Jun 30, 2010

Time Well Spent (Carole)

We've all heard the saying, "Time is Money."  When it comes to saving money, nothing could be more true.  This is just a short little post to remind you that -

the faster you're living your life, the more money you're probably spending

Because it takes some time to:
 *  Write up a budget
 *  Plan a menu
 *  Cook your own  meals
 *  Look for and use coupons
 *  Become familiar with the usual prices of things
*   Comparison shop
*   Do your homework on the best brands
*   Shop at more than one grocery store
*   Try a DIY project
*   Home repairs

Are you living your life too fast to be frugal??

It's difficult to remove yourself from the frenzied pace of modern life.  But try to slow it down, think things through, consider your options before you buy something, take a few deep breaths and spend your hard-earned money wisely.  Your savings can be enormous.

Photo courtesy of FreeFoto.com  

Jun 29, 2010

DIY Gifts (Merrick)

I like giving gifts, and I've always considered myself pretty good at it.

Because gift giving is important to me, but I have many people to buy for, I have a few criteria when coming up with a gift:

- inexpensive
- easily duplicated for multiple birthdays (I'm all about finding gifts that I can do for both of my sisters and my sister-in-law)
- creative
- DIY (because I think homemade gifts are just a little more personal (but take note I don't always give homemade gifts))
- somewhat easy

So, like Janssen does with Christmas gifts, I spend the whole year coming up with ideas: scouring crafting blogs, jcrew, anthropologie, and other websites, and then saving the image or the link so I can easily refer back to it.

One of my favorite DIY gifts that I've made and given to many people is an embellished t-shirt. The idea came from a top someone was wearing in a TV show. After watching the show and spending the rest of the day thinking about that shirt, I scoured hulu.com until I found the scene, took a screen shot, and saved it to my "to make" computer file. Then that week I went out and bought the material to make it.

Here's how it turned out:
I love this shirt so much that I have to force myself not to wear it every single day.

You can do it a myriad of ways but here's how I did it:
- one t-shirt (when I'm doing these as gifts, I wait until Old Navy, Kohls, or Target is having a sale and I buy them for $5)
- 1/4 yard fabric in the color of your choice (Joann's always has cheap cotton in a million colors, and often has 40% off coupons available online -- this makes it less than a dollar, usually)
1. Cut the fabric into long strips about 3 inches wide, then twist and spiral each strip of fabric around itself to make a flower
2. Using a sewing machine or needle and thread, make stitches in several places around the flower to secure the shape
3. Repeat for each flower
4. Using a sewing machine or needle and thread, tack each flower to the neckline of the shirt
5. Using a needle and thread, sew the edges of the flowers together so they don't gap when the shirt stretches over your body.

Approximate cost for this darling embellished t-shirt: $5.80

With a price like this, you should be making these for everybody you know.

Jun 28, 2010

Grocery Shopping (Janssen)

About a year ago, I wrote about grocery shopping on my personal blog and a bunch of people commented saying things like, "Um, you guys must not eat anything." I don't really know what to say to that - I feel like we eat a pretty normal amount. We have a full dinner nearly every night, we have people over for dinner, and we pack a lunch every day. I cook a lot. We eat primarily healthy food.

All of which is to say, you may read this post and think, "You only buy two items a week. No wonder your budget is low." And if you think that, I simply don't have an explanation.

Anyway . . . .

When I go grocery shopping, I make a list that looks like this (it's the same one my mom has done my whole life):

I star things I have coupons for and write the brand after it if it matters and if I'm going to two grocery stores, I write down what store I'll be buying things at. Very high-tech.

And then I just do not buy things that are not on my list. Period.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is to get to know your store (or stores). Ask friends or neighbors about any money savings tips they know - two of my favorite money-saving tips came from people I know.

One of my friends mentioned that if you used the self-scanner (a little hand held scanner that you can use to ring up your groceries as you go (I love this thing because I know my exact total before I even get to the checkout lane)), you got extra discounts that showed up only on the scanner (I also found out later that they are tailored to the things you buy, so I often am able to use those discounts).

My co-worker also told me about the reduced produce shelf and where to find it in the grocery store. I owe my $1.29 and delicious pineapple this past week to her. Not to mention all the times I've bought other ludicrously inexpensive produce from this cart. I do many of my side dishes this way - I just anticipate buying at least one or two items that I'll use from there.

Melanie asked about using coupons and how she's found them fairly unhelpful so far. Personally, I do not use a lot of coupons. I don't take the newspaper, but I  religiously check coupons.com and am able to make that work pretty well. I scan through it every few days and see if there is anything I'm interested in. The main ones I use are for meat (chicken sausage, pepperoni, etc), cheese, sour cream, yogurt, cold cereal, chocolate chips, diapers, and sugar.

