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5 Things I Do When Budgeting Money Makes Me Cranky

Okay I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but constantly budgeting my money makes me cranky! With 4 kids and a limited budget, there’s not always a lot of wiggle-room when it comes to “fun money”. Yes, I’m always putting money in the savings account for our retirement and there’s a little bit going into the Disney bank. But when it comes to right here and now, not being able to just buy whatever-I-want whenever-I-want-it makes me irritable!

So I can’t go on a spending spree and that’s okay. These are 5 things I do when I need a little escape from reality. They are just the right pick-me-up when the budget is tight.

Please note that I use affiliate links in this post. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

What are the little things you can do when budgeting makes you cranky? 5 Things I Do When Budgeting Money Makes Me Cranky

1. Plan a Fake Vacation

Can’t hop a plane or jump ship? Just like reading a book transports you into another world, planning a fake vacation can transport you around the world with a click of a button. This is one of my most favorite ways to daydream. Pick a spot on the map and delve into this area as if you were really going to visit!

  • Borrow travel books from the library. Which part of the world are you most drawn to?
  • If you could only drive 500 miles or less, which direction would you go and what would you do?
  • If you had to travel in central Europe which country would you go to? (I actually made this decision when I won a travel contest!)
  • Read up on cruising. Check out the Disney cruise restaurants and menus – They’re all online!
  • Which attractions would you visit in Orlando other than Walt Disney World?
  • If money were no object (and it never is when planning a fake trip) which extravagant add-ons would you make?
  • Perhaps someday when you win the lottery (that’s totally going to happen, right?), you’ll already have your travel itinerary ready to go!

Planning a Disney trip? Pick up one of these recommended Walt Disney World or Disneyland books for everyone in your group!

2. Fill my Online Shopping Cart with Clothes I’ll Never Buy

I’m not literally going to go to Target, load up a cart and then abandon it at the door. But it’s TOTALLY okay to do that online! In an online shopping cart you can virtually mix and match, quickly move from dresses to shoes to jewelry. And when you’ve gotten the shopping bug fix, simply close the browser window and you’re wallet is still intact!

3. Get Rid of Stuff

If I’m on a budget I can’t buy more stuff but it does give me some joy to pass along some of the stuff we already have. Purging and giving makes me thankful for things I was able to purchase and reminds me that I already have enough “stuff”.

  • Weed through kid’s closets. What doesn’t fit and who can you pass the clothing down to?
  • Is there something in your closet you haven’t worn in a very long time? Request a bag from ThredUp and you may be able to resell some of your items.
  • Have a garage sale. Put the money you make towards something special.
  • Be ruthless in the kid’s toy bin. Keep only what they really play with and donate the rest.
  • Next time you pull out the holiday or seasonal bin, see how you can pare down the decorations so that you only keep your most favorite items.

Budget-friendly & Practical Organizing Solutions for Small Spaces

4. Buy Something Little and Fun

A cheap but meaningful splurge can really boost spirits when the wallet is tight. Obviously you can’t do this one every day (or even every week!) but once in a while buying something small is just what you need. What little thing makes you happiest? For me it’s something that pampers me, like new Jamberry nail wraps or a lipstick! For family fun, choose a new board game or get a gallon of vanilla ice cream and a few toppings for mid-week sundaes.

What are the little things you can do when budgeting makes you cranky? 5 Things I Do When Budgeting Money Makes Me Cranky

A manicure at home (on a budget) makes me feel better!

Look Ahead to Something Real

What fun thing do you have coming ahead in the calendar that you can look forward to? Whatever it is, start your planning now! I love planning and think that research is half the fun. So if you have a vacation ahead, cultivate your own official itinerary. Research restaurants, peruse online menus and decide which mouth-watering dessert you’re going to order when you get there. I find that looking ahead (and not dwelling in the I-can’t-right-now) really fills up my thankfulness cup and reminds me why I’m budgeting and saving in the first place!

What do you do when budgeting gets you down? Share in the comments!

10 Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Healthy

Practical Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Healthy - 10 money-saving tips including recipes

Grocery shopping doesn’t have to bust your wallet. You can still eat healthy and save money on groceries. Some will tell you that you’ll need to use coupons to save cash (not true!) Or the hype that tells you organic and healthy foods are so much more expensive. That’s certainly not true either! With 6 to feed in my family and only one full-time income, these are tried and tested money-saving tips. Here are my 10 practical ways we save money on our groceries.

Save Money on Groceries (and Still Eat Healthy!)

Please note that I use affiliate links in this post. Clicking through and purchasing through the link helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

Practical Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Healthy

Don’t Use Coupons (with One Exception)

I used to spend hours each week clipping coupons from the newspaper mailers and driving around to several different stores to redeem. So much work! Sure there were some times where I’d get a great deal (25 cent tube of toothpaste! 75 cent box of cereal!) however those really great deals weren’t the norm. Most of the time I was purchasing things I didn’t need just because I had a coupon.

I remember looking in my storage cabinet and bemoaning that I didn’t have any more space because it was already stuffed full of about 5 years worth of deodorant, mouthwash, hair conditioner and macaroni and cheese!  And my kids didn’t need to be eating all that sugary cereal, whether I got it on sale or paid full price.

Practical Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Healthy

Here’s my one exception to using coupons: If you flip through the mailer and see something there that you already use and plan on purchasing in the near future, then by all means clip and use the coupon.

If you can save 50 cents off your favorite brand of pasta then yes, you should definitely use the coupon. But if you find that you’re making purchasing just because you have the coupon, it’s time to step away from the mailers.

Make a Price List

It can be hard to remember which store has the best prices on the top 20 things you purchase each visit so I recommend creating a price list. Jot down the price on your list next time you’re at the store so you’ll know which store has the best price on bananas, peanut butter and milk, etc.

Our local Sprouts has the best prices on fruits, veggies and dry bulk bin items but prices for dairy and cereal are considerably higher. Keep track so you’ll know where to shop for certain items and aren’t spending more than you have to.

Practical Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Healthy

Recipe for Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread

Don’t Shop at the Grocery Store

Grocery stores notoriously mark up the price of certain “convenience” items that you might pick up when you’re there grabbing fruit and veggies. Items in the health and beauty department are usually at a higher price than somewhere like Target or Walmart.

