly or bi-weekly to make that happen. Whereas my style is to rely heavily on canned applesauce, frozen veggies, and potatoes towards the end of the month. I sacrifice the fresh stuff in favor of shopping once a month.

Family finances can also have an impact on when you do your shopping. When my husband was paid bi-weekly I was able to visit the grocery store twice a month. Now that we are working with a monthly check, I find that shopping once a month makes it easier for me to manage our family finances and also keeps me out of the grocery store so often.

8. Save your plans & rotate them- One of the best ways that I have found to save us time is to just keep copies of my past menu plans so that I can rotate them. If you come up with two month's worth of meals, you can reuse those and rotate those dishes to make new planners for the future weeks. I do all of my plans on the computer and then save them so that I can look back on past ideas for inspiration.

I hope this gives you some more ideas on how we do the planning in our family! If you have a question you would like to ask me, just shoot me an email (amy@momadvice.com) and put in the subject line, "Ask Frugal Momma." I love to get your questions and it makes me feel like I am providing some truly useful content!

Some Related Readings:

Iron Chef Mom Challenge

Don't Throw Out Those Take-Out Menus!
Saving on Groceries
Pretty Menu Plans
Ding-Dong: Did Someone Order Groceries?
Become a Coupon Queen or Not
Milking the Milk Budget
Aldi Fall/Winter Planner
One Month of Slow Cooking
Aldi Menu Planner
Grocery Shopping on a Budget
More Aldi Menu Planners & Grocery Lists (Click on titles to expand)
Latest Menu Plans

Sound Off: How do you do your menu plans and keep that family grocery budget on track?

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Redbox Code 01.14.07

Today's free code for a Redbox movie is HDU942. This code is good for one free movie and you can use it until midnight tonight. Enjoy a free family movie together!

Side Note: If you want to rent more than one movie for free, bring more than one credit/debit card. You can use the same promotional code, you just will need different accounts to charge to. The charge will be zero as long as you return your movie on time for the next day.

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Homemade Pancake Syrup

This weekend I hit the supermarket and found a fancy loaf of bread that I could make our delicious French Toast out of. I decided this would be a great time to try making my own pancake syrup since it has been on my list of things to do for quite some time.

I found this great recipe, courtesy of Hillbilly Housewife, and decided to give it a try. The syrup was delicious and I don't think we will ever go back to the commercial stuff, especially since this was so easy to make. It was a little thinner than the commercial version, but it had a much better flavor than the store-bought variety.

I hope you can enjoy some of this in your house too!

Homemade Pancake Syrup


2 cups warm tap water
4 cups sugar

2 tablespoons molasses
1-1/2 teaspoons maple flavoring

1/4 teaspoon butter flavoring (optional)


In a three-quart saucepan combine the water, sugar and molasses. Put the pan on the stove over medium heat. Stir every now and then until the syrup comes to a rolling boil. Watch the syrup carefully because it has a tendency to foam and will boil over if your pan is too small. If this starts to happen, remove the pan from the heat and turn the heat down. After the syrup boils, cover the pot and simmer it for ten minutes over a low flame. Do not stir it for this ten minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Take off the lid and let it cool on the counter for about 15 minutes. Stir in the maple flavoring (and butter flavoring if you're using it). Store the syrup in a clean quart canning jar.

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Are Baby Carrots a Convenience Food?

I had never really thought about baby carrots being a convenience food until I did my grocery shopping at Target a couple of weeks ago. At Aldi, I am able to get baby carrots for $.78 a bag and it doesn't *seem* like much more than the carrots that are not processed.

When I shopped at Target though, I noticed a considerable difference because the unprocessed carrots were on sale for $2 for 5 pounds of carrots, while the 1 pound bag of baby carrots was almost $2 per pound. Have I been buying a convenience food? And exactly what have I been paying for?

I happened upon this excellent article from Wise Bread on what exactly is up with those baby carrots. If you don't feel like reading the entire piece, the premises of the article is that baby carrots are not a frugal choice for families. Not only are they not frugal, but you are actually paying MORE for a product that is of a LESSER quality. What? Did I read that right?

Baby carrots only have 70% of the beta carotene compared to the unprocessed variety and they actually have less flavor because they are produced in a different way than the regular old carrots we grew up on.

When I got my carrots home, I did a little taste test and I definitely could taste a major difference between the carrots I cut myself versus the carrots that were processed for me. The carrots that I cut just tasted more flavorful and fresher while the baby carrots just didn't have much flavor at all.

To speed the cutting process up, I reused one of those plastic grocery bags and rested that on top of my cutting board so that I could scoop and dump all of the peelings in one fell swoop. I chopped the carrots up for the week while I caught up on my television shows in the kitchen. It was a quick and easy way to make some snacks for the week that would save me time during our lunches.

I just want to say that I am not discouraging anyone from eating healthy. If baby carrots are worth the convenience and are an ideal way to get some nutrition in your family's day, then by all means, buy them. I just wanted to point out that from a frugal perspective, that I didn't want to pay more for the convenience especially now that I know how great a fresh cut carrot really can taste and I know that my kid's would benefit nutritionally from me cutting the carrots myself.

Sound Off: Going along with the discussion on baby carrots, are there convenience foods you buy to get your kids to eat healthy? Is there a convenience food that you are willing to splurge on to make sure they get all their nutrition in for the day? Please share!