Once I found out that my store doubles any coupon under a dollar automatically, I had a better feel for how coupons could save me some substantial money. I also watch for sales to correspond with my coupons. If cereal goes on sale and I have coupons for it, I'm suddenly paying less than half than I'd pay for a smaller box of the generic brand. That's hard to beat.

Here's a picture of my receipt from this past week - the only thing that's not listed on here that I bought in this is the gallon of milk I bought at BJ's (the east coast equivalent of Cosco) and the additional boxes of cereal I bought a few days later:

I got a discount on my chicken and cream cheese (thanks to the scanner), I had a dollar off coupon for being willing to do a blind taste test of fudgesicles (would YOU have said no?), my reusable bag coupons, a diaper coupon, coupons that doubled for chex mix (a little gift for Bart) and my four boxes of cereal and $1 coupons for both of my yogurt packs.

This was, of course, a particularly good week for me - I'm not usually saving more than 50% on my groceries. But this week chicken was on sale for $1.79 a pound (Sherry informs me that is not a sale, but, let me tell you, in Massachusetts, that is a freaking STEAL. I have never once seen it go that low in the year we've lived here), plus my scanner gave me an extra 10% off. Cereal was also on sale for $1.50 a box and with the coupons I'd printed off a few weeks earlier and was just holding on to, I got those boxes of cereal for 40 cents each.

This coming week, I know that the yogurt I like most is going on sale and so I'll buy more than I usually do (and I've been hoarding coupons for this product for several weeks anyway). When one of my stores sent out $1 doubler coupons a few weeks ago, I bought four boxes of it (each of which have 4 yogurt cups).

At the end of the day, my main strategy is to just not buy things I don't need and to take advantage of sales, coupons, and discounts whenever I can.

Other grocery shopping secrets?

Jun 25, 2010

June Savings - Week 4

And here we are at the end! How'd we do in the last week of June?

  • Had my husband's leather loafers re-soled and re-heeled instead of buying new shoes.  
  • Signed up for http://www.tvprocessing.com for under $35/year to watch the World Cup games instead of signing up for cable.  The channels come from all over the world, and many are in foreign languages, so that makes watching an interesting experience!  Many sporting events are available through this website.
  • Remembered to send in my $50 rebate form on my new cell phone!  Just got an email saying my check should be arriving in a week or so.  
  • Got a rain check for a sale item that was sold out (frozen blueberries for the win!)
  • Found a free shipping coupon for an online purchase
  • When the price for my plane tickets for Thanksgiving dropped by half, I purchased it so I could use my free ticket for Christmas tickets instead.
  • Sent a text message to the Van Heusen number to get $5 off our purchase at the outlet mall (everything was on sale and Philip was in desperate need of new work clothes -- our total savings with all the discounts was over $150!)
  • Re-booked some plane tickets with Southwest's 39th anniversary sale and got a $60 refund!
  • Finally fixed the broken zipper on a skirt that I bought months ago and was never able to wear. I was on the verge of throwing it out, but now I can finally wear it!
  • Went through my closet and sold some old clothes to Plato's Closet
What about you? Tell us in the comments what you did this week to save or live frugally!

Jun 24, 2010

Baked Corn (Carole)

I haven't posted a recipe for quite awhile, and with the 4th of July right around the corner I thought this might be a good one to pass on.  The end result looks a lot like corn bread, but let me assure you, it is so much better than that!  For a vegetarian (or someone just looking to have a hearty dish without meat) it is an absolute winner as a main dish.  I often use it as a really tasty side-dish with ribs or ham.  It would make a great dish to take to a picnic with fire-works -- travels well and is a real crowd pleaser.  Guaranteed you'll come home with an empty dish!  I got this recipe from my friend Traci about 10 years ago and she told me, "This will instantly become your husband's favorite dish!"  And she was absolutely right, there are always shouts of joy when I bring this to the table!  (No kidding).  So, here it is:

Baked Corn

1 can whole kernel corn (.73)
1 can creamed corn (.73)
1 cup sour cream (.50)
1 box Jiffy Corn Mix (.44)
1 egg beaten (.10)
1 stick butter or  margarine melted (.69)

Mix them all together and pour into a 9x9 buttered dish.  Bake at 350 for 45 - 50 minutes until the top if lightly browned.  SO Yummy!

Total cost:  $3.19

Jun 23, 2010

Small Spaces - Part 2 (Merrick)

In my last post about small spaces, I talked about how we made more storage space before the house was built. Today I want to talk about making more storage space after your house is built, because this is probably much more applicable to all of you.

When we bought our house, our laundry room looked like this (not the best picture, but it's the best that I have. Basically the room had one shelf and one hanger rod..that's it):

Today, it looks like this:

After three years of living in this condo, it was stuffed to the gills. With the addition of a baby, we just needed more storage space. We had hoped to sell our home before the baby came along, but when it didn't sell, we were forced to turn every bit of unused space into storage space.