But I’ve found that other items can have a higher cost at the grocery as well. Things like canned tomatoes, pasta and cereal are often found cheaper at Target. You might find that your options are limited at the “big box” stores but that might not matter if you always purchase the same brand.

Shopping Apps

Certain grocery stores have special shopping apps that you can pull up on your smart phone before checkout to save you a few bucks. I personally use Cartwheel when at Target, Shopkick at many locations in my area (just open the app at the front door), and Ebates when I’m shopping online. I’ve received gift cards and cash just by using these apps and it doesn’t take me more than a minute or two.

And of course, if I’m shopping at Target I use my Target Red Card (debit) to save me 5% off my total purchases!

Practical Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Healthy

Buy in Bulk

Yep, we’re Costco shoppers and buying in bulk is definitely one way we save money on groceries for our big family. But don’t load up that enormous shopping cart just yet. You’ll need to make sure you can get through that 5 lb bag of mixed greens before it goes bad! And do you really need a giant tub of coconut oil? Knowing how much your family can eat and balancing that with the product’s expiration date is a must-do before bulk buying.

   

Dry goods in bulk bins that you scoop and weigh yourself can give you a great deal. Just be sure to compare the weight per pound of the bulk bin versus purchasing the item prepackaged. A 1 lb bag of beans may run me about $1.25 but only 75 cents a pound if I scoop it from the dry goods bin. Consider purchasing your own oats, flour, sugars, beans, lentils and nuts from the bulk bins and storing them in your own containers at home.

Price Per Ounce

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at the price per ounce listed on the shelf label and noticed that it’s actually more cost effective to buy the product in a small size. See, groceries often “trick” you into thinking the bulk size is more economical! So be sure to check out the price per ounce (or pound, or whatever) to make sure it’s really the best bargain.

Practical Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Healthy

Hidden Tip: Foods like pizza are cheap and easier than you think to make at home. Skip the frozen box pizza and make a quick dough, smear with pasta sauce and top with a few slices of mozzarella. For just over $1.00, I made this pizza for lunch in about 15 minutes! What other foods are you buying that you could be making yourself for pennies on the dollar?

Go Shopping More Often

What was the last item you had in the fridge that went bad before you had the chance to eat it? You might be purchasing too much upfront and then it spoils before you can cook it. Certain foods move quickly through my house, like onions, bananas, garlic and apples so I can purchase them in large quantities. But we can never seem to eat enough of the giant bag of spinach before it starts to smell funny.

Rather than bulk buying some items, we purchase smaller amounts and shop more frequently. We might spend a bit more on our greens upfront but if we aren’t tossing out half the package when they’re slimy, then we’re probably making out better on the cost in the end.

Pricing Organic VS Non-Organic

If you usually avoid organic foods as a rule because you believe they are more costly, take a look again because that’s not necessarily so. Yes, for sure there are some products that are more costly than others because they are organic but not always. At our local Sprouts, many of the organic fresh veggies are cheaper in cost than their non-organic versions! Some canned goods (like beans and tomatoes) are similarly priced organic versus non-organic.

Practical Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Healthy

Isn’t that a gorgeous loaf? Bake your own artisan bread with the book, The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. The beauty of making it yourself is that you know what ingredients you’re adding!

Shop the Outside Aisles

Visualize your grocery store. Generally stores are designed with produce, meats, grains and dairy on the outside aisles and canned and processed foods in the middle. Gone are the days when I purchased pre-seasoned rice and pasta mixes. Commercials will have you think that you’re saving time and money buying these types of products but it’s really not that much more time-consuming and definitely not more expensive to cook your own rice and add your own seasonings.

By avoiding processed foods, you’ll not only save yourself money but save your health from excessive preservatives, sodium and unpronounceable ingredients. Think about the foods you’ve been purchasing in the middle aisles of the grocery and how you could prepare them yourself instead.

Avoid Boxes & Bags

I’m working towards feeding my family more “real food”. By following Lisa Leakes’ book 100 Days of Real Food. I’m aiming to choose foods that have 5 or less of the “approved” ingredients. That means a lot of items that come in boxes and bags are off-limits. Avoiding foods that come packaged in boxes and bags (unless they follow the 5 approved ingredients or less) will save you money and help your health as well.

Practical Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Still Eat Healthy

What are the ways YOU save money on groceries? I’d love to hear your tips…share them in the comments!

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No Spending Month – 30 Days Without Extra Expenses

I have a 30 day dare with myself and my family not to have any extra expenses. This is our “no spending month” and I’d love for you to join me on this challenge. Read about my “why” and how I plan on implementing these no spending rules, without undue stress or resistance from my kids!

Challenge Yourself to a No Spending Month - 30 Days Without Extra Expenses

The Start of my No Spending Month

It was January 2nd and I needed to make a Target run for more whole wheat flour and canned tomatoes. I had no reason to walk through the Dollar Spot area but I did, you know, just to see what was there (I know you feel me on that, right?)

Into my cart went stickers ($1 – for the students I teach at the rec center), Valentines ($3 – for my preschooler) and a Day planner ($3 – for my husband, who’d mentioned wanting one). Then I remembered that the dish soap had run out so I grabbed a refill bottle ($3.99).

Almost eleven dollars spent. Sure, that’s not much but  in hindsight, it wasn’t anything I needed to buy. I already have stickers I could use for my students, I didn’t need to buy more but they were cute and “cheap”. Valentines Day is still a bit of time away and I actually could probably print them myself at home. The dish soap wasn’t really needed. I have multi-purpose soap concentrate that we bought in bulk that can be used as dish soap. And my husband said he didn’t really need the paper day planner after all, he’s going to use a free app on his phone.

If I took a more serious look at my budget I just know that there are more ways I could be cutting back; I know there are extra expenses I’m making that don’t really need to be made! I’ve decided to make January my “No Spending Month” and intend to go at least 30 days without extra expenses.

Challenge Yourself to a No Spending Month - 30 Days Without Extra Expenses

What are “Extra Expenses”?

Extra expenses mean different things to different people. Perhaps for you it’s skipping the coffee shop and making your morning brew at home. Maybe it’s brown bagging lunch to work or not buying any clothes for the month. Or eschewing entertainment costs for at-home family fun.

