Upcoming State Sales Tax Holidays

Several states offer tax-free weekends on purchases of school supplies, clothing, computers and more. Stop over HERE to see if your state is participating and to learn more about qualifying purchases. It’s an easy way to save a few bucks!

Why We Don’t Give Allowance to Our Children

allowance alternative


Over the past 19 years and five kids, we have changed our views on the subject of allowance quite a bit. We started out with child #1 (affectionately called our “guinea pig child”) by giving automatic allowance based on a roughly followed chore chart.  In the long run, I didn’t find this system to be beneficial for teaching purposes.  He didn’t always do his chores and when he did, he didn’t always do them with excellence.  We would modify the amount we paid accordingly, but the 1-to-1 correlation of hard work = financial reward didn’t really seem to be shining through.

Today, we do things differently.  No allowances in the traditional sense.  We changed our thinking when we realized we might be sending a message of entitlement with automatic weekly payments.  We also decided that chores should not be something that we reward with dollars, even though they are still a part of their daily routine.  As adults, household chores will be an expected part of how they work as a team to keep their home running smoothly, so we decided that our program should mimic this message.  Today chores are rewarded with recreational activities such as television viewing and playing with friends.

The monetary rewards we give are for good grades. Working hard outside the home (in school) is part of a process of building knowledge that will one day be the foundation for their career. We treat it as “their job” and compensate them as though it is a job. We have decided that for our kids, we will only pay for “A’s” and “B’s”, but we pay well enough so they are motivated to work for them.  For kids that may have challenges with certain subjects or with test-taking, this policy may be different.

This program means four times per year (every report card) my kids are rewarded for their grades, and must make decisions on how to make the money last. We require them to divide their money four ways:

  1. Spending Fund – The money in this fund is for spending over the next 9 weeks (or until the next report card).
  2. Giving Fund – The rule of the house is that 10% of all earnings are given away.  They can choose to give more if they wish.
  3. Saving Fund – Once again, we require at least 10% to be put away for saving.  Each child has a long-term savings goal that they have decided on independently.
  4. Summer Fund – Since they have no opportunities to earn in the summer, they must plan ahead and save for this 3 month period.  They decide for themselves how much to put away.

Over the last few years of using this system, we have found that our kids have an eagerness to set financial goals and learn more about how to manage money.  They know their earnings must last for two months, so it has made them less impulsive.  So far it seems to be accomplishing all the goals we hoped it would.

Last year we added a new rule since they are getting a little older.  In order to qualify for earnings with the next report card, they must save all purchase receipts so they can evaluate how they spent their money at the end of 9 weeks. We ask them to give a report of how they used their money, what they learned and what they will do differently next time.

This is a unique system, but it has done wonders for their financial maturity.  Since we are only allocating funds every two months, it has been easier for mom and dad to keep up with too!

Some of you have different systems for teaching money in your home.  How do you do it?  Please share your insights in the comments!

Three Ways to Get Back on the Coupon Bandwagon

Couponing burnout happens to the best of us. With so many deals and only so many hours in a week, it’s easy for a person to get overwhelmed. If this has happened to you, here are three easy ways to add couponing back into your routine.

1) Have A Goal
At the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to refill my stockpile using just $10 per week. I chose to focus on personal care, cleaning items and pantry staples with a goal of having a 6-12 month supply on hand by the end of the year. I even made a specific list that includes the quantity I need of each.

You’ll notice my goals are specific.  I have a weekly dollar limit, a specific list of items, and a quantity for each. That makes my progress measurable. In the past, my couponing felt more like a “drop in the bucket” in my saving endeavors. But now I can document my progress and see myself inching closer to my goal with just a little bit of effort and a few bucks each week. It has been just the kind of encouragement I needed to stick with it.

Consider taking some time to make a list of items you would like to include in a stockpiling goal. Estimate how many you need to have on hand for a 6-12 month supply. Then focus your couponing efforts on these specific goals.

2) Be Accountable
Whenever possible, it helps to have a couponing buddy. When two people concentrate their efforts on a similar goal, the spirit of competition kicks in and keeps you going when you get a little burned out.

If you don’t have a coupon buddy, you can still keep yourself accountable using your budget. In our family I use the envelope budget system.  To keep myself on track at the grocery store, I use one envelope to cover groceries and dining out. When I am able to save big at the grocery store, we can enjoy a nice restaurant meal together. When I don’t, we don’t go. This is quite the incentive to maximize my savings because we love our weekly restaurant meal!

Consider using a similar budgeting strategy to keep yourself focused.  Find a way to reward yourself for staying on track by saving extra from the shopping fund for a highly motivating goal.

3) Cut Yourself Some Slack
Every once in a while you will forget to buy a Sunday paper, or print a coupon. Or you may have an overwhelming week and miss your deal shopping altogether. It happens. When I have a challenging week, I know I can “roll” my $10 weekly stockpiling fund into the next week, thus giving me $20 to shop with. There are no rules. Just do your best and give yourself some grace when you need it.

Frugal Living: How to Save on Entertainment

Even families on a tight budget can enjoy some nights on the town with a little planning.

