Monday, September 29, 2008

Makoever Monday- Bookshelf Beautiful

Bookshelf before...

Bookshelf after!

Do any of you have a bookshelf that's starting to look a little junky? I know, we all love our books but they can become an eyesore if we're not careful. Well, in a matter of minutes you can easily make your shelves look like a page in a home decorating magazine- even with kids' books (no, it won't stay that way, but it looks nice for a little while)! I am an amateur decorator, but here are a few things that work for me:

- Start by clearing the bookshelf, then arrange the books in piles by the height of the spine
- Arrange books with the largest on the bottom for horizontal piles, or the largest in the middle for vertical arrangements

- For horizontal piles, try lining up the books so that one side is straight (like the inside edges of my horizontal piles above)

- Make all the books' spines flush (like a flat wall, not steps) and bring them to the forward edge of the bookshelf to neaten and unify the look (they do this at libraries and bookstores)

- Use horizontal piles as bookends to support books standing vertically

- Consider adding other decorative objects (such as a vase, pretty box, or small figurine) to add interest and showcase favorite items along with your books

It's yet another simple and free makeover that can really make a big difference! I love books, and I love them even more when they can look so beautiful and really add to the overall decor of my home!

Any other tips for bookshelves? Leave a comment and share!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Spiritual Sundays: Preparing and Protecting Our Children

"The righteous woman's strength and influence today can be tenfold what it might be in more tranquil times. She has been placed here to help enrich, to protect, and to guard the home- which is society's basic and most noble institution. Other institutions in society may falter and even fail, but the righteous woman can help to save the home, which may be the last and only sanctuary some mortals know in the midst of storm and strife."

With my son starting preschool this fall, it has really begun to hit home that while he may always be my baby boy, he is starting to outgrow the nest and I need to prepare him with some wings to start flying on his own. When our kids go off to preschool, elementary school, middle school, and even high school and college, we can't be there to cover their ears when somebody says a bad word. We can't make them tell somebody sorry when they hurt their feelings, and we can't explain why kids are making fun of the girl who looks different. Which is why these things need to be taught at home.

There are many things we can do to prepare and protect our children from the un-Christlike situations that they will encounter on a daily basis, for it would be unwise and neglectful of us to allow them to take on the world without giving them the tools they need to protect themselves. I'm certainly not a parenting expert or anything, but I wanted to just share a few of my goals for this school year that I hope will continue until my kids leave home.

1. Have a Morning Devotional. I just started this two weeks ago, and I am really glad I did. In the morning before school, I gather the kids at the kitchen table or on the couch and we sing a Primary song, read a story from the Friend magazine, and have a prayer. This gives us some family time before we separate for the day and gets us in that right mindset that we need to deal with whatever comes our way during the day. It only takes about 10 minutes, but it is time well spent.

2. Have some after school one-on-one time. This is another habit we've gotten into- when my little guy gets home from school we sit in our big papasan chair together and go over his folder and talk about his day. My hope is that it gives him that safe place to be with Mommy and re-connect. When he gets older and starts facing tougher situations, my hope is that we can use that time to work together on his concerns.

3. Practice at home. The same way that we practice schoolwork and help children study for tests at home, we should also practice for the tests of life. My goal is to seize those moments when the children aren't getting along or someone's feelings have gotten hurt and use them to teach. Lately when my son has done something wrong, instead of telling him to apologize or to clean something up, I just ask him, "What do you think you should do?" Turns out, he knows the answer! And he is more likely to do it when it is his own idea. I hope that this will encourage him to independently make these good choices when he is outside the home.

4. Make home a safe haven from the world. This is one that I hear from church leaders all the time- that our homes should be a peaceful refuge from the stresses and concerns we face in our day-to-day activities. That can be tough, especially when so many of those stresses and concerns seem to happen at home! However, I hope to try to contain my temper and help promote a feeling of peace and love in our home. I will also try to promote these feelings by being organized (so I can be calm!) keeping our home clean and beautiful through daily routines.

5. Continue with Family Home Evening, family prayers, family dinners, and family scripture study. These are all things that we do regularly, and as my son has grown I have definitely seen how much he learns from these times together. I want to take advantage of his sponge-like little brain and put as much good stuff in there as I can! I also want to emphasize that our family time is important and that it is something to be treasured and enjoyed. 

These are just a few of my goals that I hope will prepare and protect my little ones as they become big(ger) ones! I love my children dearly, and I know that they are special blessings from God. I pray every day that I can lead them and guide them in the way that He would have me do, for I know that they are His before they are mine. Our responsibility is a solemn and wonderful one- let's treat it as such!

In what ways do you prepare and protect your children to help them keep the faith? Leave a comment and share!

Goodwill Hunting ;-)

My shopping trip yesterday inspired me to give my favorite local Goodwill a try for the kids' clothes, since I hadn't been there in awhile. Well, it was quite the success! Let me just say that I could have bought much more than I did, but I was trying to stick to a budget and only buy the things they really needed. But ohh, there were so many cute things there- especially for my little girl! I came out with 2 Old Navy sweaters for her, a little 2-piece terry cloth sweatsuit-type thing from Gymboree, a Tommy Hilfiger dress (she didn't need it, but it was too cute), and a pair of Hello Kitty shoes. For my son I got 2 pairs of jeans (Old Navy and Route 66), 2 random-name long-sleeve shirts, and a Carters sweater. 