For us, eliminating extra expenses means-

  • Not eating out
  • No frivolous food purchases, including chips/crackers, dessert items and alcohol
  • Nothing that we don’t imperatively need or require to run our family or home.

What are your “No Extra Expenses” rules? Write them down to make them real and do your best to stick to it for at least 30 days.

Discuss it as a Family

Everyone will need to be on board to accomplish getting through 30 days without extra expenses. Talk about your plan with the kids so they’ll know what to expect. If they’re used to spending money out on the weekends or dinner in a restaurant a few times a week, they’ll need to see and hear why you’re making changes in the usual routine.

However saving money doesn’t have to be a downer and here’s a story to reiterate that. Once in a while I take my preschooler out to lunch, just the two of us as a special treat. Those “special treats” are usually only twice a month but with the average cost around $15 a visit, that’s $30 I could be saving! Today when I picked him up, he asked if we could go to lunch in a restaurant and I had to tell him no, that we aren’t doing extra spending this month.

However I want to make saving money a positive thing for thing, so I told him we could still do something special. When we got home, we made pizza together for lunch. It cost me about $1.50 in groceries (that I already had at home) and it was still a special treat for just the two of us!

Challenge Yourself to a No Spending Month - 30 Days Without Extra Expenses

Why are Your Doing it?

In essence, why are you making this change to eliminate extra expenses? Your reason might be different from your spouses, and even your children.

  • Do you feel like you’re overspending?
  • Do you have too much unnecessary stuff in the house?
  • Are you an impulse buyer and need to rein it in?
  • Do you want to save up extra money for something specific?

Consider the Cut-Back First

If your family is accustomed to movies, date nights, dinners and shopping every weekend and you’re planning a nix to all of it, a drastic change in the usual plans may be a shock to them! Perhaps consider a cut back for 30 days first before completely cutting things out. If you’re used to eating lunch out every day, cut back and only indulge in one or two lunches out and pack your lunch for the other days. If you always purchase concessions at the movies, still go see a film but have a snack at home first. When you’re ready to cut back further, skip movies in the theater and watch them only when they come out on DVD.

Challenge Yourself to a No Spending Month - 30 Days Without Extra Expenses

Fun Stuff Already in the Plans

What is you already have something planned during the 30 days? Use good judgement and don’t outright cancel your fun plans. If you’re going to a birthday party it would be okay to purchase a gift rather than showing up empty handed.

What About Entertainment?

We’ve slowly eliminated most costly entertainment over the years so it won’t be much of an affect for my kids during the 30 days of no extra expenses. We eat at home before we go somewhere or pack a lunch and snacks to take with us so we aren’t tempted to eat out when hunger strikes. We choose free things around town to do, usually something that gets us up and moving. We’ll take the soccer or basketball to the park or we’ll set out on foot to explore a trail. We can usually find a family movie on Netflix or we pull out one of our tried-and-true DVDs to watch in the evening.

What Will We Do With the Extra Money?

As usual, I’m “Saving Up for Disney”! Hoping to be able to take my kids to a conference at Walt Disney World this year and airfare is over-the-top expensive for all of us. $11 here and there really can add up! My goal is to save $200 a month for the next 4 months to get the airfare costs covered.

What will YOU do with the extra money you’ll save from this challenge? Share with me in the comments!

 

10 Budget-Friendly Staycation Ideas for Summer with Kids

10 Budget-Friendly Staycation Ideas for Summer with Kids

Summer is coming and I need a bag-of-tricks ready to keep my four kids occupied all summer. I’ve come up with a few staycation ideas that I know my kids will love and remember! As much as I’d love to run away to Walt Disney World right now, sometimes it’s just not in the budget for a big family vacation. The ultimate summer-on-a-budget staycation is easy on the wallet and still full of fun! It just takes a little creativity and planning.

This is the first year that I’ll be spending at home with the kids as a SAHM. I’m equally excited about being able to relax and also worried that I’m going to have four bored kids on my hands after the first week at home! My plan is to get the kids on board and schedule special at-home events on the calendar. Some of these activities could be spread out over the course of the week, leading up to the “big day”. It really gives everyone something to look forward to and not focus on what we “can’t” do (take a vacation).

Here are my 10 budget-friendly staycation ideas!

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Art & Craft Show

Kids love to get crafty and it doesn’t have to be pricey. You probably already have some craft supplies laying around that you could dig out. Set up an area outside where you can get messy and creative.

  • Local craft stores frequently mail out 50% coupons or you could search for one online or shop the dollar store for cheap crafting supplies.
  • Give everyone a sketch book and have a thirty minute session where you draw the portrait of the person next to you (this is sure to induce giggles!)
  • Save your glass jars from jelly or spaghetti sauce and use acrylic or glass paints to decorate.
  • Make pipe cleaner sculptures.
  • Use torn pieces of tissue paper and a glue stick on velum paper to make “stained glass” images.
  • Using clean paint brushes and bucket of water outside, have kids quickly “paint” a picture on the sidewalk and see if everyone else can guess what it is before it evaporates!
  • Recreate a famous painting in your own style.
  • Pull out cheap watercolor trays and paint a scene from your backyard.
  • Rainy day? Set up a still life on the table and have everyone draw the same scene then compare your pictures.
  • Cut out pictures from magazines and “mod podge” the images onto wooden frames or boxes.
  • Make paper bag puppet and have kids create a puppet show with their creations.
  • On the last day, display everyone’s artwork in the house and hang a handcrafted blue ribbon on each kid’s best work!
Art night for a staycation with the kids {Saving up for Disney}

Oh sure, honey, it looks JUST like me!

Under the Big Top

After we went to the circus (the animal-free variety) a few years ago, my kids were fascinated with the tricks and skills they saw.  Lots of great activity here to get you off the couch!

