Thursday, June 04, 2009

Guest Blogging Today at, "A Soft Place To Land"

I was so excited and honored to be asked to guest blog for Kimba at, "A Soft Place to Land." Kimba is one of my favorite blogging friends and she has been contemplating taking on a No Spend Challenge of her own. She asked me to share my thoughts on our family's No Spend Challenge to share with her readers today.

I am so thankful for the opportunity and I hope you can explore her beautiful blog today. It is a treasure to me!

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Guess Who is Guest Blogging for Martha Today?

Well, I may have not been contacted by Martha herself, but I did get contacted by an Editor to guest blog for their Dinner Tonight blog (brought to you by Everyday Food Magazine). I was so thrilled to be asked because I don't consider myself a foodie. I do try to share recipes though that are easy and fun for families and since we had such similar goals in mind, I knew some of my dishes would fit right in with the magazine's theme. Please read my entry here for some new recipes for what to do with those rotisserie chickens!

I really think that this will will be the highlight for my week! The blog will be running guest posts from people that I really admire (here are a few for you to check out) so be sure to check it out this week!

I have to say, I felt right at home in Martha's magazine. I just have to convince them that I shouldn't be a guest and that I should be a full-time resident!

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

How to Live More Simply & Why It is Important

I feel so thrilled to be sharing another amazing article from another amazing blogger. The Frugal Dad has been a source of inspiration to me and I am constantly in awe at all of his great advice. I could go on and on about him, but I think you should head to his site for yourself! He is a great resource for anyone who is trying to live a more frugal & simple life. This guest post was generously shared by Jason, a.k.a. "Frugal Dad." and we both felt it would be a wonderful addition to my site! When Jason isn't busy being a husband and father of two kids, he writes about frugal family finance topics at his blog, FrugalDad.com.

These days there are a lot of arguments being waged on the benefits of paying down debt, buying used cars, paying off mortgages early, and building savings. All of these are noble financial goals, and generally receive positive reinforcement from financial planners in the media. However, there is an element that disagrees with this logic, and they are quick to point out where the mathematics don't support these life-simplifying steps. This post is aimed primarily at that audience, and for the rest of you, perhaps it will provide some comfort when dealing with these types.

Excess Material Possessions + Excess Financial Worries = Stress


Since I know how much you "financial nerds" love formulas, I've provided one for you to chew on. I once wrote a post about homeowners paying off their mortgage early, and it was generally well-received. However, I received a number of emails from "financial experts" out there who disagreed with the idea. They were all-too-eager to tell me about the various ways that same money could be earning more in the markets. Maybe so. But their fancy formulas didn't account for the one variable most important to me at this stage in my life--simplicity.

How to Live More Simply


That stress I referred to in the equation above is the result of constant worry over reconciling balances, watching payment schedules, and fretting over the never-ending accumulation of interest, which has a way of cheapening future earnings at a rate faster than inflation. Add to this financial stress the worry of excess things and their storage, protection and maintenance, and you can easily see how too much stuff and too many accounts can lead to an ulcer. So how does one prevent such complication in their lives?

  • Learn to be content. Contentment is a powerful ally of the frugal-minded individual. When we are truly content we have very little that we desire, in terms of material possessions. This contentment keeps us away from stores, catalogs and advertisements.



  • Stop trying to impress other people. Millions of dollars are wasted each year by those trying to play up to the ideals of others. Those who incorrectly believe that material possessions are a symbol of true wealth are on a never-ending quest for something bigger and better, and more expensive. They constantly upgrade their cars, homes, jewelry and clothing in an effort to impress strangers at a red light, many whom they will never meet again, and are likely trying equally hard to impress them.



  • Rid yourself of things acquired merely for status. So you've made a decision to live more simply, but what about that Jaguar in the driveway and the "his and hers" Rolex in your sock drawer that are contradicting your new way of life? Get rid of them. I don't care how you do it. Sell them, give them away as gifts, or donate them to a charity. Just get rid of them. You will be amazed how freeing the experience can be. While I've never had a Jag or Rolex to give away, I've eliminated some "extras" from my own life and feel much better for it.