The grand total? $39. Not bad for 11 pieces total, including the shoes!

I will still probably have more shopping to do as the weather changes and they inevitably grow, but this will probably get them through the first few cold snaps. 

Ahh, Goodwill sucess!

Do you like to frequent your local thrift shop? If so, how often do you find success? Leave a comment and share your experiences!

Friday, September 26, 2008

School Clothes! $98 worth for $25!

The tags tell the story.

Way to pose, little model man!

Okay, so it's not the super-cheap clothes from Goodwill like I usually do for fall, but I haven't been able to find much at Goodwill lately, so I hit Ross today instead since my little guy was in serious need of some non-high-water pants, long-sleeve shirts, and a fall jacket. I thought I did pretty good dressing him from head to toe in $98 worth of Polo for $25. I got him the jeans ($7.49), the shirt (a faux layered look for $5.99), and a fleece jacket ($10.99).

Honestly, I am kind of a fashion fan. I like to look good, and I like my kids to look good, and sometimes it's nice to have some brand-name clothes that aren't secondhand. Not that that stuff matters all that much, but if I can find a deal on Polo that isn't that much more than the same generic style at Wal-Mart, then why not buy it? And often, the quality is higher, so it ends up being a better deal.

I plan to do lots more Goodwill shopping in the next few weeks for the kids' wardrobes, so check back for more good buys...

How do you buy clothes for your family? Goodwill, Wal-Mart, discount stores, or full-price at department and boutique stores? Leave a comment and let me know!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rainy Family Fun

For those of you on the east coast, it's been a rainy day that's just the start of a rainy weekend! I was inspired by this guest post on MoneySavingMom about Frugal Family Fun to post about some rainy frugal family fun for those of you with restless little ones. 

A few months ago I decided to make a "Rainy Day Fun Jar". I wrote down several different activities with little pictures on pieces of paper and then folded them up and put them into a jar. Now, whenever it's a rainy day or there is another reason we can't play outside (or even if we're just bored and want something to do!) I let one of the kids reach into the jar and pick out something fun for us to do. 

Here are a few of the ideas:

- Color
- Paint
- Do a craft project (I've started saving empty toilet paper and paper towel tubes for these)
- Play a game (Candyland and Chutes and Ladders are great for little ones, or you can just make up your own game)
- Build a fort (chairs, pillows, blankets- you get the idea)
- Dance party
- Play Horse Jumping (I am an equestrian so this is one of my favorite games to play with the kids- we set up "jumps" and we each pretend we're on a horse and we jump over them- it's great fun and exercise!)
- Read stories
- Bake cookies
- Treasure hunt (like an easter egg hunt- I'll use some colored blocks and hide them around the house, then the kids each get a bag and try to find them, and when we're done we separate them into piles by color, practice counting them, etc.- fun and educational!)
- Make cards (we have family far away, so we have fun making cards and getting them ready to mail)
- Build with blocks
- Play store (we have a shopping cart and some fake groceries, and one person arranges the "groceries" all over the room, then the other person walks around and puts them in the cart and takes them to the checkout, and someone else can bag them; you can even make your own groceries using empty boxes and cans)
- Bean bag toss (use a bean bag or a small stuffed animal and practice throwing it into a basket- you can use different sizes, shapes, and distances to mix it up)
- Put on a play (my kids are still a little too young for this, but it would be fun)

Those are just a few ideas that are fairly easy to do on the fly. I'm sure that all of you have lots more great ideas- do share! Post a comment and tell us what you like to do for fun on a rainy day!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Easy Deals of the Week- Dimetapp, Glade, chocolate and ice cream!

It's time for another edition of my Easy Deals of the Week, where you can get the deals using only last week's Sunday paper or coupons you can print from your computer!


- Dimetapp, on sale 2 for $10, with a Register Reward of $10 back when you buy 3. Go here to print a coupon for $2/1. Use 3 coupons, spend $9 out of pocket and get $10 back in Register Rewards (which you can use like cash on your next purchase)

- Herbert's Fully Loaded Chocolate Bars, $1.99 each, use $3 off 2 coupon in the September EasySaver Catalog (a small booklet located at the front of the store with the sale flyers) and get these for $0.50 each (they are reeeaaallly good)


- Country Club ice cream 1/2 gallon, on sale for $0.99!! 'Nuff said!

- Glade Scented Gel Plug-Ins, on sale $1.79, receive a $2 catalina (like a Register Reward or ExtraCare bucks). Spend $1.79 for one, then use your $2 catalina to go back and get another, and so on! Or you could use it to get 2 half gallons of ice cream!

Did you get any great deals this week? Post a comment and let me know!

MIA and Pay It Forward

I have to apologize for being somewhat MIA these last few days. I've just been trying to get a routine going now that oldest is in preschool, and it's hard to find the time to balance everything! I did discover something pretty great last week though- I can do all my deals shopping on one day now!

See, there is a Walgreens and a Rite Aid right across the street from the preschool, and last week I found out that 5 minutes down the road there is CVS, Kroger, and Food Lion! I must have really lucked out because there's also a Tuesday Morning (a great discount store) and a Goodwill nearby. So my goal now is to get all my deals together on Sunday night, and then get my shopping done Monday morning or Tuesday morning. The other benefit to this (besides getting it all done in one fell swoop) is that I have a higher chance of items being in stock, and I can take advantage of CVS's Sunday-Monday only deals. 