We bought the materials at home depot, they cut all the boards for free, my dad drove up for the weekend, we borrowed a table saw, and I painted it with the free white touch-up paint that our builder gave us when we moved in. Now we have a customized laundry room, all for around $150.

By using all the empty and unused space above the washer and dryer, we now have a place to store all my paintings (of which there are a lot, as you can see), diapers, toilet paper, the sewing machine, laundry detergent, and bunch of other things that didn't have a home. Most of these used to sit on the floor, and there is nothing worse than watching your floor space shrink by the day as more things get stacked next to each other. So not only do you not lose square footage, you also increase the value of your home with off-the-ground storage space. Win-win.

Now, if you don't have a handy-man dad like me that can build an entire shelving unit from scratch, home depot has a lot of pre-made shelving units that pretty much only require a screwdriver and a hammer to install. IKEA also has complete storage systems, or even simple single shelves you can easily install and create extra storage space. And all of it is really pretty cheap.

Having a small space is no excuse not to be organized, have food storage, or have plenty of storage space. All it takes is a little creativity and a few nails.

Jun 22, 2010

Making a Menu (Janssen)

When I sit down to make the menu for the week, I ask myself a few questions:
  • What do I need to use up? I poke through my fridge to remind myself what I have that hasn't been used yet - half a bag of spinach, perhaps or two leftover chicken thighs in the freezer or ricotta cheese or buttermilk. The internet is brilliant for this kind of thing. There is no use buying a bunch of new food and throwing away your perfectly good food from last week.
  • What is on sale? I will admit right here how deeply pathetic I am and say that Wednesday, the day the grocery store fliers come, is - I kid you not - a highlight of my week. I look through to see what's on sale and see if I can work those into my menu.
  • What will we actually eat? Haley commented on my last post that she doesn't like to buy ho-hum foods just because they are on sale, or she'll be tempted to go out to eat instead. I absolutely agree - I never ever buy something just because it's on sale. I really enjoy cooking, so making new interesting things is a big part of my motivation to get dinner on the table and having it be something appealing is vital as well. We're not eating hot dogs just because they are on sale or I have a coupon (although, at nine months pregnant, I have to say hot dogs appeal to me in a way they never have before. . . .).
As I mentioned before, I use Google Docs to make my menu. I like it because it's free, it's accessible, and I have a running record of my menu. I can also copy and paste them each week into a new menu and reuse any meals I didn't get around to making. You can see below my running list of menus for the last six weeks or so (and my favorite document of all, "Dishes to Try").

Every week, my menu looks like this: one main dish, and two side dishes for seven nights of the week.

At the end of the week, as I'm making a new menu, I go to the previous week's menu and choose "Make a Copy" and save it with the dates for the coming week:

Then I delete the dinners I made, leaving any that I haven't made and still plan to and start filling the new one in:

And now I can start thinking about what to fill in with. If ground turkey is on sale, we might have meatloaf or spaghetti pie. If I have leftover croissants in the freezer, we might do some sort of sandwich. I check out my "Dishes to Try" document and see what's there that I've been wanting to make. I ask Bart if he has any requests. I Google recipes that use feta or artichokes or whatever ingredients are nearing death in the fridge.

And I make my grocery list as I choose meals, so I know that I have all the ingredients for every meal. 

The days of the week I have a meal for aren't necessarily very firm - I might make what it says on Tuesday on Friday, but if I do have an item that needs to be used up ASAP, I will generally put that early in the week so I think about it sooner, or if there is a day that I know will be particularly crazy, I will put an easy or crockpot meal on that day.

I also do very easy side dishes - I buy a lot of lettuce and we have salads many nights (as you will notice). I throw whatever vegetables or fruit we have sitting around in with it and make a salad dressing to go along. I often will write on my grocery list "Fruit" or "Vegetable" and then choose one of each off the reduced produce section (when I bought 6 oranges for $1.29 a few weeks ago, we had. . .a lot of oranges that week) depending on what's available.

Any suggestions? How do you do your menu planning?

    Jun 21, 2010

    Why You Want a 15 Year Mortgage (Carole)

    There are 4 excellent reasons to have a 15 year mortgage:

    1.  You will build equity in your house much faster, since each monthly payment has a larger percentage of your money going toward the principle.

    2.  You will own your house (FREE AND CLEAR) in 15 years.  You'll be amazed at how quickly 15 years passes in your adult years.

    3.  You will save tens of thousands of dollars in interest on a 15 year mortgage compared to a 30 year mortgage.  More about this in a minute.

    4.  Interest rates are typically .5% lower on a 15 year mortgage.

    Take a moment to visit a mortgage calculator .  Type in your own mortgage information (full amount of your loan and interest rate) using a 15 year time line and then do it again with a 30 year time line.  Have the calculator figure out your amortization schedule and scroll down to the bottom to see how much interest you will have paid to your lender over the life of your loan.  You'll see that even though your monthly house payment will go up a bit with the 15 year mortgage, you will save more than HALF of the interest $ you would have paid with a 30 year loan!