  • Consolidate your lifestyle. Do you have six Roth IRA accounts with five different brokerages? Are your insurance policies scattered around three or four different carriers? While there is some benefit in diversification, by going overboard you are adding stress to your life just from the effort required to manage all the various accounts and policies. Consolidate a couple of those accounts, and move your insurance policies to the same provider (assuming you have researched the provider and are confident in their stability). As an added benefit you may find discounts waiting for having multiple policies with the same carrier.



  • Recognize the difference in stockpiling and hoarding. It is prudent to stockpile necessities, particularly when you find a good deal, or receive a discount when buying bulk quantities. However, too much of a good thing becomes problematic when you have to spend time, money and energy just to store the items. After I returned home from school to live with my grandfather we stored a bunch of our stuff for $50-$60 per month in a storage unit. After several months went by it occurred to us that we had not used anything from the storage facility. We saved $600 a year by simply getting rid of the stuff. One less bill and a lot less worry!


Excess Material Possessions - Ego = Simplicity


Much has been written about wars with our own egos--I know I've lost my share of battles. But when I stop and think about the real reason why I want something I often find that I am simply feeding my own ego. I want others to know that I am successful. I don't want others to think I am struggling. I fall into the "I work hard, so I deserve it" line of thinking that is a recipe for financial disaster. However, once you are aware of this condition you can begin to take steps to resist the urge to give into your egotistical desires. Try to find the same joy that you once found in things in other areas of your life. Learn to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and is freely available to anyone willing to look. Go for a walk in the woods, or a barefoot walk in your own backyard. Read a great book. Spend time playing with your children. Volunteer your time to a cause you believe in. Seek out some of life's many other simple pleasures. All of these things will fill your life in ways things used to, and they can all be done for next to nothing.

A challenge: Find one thing you've been holding on to because it is a status symbol, or a luxury item that you don't really need. Give it away to a loved one, or a complete stranger, and enjoy the freedom of a simpler life.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Frugal Family Vacations

I know that you all are really going to enjoy this guest post from another one of my favorite bloggers! Stephanie, at Keeper of the Home, has agreed to share her traveling expertise with our readers and I think this post will really help those of you who are planning your family vacations! Be sure to visit her blog for wonderful tips for naturally inspired living for the Christian homemaker.

If you are interested in submitting a post on frugal living, creative/crafty parenting, or organizing, you can email your entries to me at [email protected] Please include a bio with a link to your site and (if you would like) a picture of yourself to include.

If you're a frugally minded mama like myself, and you and your family have thought of vacationing beyond the local campground, you may be wondering how to go about planning an affordable yet still fantastic family vacation.

Here are a few things that I have learned in my experience of planning both domestic and international trips:

General Tips

Research, research, research!

This cannot be stressed enough! Do not settle on any tickets or reservations until you've researched at least 4 or 5 options.

Initial research should give you an idea of general flight, hotel, and car prices, as well as the attractions that you are interested in and a skeleton itinerary. Start by using online travel services such as Travelocity, Expedia, Hotwire and Priceline to begin to gauge prices. Use travel sites such as Lonely Planet or Fodor's to start to get some ideas about the place you will be traveling to, as well as simply googling things like "travel arizona children" or "attractions grand canyon".

From here, put together an estimate of what the cost of your trip will be. If it's coming up too high, consider what areas you can skimp in. For us, we don't care about fancy accommodations. We would prefer to have more money to allow us the freedom to eat without stress, and do all of the activities that interest us. You may feel differently. What are the priorities for your family?

Once you've worked through these steps, you can get down to business and really dig in to find the absolute best deal on each part of your trip.

2) Booking together isn't always cheaper


Through the travel companies would love to be your one-stop shop by having you book your flight, hotel and car all in a neat and tidy package, you will most likely be missing out on some deals by going that route. If you do some careful comparisons of these "deals" (compared to finding each component of the trip individually), you will see that they really aren't the deals they're cracked up to be.