I actually had a good experience on Monday at Kroger- I decided to check and see if the Glade plug-ins deal was still working (buy one at $1.79, get a $2 catalina). Well, it did work! I bought 2, used my buy one get one free coupon, only paid for one and got $4 back. I was so pleased that I took all my groceries out to the car and then went back in to get 2 more. They only had 2 left, so I got those, and then I realized that it would only come to $1.79 (I was going to use another B1G1 coupon) so I got 2 more things of ice cream they had on sale for $0.99. After paying with the $4 catalinas, my total was $0! 

As I was walking out of the store, I thought about how blessed I was, and I suddenly felt strongly that I needed to share my blessings with others. I saw a lady coming in the store with her leg in a cast. She had some kind of a brace on the other leg, and her clothes looked shabby and worn. She just looked tired. On an impulse (which I'm sure was of divine origin) I stopped her and handed her the $4 catalinas, saying I had just gotten them and she could use them for anything in the store. She looked a little surprised, but she took them and thanked me.

I hope that she was able to use them, and I hope that maybe I had made her burden just a little bit lighter that day. I guess I may never really know, but it felt really good to give back. Kind of a way to show Heavenly Father my gratitude for all that he's given me. I know, it was only 4 bucks, but maybe it made a difference to someone else.

Hope you all are having a beautiful thrifty week, and I will post some Easy Deals later today!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Just Four Little Pennies!

I went to CVS today and picked up a few things...for four cents! I think it may be a new record for me! Here's the breakdown:

- 2 Purex laundry detergents- on sale $2.99 each with $1 back for each in ECBs, used $1.00/2 coupon from 9/14 SS
- Excedrin- on sale $3.99 with $3.99 back in ECBs
- Aleve-D- on sale $3.99 with $3 back in ECBs, used $1/1 printable coupon
- 2 CoverGirl Amazemint Wetslicks lip gloss- on sale $3.99 each, used B1G1 coupon from 8/31 P&G, get $3 in ECBs when you spend $10 on CoverGirl products (see next item)
- 1 CoverGirl eyeshadow- on sale $2.99, used 1 $1/1 coupon from 8/31 P&G, included in $3 ECB promo

I also used a $2/$10 CVS coupon, and I paid for the rest of it with $13 in ECBs from last time. The final total was $0.04! Go me!

How did you do this week? Leave a comment!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Some Late (but still easy) Easy Deals of the Week!

Sorry about the lateness of this post- it's been a busy week! But you still have a few days left to snag these deals:

-Glade scented gel warmers- on sale $1.79 each, get a $2 catalina when you buy one (a coupon good for $2 off your next purchase at Kroger, like ExtraCare Bucks or Register Rewards); if you use the Buy One Get One Free coupon from the 9/14 SmartSource insert in the Sunday paper, you can get 2 for $1.79 and then make $2.21 back when you receive the 2 $2 catalinas! You can then use that to go back and get some more...oh, I love these deals! And it's even a great deal without the coupon!

-Johnson's Buddies soaps- "everyday low price" of $0.99 each (these are single bars of soap that are wrapped in a mesh so that kids can grip them and they foam up really nicely- my kids love 'em!), use $3 off 3 Johnson's Buddies products coupon from the 9/14 SmartSource insert in the Sunday paper and get 3 for free!

- Glade air freshener spray- "everyday low price" of $0.88 each, use Buy One Get One Free coupon from the 9/14 SmartSource insert and get them for $0.44 each. (this is a different coupon from the one for the gel warmers, so you can do both deals)

As always, thanks to MoneySavingMom for most of these deals!

Have a beautiful thrifty day! And, as always, be sure to post a comment and let me know how your deals went this week!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Great Fall Sale at Michaels and Coupon

I was scanning through the Michaels ad from the Sunday paper and I saw that they have some really great deals this week! Because home decorating stuff and crafty stuff is not usually part of my "deals shopping", I always like to take advantage of good prices on these items when I see them. And lately, I've been itching to bring a little fall atmosphere into my home.

So here are a few of the deals I saw:
- jar candles, usually $5.99, on sale 3 for $10
- Fall floral and foliage, usually $2.99, on sale for $0.99
- 40% off fall garlands (usually $4.99-19.99)
- foam brushes, usually $0.39 each, on sale 20 for $1!
- 40% off scrapbook paper pads
- matted wall frames, usually $7.99-9.99, on sale for $4
- fall potted mums, usually $9.99, on sale for $4.77
- 12x12 scrapbook frames, usually $9.99, on sale for $4

These certainly aren't all the deals, but they were the ones I liked best! I stopped by and picked up 3 of the jar candles (pumpkin spice, apple cinnamon, and spice market), 15 foam brushes, some scented pine cones, and a fun fall Welcome sign with pumpkins and fall leaves on it (not on sale, but I was able to use my 50% off coupon from the flyer and get it for $4.99). I also got a cute necklace for my little princess for $0.50 from one of the clearance bins.

I didn't have a container to put the pine cones in so I went to Goodwill and found a pretty clear glass vase for $1.25 that works great! Now my house smells really wonderful and it feels very autumnized (okay, that's my new favorite made-up word!). 

I think I'll start keeping my eye out for more great Michaels deals in the future. I can apply all of the same principles that I use when I do my regular deals shopping: buy only the items on sale and stock up! I can even make really good use of that weekly coupon.