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Freebie Friday: January 11, 2008


A big thanks to Heather, from Freebies 4 Mom, for helping us with our list this week! Please visit her website for your freebie fix throughout the entire week!

I hope everyone enjoys all of their freebies. Thank you for all of your great comments this week- they honestly make my day so much better to know that someone is out there listening and benefiting from anything I am doing on here.

Health & Beauty

Saturday, January 12 Walmart Event: Speaking of Women's Health (free Love Notes book, free samples)
Anew Clinical Advance Microdermabrasion Systme Courtesy of Avon (available to the first 2,000 voters)
Kotex Ultra Thin Pads
Cottonelle Moist Wipes Sample (you do not need to be a Sam's Club Member)

Food

SeaPack Shrimp Recipe Book
Coffee-Mate Creamer
Parent's Choice Infant Formula Sample
Free Buffet Meal (Includes Ryan's & Old Country Buffet- the coupon is emailed and is a BOGO Free for meals plus birthday freebies!)

Entertainment

Vive Mejor magazine (bilingual Spanish/English published by Unilever comes w/coupons)

Home & Garden

Child Safe Kit (forms and fingerprinting kit)
Elmo Bag Tag from Nursery Water (limit 100 each day, so request in the morning)
The Amazing World of Play Clay (call Arm & Hammer at 1-800-575-2925 for a copy)
3M Post-it Super Stick Post It Notes

Pet Care

Purina One 30-Day Challenge - Free Bag for your dog or cat after completing questionnaire
PetEdibles

Mark your calendars!!
It is Chowda Day at Legal Seafood on January 15, 2008. Get a free cup of chowder to celebrate this special day. Available at takeout counters only at participating locations: Burlington Mall, Copley Place, Chestnut Hill, Framingham, South Shore Plaza, & King of Prussia.

Mark your calendars!!
National Pancake Day is coming on February 12th. From 7AM-10PM you can get your free short stack of pancakes. Donations are requested for the Children's Miracle Network that day.

Mark your calendars!! Watch a professional chef demonstrate how to prepare an authentic meal using fine products from Bertolli®. Come for this exclusive event on January 26 at a participating Sam's Club and enjoy some free food.

Mark your calendars!! Free sweet week in the month of January on every Tuesday for Michiana residents at our area McDonald's restaurants. Read this post for the full scoop.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Amy's Notebook 01.10.08


Here are a few of my favorite reads this week! Enjoy!

I love how this shelf unit was decorated with pretty paper.

This is such a cute gift idea for all of those birthday parties we go to.

I can't wait until Danny Seo's product line comes out at JC Penny. I love those reusable totes!

I want to go to England. Maybe for our anniversary if I can keep throwing money into our vacation funds.

Someone else painted their kitchen cabinets a pretty white. Now I need to think about painting my table white. Just worried about the abuse it would get from my children...oh, and all that work!

These chalkboard pictures are really inspiring me! I would love to add a chalkboard element in our house.

This is a great tutorial for making a birthday banner!

I wish I had a big porch so I could make a cute little snow porch like this!

Time to start thinking about Valentines. I really love this tutorial for folding a paper heart!

I just have to say that this crocheted food made me laugh out loud! Be sure to visit the link to the photos because all of her food is super cute!

Here are some more great blogging tips for all of you work-at-home mommas!

These pencil toppers are precious. What a great little project that one is! Here is another one she did and the wreath is super cute too.

I am going to be making some of this coffee cake bread.

I would have never thought to use picnic baskets for toy storage.

Thanks to Meredith for this find- A Year Off of shopping and a two month commitment from another blogger. I will be looking forward to reading these posts and getting inspired to cut the clutter and decrease the spending in our house!

These felt toy cats are super cute!

I love these reversible oilcloth placemats.

I would love some of these daisy-stitched handwarmers. They look so cozy!

I wash mostly in cold water so I was interested in reading this post (be sure to read the comments because the moms have some great stain removing techniques!)

This pasta dish looks delicious for a great mommy lunch during the day. A tad more yummy than a peanut butter sandwich!

Where was this post when I was a new mommy?

I would love to try making my own pepperoni. Has anyone else made this before?

How about some advice AGAINST changing your own oil? I thought this was very interesting!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Day Trip to Chicago & WSBT-TV Segment

Yesterday I had to make a day trip over to Chicago to.....(drum roll please!) shoot some promotions for KENMORE! Yup, I am being added to their team of experts to talk about cleaning & organizing for their Make It Simple team! I will be sure to post links to the promotions and my monthly articles with the team, sharing my advice on cleaning & caring for your appliances.

This was truly a dream come true job and I will be working with Kenmore for the next six months (and hopefully longer, if all goes well!) I wish I could have had my camera yesterday to take pictures of that day, but I didn't want to be a complete dork! It went really well, but I didn't get home until close to midnight. To say I am tired today would be putting it mildly. I had to stop at Starbucks this morning and cash in on one of my Christmas gift certificates. This is the first time I have ever asked for a triple shot of espresso in my cup. That was a mistake...I fear I never will go back to regular caffeine again!

I still can't believe that this opportunity landed in my lap and I was a little choked up when I got home last night. All of the fuss over hair and wardrobe and feeling like a star for a day...it was just a dream come true. I can't wait to tell my kids someday how cool I felt that day!

My segment on, "Making Your Own Bread" also aired on WSBT yesterday. I shared some tips for saving money on making your bread at home. I share the functions to look for on a machine and tips for saving on making your own bread. This goes along with my post on how to use your bread machine and how to store your ingredients.