  • Dress up like a clown in old over-sized clothing and costumes.
  • A strip of blue masking tape on the patio makes an acceptable “tight rope”.
  • See who can keep multiple hula hoops going at the same time (one around your neck and one around your arm?!).
  • Practice balancing a balloon on your nose…and then walk the tight rope!
  • Create an obstacle course in the backyard.
  • Paint each child’s face like a circus animal
  • Enjoy a snack of peanuts and popcorn

Go Camping

Camping is cheap and fun {Saving up for Disney}

  • Local campsites have inexpensive overnight fees and you could try to catch your dinner in the lake!
  • Take a walk with flashlights to explore the sights and sounds after nightfall.
  • If you don’t want to stray too far from home, camp in your backyard instead. Pitch a tent, barbecue dinner over coals, roast marshmallows and fall asleep under the stars.
  • Or simply roll out the sleeping bags in the living room and “camp” in the house under the comfort of your ceiling fan!

Get wet!! Free ideas for summer fun {Saving up for Disney}

Get Wet 

  • If you don’t have your own pool, perhaps a family member or friend will let you “borrow” theirs for the day (especially if you volunteer to bring everyone dinner!)
  • Our local YMCA has a great zero-entry pool, water slide and play area for just a few dollars per person. Check at your local pools and find out when open-swim time is available.
  • High schools often open their pools in the summer for a nominal fee.
  • Wash the car, there is always an opportunity for a soapy sponge fight there.
  • Or just set the sprinklers or spray the hose and run through the water, every kid loves that!
  • I’m not crazy about water balloons because of the mess they leave behind, but sponges soaked in water are perfect for a good super-soaking!

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A Night at the Movies…in Your Living Room

  • Pull out an old favorite and host a themed movie evening complete with handcrafted posters, costumes and a themed dinner around the film. (ie: Watching Mulan? Make Chinese stir fry and rice).
  • Pull out the floor pillows, pop up some kernels and settle down together after the sun has set.
  • Give the kids a task of recreating a favorite film in their own interpretation. Come up with a script and costumes and present it to parents!

Backyard carnival fun for summer {Saving up for Disney}

Backyard Carnival 

Gather up stuff from around the house for game play in the yard. Kids love to get in the silly spirit!

  • Craft blue ribbons for the winners of the contests.
  • Empty 2-liter soda bottles and a ball for a knock ’em down game. Or fill 2-liter bottles with water and use them for ring toss.
  • Toss a ball into a bowl or a coffee can.
  • Have a watermelon seed-spitting contest.
  • Pull out the face paint for added fun!
  • Have a mini-pie eating contest.
  • Serve hot dogs and potato chips outside, followed up with root beer floats.

Make sweet treats for inexpensive fun {Saving up for Disney}

Sweet Treats

If you have a budding baker on your hands (or simply kids who love sweets!), this is a fun way to get creative and maybe a little messy.

  • A bucket of vanilla ice cream, a few toppings and candy from the dollar store and you can all have amazing sundaes!
  • Or find a recipe online for making your own ice cream.
  • Find a delectable over-the-top recipe on Pinterest and make it for dessert.
  • Bake cupcakes and have fun creatively decorating them.
  • Spoon frosting into plastic baggies and snip off the corner for quick and easy pastry bags.
  • Make a summer-time themed “gingerbread house” that requires no baking with graham crackers, store bought frosting and candies.

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Fort City

When it’s too hot to play outside, take refuge in the house under a homemade fort!

  • Sofa pillows and blankets are fair game for fort making inside.
  • Pull out the dining room chairs, drape sheets and use binder clips to hold them up.
  • If you want to get fancy, a string of twinkle lights would be fabulous.
  • If you have a few cardboard boxes, take the time to paint and decorate them, cutting out windows and a door flap.
  • I think a quiet evening of reading is in order under your forts because horseplay would make your city fall down!

Family Game Night {Saving up for Disney}

Board Game Bonanza

One of our favorite family events is gathering around a few board games for a fun evening of competition and laughs.

  • Borrow some games that you don’t have from friends or family so you have a nice variety for all ages and host a game day at home.
  • Simple sandwiches make a great meal and have plenty to snack on between turns.
  • Write out your own Pictionary or Charades game ideas.
  • Find “Minute to Win It” games on Pinterest that use items from around the house.

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An Elegant Evening

  • Every kid has a dress up box or can at least borrow something fun from mom and dad for the evening.
  • Time to pull out the sequins, get glamorous and have a fancy night at home.
  • Light a few candles at the table and elevate even the most boring weekday dinner.
  • Serve up a Shirley Temple in a fancy glass and the kids will feel so special!

Hope this list of ideas starts you on your way towards a memorable summer staycation! 

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“I Want to Save More Money” – 5 Basic Questions to Ask Yourself

"I Want to Save More Money" - 5 Basic Questions to Ask Yourself

It’s not simply enough to say that you want to “save more money”. Money has a way of disappearing from your bank account and wallet so quickly if you don’t keep track of it. If you want to save more money, the first thing you need to do is set your goal!

When my husband and I were working with a broker/Realtor to purchase our first house, he told us the minimum we’d need in cash for a down payment/closing costs. We set our monetary goal, figured out the timeline and made a savings plan. Within four months, we had more than enough set aside in our savings account. We’ve continued putting money aside in our savings account, though not as aggressively as when we had that particular goal. What a great feeling to have cash in the bank to fall back on when brakes on the car need repair, your husband is laid off for six weeks or your ceiling has a leak (all things that happened to us last year!)


Get that dream Disney vacation you've always wanted! "I Want to Save More Money" - 5 Basic Questions to Ask Yourself

Get out your note pad and make it real by answering these 5 basic money saving questions —

1. What is your monetary goal? 

Write down a number. Best to overshoot and make the number higher than you think you’ll need.

2. What are you saving for?

Keep your savings on track by pinpointing what the money is earmarked for. Whether it be you’re saving up for something grand like a home down payment or you just want to buy that gorgeous Dooney & Bourke handbag, make the goal real by writing it down. Maybe even print a photo that you put in a prominent place to keep you on track!

3. How long will it take you to reach your goal?

Set a deadline for yourself that’s within the foreseeable future. If your ultimate goal number is really big, break it up into quarters and set a date that is close at hand to help keep your savings spirits up!

4. What are you willing to give up to make saving possible?

Make sure you know your True Budget first and see where the extra savings money is going to come from to make your goal savings a reality. Try using this helpful worksheet. What’s in your budget that you’re willing to sacrifice to meet that goal? I’ve covered this topic in my articles Learning to Live Without and Realistic Ways of Cutting Back in Your Budget.