Go here to print out your own coupon for 50% off any one regular priced item! To plan your trip, check out all the deals at the Michaels website. Happy autumnizing!

Makeover Monday: Style Your Bed!

Makeover Monday is here! Have you ever looked at a photo of a bed in a magazine or a catalog and thought, Man, I wish I had a bed like that!? If you have, chances are you either did nothing or you bought the bedspread thinking that would solve the problem.

Well, something like that happened to me once. We had just gotten a new mattress set, and we needed some new bedding to go along with it. We found a beautiful set (see "before" photo above) but when I brought it home and put it on the bed, it just didn't look the same as it had in the picture on the packaging. 

So then I got a brilliant (okay, obvious) idea: why not just copy the way they made the bed on the package? After all, it's just making a bed- I can make a bed! So I pulled the package from the trash and took a closer look. I noticed that they had folded the top sheet over the bedspread and added another throw pillow. So I re-made the bed and borrowed a throw pillow from the other room. Voila! A new bed for me!

The best thing about this makeover is that you don't even need to buy anything- just browse online or in catalogs and find a bed 'style' that you like, then gather the components from your own home and dress up your bed! You might be surprised at how very stylish your plain bed can become!

The "After" Photo

Have a Beautiful Thrifty Day!

Free Subscription to Traditional Home Magazine

Many thanks to MoneySavingMom for this great tip- click here to sign up for a free subscription to Traditional Home magazine. I love free magazine subscriptions! 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Spiritual Sundays: How do I help?

A woman in tears as she surveys the damage left by Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas.
I wrote recently on the topic of giving (see Give A Little Bit), and I would like to go back to that topic a bit today. I remember that about this time a few years ago after Hurricane Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast, I was really struggling with feelings of helplessness. I remember watching a woman who was in tears because her months-old baby needed formula and she had none to give him. I cried right along with her and desperately wished I could just go give her some, and take her and her baby and bring them home with me! 

There was so much need there, so many people in desperate situations, and I felt like there was nothing I could do to help. At one point, I was so distraught that I went to my knees in prayer. I asked the Lord what I could possibly do to help these people. I knew that with 2 young ones myself I could not just pack up the car and drive myself down there like so many others were doing. I didn't have a lot of money to give. I prayed that I might know of a way that I, singular and small though I may be, could somehow help.

Heavenly Father touched my heart with an answer that filled me with comfort. His answer came four-fold:

1. Give what you can. Give as much as you can and your offering will be enough.

2. Just pray. Pray for those who are afflicted and I will hear your prayers and uplift them.

3. Learn. Learn from this terrible disaster and prepare yourself for the same. You never know when it could be you, and the best thing you can do is to be prepared.

4. Be grateful. Look around you and be grateful for your comfortable home, your health, and your safety. Quit complaining about meaningless troubles and express gratitude to God for your blessings, for there are many who are not as fortunate as you.

Now when I see disaster and tragedy I think of this counsel from Heavenly Father and I try to follow it. I donate to our church's Humanitarian Aid fund that goes to assist hurricane victims and other victims of natural disasters; I pray privately and with my family for those affected by terrible circumstances; I do my best to have sufficient supplies stored for my family and a plan in place in case of an emergency (see Water, Water, Everywhere); I try to curb my complaining and embrace feelings of gratitude, and express those feelings to those around me and to my Father in Heaven.

Perhaps there are many of you that can do more, and I encourage you to do so. But if you are like me and you feel helpless when confronted with scenes of suffering, I would ask you to go to your Heavenly Father and consult with Him that He might counsel you in His will for you. He is there to answer your prayers if only you ask.

In closing, I would like to say that I am truly grateful for all that I have; for my family, my home, and my beautiful life. The Lord has blessed me far more than I deserve, and I appreciate every bit of it! May He watch over all those who are in need of His care at this time, and may He be with them in their times of trial, to give them strength and comfort where others cannot. May they look to Him for guidance and relief, and may His Spirit be with them always.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New Feature! Makeover Mondays

I am so excited to introduce a new feature to my blog: Makeover Mondays! Every Monday I will post with a new makeover that focuses on home decorating. These will include fun and frugal (even free!) ways to makeover spaces in your home, or even makeover objects in your home (see Playing Dress-Up). 

Over the years I have found a lot of different ways to really appreciate what I have by just changing things around and making them new again, and I am so excited to share some of these ideas with my readers. I am also eager to use this opportunity to explore new ways for me to be creative in my own home and celebrate my beautiful thrifty life!

And as always, I look forward to your comments and ideas, so keep 'em comin'! Stop by on Monday to check out the first big makeover...I can't wait! ;-)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Victorias Secret- Clearance PLUS Bonus Code!

I love clothes, and I especially love clothes from Victoria's Secret! If you've never checked out their clothing selection their website, you're missing out! They're beautiful, stylish, and they have a surprisingly large selection of modest styles!

Right now they are having a large clearance sale of all the items that will soon be discontinued. For the next 3 days (ends September 15th!) you can get an additional 25% off all clearance items in denim, sweaters, and swimwear! They have lots of items for $9.99 or less- I just bought a beautiful silk and cashmere sweater for $8! Just use the the code 25xtra when you check out, and it will take off 25% from the qualifying items in your purchase. Go here to start shopping.