    Here is an example:

    30 year mortgage on $150,000 at 7% interest.  Your monthly payment would be $1097.75.    During the 30 years that you pay on your loan, you will pay your lender $209,263.35 in INTEREST.  (This means you will have paid way more than double the original price of your house).  Ugh.

    15 year mortgage on $150,000 at 7% interest.  Your monthly payment would be $1348.24.  During the 15 years that you pay on your loan, you will pay your lender $92,683.63 in interest.  So even though your monthly payment went up by $250.49, your overall savings on this loan is $116,579.72.  Fantastic!

    Yes, you can do this on your own by getting a 30 year mortgage (with the lower monthly payment), but paying at the 15 year payment rate.  This plan gives you wiggle room if you ever hit some hard times and need a lower monthly payment to fall back on.  Just make sure you're the kind of person who is very disciplined and will keep to the 15 year schedule.

    Remember, housing is one place you want to be very, very careful with your money.  Your ability to save yourself hundreds of thousands of dollars is very real.  Take the time to do your homework -- and reap unbelievable rewards.

    Jun 18, 2010

    June Savings - Week 3

    Only one week left after this! How'd we do?

    • Found a local meat market that has incredible prices (ground turkey and chicken thighs both for 99 cents a pound last week!)
    • Parked on the street and braved the rain to avoid paying the ridiculously high parking garage rates in downtown Boston.
    • Used two free tickets, my teachers union card, and a library pass to get four adults into the Boston Aquarium for $8 instead of the $84 (!!!!!) it would have cost if we'd just showed up.
    • Used a coupon to get free ice cream for a little dinner we hosted on Wednesday night (I know - I am a MAGNET for free ice cream).
    • Bought a free pack of Huggies diapers with a coupon I received from a diaper deal a few weeks back
    • Checked out art books from the library for my art classes rather than buying them at the store
    • Borrowed movies from a friend rather than renting from the Redbox
    • Ate veggies as a side dish of almost every meal so I used up my produce before it went bad
    What about you? Tell us in the comments what you did this week to save or live frugally!

    Jun 17, 2010

    Small Spaces (Merrick)

    About two months before Philip and I got married, we bought our first home. It was a condo in an unfinished complex, and when we found it, the building was about four months from being completed. We purchased the two-bedroom condo, and would excitedly drive over once a week to see the progress. Our building is three stories, and as we visited the construction site, we realized that the workers always worked on the top floor first. From then on, we would scope out the condo's on the top floor, and then we would know what projects awaited our home the following week. This gave us a little advantage.

    When we visited the third floor one day, we saw they were installing shelves in the bedroom closets. Upon seeing the layout of shelving, we decided they were wasting so much space and thought we could do better. Because our shelves wouldn't be installed for another week, we went home, designed a better shelving layout that used almost the exact same amount of wood, drew up a little picture, and then called the builder and asked if he could do our shelving layout instead of the generic one. Of course he said yes.

    In our tiny condo we have very little storage space, but because of this easy adjustment, we nearly doubled our shelving space, and were now able to fit our dresser in the closet, which tripled our storage space. No extra cost, and no need to buy expensive shelving units.

    Many people with small apartments or homes complain about the lack of storage space. But are they using their space the very best they can? Are they utilizing every inch of space? By simply asking our builder to make a small adjustment, we made the most out of our pretty average size closet. This is only one of the ways we have made the most of our small space. I'll show you a few more ways in the next post.

    Until then, tell me a few ways you are frugally making the most of your space, whether big or small.

    Jun 16, 2010

    Keeping Groceries from Eating Your Budget (Janssen)

    There are some categories in your budget that you could cut out (you could live without a cell phone or without the Internet or without any entertainment category or go without buying new clothing for a year), but groceries, unfortunately, is not one of those categories, at least not in my experience.