Sound Off: Do you make your own bread? How do you streamline the bread-making process?

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Ask the Frugal Momma: Gaining a Readership (The Frugal Way)

Q: How do you establish a reader base?

A: I may have opened a can of worms by answering the work-at-home questions, but I am hopeful that I can help offer some advice to those of you out there who are trying to start a blog or website for profit. As always, I promise to be as honest as I possibly can and share any details about my work-at-home experience to help others.

Let's say that you start a website/blog and then you are left wondering, "How in the world am I going to get people to come to my corner of the internet?" You could obviously pay to advertise on websites that target the same audience profile, but usually when you are beginning your funds are often tight and it can be difficult to fork over money. After all, you are trying to make money for your family and you want to be as smart as you can with your dollars.

I will be very honest and say that I have never paid to advertise anywhere. In the beginning, we tossed around advertising on other sites to build our audience, but we just did not have the money to pursue the sites that we felt would fit our audience best. We are just now beginning to shell out real money to get our site known in the web-design community and to boost our traffic so I think it is very possible to have a profitable website without spending a huge amount of your profits to gain a readership.

But let's be frank, without a great and interactive audience your site just won't have that sparkle that keeps people coming back. You need an audience that can provide feedback for you not only as motivation to keep doing what you are doing, but also to also create a community of people who want to keep going back to your site over and over again.

Here are a few of the ways we have gained our readership:

1. Join like-minded communities- When we first started the site, I joined every Yahoo group that had something to do with personal finance or frugality. You will have to look into the guidelines for these groups, but usually you can have a signature line at the end of your posts. This is a great way to get your name out there, participate in a group of like-minded folks who will respect your ideas/opinions, and gives you an opportunity to peek into what other people are interested in on your topics.

With a signature line, I think it is important to keep it short, sweet, and to the point. None of us have time to read a paragraph of a signature line, but a link to your site/blog and maybe a quick quip underneath can get people interested in wanting to learn more about you and what you are doing.

My signature line could be:

Amy
MomAdvice.com
"Helpful financial advice for every mother!"

This is short, sweet, and to the point. You don't want to be booted out of communities for spamming them so make sure that when you are sharing on these sites that you don't continually drop in things that could qualify as advertising or make others feel uncomfortable. Understand the rules and play by them. People will respect you more for it and it is great fun to find a post that someone else has written about what a great resource your site/blog is without you spamming everyone to death.

If you are unclear about the rules, email the moderator and make sure. It is better to be safe than sorry!

2. Name Drop- And name drop often! This is something that I learned as I got further along in my career. I was so scared that I would lose my readers that I would never share about other websites or blogs. I thought I was keeping my readers secure in my grasp if I never gave them something to take them away from my spot. But then I realized that what I was doing was actually keeping my readership low and I was losing out on a lot of readers that might come my way.

I started doing the "Amy's Notebook" entry on Thursdays to highlight other blogs. I would share great things that I ran across on other sites and include them in a weekly round-up for my site. What ended up happening was that those blogs found out about me and would add me to their favorite links, would share my site with others, or would become a reader on my blog. All of a sudden, your name gets dropped in ten new locations and those ten locations have a whole slew of readers who never knew about you.

Better yet, when you name drop in a blog post, sometimes you don't even have to come up with content for the day. This can be great when you are suffering from a case of writer's block or you are too busy to write.

3. Share Your Content- One of the greatest ways that you can get readers is by sharing your content with other sites or print publications. If you are a blogger, many blog entries are the perfect length for ezines and newsletters.

Share content with sites that are going to bring in your perfect target audience. One easy way to figure this out is to look up a site that you really like (or your own site if you are already established) on Alexa and see what other sites they recommend. You will see "Related Links" on the left-hand side and you can click on that to see what other sites other people visit that are similar to your own. For example, here is the listing for our site. That can give me a good starting point for great sites that I could contact and see if they would use my content for their own site.

Sharing your content with competing and more established sites will give you the readership boost when and where you need it most. Not only can that be good for gaining readers, but it can also help establish relationships with other website owners that can be great for networking purposes.

You can also share your content through sites that keep a directory of articles for ezine and newsletter purposes. I would list mine on Ezine Articles and also send my articles to the website owners directly to make sure my content was making its rounds. Do be aware though that when you release your content out into the world that you relinquish the rights to choose where the content might be shared and you have much less control over how it appears and might have more difficulty tracking if your site is linked to that article. Some people don't mind doing this, but others are more protective of their work and like to have more control over where it is seen.

4. Update often- I love to read blogs that I know are updated often and always have something new for me to read. Updating can be difficult and working through a writer's block can be challenging, but this is one way to be sure that people know that you are always offering something fresh. This doesn't mean that you have to add a new entry daily, but even two-three times a week is good and keeps people coming back for more.

I am a big believer in quality over quantity though so don't update just to update. Likewise, don't crank out more of whatever you are selling, but decrease the quality of your workmanship. In a world that seems to consider quantity over quality, a quality looking site with quality content/goods is a rare gem.