Take Advantage of Free Activities
There are many resources for free entertainment when you know what to look for.

  • Especially during the summer months, many towns have festivals, movies in the park, library programs and more.  Head over HERE to see my list of free or cheap summer fun.
  • Snag a free Redbox rental every now and then and pair it with a bowl of popcorn.  Head over HERE to read my post 7 Ways to Get Free Redbox Rentals.  Signing up for text alerts should yield you one free movie per month, plus the occasional discount coupon.
  • Get a free trial of Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime or Netflix and take advantage of the free movie extravaganza!

Look for Ways to Get Discounts
Here are a few of my favorite discount programs for restaurants, movies and local attractions:

  • The Entertainment Book is filled with $30,000+ in coupons for free or cheap activities in your area.  The regular price is $35 with free shipping, but there is almost always a discount available.  Head over HERE and insert your zip code to see the coupons in your area, then pick one up and prepare for a years worth of fun on-the-cheap.
  • Groupon is my go-to site for local discounts.  I have gotten zoo memberships, restaurant vouchers and more.  Last year my favorite deal was The Book of Free (not currently available) priced at $24 and filled with local restaurant coupons for free entrees, appetizers and desserts.  We used the heck out of that thing and gave away the coupons we couldn’t use.  The point is to keep your eyes peeled or sign up for email alerts for your local area Groupons.  It will pay off in a big way.
  • Sign up for email alerts from your favorite restaurants, movie theatres and local attractions.  You will be alerted to special savings and get truckloads of coupons.  And don’t forget to “like” them on Facebook where more than a few coupons will be posted!
  • Take advantage of Kids Eat Free nights.  Ask your favorite restaurants, or browse their websites, then strategically plan your evenings out around these special days and times.
  • Some survey sites will pay you in restaurant gift cards.  I can’t tell you how great it feels to walk into Olive Garden with five kids and not owe a dime at the end. My faves are Daily Survey Panel, MyPoints, and Valued Opinions.
  • Discounted restaurant gift cards are always available from Plastic Jungle, usually at a rate of 9-10% off.  I have purchased from them many times in the past and have always been happy.

More From the Frugal Living Series:

How about you? How do you save on entertainment?

Frugal Living: How to Save on Holidays & Special Occasions

Holidays and special occasions can take a big bite out of the budget. As with anything else, planning ahead can save you 70% or more on your Christmas gifts, Halloween costumes, birthday parties and the like.

Time Your Shopping Trips
The strategies we use with couponing hold true for nearly every other purchase. Don’t wait until you need something to buy it. Plan ahead. Christmas decor is most expensive in November. Halloween costumes are most expensive in October. But when you plan your purchases one year ahead you can get items at the lowest prices when they are on clearance. Similarly, toys can be picked up for a song in January and set aside for future birthdays and holidays.

Shop the Dollar Stores
When decorating for holidays and birthdays, begin your hunt at the local dollar stores. Many have balloons, gift wrap and an array of decorations for a buck or less. Even stocking stuffers and party favors!

Use Free Printables
If you follow this blog, you know I am a huge fan of free printables. Here are a few examples of ways you can decorate using free printables.

Make It Yourself
Often the most appreciated gifts are those that are thoughtfully created by the giver. During the holidays, I like to stock up on all the free and cheap home fragrance items and create a gift basket for those on my list. You can do the same with your stockpile of beauty and personal care items. My 100 Days of Christmas and Momspiration Monday series are filled with beautiful and easy DIY gift ideas. If you have these in mind, you can begin buying materials to create them as you find deals throughout the year. A few ideas:

Make an Ice Cream gift box.

Make your own Summer Bath Salts.

Make a New Mom Comfort Kit.

Make your own Huge Family Photo for under $20.

More DIY Ideas Can Be Found Here:

Tutorial of the Day
100 Days of Christmas
Momspiration Monday
Summer Staycation Series

Be sure to subscribe to Moms by Heart for more easy gift ideas on-the-cheap.

Frugal Living Series:

Frugal Living: How to Save on Clothing {Part 5}

How to Save on Clothing Part 1 – Thrifting Tips
How to Save on Clothing Part 2 – Ebay
How to Save on Clothing Part 3 – Consignment Sales
How to Save on Clothing Part 4 – Consignment Stores

Save Big By Stacking Retail Sales, Offers & Coupons
Learning how to combine retail coupons with sale prices can translate into savings that can even beat thrift store prices! Don’t believe me?  Consider this scenario.

Kohl’s has a clearance sale that includes a nice selection of clothing. In addition, they offer a 20% off coupon and $10 Kohl’s Cash for every $50 I spend. Here’s how I may stack these offers:

Purchase a total of $70 in kids clothing on clearance (retail $140)
-20% off = $56
I earn $10 in Kohl’s Cash, good on future purchases
My total expense would be $46 for $140 in retail. That’s a savings of 67%

We already know that consignment sales, consignment stores and even some thrift stores price clothing at 1/3 retail price. But that’s what I just paid for brand new stuff.

Cool, huh?

But wait.  It gets even better.