    And so, because I don't want lots and lots of my money going to groceries, I put forth a fair amount of effort to keeping my costs low. Our budget for groceries is $200 a month (just around $50 a week).
    • I grocery shop every single week. I know some people (like Merrick) do two week trips, but that has not worked for me. It is easier and less stressful for me to go every week and know that if I can't afford something one week, it's only one week until I go again. Also, then I can get through my produce without throwing it away or running out of stuff too early. Figure out what works for you and then stick to it.
    • Find out what kind of deals your grocery store offers. Shortly after we moved to Massachusetts, I started doing some reading about couponing and store specials and I was so sad not to live in Utah or other states where I was reading about these amazing deals or programs my stores didn't run. But over the last eight months, I've made a real effort to figure out what my store policies are and now I feel like I'm getting some good deals. I know that they double all coupons under $1.00. I know that there is a reduced produce section (a huge tray of various slightly bruised or very ripe produce for $1.29) back by the deli. I know that if something rings up for the wrong price, I get it free (if I ask). I keep learning ways to save at my grocery store that I was missing before.
    • I am militant about that budget. If we run out of something, that's too. dang. bad. Bart can live for three days without eggs. I can do waffles for dinner if I suddenly realize my spinach for my quiche has gone bad. No syrup? Put some jam or applesauce or powdered sugar on your pancakes. Running out of something is not a reason to go to the grocery store. I make one midweek trip to the grocery store for bananas but I do not buy anything else. Nothing.
    • Read your store circulars. I get the circulars for three different grocery stores, all of which are within about two miles of my house. I have one store that I generally shop at, one that I NEVER go to, and one that I go to on occasion if they have enough good items or coupons to make it worth my while. Use this to plan your menu.
    • Make a menu. I cannot say this with enough emphasis. If you are not planning out what you'll be eating every night, you are very likely going to have a hard time sticking to a grocery budget. I make my menu in Google Docs so that I can access it from anywhere, so that it's on file for me, so that I can share it with Bart if he wants to know what I'm making for dinner, and so that I can copy it every week and copy the things I didn't make (I almost ALWAYS end up with one meal I didn't actually make because we had leftovers or decided to have waffles instead or Bart had a work dinner or something).
    Next week I'll talk in more detail about how I make my menu and what my grocery shopping trips look like (complete with coupons). What do you do to keep your grocery costs low?

    Jun 15, 2010

    When is it Right to Refinance a Mortgage? (Carole)

    First the disclaimer:  I am not an expert.  However, we have refinanced our mortgages a couple of times over the years and so I do have some experience with this subject.  At the end of this post, I'll link to some websites that explain things in much greater detail.

    Here are the basics:

    Pros of Refinancing your Mortgage:
    1.  Lower your monthly payment
    2.  Can shorten the length of your mortgage (changing from a 30 year loan to a 15 year loan)

    Cons of Refinancing your Mortgage:
    1.  You return to the BEGINNING of your mortgage cycle -- meaning that your are at Payment #1 again.
    2.  Because you are on Payment #1 again, the portion of your monthly payment that goes toward paying the principle goes back to its smallest amount and your payment portion for interest goes back to its largest amount.
    3.  The lender charges closing costs for lowering your interest rate.  You didn't think the bank was going to give you 10's of thousands of dollars for FREE, did you?  Expect to pay at least $2,000 in closing costs.  Obviously the more money you're borrowing, the higher your closing costs will be.
    4.  There are many other fees (beyond closing costs) associated with refinancing.  To some degree, it is like you are buying your house all over again.  Remember how fun that was??  Taxes, insurance, and prorated insurance will most likely be due also.

    Good Advice
    Most experts agree that you need to be able to reduce your loan interest rate by at least 2.0% to make it worth all the fees you will be charged.

    Don't refinance if you're selling the house soon.  Go to Bankrate refinancing calculator and see how much your monthly payment will be with your new loan.  Subtract that from your current monthly payment and see HOW MANY months it will take you to save the money you will have spent on closing costs, fees and taxes from your refinance.  Will you own your house long enough to make up this $ difference?

    Be careful with ARMs (Adjustable Rate Mortgages) right now.  Home loan interest rates are currently so low, that the chances that your mortgage payment will adjust up in a year or two are very good.  With the economy where it is, this could be dangerous for your financial future.

    If you do refinance, go for a shorter length mortgage:  15 year instead of 30.  You will save 10's of thousands of dollars over the life of your loan with just this one change.

    Further reading:
    Noodling Over a Mortgage Refinance
    When is it Right to Refinance Your Mortgage?
    Refinancing Basics 

    Jun 14, 2010

    Giveaway Winner!

    Thank you for all the GREAT suggestions and kind compliments on our Giveaway post. We wish we had a book to send to everyone!

    The winner is. . . .drumroll please:

    The winning comment was chosen at random, but I can't help but think it's pretty much the most perfect coincidence ever that someone with the last name "Rich" won. Doesn't that just seem right?

    Katie, please email us your address (frugalwifewealthylife at gmail dot com) and we'll get your book in the mail!

    Thanks everyone for reading and commenting, and we'll have another giveaway in the near-ish future!

    Jun 11, 2010

    June Savings - Week 2

    Halfway through! How are we doing?