Go ahead and treat yourself to some inexpensive style!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Congratulations to the Winners of the CVS Coupon Giveaway!

Wow! What a fantastic response to this giveaway! I had more than twice the number of entries that I had in my first giveaway, and I got such wonderful comments from all of you. I truly appreciate your feedback and your positive support. 

A big congrats to Megan, Crystal, and Jenna, the big winners of 2 $3/$15 CVS coupons each! They have all been notified by e-mail. A big thank you to everyone who participated! 

Be sure to check back here frequently for more giveaways, as well as Easy Deals, Thrifty Treats, and some meaty posts about how I do my couponing for anyone who is thinking of giving it a try, or veterans who want to take a peek into a fellow couponer's world! 

Have a beautiful thrifty day! 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On the Road to Financial Freedom: Part III- Setting the Financial Compass

This is the third part in a series about how my thriftiness came to be, and about the financial decisions I have made in my life to get me to where I am now. Read Part I: The Beginnings of a Thrifty Life, and Part II: Newlyweds for more of the story.

My husband and I had been married for just over a year when we decided to take the next step and buy a home. Chad felt that paying rent was like "throwing money away" and he was eager to have his paycheck go toward something we would get to keep. I felt the same way, and I figured that as long as I had dreams of a debt-free future, we might as well start paying on that mortgage right away. 

To get more information on the process involved in purchasing a home and more information on personal finance in general, I turned to yet another book: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in Your 20s and 30s (see sidebar for more information). This book clarified a lot of the mortgage jargon and helped us to make an informed decision regarding our home financing options. 

I would like to point out that we were blessed enough that we did not have to save up a great deal of money for a down payment. Sadly, my grandmother passed away that year and left me an inheritance that was enough for a down payment, closing costs, and moving expenses. It was a sad time, but my grandmother was a big inspiration for me as far as money was concerned, and I knew that this was the kind of investment she would have wanted me to make. She gave so much to me during her lifetime, not just in love, but by her example with her finances. I remember that she and my grandfather owned a beautiful farm, and when he passed away she chose to sell it and move to a very modest townhome where the upkeep would be minimal and the expense much lower. I know that it must have been a difficult decision for her, with all the years of memories from that farm, but her main concern always seemed to be that her family was taken care of and that she was not a burden to anyone. I appreciated that about her very much, and I am so grateful to her for all she has given me.

We were able to find a nice home just under 2,000 square feet, with 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths for $150,000. The price was very reasonable for the area (quite a good deal, actually) and it is in a nice neighborhood and we have a large backyard. We were happy to know that we were in a home that would have enough space for a growing family. We weren't eager to move again anytime soon! The month after we moved in I became pregnant with our son.

Things stayed the same for a little while, we were just trying to balance the mortgage payment along with the other new expenses of owning a home: electric and gas bills, water bills, yard equipment, etc. Shortly after our son was born, my husband started his 401k. Then we got to share another Aha Moment together.

This Aha Moment came in the form of a set of cds loaned to us by Chad's parents. They were excited about them, and were eager for us to listen to them as well. We did listen to them, mostly, as I recall, while in the car driving to and from his parents' house (about a 2-hour drive). The cds were Transforming Debt Into Wealth by John Cummuta (see sidebar below), and they presented an entirely new idea to us: we could be debt-free. Not just debt-free in the usual sense, but debt-free including our home. I will never forget John's voice on the cd asking us to imagine what our life would be like with no mortgage payment, and having visions of spending our days together as a family, without the stress and hassle of Chad's unpredictable work schedule. Our expenses would be so minimal without a mortgage payment. And his voice had suddenly made it sound not just like a dream, but possible. Really possible!

We would frequently stop the cds to talk about what we were hearing, and our conversations would get more and more animated, as we grew more and more optimistic. It was almost as if we could taste that future on the tips of our tongues, and we were hungry to have it all.

From that point on, complacency about our finances went out the window. We had dreams- we had dreams of living a life free from debt. A life where the roof over our heads could never be taken from us, and where we had freedom to just be- be a family and live our lives for the sake of living them, not just to make ends meet and pay bills. Dreams are powerful things.

Those dreams propelled us to create a set of goals that became our financial compass pointing us in the direction of complete financial freedom. Each goal is a step closer toward our ultimate goal in which our dreams will become a reality. Every financial decision we make now gets held up against that financial compass, whether it be buying a stick of gum or purchasing new windows for our home. If it doesn't help us get closer to our goal, then chances are, we won't do it. The most important thing has been for us to remember that it takes time. Sometimes the steps are slow and tedious, and the end result seems far off. But with every debt paid, a small victory is achieved, and the dream gets that much closer.

To sum up the last few years, we have paid off our car and added the payment on to our mortgage, which we pay bi-weekly as part of an Equity Accelerator program (I highly recommend this for anyone with a mortgage!!). We are on track to have the house paid off in 11 years, though we plan to do it even sooner than that. We have increased our savings by 70% with the goal to have our emergency fund of $12,000 in place within a year, and we implemented the Way-2-Save program with Wachovia.

I have to admit that in some ways I am still anxious about the future. With 2 growing kids I know that our expenses will just increase, and it is not likely that my husband's pay will grow to match. And there are always those unforeseen events that can throw a wrench into things- illnesses, major repairs, etc.. But at least for now, we are on track. And we have made allowances for the unknown by starting to build up our emergency fund and by living well within our means.