5. Take theming to new levels-
When I first started out, one of the best ways for me to get readers was by participating in those group theme events. There are so many theme days that it is hard to know where to start, but chances are that you can find a theme that will relate to what you are up to on the internet. Sometimes it is even fun to participate in these events even if it doesn't exactly fit with your theme. A creative mind can always work a theme into what they are doing. Here are a few events to get you started:

Menu Planning Mondays
Tackle it Tuesday
Works-For-Me Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday
Thursday Thirteen
Frugal Fridays

Maybe you are someone who sells handmade aprons. You could participate in an event like Tackle It Tuesday and share tips for caring for an apron. Maybe you sell soy candles and you could come up with ideas for extending the life of your candles, making you a perfect candidate to participate in Frugal Fridays. Maybe you are an eBay Queen and are trying to make money by selling items online. You could share your tips for posting an auction on Works-For-Me Wednesday.

6. Comment & Share- One of the best ways to get people to come to your blog/site is by visiting other people's sites. I have made some of my best buddies and created some of our best networking opportunities by commenting on other people's blogs.

Make sure that you have created an account or made yourself reachable when you do leave an account. Leaving anonymous comments won't bring in an audience to visit you so make sure you set up an account. Our blog is through Blogger so you would need to create a free Blogger account and make an account that you can sign into and that will direct people to your masterpiece.

7. Start Locally- Local folks are going to be even more interested in you than the other people because you are part of their community! Don't be afraid to contact your local media and see if they might be interested in doing a story on what you are doing. Small-town communities are more receptive to this because there might be less to cover in your area. Check your local media's websites and see if they have a free local directory for businesses or if they have a community forum where you can chat with other local business owners.

Join a small business group in town, look on Meetup to see if you can find other people who are working from home, and join community organizations that will help serve as a networking opportunity. My mom's group, for example, has been an excellent way for me to get the word out about what I do. Not only do these women clue me in on things that will help my website be better, but they also let me guest speak on occasion and share my site with their friends and family. They have become my best fans and have helped me be better at what I am doing!

8. Participate in the Festivals & Carnivals- Participating in online festivals and carnivals can really help boost your traffic. These days they have an event for just about everything in the book and these can be a great way to draw more readers to your site/blog. Create an account on Blog Carnival and start browsing through the categories that fit with what you offer. Submit your articles through their entry form and schedule these events weekly on your calendar. I just submit all of my entries each Friday since most of my events have a deadline for Saturday or Sunday. Making this a priority can help you a lot especially when you are looking for new readers. Better yet, read the other entries for fresh ideas for content to your site or do a round-up of your favorite entries so readers don't have to read the entire festival/carnival to find the really great stuff.

These are just a few of my ideas for getting started with a reader base. As always, keep the questions and comments coming. I will keep answering them as long as I have questions coming to me!

Sound Off: If you have an established site/blog, what were some of the best ways that you were able to get readers to come to your site, particularly in those beginning days?

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Redbox Code 01.07.08

Today's free code for a Redbox movie is K22GB7. This code is good for one free movie and you can use it until midnight tonight. Enjoy a free family movie together!

Side Note: If you want to rent more than one movie for free, bring more than one credit/debit card. You can use the same promotional code, you just will need different accounts to charge to. The charge will be zero as long as you return your movie on time for the next day.

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December '07 Menu Planner

I did not get to make a lot of the dishes that I planned to due to the holidays and us all being sick over those past couple of weeks. I did want to share my ideas though and hope that you can use some of them for your menu plans in the future!

December Menu Choices:

1. Gingerbread Waffles and Christmas Caramel Rolls

2. Basil Cream Chicken Over Pasta

3. Pizza Night

4. Chicken Caesar Wraps With Tortilla Chips

5. Eggnog Baked French Toast

6. Cheeseburger Pasta with Homemade Bread

7. Funky Chicken With Sesame Noodles

8. Italian Chops Over Pasta

9. Turkey Burgers With Oven Fries

10. Chicken Tacos With Tortilla Chips

11. Spaghetti & Turkey Meatballs

12. Herb Baked Tilapia, Rice, & Sweet Cornbread

13. Pizza Night

14. Yeast Waffles & Turkey Bacon

15. Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole (Scroll towards the bottom) Over Egg Noodles

16. Bread Machine Calzones

17. Sloppy Joe Turnovers with Oven Fries

18. Chicken Italiano Over Orzo

19. Chicken & Broccoli Lo Mein With Sticky Rice

20. Roasted Chicken, Rice, & Herb Buttered Corn

21. Harvest Grain & Nut Pancakes

22. Lazy Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken & Noodle Soup with Homemade Bread

23. BBQ Chicken Sandwiches & Shoestring Fries

24. Sloppy Giuseppes (Scroll down to Meal #8) With Oven Fries

Snacks/Desserts: Oreo Biscotti, Cookie Dough Dip, Panettone Bread for the Bread Machine

**Please visit I'm An Organizing Junkie for more menu planning ideas!**

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Freebie Friday: January 4, 2007

Big thanks to Heather, from Freebies 4 Mom, for helping me compile our weekly freebies. Be sure to visit her site for freebies throughout your entire week!

Happy Friday, everyone!

Health & Beauty
Food

South Beach Living Foods (Walmart sample)

Simply Nutrilite food bar (Chocolate Crisp or Cherry Almond)

Jamba Juice Free Smoothie (w/24hr Fitness ID)

NutraSweet Swirl (not a Walmart sample)

Taster's Choice Coffee (just check the box for the sample)

Coke rewards are DOUBLE today so be sure to enter your codes today.

TGI Friday's free appetizer

Mark your calendars!! National Pancake Day is coming on February 12th. From 7AM-10PM you can get your free short stack of pancakes. Donations are requested for the Children's Miracle Network that day.