    • Booked a hotel last minute with Expedia.  Saved $60.
    • Made a solemn vow to cook dinner every night this week.  Savings of approximately $40 by not going out for ribs with C while David is out of town.
    • Did not buy the annual pass to the National Park system for $80 while at Zion's National Park.  Savings of $55.  Like last week at the State Park, knew we wouldn't use it enough to actually save money.
    • Baked muffins as a present rather than purchasing a gift for a friend.  The nice thing is that this friend now doesn't have ONE MORE THING to find a place for.  The muffins were eaten and she could move on.  Saved $20 -- give or take.
    • Bought 3 graduation cards at The 99 Cent Store.  Saved $6.
    • Left my wallet back at the hotel when in St. George so I wouldn't buy anything while visiting my new favorite fabric store -- Ace Hardware sells great fabric.  Who knew??
    • Ordered 100 diapers for $3.36, thanks to Lisa's hot tip
    • Printed off a Barnes and Noble coupon before going to buy a gift
    • Took two blind taste tests at the grocery store (and so did Bart) for 4 $1 off coupons to be used on future grocery trips
    • Got a carton of free ice cream because it rang up at a price different than the one listed
    • Got free ice cream cones at Friendly's on Saturday afternoon for a promotion they were doing
    • Popped out the top of my laundry detergent bottle to get two extra loads done
    • Didn't buy dinner when I went out with my fellow librarians since I had had lunch only an hour earlier and wasn't even hungry
    • Did my grocery shopping for two weeks and with careful planning and only buying things on my list, came in $15 under my budget
    • Returned strawberries to the store that were growing mold 2 days after being purchased. Got a new carton of strawberries and didn't waste my money by just throwing them away
    • Bought 84 diapers for $3.36 on the same deal as Janssen (I got a few less diapers because I bought a size larger than she did)
    What about you? Tell us in the comments what you did this week to save or live frugally!

    Jun 10, 2010

    Cheaper Cleaning Products: Part 4 (Merrick)

    I recently found a recipe for homemade furniture polish. I have a wood cleaner that I frequently use, but it leaves little spots on my front table, which looks terrible. So when I found this alternative that was cheap, healthy, and got good reviews, I decided to give it a try it out and give a review of my own.

    Here's the recipe:

    Cooking oil (no need to waste the good stuff on this, cheap unhealthy stuff will do fine)
    Lemon juice
    2 rags
    1 container to hold the mixture (cup, basin, or bottle)

    1 In your container, mix a few tablespoons of oil with a dash of lemon juice. Stir or shake well.
    2 Dip your rag into a tiny bit of the oil-lemon mixture.
    3 Rub thoroughly over the wooden surface, adding more liquid as needed.
    4 When completed, the wood should be dirt free and glistening.
    5 Use the second cloth to rub down the furniture so no oil remains on top, so the furniture is not slippery or prone to giving oil stains.

    Note: This works on faux wood as well as real wood.
    {source: penniless parenting}

    My review:
    I tried this mixture on three surfaces: my real wood front room table, my wood kitchen table that has a seal over the wood, and my son's non-real-wood IKEA dresser.

    Every. Last. One. Of Them. Is. GLEAMING!

    The front room table has zero spots, and is shining like it's never shined before.

    We have been struggling to find something to clean our kitchen table that doesn't leave streaks and won't hurt the sealed surface. This left NO streaks, and the table looks brand new again. And because it's not full of chemicals, it's safe for the surface.

    The IKEA dresser looks beautiful too, and after cleaning it there was some dirt left behind on the rag, so I know it was really cleaning it.

    For all three of these surfaces, I used probably 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture, so the several tablespoons that I made will last a long time. And because it was only oil and lemon juice, the several tablespoons cost almost nothing. Probably only a few pennies.

    Bottom line, I'm sold. I'm using this furniture polish from now on. Go right now and make yourself a mixture and clean every wood/faux wood surface in your house!

    Jun 9, 2010

    One Hundred Posts Giveaway

    This post marks the one hundredth post on Frugal Wife = Wealthy Life and we have been thrilled with the response so far. Thank you all so much for your comments, encouragement, and great ideas.

    To celebrate (since all three of us live in separate states and cannot converge to celebrate over lunch or something equally fun), we're having a giveaway.

    The prize is, no doubt to your utter shock, related to finances and frugality: one hardback copy of The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. All three of us (and our spouses!) have read and been very inspired by this book and highly recommend it. If you don't end up winning, you may want to consider checking it out from your local library.

    To enter, please leave a comment on this post telling us what kinds of posts or topics you'd like to see on this blog in the coming weeks and months.

    After midnight on Sunday, we'll select a winner at random and announce it on Monday. Good luck!

    Jun 8, 2010

    Christmas (Janssen)

    I am not a very good gift giver. It is agonizingly difficult for me to come up with good gifts for people. You can imagine that Christmas can be somewhat stressful for me. . .

    In order to combat this and in order to keep from spending a fortune when December rolls around, I begin a list in Google Docs (how did anyone LIVE before Google Docs? I have no idea) of all the people I will be buying Christmas gifts for.

    Then, as I think of brilliant gift ideas or see something that might make a good gift, I list them under the person (or family's name).

    With that list in place, I'm now ready to not spend a fortune because I can take advantage of sales or coupons for six months beforehand. If I discover the perfect book for my father-in-law, I can wait until Borders or Barnes & Noble sends me a great coupon. I can pay for the very cheapest shipping because I'm not in a hurry.

    It's a delightful system that made last year a far better Christmas, both for my own peace of mind and for my wallet.