5. Is your savings plan reasonable?

The last thing you want to do is crash and burn on your goal because it’s too stressful or unrealistic. Make sure your budget has flexibility to continue to allow for fun things or emergencies.


Get that dream Disney vacation you've always wanted! "I Want to Save More Money" - 5 Basic Questions to Ask Yourself

Once you’ve answered all these questions, figure out exactly how much you’ll be setting aside each month to meet your goal.

Simple formula: Total amount you want to save divided by the months that it will take you to reach the goal = How much you need to save each month


It’s never too late to make meaningful changes! Please read up on the other topics in my Resolution Series –

I Want to Start an Exercise Routine

I Want to Look More Put Together Head to Toe

I Want to Eat Healthier

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Kick Start the New Year with a Healthier, Wealthier and Better Organized You! – Resolution Series

I’m ready for the fresh start that the new year brings! There’s something about flipping over to the first month on a brand new calendar that makes you ready to take on challenges and adventures. Even if you’ve been soured on New Year’s Resolutions in the past, I promise that these will be fun, practical, budget-friendly and totally do-able…which means even when February rolls around, you’ll still be in the resolution groove!

Resolution Series - Kick Start the Year Towards a Healthier, Wealthier and More Organized You!

Check back soon for the first post in this series. Please sign up for my newsletter so you’ll be informed when new posts are listed!

Blessings to you for a healthy and happy New Year!

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8 Budget-Friendly Ways to Make it Through the Holidays

8 Budget Friendly Ways to make it through the Holidays -Helpful Tips!

With autumn here and winter fast approaching, we move into the festive “holiday season”! For some though, this time of year is also wallet-draining, stress-inducing and all-around nerve-wracking!

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are some tips to make it though the holidays with your budget (and nerves) still intact.


Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

HAVE A PLAN

Before the holidays even begin, sit down and outline your thoughts and expectations for each upcoming event. Let your thoughts run free and jot them down; having a calender with you may help. It’s not set in stone but it’s at least a rough outline of what the next few months may hold.

Questions you might ask yourself:

  • What parties will you be attending?
  • What parties will you be hosting?
  • Are you making or buying costumes and/or gifts for the family this year?
  • Are you going to be traveling?
  • What school events are coming up that will require money?
  • Are there special outfits that you’ll need to buy for upcoming events/pictures?
  • What are your New Year’s Eve plans?

Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

DEVELOP A HOLIDAY BUDGET

Break down the holidays and roughly plan out how much you’ll be spending on each event. After all, the extra holiday expenses have to come from somewhere…and you should not be running up your credit cards or spending money you don’t have!

  • How much will you be spending on Halloween costumes and candy?
  • Is your biggest Thanksgiving expense in preparing the big meal or in travel costs?
  • In regards to Christmas or Hanukkah gifts, come up with an amount that you plan to spend on each person. Keep track and stick with it!

Spend where it most makes sense to you and your family and shift around your budget as needed. It’s easy to get carried away with the holiday spirit and overspend. This is one time of the year where you may need to put a hold on your credit card use to resist overspending and use cash only instead.


Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

MAKE YOUR LISTS

About six months before Christmas, I start taking notes for gift ideas. I keep a spreadsheet of past gifts and take note of what was a “success” and what was a “flop”. I use that history to make my gift list for the year. I write down what I have for ideas (private Pinterest boards are good for this too) and then mark what I’ve actually purchased. This is also where I note the price so I’m keeping within my budget.

  • If you are hosting a party or a big dinner, make a list of the foods you’ll be preparing including all the ingredients. Work those costs into your holiday budget.
  • Make a gift list for each family and friend you plan on purchasing for. Keep that list updated as you buy so you avoid overspending.

Keep track of what you are buying. It’s very easy to overbuy if you are shopping early and stashing the gifts away. My mom was notorious for finding a gift she’d misplaced and giving it to us in March!


Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

TRIM YOUR LISTS

Now’s the time to review your list and pare it down. Even if you feel like you’re already being frugal, see where you can cut back.  Do you feel that you overbuy when it comes to your kids or are the things you buy even getting used or played with? Gifts should be thoughtful and not just “filler” under the tree.

  • Can’t afford to hand out candy this year? Do like we do and take the kids out trick-or-treating throughout the neighborhoods so you aren’t home to answer your door.
  • For the big Thanksgiving meal don’t take it upon yourself to provide the entire spread. Contact your guests at least a few weeks in advance to request they bring a dish large enough to share.
  • Think before you purchase Christmas gifts. Is that stocking stuffer going to end up at the bottom of the toy box by December 26th? Are the things on your list meaningful and purposeful for the recipient? If not, take them off the list.
  • Instead of buying a gift for every single person in the office bring in a special treat on December 1st to kick off the Christmas season instead.

Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

STOCK UP & USE COUPONS

In November you’ll start to see the fronts of the grocery stores stocked with “holiday essentials” like pumpkin pie filling, canned cranberries, stuffing mix, etc. And the mailers will come pouring in with coupons for those exact same items as well. Now’s your chance to stock up and save! If you know you’ll be using these items before the end of the year then by all means, buy them at the best price you can.

This is also the perfect time to pick up a few extra items to donate to your local food pantry or soup kitchen.


PICK AND CHOOSE

The invitations are rolling in and it’s not uncommon to have every single weekend from Thanksgiving to Christmas booked with holiday events.  Choose your favorite events and respectfully decline the others. You certainly don’t have to feel obligated to attend them all, especially if there is an expense tied to each event.

Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

TAKE THE FOCUS OFF “STUFF”

If your holidays are more stress-inducing than joyous and you can’t for the life of you even remember what you bought your kids for Christmas last year, it might be time to get back to the basics of the holidays and take the focus off the stuff.

Meditate on what each holiday means to you and your family and make that “thing” your seasonal motto. Creating traditions and memories are the heart of a holiday!

  • I know a family that doesn’t celebrate Halloween but instead uses that day to take their family on a local hike through their mountains. It’s their family tradition and something they all look forward to each October 31st.
  • If it’s most important to you that your family be together on Thanksgiving Day then it really won’t matter if your table settings coordinate.
  • Capture the meaning of the season and ask your family what their favorite part of the Christmas season is. I asked my kids what their favorite part of the holidays is and the answers were surprising. My daughter said, “Going to church” and my son said “All the good food”. Neither of them said “presents”. For me, I love lighting a fire and curling up in a blanket to talk with my family. Only the Christmas tree is lit and there is a magical feeling in the air. To me, that is the epitome of the holidays. Find your holiday “sweet spot” and make sure to hit it each year!

Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

DIY (OR BUY HANDCRAFTED)

Is there something on the list that you could make yourself? Or at the very least that you could purchase from someone else who made it by hand? Consider supporting small businesses (like those on Etsy), rather than padding pockets of big box stores.

Ideas for handcrafted items –

  • Make or buy handcrafted Halloween costumes or accessories.
  • Consider sewing up your own table runner and coordinating cloth napkins for a special Thanksgiving table setting.
  • Make or buy handmade coordinating pajama pants for the kids to wear on Christmas morning. Hair bows are perfect to stuff in a stocking. Unique handcrafted jewelry is plentiful on Etsy. Appliqued tees are so cute for the kids to wear for holiday parties. Bake your favorite brownies or give a jar of your favorite salad dressing…I promise you, everyone loves a handmade gift!

holiday3

GET CREATIVE

Budget extremely tight? Reverting to going the creative route instead of store-bought can be more meaningful all around.

  • No money for Halloween costumes? Simply put an outfit together with items you already own. One of my favorite Halloween costumes was as a gypsy with a long patchwork skirt and layers of my grandmother’s costume jewelry.
  • Bring the outside in for Thanksgiving by decorating with leaves and pine cones instead of store-bought decor.
  • Consider a thoughtful Christmas card with a “coupon” for your services. Perhaps you have a friend who loves your homemade tamales; You could offer an afternoon of cooking classes where you teach her how to make them! Kids in particular love the coupon book idea so this would be a great stocking stuffer for them! Give coupons for a family movie night in the living room, one night of their choosing to stay up 30 minutes later than bedtime, a “spa” day complete with at-home pedicures or even just an extra storybook on a night of their choosing.
  • Skip the grand ballroom on New Year’s Eve and get comfy in your pajamas at home. We love to have an appetizer-only dinner and snack on all the homemade treats that our friends gave us at Christmas. We stay up late and play Scrabble. For little ones you could ring in the New Year of a different time zone and send them off to bed.

With a little preparation, all wallet-hardship and stress-inducing thoughts should be minimized. Here’s to having Happy Holidays!

What ideas do you have for preparing for the holidays? Share them in the comments.

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Halloween on a Budget – Make Your Own Adorable Costumes (and Save a Ton!!)

Make Your Own Halloween Costumes

I’m a crafty girl so of course, I always make my kid’s Halloween costumes. But even if you don’t have a crafty bone in your body, I know you can make a costume this year (or at least vow not to spend an ungodly amount of money on a crummy costume at the store, okay?). Want to make your own Halloween costumes? I’ll show you my 100+ tips, tricks and ideas to make your own Halloween costumes.

Please note that I use affiliate links in this post. Clicking through and making a purchase helps in a small financial way, thank you!

Tons of tips for making your own Halloween costumes, all on a budget!

Make a Halloween Costume Plan Early

A few months before Halloween I ask the kids to start thinking about what costume they want. Sometimes it takes them a few weeks to decide but this year they’ve been firm and have stuck with their original ideas. Two of the three have a Disney-theme, go figure! *wink*

I’m starting the Halloween planning a full 60 days in advance, which will give me plenty of time to make three kid’s costumes. I highly suggest starting early so you have plenty of time for planning and crafting and avoiding the night-before cram session (been there, done that!).

Some kids have a hard time deciding on a final theme so allow about a week of waffling before you tell them they have to nail it down. Once the planning process starts there is no changing of minds!

Dozen of Halloween Costume Ideas with Tips & Tricks on How to Make Your Own Costumes on a Budget

Draw Out a Basic Design

I draw a quick and simple design of the costume idea and present it to each child for approval. Make your drawing very simple and direct (don’t forget to show both front and back). Allow input from the kids about the design as they often come up with the most creative ideas!

I stress this…do not make them a costume as a surprise! This quite often will backfire. Kids want and need to approve what they wear. I believe that they should be involved in choosing their own theme. After all it’s the child that will be bringing the character to life! You want them to be happy and comfortable with what they are wearing (and not refusing to put it on!).

Dozen of Halloween Costume Ideas with Tips & Tricks on How to Make Your Own Costumes on a Budget

One of my favorite years was when my kids decided together that they wanted to be pirates. My son had a pair of glow-in-the-dark skeleton pajamas that became the base of the design. One child chose black and the other red as their main color scheme. I used the same skull and cross-bones design on the backs of their vests (drew out a image, traced it onto white fabric, cut it out and sewed it on).


The costumes had a similar look but each one unique with the choice of accessories. My son had a simple sash tied at his waist and a loose vest. For my daughter I made a tighter top (that laced on the sides) and a sash that laced with ribbon in front. I accented her outfit with inexpensive gold braid trim. These costumes look fantastic and I truly only spent about $15 total on the striped and black fabrics.

Argh! Brother and sister pirate Halloween costumes {Saving Up for Disney}

Know What You Have & Buy Only What You Need

As a seamstress, I have more than enough fabric and notions in my bins to costume a Broadway production! For this year’s costumes, I don’t think I’m going to have to purchase much of anything. But perhaps you’re starting from scratch? Save those fabric and craft store coupons now.

Figure out what fabrics you’d like to use for the costume (be practical about what will be easiest to work with and what washes up the best) and watch for sales. Dig through your odds and ends including buttons, ribbons and leftovers from previous craft projects. You might just find a diamond in the rough that will be the inspiration of your design!


Take a look at your closets and see what can be tweaked or reworked for a costume. In many cases I only have to make one main piece or an accessory to complete the look. The rest is straight from their everyday wear. I recommend Fabric.com online if you do need to purchase fabrics or supplies.

Like this adorable gnome. My son already had the corduroy pants so I just made a basic tunic (trimmed with white bias tape). Felt is so cheap and it was appropriately stiff so the hat stood up all on its own. I attached an elastic chin-strap and a strip of fur for the beard. This costume cost less than $10. It took only a few hours to create and he looked absolutely precious!