The learning will always continue, and I'm sure that more Aha Moments are to come. I will be sure to share them with you when they do!

What factors have influenced you to have a thrifty life? How has creating a financial compass changed the way you make everyday decisions regarding money? Leave a comment and share!

Another CVS Coupon Giveaway!

Yay! I love giveaways! Once again, I am offering 3 lucky winners 2 (yes, two each) $3/$15 CVS coupons! These are original coupons I have clipped myself from a local paper, NOT printables, and they don't expire until 12/31/08! Using these coupons is a great way to build your ExtraCare Bucks at CVS. 

Here are the rules- to enter, leave me a comment below and tell me what your favorite post on my blog was from the last month and why you liked it. Also, feel free to leave constructive criticism about my blog so I can make it better!

Be sure to include a way you can be reached- either a link to your profile where I can get your e-mail address or just put in your e-mail address. It makes me sad when someone wins and I can't reach them!

Have a beautiful (and lucky) thrifty day!

**By the way- the cutoff for this giveaway is 9:00am EDT on Thursday, 9/11. I will be picking the winners later that day!**

Makin' Some Money at Walgreens!

- 3 Scrubbing Bubbles Flushable Wipes- on sale $2.49 each, used 3 $1/1 coupons from 7/20 S
- 2 Scrubbing Bubbles Action Scrubbers- on sale $3.79 each, used 2 $2.75/1 printable coupons here
- 2 Shout Wipes- on sale $2.49 each, used 2 $0.75/1 coupons from 8/10 S2
- 3 Robitussin- on sale $3.99 each, used 3 $3/1 printable coupons here
- 1 Crest Pro-Health Rinse- $4.49, used 1 $0.75/1 coupon from 8/31 P&G
- 3 votive candles, on sale $0.17 each with in-ad coupon (needed these as fillers)

The total came to $22.28 with tax, which I paid on my Walgreens gift card from last month's rebates, and I received $24.50 in Register Rewards to use for next time!

- All the cleaning supplies were under a Register Rewards deal where if you buy 2, you get $2 RRs, buy 4, get $5, buy 7, get $10
- The Crest Pro-Health rinse was a "free after Register Rewards" deal
- The medicine was a buy 2, get $5, buy 3, get $10 (even without the coupons this would be a great deal, because if you buy 3 at $3.99, that's $11.97 and you'd get $10 back, so only $1.97 for 3 bottles of medicine)

  So really, I made $2.22 by buying all that stuff. And I love those Scrubbing Bubbles flushable wipes- very useful when you have kids that are potty training! And the Robitussin will definitely come in handy as the weather grows colder.

Once again, many thanks to MoneySavingMom for alerting me to most of these deals and the printable coupons!

Have you gotten any great deals this week? Be sure to leave a comment!

Just Kidding...

I know I posted before that I was moving all my couponing posts to my other blog, but this blog is my baby, and since it is my main blog and I don't feel like keeping up with 2 different blogs, I'm just going to keep everything in one place! So periodically I will post here with some good deals I've gotten (hey, bragging is half the fun of couponing!), and of course I will continue with the Easy Deals of the Week. 

For those of you who aren't into the couponing thing, I just ask that you glance at my couponing posts, feel the appropriate amount of awe at the amazing deals, and then move on to my other money-saving ideas. For those of you who are avid couponers, this will be a fun addition, because now you can feel the joy right along with me!

Let the couponing begin!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Easy Deals of the Week! Chex Mix and Malt-o-Meal!

Easy Deals of the Week uses only coupons from last Sunday's paper or coupons you can print from your computer, so even the "lazy couponer" can get some great deals!

Okay, for those of you with carb cravings- this is your week! These deals are at CVS:

- Chex Mix is on sale for $1. Go here to get a coupon for $1 off and get it free! (print limit is 2- oh, and my favorite flavor is chocolate turtle) :-)

- Malt-O-Meal cereal is on sale for $1. Go here to get a coupon for $1 off and get it free! (print limit is 2)

Just so you know, there are tons more hot deals out there this week at CVS and Walgreens! Lots of opportunities for beginners as well, if you're thinking of giving this couponing thing a try. Check out MoneySavingMom for the details, and if you need any advice on putting your deals together, leave a comment and let me know! I'm always happy to help!

Will you try a deal this week? Leave a comment and share!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Spiritual Sundays

Because spirituality is such an important aspect of my life, I would be remiss if I did not include it somewhere in my blog. Sundays are days of rest and reflection for me (well, as much as possible with 2 crazy kiddos running around!) and my reflections on this day frequently involve my gratitude at the many blessings I have been given by a loving Father in Heaven. 

I am so blessed to have a beautiful home, a beautiful family, and a truly beautiful life. I am grateful that the Lord has seen fit to bless me with an intellect sufficient to balance the many aspects of my life, especially managing my family's finances. I firmly believe that when we are doing things in accordance with His will that He will bless us with the means and guidance to accomplish them. What better way to honor our husbands than by making the most of the money they work so hard to provide, and in doing so to honor God by making the most of His gifts unto us. He is there and ready to help us to do so, if only we ask.