Mark your calendars!! Watch a professional chef demonstrate how to prepare an authentic meal using fine products from Bertolli®. Come for this exclusive event on January 26 at a participating Sam's Club and enjoy some free food.

Entertainment

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Ask the Frugal Momma: How Do I Work From Home?

Well, thankfully our phone & internet has been restored. I discovered I have quite a dependency on it and spending an entire evening over at a supermarket in the yucky weather was not ideal.

Since the CBS Early Show aired our segment, I have been really bogged down with emails and, ironically, many of them are scammers trying to scam me out of some more of my money. Right now we are not interested in any work-at-home opportunities for ourselves personally, but thank you so much for thinking of us.

For those who are legitimately trying to find work at home opportunities, please know that my sympathies are with each of you. It is really hard to find work-at-home employment and it is particularly difficult to carve your own niche into the work-at-home world.

Direct sales jobs abound and can be very fruitful for people who are really dedicated and who work hard. Sitting on a couch watching the money roll in will probably not be happening in your near future, but hard work can help you achieve your work-at-home goals.

Things that can be helpful when starting out-

1. Look at the cost investment- Always make sure that you understand how much it is going to cost to get started. Some companies, like Avon, only have a very small amount that you need to pay to start your business upfront. Other companies can require you to spend $500 or more to get started. Be sure you understand how hard you are going to have to work to recoup your investment and be very careful! If you want to dabble in working at home or are unsure if you are disciplined enough to do something like this, please don't throw in a huge investment to make that discovery. It breaks my heart when people tell me they are having a difficult time financially and then they decide to work at home with a $2K start-up fee and then weeks later say they made the wrong choice.

2. Know your strengths- If you are very shy and have a hard time talking to people, direct sales jobs can be difficult to do. I tried direct sales and discovered that I just wasn't good at it. I don't want to "bother" people so it was hard for me to do a job where I had to call and ask if people wanted to place orders, emailing them about parties, asking them if they wanted to buy stuff, handing out catalogs, etc... It wasn't for me! BUT, you might have a way with words and have just the right personality for this kind of job.

If you aren't sure what your strengths are, ask your friends and family. "You know me best. Do you think I would be good at a _____." They should be able to help you in making your decision too!

3. Go to the library- The library is a wealth of FREE information for someone who is looking into working from home. It is an easy way to explore different career paths without making an investment. Check out books on how to start a simple website, how to sell items on Ebay, or find information on great work-at-home careers.

4. Network- Network with anyone and everyone that you can. Join community groups or take advantage of the great communities that you are already part of to begin the networking process. Bater your services with other work-at-home moms, share resources for great deals, and just vent to one another about your work-at-home difficulties.

5. Get a Cheap Website- I asked my husband about this one and he said, "You are trying to put me out of business!" As a freelance web designer, he is going out on a limb to share this information so leave us some comment love!

He suggested Microsoft Office which is FREE! They also have package deals with more features for $19.95 and up. If you are just experimenting and trying to get started, this would be a nice option to explore.

6. Make Money- The bottom line is that there are legitimate opportunities out there, but they are usually names of companies that you know and recognize. The only other option is to go out on your own and start your own little adventure. If you don't have the resources or knowledge to do something new like this, check into community courses on starting a small business or starting a website. Even some libraries offer basic courses in computer skills to get you started.

I personally started this website and made below the poverty level for almost two years. Some months we were extremely excited when we brought in even $80 after I worked for 20-25 hours a week on the website. I do not have a company of people to help me and it has made the money growth a lot slower for me...BUT....I am staying home with my children and I am my own boss. It isn't a ton of money, but it is a modest income that helps when you are just trying to make ends meet. I guess what I am trying to convey is that it is important to be realistic. Growth takes time and devotion. If you aren't devoted to your business/craft/adventure then you probably will end up giving up on it before you can see the numbers begin to turn in your favor.

7. Get Advertisers- I also wanted to address the question about advertisements. There are tons of places you can go through for making money through advertisements. You can do sites like:

Google AdWords
Pay Per Post
BlogHer Ads

I am sure there are many other programs, but these are some of the basic ones that are easy for new sites/blogs to use. You can also become affiliated with companies and make money from referral programs. For example, you can sign up with a company like Commission Junction and make money if you refer people to sites/services.

As you develop more of an audience, you will find that new avenues of revenue opportunities are available. Sites that develop a strong audience can begin going out on their own and creating their own advertising. I did this in the beginning and I was able to pocket all of the money from the advertising, but I had a hard time keeping up with the accounts. I used PayPal for making payments to me, but I had to send out the reminder letters, pull the accounts when they were expired, send invoices, and we might have had to even design the advertisements. It was a lot of work! You have to be more disciplined to keep up with something like this on your own, but you also can keep all of the money you earn!

Other avenues that could open up are advertising networks that are only available to the bigger sites. One network we joined required a monthly minimum of 250K page views each month. That was the minimum. You can imagine how long it took us to get to that point, but we got a bigger piece of the pie.

When you start looking into this territory you need to start exploring how your money is generated and what income you can expect. Do you get money just if people view the advertisements or is your money made only through people clicking on the advertisements? How big are the advertisements? How many will you have to place on the site? Do you get to help pick what appears on your site? Will the advertisements fit with your audience? Will ADULT CONTENT be shown? (This is particularly important if you are trying to run a family-friendly site)

I hope that my answers do not scare anyone off, but I did want to share as much as I could on this topic since I got some really heartbreaking emails. I am so sorry to the families who have lost money because they have been scammed. There is nothing worse than being scammed especially when you are in a vulnerable financial state.