3) Bidding for a deal

It's now become one of the more popular ways to try to find rock bottom deals for traveling. Sites like Priceline and Sky Auction encourage you to either bid against other would-be travelers or to "name your own price". These sites have the potential to be very valuable to you if:


  • You've already done the research and know exactly what a good deal would look like

  • You've determined your bottom line. For example, when using Priceline you don't get to choose your flight time, specific hotel, etc. You set your price, win it, and then find out what you've already bought. It's important to consider these unknown factors, compared to the available deals that you already know are out there, and then you will have the ability to pick and choose whether bidding is worthwhile. If an extra $10 a night is worth it to you in order to know exactly which hotel you will be staying in, set your Priceline limit at $10 below what you'd like to be paying, and resolve to walk away if that bid isn't accepted.
  • You are very aware of the fees and taxes that will be added on. Always, always check and know exactly what your total costs will be before making any decisions.

Tips for flights


  • Children under 2 fly free, on a parent's lap, so plan your dates accordingly if you have little ones nearing their birthday

  • If you can, keep your dates flexible. Often it is cheaper to fly on a Saturday, while the Friday may cost $15 more a ticket. It doesn't sound like much, but it can add up fast if you're buying children's flights as well. Some travel sites have search options designed to let you search using flexible dates. A great option to use is Expedia (be sure to check the box that says "my dates are flexible"). I just did a sample search on flights from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale in August, and came up with a price range of $191 to $309, within an 11 day span- that's a big difference!


  • Look at smaller, independent airlines as well (which are usually not included on the major travel site searches). A few examples are:

  • When you find a great deal, snag it! Good deals don't last for long, and if you wait, you may just miss out (I know this from experience!)


Tips for Accommodations


  • First, consider the many varied options out there: Hotels, motels, camping, yurts, hostels, house swaps, B&Bs, etc. There is so much beyond the traditional hotel, and many of the other options are much cheaper, and can even be more enjoyable! Personally, we will be staying in a private room at a hostel in Flagstaff for our upcoming Grand Canyon trip, where we will have kitchen privileges, hot breakfast included, laundry machines and more, for a mere $45 a night!

  • Do consider bidding for hotels on sites like Priceline. I just scored two nights at the Crowne Plaza in Phoenix for $50 a night! Just remember- do your research first!

  • Change it up! When we went to Europe 2 years ago, I found that different types of accommodations were cheaper in different cities. In Rome, we stayed in a very small but lovely private hotel. In Florence, we opted for a camping hostel, where the tents are permanently set up on raised concrete, and include cots and basic bedding. In Edinburgh, we stayed in a quaint Bed & Breakfast, where we had a gorgeous, clean and very large room, delicious hot breakfast (could have done without the blood pudding, though!), for the same price as a private hostel room, and half the price of the cheapest hotels. While living in Japan, we went even cheaper than a hostel and chose to take the train out to the country each night to camp (we carried our tent on the bus we took up to Kyoto).

Tips for Rental Cars

  • Go with the smallest car that suits your needs. You'll save on rental costs, as well as gas most likely!

  • Avoid most of the bigger name companies. They tend to be significantly more expensive, unless you come across an amazing deal.

  • Again, try your hand at bidding to "name your own price"

  • Compare many sites. In my recent search for the cheapest rental car, my favorite comparison sites were Hotwire, Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline and CarRentals. I looked at the individual rental company sites, and generally they weren't cheaper than the travel sites, with the exception of a few smaller companies that were not always included in the searches. Try Fox, Advantage and Dollar.
  • If you have AAA or BCAA, or even an Entertainment book, check the types of deals and discounts that are offered for members. You may find a free upgrade on a weekly rental, or perhaps a 20% discount, etc. Just make sure you compare it to the other deals out there, as these discounts are usually for the bigger, more expensive companies.

  • Consider whether you need a car at all! Some cities have
    excellent public transit, and if you choose the location of your
    accommodations carefully, you may find that the need for a car just
    disappears.