Just last week I had an experience that showed me that His hand is present even when my brain is not! I try to always pray before I shop, not to get the best deals, but to be smart with my resources and be able to accomplish the task at hand to the best of my abilities such that I can bless my family. Well, this particular day I was at CVS and I wasn't finding what I needed, so my "master plan" was not working out. CVS shopping takes a lot of planning, and when your plan gets holes in it, it requires a lot of quick thinking and recalculating. Needless to say, having a restless 2-year-old and 4-year-old does not facilitate the process! So, more or less, I just gave up and grabbed what I had and decided I'd figure it out at the register. 

I got up to the register and tried to halfway stick to my original plan using 2 transactions. I placed the items for the first transaction on the counter, and as she rung them up I glanced at the screen on the card reader. On an impulse, I tossed one more item from the cart on there. The total after I paid with ECBs? $0.06! Then I placed the remainder of my items on the counter, and the second grand total after ECBs? $0.33. It had worked out perfectly, even with my half-scatterbrained approach. I said a silent prayer of thanks, because I knew that it was not serendipity- is was divine guidance. 

Have you said your prayers of gratitude today? Have a beautiful thrifty week!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

On the Road to Financial Freedom: Part II- Newlyweds

For Part I: The Beginnings of a Thrifty life, click here.

The Middle Ground
The next big step in my financial life happened during college, when I met and married my sweetheart Chad. Luckily, we had taken the time to discuss our views on money management before tying the knot, and so, for the most part, we knew what to expect. These were the areas where we found a middle ground:

-- We don't like to owe people money, especially with random consumer credit card debt. I had no credit card debt because I never really understood how credit cards worked and I was too afraid to get one for fear I would screw something up. Chad kept his debt to a minimum, but as a bachelor he had incurred some debt buying a car and exercise equipment- oh, and don't forget my beautiful engagement and wedding rings!

-- We both had grown up in families where money issues caused a lot of contention, and we didn't want to continue that legacy. We agreed on an open partnership with our money.

-- The open partnership meant that we would consult with one another on any major purchase (and for us, that meant anything over $10!) and we would not be frivolous with our spending.

-- We wanted to buy a home ASAP so we could stop renting.

These were very basic things, but they helped us to really unite.

The Aha Moment
In those early days, I couldn't help reflecting on my own parents' failed marriage and thinking of the causes and warning signs of their eventual breakup. I think there was a part of me that thought that if I could guard against those problems early, then my marriage wouldn't suffer the same fate.

That is what got me interested in personal finance. I started reading up on it, and the first book I read was called, "The Four Laws of Debt Free Prosperity." (read the first chapter here, see sidebar for a great deal on this book) It was while reading this book that I had my Aha Moment. As I read the story of a middle-aged family man in a desperate financial plight, memories of my parents fighting over the bills flashed through my mind. My parents were good, smart, rational people. How could they get into a situation that made them so angry and bitter and desperate? More importantly, I considered myself a good, smart, rational person. Would I someday be in a similar situation?

I was troubled, and the thought that dawned on me at that moment was this: That which doesn't change stays the same. In even clearer terms, that which I don't change stays the same. 

At the time, my husband and I had been married for less than a year, and we had the aforementioned debt to pay off, not to mention other financial concerns. We were living paycheck to paycheck, and I even remember one week when my mom came to take me shopping for groceries because we couldn't afford to buy food. I realized that our life would always be that way unless we took some proactive steps to change it. Sure, I could sit around waiting to win the lottery, or waiting for a pay increase, or waiting for a rich relative to die and leave me an inheritance- but those things were uncertain and out of my control. It's like the serenity prayer- you must accept the things you cannot change and have the courage to change the things you can.

That's when I got to work.

The First Family Budget
I sat down with Chad and we began taking a closer look at our finances. The first step was to compare our input with our output- were we bringing in as much money as we were spending? If not, how could we adjust the balance? Luckily, as I recall we discovered that we were in the positive in that regard, but only by a small margin.

We decided to take that small margin, which consisted of the money that was left over after all the bills were paid, and plan a budget using the same system I had used in college- we gave ourselves a fictional $100, then we divided it up according to our needs and wants. The resulting amounts were the basic percentages we used on each paycheck after the bills were paid. I kept track of these different "accounts" in a small notebook, and remarkably, we found that it gave us much more freedom with our spending, because we knew exactly how much we had available to spend in each category. For example, if our "eating out" budget had $10, then we knew we could enjoy a little treat because the bills were paid and we had already set aside money for savings, gas, etc. We finally got to enjoy some pleasures guilt-free.

Our next step was to make a pay-down plan for our debt (yes, once you get married, any debt becomes "our debt!"). We decided to follow advice we had heard repeatedly and tackle the highest-interest rate debt first by adding a little extra to the payment, and continuing to make minimum payments on everything else. Once that debt was paid, we added the amount to the next highest-interest, and so on. Slowly but surely, the debt disappeared.

The next few years brought personal heartache along with financial blessings, financial struggles, and children. Check back next time to read about how we finally set our financial compass, and how it still guides every decision we make today...

Did you ever have a financial "Aha Moment"? I would love to read about it! Please share in the comments section!

Thrifty Treat: Home Manicure!

Sometimes as busy women, we can let the little things go. Today, make yourself feel special with a thrifty treat- a home manicure or pedicure! If you're looking to try a new color, Walgreens has Revlon nail polish free after rebate this month ($4.79), and with the $2/1 coupon from the 8/24 Smart Source insert, you could get back $2 more than you spent after the rebate!