Dozen of Halloween Costume Ideas with Tips & Tricks on How to Make Your Own Costumes on a Budget

Keep An Open Mind & Creativity Flowing

I haven’t purchased a new pattern since 2007 because I use and reuse the classic styles that I already own. Don’t get hung up with needing a specific “princess” costume pattern. And you don’t have to exactly match the design on the cover.

Don’t let yourself get distracted by a dull or outdated design on the packaging. Simply changing up the fabrics and adding trims can make that style a true gem.

Scour the sale pattern bins and look for classics that can be manipulated for your design. A basic tunic pattern and elastic waist pants and skirts are the basis for countless costume designs.

Halloween spider costume on the cheap {Saving Up for Disney}

What do you have around the house that can be recycled for a costume? My son came up with the idea of “Hollywood Super Star Spider” when he was five. He knew he wanted a cane and a top hat. My dad made the cane with leftover PVC piping. I made the top hat from the thin cardboard of a cereal box, hot glue and leftover fabric strips.

I spent very little on the actual fabric for the costume and batting to fill in the spider arms. Mono-filament (fishing line) strung the arms together. He wore his own black pants with the tunic. My son was over the moon when his design and character came to life!


Tons of tips for making your own Halloween costumes, all on a budget!

A homemade cupcake, Sorcerer Mickey and a Marine

Less is More (Thinking Cheap)

Specialty fabrics can be very expensive so try to use them minimally instead of in excess. They generally have a greater impact when used strategically, like in the bodice of a dress instead of in the entire skirt.

For my son’s spider costume I used only a small amount of the priciest fabric (the sheer, sparkly red spiderweb design), choosing to place it only on the front of the tunic. Same goes for fancy trims: Instead of edging the entire hem of a skirt, use a pricey trim only around the neckline or sleeves.


When I want to create drama without the expense on a costume, I pull out my fabric paints. A little glittery fabric paint can go a long way to making your look more professional! When my nephew got a hold of this Spiderman costume it had already been through two previous Halloweens over the course of 8 years but the paint pen marker that I’d used to draw the web was still holding up!

Spiderman costume on the cheap {Saving Up for Disney}

For the cost of a few plastic buttons and some stretchy knit fabric, you can have your own Mickey in the house! Check out my DIY Mickey Mouse costume tutorial.

mickeycostume

Face Paint Can Be a Costume

Keep your outfit simple and go with dramatic face paint. This is an awesome way to dress up as a wild animal.


Turn That “OOPS” Into “I MEANT TO DO THAT!”

See my daughter twirling in her lovely fairy butterfly dress? When I tried it on her for the first time it completely fell off her shoulders! I needed a fix and I needed one fast! I improvised by sewing strips on the dress inside the neckline. This created a unique bejeweled collar that became the signature look of the design. When something doesn’t work it’s time to pull out all the creative stops and look at it a different way.

Halloween butterfly fairy costume {Saving Up for Disney}

Outside the Box

My son is nothing if not imaginative. He came to me with the idea of being a bush for Halloween when he was 6 years old. His idea was that he wanted to hide in corners and then jump out and scare people who thought he was just part of the landscaping!

After pricing the cost of fake leaves we had a discussion and I convinced him to be a tree. The cost of completely covering his entire body with leaves was going to be prohibitive. But one strand of fake greenery was acceptable. He could still be in disguise and if he squatted down, he’d still look like a bush. He went for it!

We used an old shirt and I hot glued on the leaves. A bucket hat received an overlay of green fabric, more leaves and even a tiny nest and bird that we had in our craft box! He wore brown pants for the “trunk” and everyone loved his creative costume. And he got the biggest kick out of jumping out at people along the trick-or-treating trail.

Halloween costume - A tree with a bird's nest {Saving Up for Disney}

Give Yourself Enough Time (and Know Where to Cut Corners)

This zebra jacket took more time than you’d ever know! Seriously, I worked for hours and hours cutting out strips and sewing them in place. I made the headpiece with a firm piece of latch-hook plastic. I looped the black and white yarn through it and then sewed the plastic in place onto the hood.

But by the time I got to the bottoms I’d run out of time! I’d planned on making black pants and adding the stripes but instead had to resort to tweaking an old pair of soccer shorts with a few stripes sewn on and having him wear a pair of his sister’s black leggings. It all worked out in the end, he loved the costume and he still wears this jacket!

Zebra costume made from a hoodie {Saving Up for Disney}

My point is to judge how long you’re taking on a particular project and know whether it’s worth your time to keep going or to amend the project to suit your time and needs. In the case of my daughter’s fairy butterfly dress, the skirt fabric was two silky layers and I didn’t have the time to hem it in the traditional way.  I serged the edge in a contrasting thread so it was still finished off. The pretty threads added a colorful charm to the design.

Very Hungry Caterpillar baby costume {Saving Up for Disney}

For the baby’s first Halloween, I knew he’d been spending the night in his stroller, probably asleep. I didn’t need to make him anything fancy, instead opting for fabrics I already had in a theme he loved from his favorite book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. A simple elastic tube of green fabric trimmed with colorful ribbons up the spine and a quickly appliqued knit cap was enough for his first Halloween.

Costume From the Closet

Rather than full out costume, see what you can use from your own closet to create. I made a DIY Vanellope Von Schweetz for my daughter using items that were from her closet or easily purchased and that could be re-worn as clothing. Hooded sweatshirts are so easily manipulated into a costume with a few inexpensive trims.

 

If you really don’t want to spend much (or any) money, take a look at what you already own that can be finagled into a costume. My little guy loved the Wizard of Oz a few years ago (and his sister was already dressing as Dorothy) so I easily put together his scarecrow costume with a plaid shirt, overalls, a bucket hat and some raffia. Adorable…and free!

Baby scarecrow costume with items in the closet - totally free! {Saving Up for Disney}

Alright, Okay…So, You’re Going With Store Bought

Remember when I said I always make my kids own costumes. I lied. One year I bought my son a Jack Sparrow Pirates of the Caribbean costume. In all honesty, I had been listing a hand painted pirate costume in my Etsy shop that year and I’d made a half-dozen of them and just didn’t have enough time for my own kid’s costume!