Tips for Attractions


  • Get an Entertainment book or online membership! You will find many 2 for 1 entrances to attractions, as well as 2 for 1 entrees at the local restaurants.

  • Look for a city pass. These passes are your entrance ticket to the most popular attractions in a city or area, for a discounted rate. By buying the one pass, you can go to any attraction included over the course of one week (for example- it varies from pass to pass). Some examples are the Seattle CityPass, ShowUp Now for the Phoenix area, and the Go Los Angeles Card. Visit CityPass for several other major North American cities available.

Tips for Eating Cheaply


  • As mentioned above, the Entertainment book can help you make the best of having to eating out (or depending on your perspective, getting to eat out!) by offering 2 for 1 entrees.

  • Try finding an accommodation that includes a breakfast, or even one that allows kitchen privileges (such as a hostel, or some B&Bs) or a motel with a kitchenette.

  • If your hotel has a mini fridge, find a local grocery store (which just adds to the experience of visiting a new place), and stock up on breakfast foods (unless included), and lunch and snack foods so that you can brown bag it as much as possible.

  • Bring a stash of easy to carry snacks that your family enjoys. To Arizona, we will be bringing fruit leather or bars, rice cakes, granola bars that are wheat free (as we are all sensitive to wheat), and a box of mineral drinks mixes to add to our water bottles.

  • Bring a water bottle for each family member, and fill them up each time you're able to. Buy large bottles of purified water from a local grocery store to keep in your hotel room, or the trunk of your vehicle, to do refills.

Lastly, once you are there and you have done everything you can do to make your trip as affordable as possible, just relax! Enjoy your vacation, knowing that some extra expenses will pop up unexpectedly (as they always do), and choose to cherish every minute of the trip that you have worked so hard to plan and save for!

Despite how it may appear, Stephanie does not spend most of her time planning vacations! She is blessed to be a wife, mother to two young children, homemaker, and home schooler. In her "spare time" she maintains the blog Keeper of the Home, gardens organically, studies nutrition and natural living, and enjoys cooking up nourishing foods for her family.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Monica's Favorite Note Cards

I am so excited to kick off our weekend guest posts with Monica, from the wonderfully creative blog, The Homespun Heart. I consider Monica to be one of my dearest blogging friends and an inspiration to me to be a more creative mother. I do hope that you will check out her amazing blog!

If you are interested in submitting a post on frugal living, creative/crafty parenting, or organizing, you can email your entries to me at [email protected] Please include a bio with a link to your site and (if you would like) a picture of yourself to include.




This is one of my all time favorite craft projects to do! An hour or two spent making cards and envelopes is really fun for me.

I start with plain 8.5" x 11" cardstock. I really like this brand from Michael's. They have a package of 50 sheets (which makes 100 cards) on sale periodically for $1.99 making it very inexpensive to make these cards! I have never tried the pre-cut paper, but my sister loves it - so whatever works best for you!

I slice the paper in half on a paper trimmer. Then, I fold each half in half again which makes your blank cards. Simply choose any photo you want to put on the front and attach with double-stick tape. I used to love using glue sticks - but have found the results with double-stick tape to be much better. Even though the tape is more expensive, I think it is worth it!

To make the envelope, select one full page photo from a magazine. Either take apart an envelope you already have that is the right size or print this template. Use template as a pattern and cut out the envelope. Fold side edges in first, then fold bottom flap up. Attach with double-stick tape. Fold top flap down - done!

To mail, tape back closed and use a label on the front for addressing. I love giving a stack of these for a gift, and you can see more of that in the related links below.

There is a step-by-step photo tutorial that I did a year ago, the links are below listed as Steps 1-4.

Enjoy!

Here are some previous posts about this very topic:
Homespun Wrapping
Gifts for Nursery Volunteers
Step One
Step Two
Step Three
Step Four
Christmas Cards

Monica is a stay at home mom to three little ones ages 3, 2 and 6 months! She loves to bake, offer hospitality, create fun memories for family and friends and is an avid crafter! She also loves blogging at The Homespun Heart!

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