Go ahead, treat yourself- and even make $2 while you do it! ;-)

Have a beautiful thrifty day...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Easy Deals of the Week: Excedrin and CoverGirl lip gloss!

It's time for some Easy Deals of the Week, the post designed just for those of you who are not coupon fanatics like myself! These deals use only coupons from last Sunday's paper or printable coupons, so that you too can snag a great deal!

1. Walgreens- Excedrin 24-ct is on sale $1.99, use $2/1 printable here and get it free! (I'm not sure what the print limit is on these, but I was able to print 2 from my computer)

2. CVS- Buy 1 CoverGirl Wetslicks at $5.99, get $5.99 ECBs, use Buy One Get One Free coupon from last Sunday's paper, get both free after ECBs 
- note: ECBs (Extra Care Bucks) are coupons that print out on your receipt after purchasing an item that you can use like cash in the store to buy other items. For more on ECBs and how to use them to your advantage, check out Money Saving Mom's CVS 101.

Many thanks to Money Saving Mom for these deals! She is my hero!

Are you going to try any of these deals this week? If so, let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Financial Checkup

Money Saving Mom just posted her monthly 2008 financial checkup and encouraged all of us readers to do the same- so even though I haven't done this before, here are a few of our accomplishments from the summer:

1. As of this past spring, we are completely out of debt except for our home.

2. Once we paid off our car (our last non-mortgage debt) we took a month or so to enjoy our newfound financial surplus, then we decided to get back on the budget wagon and put the surplus to work for us by paying an additional 30% on our house payment, which we have automatically deducted from our checking account.

3. We also started Wachovia's Way-2-Save program, which puts a dollar into a special savings account every time we use our debit card or pay our bills online. This has taken us away from the cash-only system, but I love watching the savings increase, and the program has a great interest rate and cash incentives. 

4. Last month I implemented the $100/month maximum automatic transfer into the Way-2-Save account from our checking. 

5. I increased our weekly automatic transfer into our regular savings account by about 60% with the goal to have our 6-month emergency fund in place by this time next year.

Those are our accomplishments, now here are our goals!

1. Have emergency fund in place by this time next year, and just keep socking away extra money for it as soon as I do my weekly budget (my husband gets paid weekly, and his pay varies from week to week)

2. Keep on going with the Way-2-Save and hopefully have enough money within the next couple of years to purchase 
-new flooring for our kitchen (the peel-n-stick tile the last owners put in is starting to un-stick!)
-new windows (when you sit by the window and feel a breeze when it's not open- you need new windows! well, that and the wood rot on the outside...*sigh*).

3. Have our house paid off ASAP- right now we're on track to have it paid off in 11 years, but I say the sooner the better!

All in all, it has been a very productive year. The most important thing to remember is that you can't buy peace of mind- but you can save for it!

Any other thoughts on some good financial goals?

Timer Day

If your home is like mine, by the time Monday morning comes, the house is in some serious disarray! And when it's been a long weekend, like this past one, the aftermath is even worse. A messy home can drag you down and make you feel bad about yourself. It can also cause the atmosphere in your home to feel chaotic and disorganized. I firmly believe that the cheapest and best home decorating out there is simply to keep a clean and organized home. But as you'll read, it's often easier said than done!

Let me tell you what I faced this morning: a Mt. Washmore of at least 4 loads rivaled only by the peak of dishes in the sink (oh, and did I mention that the dishwasher is broken?), a floor that would be a dream come true for someone on the edge of starvation, and bedrooms that looked like a toy store exploded inside them.

I knew it all had to get done, and I knew I couldn't lock up my children in a closet while I did it, so I turned to my greatest inspiration, FlyLady, for guidance and direction in this my time of need. I implemented one of her favorite sayings- "You can do anything for 15 minutes!"- and planned a Timer Day.

Timer Day has 3 Rules:

1. Alternate between 15 minutes of family playtime and 15 minutes of Mommy work time- set the timer, and when it beeps- SWITCH! (and reset the timer for another 15 mintues)

2. Children must stay downstairs during Mommy's work time. If they don't, Mommy might not hear the timer on the stove and we'll miss out on playtime! When the timer goes off, it's the kids' job to tell Mommy, and it's Mommy's job to drop what she's doing and go PLAY! (this would also work to keep kids in a playroom or a bedroom)

3. There is a 1-warning system in place. If Mommy hears fighting during her work time, she will give a warning. If the fighting continues, she will send both children to their rooms to play alone until the next family playtime.

These rules actually proved to be quite effective today! I conquered both Mt. Washmore and Dishes Peak, the smorgasboard on the kitchen floor got devoured by the vacuum cleaner and licked clean by the mop, and the toy store shrapnel was safely put back into toy boxes and on shelves where it was rendered harmless to bedrooms everywhere. 

But the best part?

My kids and I built a magnificent castle out of blocks, had a roaring round of pass-the-ball-and-pretend-to-be-an-animal, played a highly competitive game of CandyLand, and read 6 books together. 

It was a win-win situation. My home was clean, my kids felt happy and loved, and I felt at peace knowing I could strike a balance between the two and fulfill my responsibilities as both a homemaker and a mother. And after naptime, my 4-year-old said, "Mommy, can we do another timer day again PLEASE?" 

I think I may just have to do that. :-)

Have you found any effective strategies for cleaning and corralling children at the same time? If so, please share in the comments section!
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