    What do you do to keep Christmas gift costs manageable?

    Jun 7, 2010

    Easy Coupon-ing (Carole)

    I've meant to share this easy way to coupon for quite awhile, but somehow other topics kept stealing my attention.  So here we go!

    There are some wonderful websites out there that bring the world of coupons right to your door.  These are not crazy buy-coupons-on-Ebay sites.  (And isn't that illegal anyway??)  These are websites that keep track of what coupons are showing up in your mailbox and in your local Sunday newspaper and telling you when to use them at your local grocery stores for maximum savings.

    Bless the men and women who scour the sale fliers and match up the weekly specials with your saved coupons.

    I learned this easy system from my good friend Johanna.  She's a genius.

    She suggests, to get the most bang for your buck:
    1.  Sign up for as many local Sunday newspapers as there are people living in your home.  Remove from each paper the Super Shopper  (SS) ad section.  Write on the front of each SS the date with a large marker.  File these by month (June altogether, July altogether. . .)

    2.  Remove the Red Plum (RP) ads that come in your mailbox usually on Tuesday.  Also mark these with the date with a large marker and file them with the SSs.  You can use a file drawer with hanging folders, or any other method that works easily for you that separates these 2 kinds of fliers by month.

    Now just ignore all these collected fliers, until the website tells you to go find one of them.  They may sit filed away and un-used for a few weeks.

    Now comes the fun part.

    Go to the website The Obsessive Shopper.   Wednesday is the best day, because that's when the new deals come out for grocery stores.  This site is set up for Arizona, Idaho, Eastern Washington state, Las Vegas, Northern & Southern California and Utah stores.  The stores listed are the major grocery stores in those areas.  There is a National section too, for those of you who do not live in the above mentioned areas, but it only lists coupons and sales at Wal-Mart.  Not terrible, but not great.  So sorry.  I bet there are other websites out there for your corner of the globe that do this same thing, and you and I can continue trying to find them!!  Let us know if you locate such a site and we'll spread the word.

    Now back to The Obsessive Shopper.

    1.  Click on your location
    2.  From the "Select Your Store" drop down menu, pick a store.
    3.  Always begin by selecting the "Start" button at the top.
                 *This will shade all the rows in the list gray; any rows shaded gray will NOT print.
    4.  To automatically select only 4&5 star items (the best "stock up" items) click on the red star in the top left corner of the list.  This will pre-select all 4&5 star items, turning their rows white
                *When you find an item you want to put on your list, click directly on the row and the shading will return back to white.  All white rows WILL print.
    5.  Be sure to click on the top row (where all the descriptions are) so it turns white and also prints (including any other row that includes specific information about a promo).
    6.  When you are done, click on the "Shrink" button at the top of the screen.  This will "hide" any gray rows from your printer.  If you want to go back to the complete list, click "Un-Shrink" to have all rows return.
    7.  When you are done, click "Print Now" at the top of the screen.
    8.  After you print your list, go back and link to all your printable coupons to print (usually you can only print 2 copies of printable coupons from any one computer -- but if you have more than one computer in your house, you can print 2 from each computer)
    9.  Now, looking at your printed list, go to your filed-away fliers and clip the suggested coupons (SS = Smart Shopper & RP = Red Plum) by the dates listed.

    Most items in a store go on sale in a 7 - 15 week cycle.  The key of coupon-ing is to save the coupon until the item goes on sale.  This is what this system helps you with.  Best case scenario is to buy enough of the sale item to last until the product goes on sale again in a few weeks or month.  That's why you want multiple copies of the newspaper.  With the same reasoning, see if your neighbors or relatives will give you their unwanted copies of Red Plumb.

    Give yourself time to walk through this system slowly.  The first time seems confusing, but it will become very, very simple in no time at all.  You'll be whizzing through in less than 10 minutes by the 2nd time.  Get out there and SAVE!


    Jun 4, 2010

    June Savings - Week 1

    One week down! How'd we do?

    • Spending our 3-day "School is Out!" vacation camping in Santa Barbara, CA instead of staying in a hotel.  Camping for 3 days is $47.00.  
    • Not buying the year pass at Red Rock State Park for $30 when we went on a bike ride last Monday. We've done that several times in the past and have learned we NEVER go again in the same year!  Instead we bought only the $7 day pass.   Even if we end up going again, it will take 3 more trips to come close to the price of the annual pass.  NO WAY will we go that many times in 12 months.  
    • Peeled, diced, and froze the discount butternut squash I bought before it went bad
    • Used a coupon code to get a free movie from Blockbuster Express
    • Found a recipe to use up the rest of my fresh spinach instead of letting it go to waste
    • Sold about 30 books at a used bookstore and dedicated the money to our entertainment budget
    • Returned empty printer cartridge for recycling and store credit
    • Mailed in rebate worth $10 
    • Submitted a rebate for $2 through Rite-Aid online
    • Made two loaves of homemade bread. These should last me three weeks, so that's a few bucks I save on store-bought bread
    • Dug through my drawer and found a $5 off coupon for Babies R Us. We were going to go the day before, but I thought I might have a coupon so I waited a day and saved $5!
    • Went to Old Navy (I had a $5 off $25 coupon), and didn't use the coupon when I didn't find anything good rather than buying something just so I could use the coupon
    • Filled up with gas at Sam's Club and saved myself a few cents per gallon (every penny counts with the price of gas skyrocketing!)
    What about you? Tell us in the comments what you did this week to save or live frugally!