Please let me know if you have more questions by leaving me a comment! The comments keep me motivated and also help me understand what more I can share with you all.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Amy's Notebook 01.03.07

Side Note: We are having internet problems and I am blogging today from a local supermarket. It appears that our phone line is down and they said it might be until Monday before it will be repaired. I apologize for any delays with the site or responses to your emails. I will get back to you all as soon as I get a working internet connection! Luckily, I did a lot of blogging earlier this week so I hope there will be plenty to read here in the meantime.

I am heading home now, but here are a few great entries of the week!


I love Design Mom's excellent playroom makeover. This had some really great ideas for how decorate our future basement playroom.

I love this idea for keeping the kids entertained in the winter.

This entry has some great uses for all of those canning jars.

Can you believe this amazing honey baked ham? What a smart idea!

I love these ideas for losing baby weight and being frugal (kind of went along with my "Get Healthy" resolution that I shared)

Get your baby bargain forecast for the month of January.

I think I want to make all 96 of these Smitten Kitchen dishes. Yummy!

These are some cute ideas for making use of those old Christmas cards.

These fridge magnets are so cool!

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Our Kitchen Makeover

When we moved into our house, one of the big things that attracted us to it was the size of our kitchen. Now that we have lived in our house for four years, I don't think my kitchen is as big as I would like, but it seemed enormous when our last house had only a galley kitchen. Isn't that funny how accustomed we can become to more space?

The thing that I was not fond of about the kitchen was the dated look of it and the lack of storage and cupboards. The walls were white, the floors a really light pine color, and the cabinets were oak with no hardware. We didn't have enough cabinet space, the appliances all needed to be updated, and the kitchen lacked the style I wanted. If this was a reflection of the "heart of our home," it was certainly missing something. The owner before us had completely renovated the kitchen, but it wasn't our style and wasn't cohesive or finished the way we would have liked.

Our kitchen makeover has been a gradual process and we are still working on the details of it, but it has come a long way from the dated eighties look. We would replace things as they went out and updates would come when we had a little extra money. I did want to show where we are at now, with the updating process, and to share how we have renovated our kitchen on a budget.

I wish I would have taken more before pictures of the kitchen, but I hope my descriptions will help.
These are the pictures of our cabinets before the makeover. Nice, but not much to write home about. We had received a $50 Lowes gift card for Christmas (thanks, mom & dad!) so we thought we would put the money to good use. I used the steps provided in this tutorial to paint our cabinets. This meant no messy sanding and so it helped to save a step and saved me a lot of cleaning too!
We took all of the doors off and gave them a really good cleaning with a liquid degreaser that I had purchased from the hardware store. Once cleaned, we applied two layers of primer to each side of the doors and to the outside of the cabinets themselves. We allowed the primer to dry one day and then we began painting them the next day. The color that we chose was a Martha Stewart "Wainscot White." It wasn't a true white, but was definitely not a cream either.

The hardware for the cabinets was purchased from Target. They have ten packs of knobs that very closely resemble the stuff at Restoration Hardware, but they only cost $14.99 for ten versus $5-10 each. The drawer pulls were $4.99 each (also purchased from Target) and they all were in oil rubbed bronze.

These are the cabinets after. What a difference a weekend can make! The cupboards are so beautiful and have brightened the kitchen up so much. Not only that, but the whole space feels so much larger because of the white cabinets. The walls were also painted a pretty gray blue to bring the more up-to-date feel to our space. We left our counters the same, but hope to one day replace them with a more high-end material (or at least make them look more high end).

We replaced our dishwasher with a new GE dishwasher that we purchased from Sears. It is the stainless steel look instead of the real stainless steel, so little hands can smudge away without mommy having to clean the surface as often. We actually won the dishwasher in an advertising contest that was sponsored by Sears. Technically, all of you AWESOME people helped us earn the dishwasher so we thank you for that. This one is so much prettier than the other one and better yet...it works! What a novel idea!
Next to my stove are hooks for my aprons. This was a great way to add some "art" to the walls without making an investment. $3.99 to display a few of my favorite things in the world.

We updated our stove with this fancy stainless steel number. It has everything I could ever want for this space and, while not free, I was able to get a killer deal on it. The stove was marked for $1K and I was able to get them to accept $500. Always pick those floor models, I say, and point out any and every flaw you can...even the stupid stuff. That is how we were able to score this stove.

The range hood was free and part of our Sears shopping spree that we won. Our refrigerator is the last of the white appliances to make an exit, but we are watching Craigslist to see if we can score a good deal on that.
Since cabinet storage was an issue, I was able to find an old ugly eighties desk with a hutch from a thrift store to remedy the problem. I did my makeover work on it and it is now my favorite piece in the house. This was cheaper than buying new cabinets and I just love how it is open for guests to grab their own dishes. The white dishes really make me happy and make me feel like a little Martha when I am entertaining! These dishes were priced at $14.99 for a service for six, including all of the serving dishes! They aren't the best quality, but I love the clean lines and design on them.

I also have my new china from my mother-in-law that looks so elegant on our tables. She recently brought this over to add to my dishes and I was so thrilled.