Once my kids outgrow these items, I can take them to the consignment store where they will be sold at 1/3 retail (which is what I paid for them) and I will earn 50% of that. So I just earned $23 of my $46 bucks back.

Yup. That’s how you do it.

Finding the Best Retail Deals
These deals don’t come along every day. But you may be surprised how often you see them. Here are some tips for finding the best ones.

  1. Sign up for email alerts from your favorite retail stores.  This is where you’ll get the heads up on huge clearance deals and printable coupons.
  2. Sign up for the top Retail Rewards Programs so you will earn while you shop.
  3. Stay one step ahead by buying end-of-season items now and stashing them away for next year.
  4. Create a list of wardrobe essentials for each member of your family.  I created a form HERE where I jot down sizes and quantities needed, then check off as they are purchased.  I update this list every couple of months when things are outgrown or wear out.  You can download mine or create your own.  Easy.  It goes with me wherever I am just in case an unexpected deal is spotted.
  5. Subscribe to Moms by Heart where you’ll get a list of printable mall coupons every Friday, along with daily updates that include online deals stacked with free shipping offers and percentage off coupon codes.  I have a lot of kids on my shopping list, so I don’t miss much.  And neither will you.

Frugal Living: How to Save on Clothing {Part 4}

How to Save on Clothing Part 1 – Thrifting Tips
How to Save on Clothing Part 2 – Ebay
How to Save on Clothing Part 3 – Consignment Sales

Part 4: Establishing a Relationship with Local Consignment Stores
For years I was stuck in the mindset of “If my kids are gonna wear it, it has to be new”.

This was before I became a frugal shopper, so you can imagine what that did to our budget. One day while shopping with a friend, she suggested we visit a local consignment store. Not wanting to appear a snob, I (fake) enthusiastically agreed.

What I found changed my thinking forever. The store was well stocked with all sizes of quality like-new kids clothing. My socks were officially knocked off…not only by the selection but by the prices too.

I walked out with a bagful of loot, feeling like someone should be giving me a prize. Or perhaps they would take my picture and put it in the paper. Local Bargain Hunting Rockstar Mom Saves Hundreds on Brand-Name Clothing.

If you’ve never frequented your local consignment store, here are the steps to bargain nirvana.

  1. Visit All of Them – As with thrift stores, not all consignment stores are created equal.  Do some exploring in your area to find the one that fits your needs.
  2. Bring a List – It’s easy to get swept up in the bargain frenzy and overspend.  Come prepared with a list of items you need, along with sizes.  And stick to it to protect your budget.
  3. Sell Your Clothing and Save Even More – Bring your gently used clothing and get paid or receive store credit.  Generally the store will price items at 1/3 retail, and you’ll get to keep 40-50% of the asking price.  If it doesn’t sell within a specific time period (usually 60 days) it is donated.  I am a regular at our store, and the store credit really comes in handy each month!

Frugal Living: How to Save on Clothing {Part 3}

How to Save on Clothing Part 1 – Thrifting Tips
How to Save on Clothing Part 2 – Ebay

Today, we will discuss the blissful bargain bonanzas known as Consignment Sales
Spring is the season for finding some great consignment sales all across the country. You’ll find oodles of children’s clothing, toys, bedding, furniture, maternity and baby items that are gently used and often in great condition.

What is a Consignment Sale?
Think of it as a hybrid of consignment stores and garage sales. You have the quality and variety of a consignment store with the lower prices and limited timeframe of a garage sale. These sales generally last from 1-2 days and feature items brought in by local families who get as much as 80% of the selling price. The rest goes to the church, charity or for-profit organization sponsoring the sale.

Find a Sale
Consignment Mommies is my go-to site for finding local sales.  Just insert your zip code to find a list of sales in your area.

Sell Your Stash
Here are some tips for cashing in on your local sale:

  • Contact the sponsor for details and deadlines for the sale you are interested in.
  • Bring your items cleaned and pressed.
  • Price your items to sell.  Many sponsors will encourage you to price items at 1/3 retail value.  It’s still your call.  When I participate in consignment sales, I go at least 1/4 retail value, because I never paid full price to begin with.  So my earnings are still good, relative to my investment.  Plus my stuff moves very quickly at those prices.

Find The Best Bargains

  • Arrive early and prepared.  Some shoppers will arrive as much as one hour early to line up for the start of the sale.
  • Wear comfy shoes.
  • Bring a list of your kids sizes and measurements.
  • Leave the kids at home if possible.  It’s usually elbow to elbow, especially during the first hours.
  • Bring a large tote bag or laundry bag to carry your finds.
  • Check the racks of clothing one size higher and lower than your child.  Some sizes run big or small, or they can get misplaced.
  • Inspect items carefully.  When I find something I want, I will give it a good once-over.  Then when I’m finished shopping, I’ll stand to the side and re-examine everything to be sure I didn’t miss any stains or tears.
  • Volunteer!  Did you know that consignment volunteers often get to shop before general public?  Sometimes they’ll even get a discount.
  • If you are consigning your clothing, you may also qualify for pre-sale shopping.  Be sure to ask!

Anyone else have tips for consignment sale shopping?  Please leave a comment!