So we splurged and went with store-bought. It was a nice quality Disney store costume and he “made it his own” by pairing it with my brother’s vintage pirate hat. It was a nice enough costume that it was handed down to my nephew the following year and then I sold it the next year on Ebay!

Halloween costumes on the cheap {Saving Up for Disney}

My Hollywood SuperStar Spider and his cousin, wearing the store bought Jack Sparrow costume the second year.


If you do go with store bought, keep a few things in mind:

Quality vs. Price.

  • Is the fabric so cheaply transparent that kids will have to wear a second layer underneath for modesty?
  • How many times after Halloween night will the costume be wearable?
  • Could it be resold either on Ebay or to a friend afterwards? There are some really precious costumes out there. But is it really worth it to you to spend $80 for a one-day outfit?

Dozen of Halloween Costume Ideas with Tips & Tricks on How to Make Your Own Costumes on a Budget

Shop the Thrift or Resale Shops First

It’s what everyone did with last year’s costumes: They donated them and they are yours for the picking! I found my daughter’s Wizard of Oz Dorothy costume at the thrift store last year for a whopping $4! The ruby slippers were $10 and she wore them for every Christmas event and school dance that year so I say that is one bargain Halloween costume!


Start with Accessories Before Buying the Head-to-Toe Costume

Can you get away with buying a store-bought accessory and using items from your closet for the rest? I present to you, Indiana Jones! An accessories set included the Indiana Jones Child’s Hat and Whip Set and Indiana Jones Satchel (which was of course, his trick-or-treat bag).

It cost me about $15 total and I pulled a khaki shirt and brown pants from his closet to complete the look. He added the smolder on his own!

Dozen of Halloween Costume Ideas with Tips & Tricks on How to Make Your Own Costumes on a Budget

Is it Comfortable?

  • Itchy fabric? Too tight elastic? So many store-bought costumes are sealed up inside their packages and can’t be tried on first.
  • Some of the retailers have very strict return policies in regards to Halloween costumes so make sure that you are able to try it on completely before making the purchase.
  • If your child isn’t comfortable wearing the costume in the store, they will be miserable trick-or-treating and who wants those kind of memories?

Dozen of Halloween Costume Ideas with Tips & Tricks on How to Make Your Own Costumes on a Budget

Will This Costume Ever Be Worn Again?

Will your kids wear their costumes to play dress-up through out the year? Invest in nice quality pieces that won’t fall apart in the dress-up bin. The hours of entertainment they provide are worth it. Every item that I’ve made has either been handed down to another child or has been worn again for dress-up and pretend play. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey hat that I made for Halloween became the theme of my son’s birthday so he wore the hat for the party too!

Tons of tips for making your own Halloween costumes, all on a budget!

On a final note, I think Halloween costumes are a wonderful way of expressing creativity and style. Not only just for the person making the costume. The child who chooses the theme and helps design makes the costume come to life with their own personality.

This final shot of my nephew and son, rocking their individual looks perfectly reflects that. Choose a costume that transforms you and makes your character come to life!

Budgeting Tip – Don’t Want It? It’s Defective? Tips for Making Returns

Tips for making returns to the store {Saving Up for Disney}

If you got it home and changed your mind, don’t keep it or give it away…take it back to the store and get a refund! It’s broken or defective, even months after you bought it? Again, take it back and either get a replacement or a refund!

My husband has earned the title “King of Returns” for a reason. He knows the policies of the store before he buys so he knows his consumer rights to return or exchange if the item is broken, defective or just simply doesn’t work out.


Don’t want it, Don’t need it

  • Tried on a blouse at Kohl’s but wanted to see how it looked with a particular pair of pants at home. Bought the blouse, it didn’t work out so back to the store it went.
  • Ordered a pair of shoes online from 6pm.com but they were the wrong size. Used their return label to get the right size.
  • Tried a new color lipstick at Target. Oh boy, wrong color for me! Returned it for a full refund, no issues.
  • Purchased clothes from Lands’ End online (free shipping) and whatever didn’t fit, I was able to return directly to my local Sears store.

What do you have in your home that you bought and had second thoughts about once you got it home. You should have taken it back but you kept it instead? From now on, when you bring something home, retain all the packaging and tags for one week. If that blender just doesn’t mix as well as you’d expected, clean all the parts, box it back up and return it to the store. The more timely the return, the more likely the store will accept it back without issue.


Defective or damaged items

  • We had plants die within a week of buying them. My husband took them out of the ground and returned them to Home Depot for a full refund.
  • The hanging loop on my daughter’s backpack frayed and L.L. Bean replaced it for free (they no longer had the same style so we had to choose a new one, which was totally fine with her).
  • My new craft table from Costco had a sway in the middle and was off balance so my sewing machine was bouncing up and down when I ran it…back to the store went the table.
  • The knob on our Cuisinart Griddler melted after we’d had it for a year! I looked at the warranty info online and was told to return the item to any Cuisinart retailer for an exchange, which we easily did at Kohls.

If that t-shirt hem unravels the first time you wash it, take it back with the tags and let them know what happened. At the very least you’ll receive back a store credit and you won’t be stuck with something that didn’t hold up to the proper quality.


Know the Store’s Policy

Kohl’s return policy is legendary…return anything at any time for any reason. Home Depot, Target and CVS are easy as well. Read up on the store’s return policy (in particular before making large purchases) so you’ll know what your return window is and if there is a restocking fee.

My construction worker/electrician husband will only purchase tools from Home Depot or Sears because the return policies are so great that if a tool breaks or wears out, it can exchanged for a new one.


Keep receipts, sometimes.

Some stores will not accept returns at all without a receipt. Some will only give store credit without a receipt. Some stores limit their returns to within a certain timeline. If you are shopping at smaller shops or boutiques, keep your receipts. At bigger stores, they may have a record of your purchase so you may not need your receipt to return.


Handy Links:

Good Housekeeping –How to Shop Smart so You Can Return Almost Anything

Lifehacker – How to Return Nearly Anything Without a Receipt

10 Staycation Ideas for a Free Summer

Still squeezing out the last bit of summer?

I have a guest post on The Budget Diet with lots of fun kid-staycation ideas! Please stop over and check it out (click this link).

10 Staycation Ideas for a Free Summer

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