While it can make our seating a little more cramped, we did add a narrow table along the back wall to keep our computer. This has our dinner music on it and I can watch the television while I cook. The two plants on either side were purchased from Target, clearance to $14.99 each. The basket on the table, normally brimming over with fruit, is empty since I need to head to the grocery store. The basket was also a clearance item that I purchased from Marshalls along with some of the decor for our walls.
Like this piece that is centered along our back wall! This was a clearance item at Marshalls for $9.99. It got discounted with some of their summer pieces and I thought it would be a perfect focal point in that open spot.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of our kitchen!
We could not be more proud of the space we created...on a budget!

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Frugal Hacks: Happy New Year (On a Budget)

Today on Frugal Hacks, I am sharing my recipes and tips for preparing a fancy dinner at home. I put together a cost breakdown of our New Year's feast and why dining at home can be oh-so-nice!

Thank you for sharing your New Year's plans with us! It sounds like everyone had a fun & festive celebration planned. I hope it was wonderful and that you all had a happy and safe NYE!

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Feeling Like a Proud Momma...

Here are my proudest moments on my blog for 2007! If you are a new reader, this can give you a little insight into what I truly love to share about- saving our family money!

I just want to thank everyone who has provided encouragement to me in the past year. Your comments, emails, and feedback on our site and our community help me to run things more smoothly. I have made some of the best friendships of my life and learned so much from our community of bloggers.

I have so many plans up my sleeve for 2008! We are making some investments into creating an even better community here and I have been spending the past few weeks outlining my hopes and dreams for our little corner of the internet. I hope you will enjoy some of the improvements that we will make and will continue to share and teach me things! Thank you all for making this year so successful for us!

Homemaking Highlights

Frugal Carpet Steaming
The Amazing Dishwasher
Happy Homemaking the Homemade Way
Creating a Kid Friendly Office
Making a Safe Haven for Baby
Organizing Your Laundry Room
Organizing Your Pantry & Cupboards
How I Finally Cleaned Out My Closet
Caring for Stainless Steel Appliances
Making Our Home More Inviting

Crafty Highlights

Bubbly Magnets
Cheap Dry Erase Boards
Painting Mugs
Frugality Births Creativity
Eat Your Heart Out, Martha (Or How to Make a Diaper Cake)
Feeling Like a Professional Florist
Elegant Photo Albums

Kitchen Highlights

Iron Chef Mom Challenge
Iced Peppermint Mochas
Storing Homemade Bread & Bread Ingredients
Best Birthday Cupcakes in the World
Best Homemade Nonstick Spray in the World (hmm...I really liked that phrase this year!)
Oatmeal Waffles with Honey Butter
Overcoming My Fears: Canning

Frugal/Money Highlights

My Month of Savings Series
Disposing of the Disposable Items
Overcoming My Fears: Gardening
Simplifying Gift Giving
Wrapping Gifts
Thrifty Graduation Gifts
Frugal Baby Gifts
Frugal Wedding Gift Ideas
Frugal Housewarming Gifts
Overcoming My Fears: Cutting Hair
Overcoming My Fears: Mowing
Where to Get Free Wi-Fi
Going Without Prescription Coverage: A Self Discovery
Ding Dong: Did Someone Order Groceries?
Reducing Plastic Bag Consumption

Mommy Highlights

Lessons Learned from a Day Trip to the Museum
Teaching My Kids to Say Thank You
A Homemade Kind of Birthday
Ornament Decorating Fun
Enjoying the Last Days of Summer
Happy Fall!

Professional Highlights:

Interview with THE Jessica Seinfeld
CBS Early Show
My Trip to San Francisco
My husband winning us a trip to Las Vegas
Serving on the Advisory Board for Divine Caroline
Being Interviewed for the New York Times
Appearing Weekly for our local CBS-affiliate (WSBT)
Writing weekly for Frugal Hacks
Writing Monthly for Michiana Family Magazine
Speaking periodically to local mom groups about how to save money
Launching the Aldi Queen Blog
Launching The Mother loot Blog

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Free Sweet Tea in January

A good Southern sweet tea is hard to come by out here in the Midwest and very few places in our area serve or offer it. The closest we can get is usually that nasty Lipton tea in the soda machines. Blech! Don't you folks in the South feel so sorry for us? (*sniff, sniff*)

Our local McDonald's though has now added sweet tea to their menu and every Tuesday, in the month of January, you can swing by to pick up a free sweet tea. No purchase necessary!

After that, a 32 ounce sweet tea will be just $.99, making that a super sweet bargain for this frugal momma! Here's hoping it is an improvement that rivals their excellent coffee improvements they have made!

*Note: Check to see if your McDonald's is offering the same campaign. I know all Michiana locations are offering it in our area.*

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Five Positive Financial Goals For the New Year (Part One)

As the year draws to an end, we all begin to focus on the things that we would like to change for the new year. It is a great time to be reflective and see what didn't work for us and also to find our opportunity to make positive changes for the upcoming year. Isn't renewal great? A chance to start fresh and to begin the year on good footing. That is the best part for me about starting a new year. Sure, I am a year older...but I am also a year wiser too! Another year to draw experience from and to begin our reflective thinking on how we can be BETTER! How amazing is that?

Here are some great ideas for making a positive change in your finances this year:

1. The Power of Positive Thinking- One way you can begin the year on good footing is to begin the year by thinking positively and trying to carry that positive thinking with you throughout the year. This is one thing that I am really going to be working on and I believe that it will improve my outlook greatly.

Looking back in the year, you can maybe see things that you didn't do correctly. Maybe you used your credit card? Maybe you had enormous medical bills for the year? Maybe you strayed from your budget?

While you can look back on your year and kick yourself for all of your stupid financial mistakes, the simple fact is that it won't change anything about what you did wrong....But, what you can do is look at those stupid experiences and say, "Here is how I am going to change that this year."

The pure and simple fact is that I have made dumb financial mistakes. I took out a lot of student loans and didn't finish school. I got a gym membership that ruined my credit history and caused me to take out high interest loans for my schooling. I borrowed against our credit cards when we had no money coming in for almost a year. My life is paved with some really stupid financial moves.

BUT! I am pulling myself up by my boot straps and I am working my tail off to make things right. I have put pen to paper and made financial goals for my family and we are working to meet those goals. I am wiser with my money now and I am making positive changes in our budget to reach the goals that we need to reach. We are beginning to see light at the end of our tunnel and it feels GOOD!

Focus on these things- not the bad! That is a goal for me this year!

2. Get Organized- I have been flipping through this month's magazines and am beginning to see a theme into what people are looking for. This is the time of the year where we say that we want to get organized. But how does organization relate to the financial situation? To me, finances and organization go hand in hand. Without organization, my finances would be a wreck and that is why it is a continual goal for me to get my stuff in order.

Organization in your life will lead to lots of positive changes and your finances can change right along with that.

Are your bills late? Are you always losing those receipts for your reimbursements for your medical expenses? Did you misplace important tax paperwork and won't be able to use for your deductions?

Those scenarios can be sickening, especially if those are positive amounts that could be made into your account or you are suffering from fees and higher interest rates because you can't get your stuff in order.

Figure out how you can get things in order so that you can make these scenarios work. For your medical expenses, a three ring binder divided by months can be great for keeping track of receipts and your Explanation of Benefits. Use this to keep track of what has/has not been paid. Then if the company calls and says they never received your payment, you have your written proof that payment was sent or reimbursements weren't made.

Start keeping a calendar with dates for important account activities or send yourself email reminders from the company for your payments. Better yet, set up automatic deductions so you don't have to stress about whether or not your bill has been paid.

There is so much that I plan to organize this year and the magazines are proving that I am not the only one looking for answers. Getting my life in order is top priority.

3. Get Healthy- Getting healthy and losing weight are top on everyone's priority list right now. Getting healthy is important to me and it is not only important to me because I want to feel good, but being healthy is top on my financial priorities list too.

If I can make positive changes in my activities and I can get my health issues in order, I can save myself a ton of money. I will be making less trips to the doctor, purchasing fewer prescription drugs, and I will have more energy to help with our family finances.

Getting healthy, to me, will not require spending money. I will probably be discussing this more in a future article, but I really did want to say that. When people say that they want to lose weight or get healthy, many times these scenarios involve spending money. I don't like to spend money, so I am trying to do this through cheaper means.

This means that I will get exercise through walking or jogging outside (during the warmer months) and renting free exercise videos from the library for the cooler months. No gym memberships for me because I can get exercise for free from home.

Drinking more water is also tops on my priority list and, lucky for me, this is free!

I also did make the switch to herbal medications and have seen so many positive changes from switching to these instead of my prescriptions. These are saving me tons of money and I feel a hundred times better. While this option might not be for everyone, I am saving hundreds of dollars for our family by seeking alternative medications.

4. Relieve Stress- Stress can do a number on our bodies and my stomach is living proof of why stress is so bad for you. I am trying to reduce the amount of stress in my life and this is an important goal for me.

How does stress relate the finances? Well, if I am constantly stressed out, I find that I am in stomach pain or I don't feel good. If I am stressed out then I find myself going out to dinner because I am too stressed/tired to cook. Maybe my stress causes depression for me or it puts a strain on my family? These scenarios are not good for a family and they aren't good for my finances.

I find myself stressed often and the thing about it is...I put it on myself. I volunteer for everything because I want people to like me. I am a people-pleaser. I am a bend-over-and-take-it-because-everyone-needs-me kind of person, when I should be more of a, "Sorry, I can't help you this week!" kind of person.

This doesn't mean I am saying no to everything, but this will mean that I am going to say no. This is a really hard one for me, but I am kicking myself six days out of the week because I said yes to something that I shouldn't have.

I am going to use that time to refocus my life AND my spirit. I am trying to renew hobbies that I am missing out of my life. For example, I love to read and I never had time to do that. I want to make that time for me because reading helps relieve stress and feeds my need to connect with myself.

Other things I would like to pick back up- doing Suduko, doing yoga, and reading things that feed my spirit.

5. Reach My Financial Goals- If you haven't sat down and wrote out your financial goals for the year, there is no time like the present. Sit down and really think about what you hope to accomplish this year.

This year, my goal is to pay off the credit card. We have been working towards this goal for almost four years now and we are now under $2K. I will pay this off this year and we will be credit card free.

As we snowball our debt, we will move our credit card payment to the cars and get those paid off next. We are not that far away from owning them, but we do have some auto repairs that will need to be done this year. Our hope is to get these taken care of so that we can enjoy our first year (next year) car payment free.

These are just a few positive financial moves that we hope to make this year. I will be sharing five more positive goals you can make, in the upcoming week, and I hope that it will inspire you for making your resolutions and goals for 2008.

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