    Jun 3, 2010

    Cheaper Cleaning Products: Part 3 (Merrick)

    Someone mentioned in the comments of the last post that white vinegar was a great cleaning product. I personally have never used vinegar to clean my house, but after a little google search I found out how great it is -- not only is it cheap, it's also non-toxic, and kills bacteria, mold, and germs!

    My husband hates the smell of vinegar (while I love it -- reminds me of salt and vinegar chips...yum!), but apparently the smell goes away as soon as it dries. That's a good thing because I probably don't want my house smelling like potato chips.

    From cleaning your counter tops to making your pennies sparkle like new, white vinegar has so many uses for cleaning. Check out this awesome list here.

    Philip is gone this weekend, so I think I'll be testing it out on my shower...I'll let you all know how it goes!

    Jun 2, 2010

    Returns (Janssen)

    Yesterday, my husband and I went grocery shopping. Because of a mix-up on cereals that were included in a certain promotion and a mis-scanned item, I realized after we got home that I'd paid $6.69 more for the four boxes of cereal than I should have.

    After mentioning it approximately 100 times to my husband over the course of the afternoon, he offered to go back to the store, explain the mix up and ask for a refund. He had me tell him exactly what we'd paid for what products and then wrote a side-by-side list of what we should have paid, then clipped the receipt, the weekly ad, and the coupons to it.

    Ten minutes later, he was home, with $6.69 in his wallet. How can I not love that man?

    I know that some people absolutely HATE to return things or ever venture near the "Customer Service" desk. Not me. I am an avid reader of return policies, and my combined hatred of clutter and spending unnecessary money means that I am more than willing to return almost anything.

    At the grocery store, I watch them ring up every item and I hold them to the posted store policy of giving you free any item that rings up differently than advertised or marked on the shelf.

    If I buy a box of crackers that I open and discover it is stale, you better believe I'll drag it back to the store on my next trip and ask for a refund.

    If I buy a shirt that I discover doesn't fit or I suddenly realize I will never ever wear since taking it off in the dressing room, I'll return it.

    I'm nice about it, but if the store policy is to correct mistakes, take back inferior or unwanted products, or comp mispriced items, you better believe I'm going to take them up on it.

    Is that too much for you or am I in good company?

    Jun 1, 2010

    The Not So Big House (Carole)

    I am a house-lover.  Just ask my girls how many model homes I dragged them to when they were growing up, or how many decorating books and magazines I've purchased over the years. I currently subscribe to several decorating/organizing type magazines and usually read them cover to cover every month.  I have several notebooks filled with idea clippings I've saved over the years, just in case I have a chance to start a new project in my own house.  It delights me to see how many blogs out there are devoted to making the most of one's house.  All these young women, just starting out in life, fixing up their homes and apartments and sharing their fun ideas and successes with the whole cyber universe.  I love to see the colors people use, the furniture arrangements people come up with, and some very clever renovations -- I love it all!  We do not have cable TV in our house, but if we did I'm sure I'd be glued to the home design and decorating shows all day long (hence, we do not have cable).

    Out of all the thousands of articles and books I've read about homes over my 26 years of marriage, the one book that has had the most impact on my thoughts is The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka.  It is one of my favorite reads about making a house a home.  I discovered it soon after it was published back in the late 1990's and have followed its concepts ever since.  I think its ideas fall right into line with a frugal lifestyle!

    This book is all about LOVING your house.  But Ms. Susanka approaches this subject from a unique angle -- although there have been many copycats since her book came out.  She is an architect and discovered over the years as she worked with hundreds of clients, that people are most comfortable and content in cozy, small-ish spaces.  She tells of a large and grand home built by some friends of hers.  This mini-mansion was specifically planned with a super-duper LARGE living room and dining room to someday host their daughter's wedding reception.  However, when that festive event finally arrived a few years later, they found that all 100 of the guests gathered in the kitchen to visit and eat and left the grand, showy rooms nearly empty!  I bet you've attended a few parties just like this!  People like to be in rooms that contain your life and that have a warm, welcoming feel to them -- and this includes you functioning in your own home.

    The title of this book might lead you to believe that it deals with reducing your carbon footprint (and there is a bit of that), but that's not her real message.  Her message is about making wise choices in your home that will greatly enhance the pleasure, comfort and convenience you find there.  This book (and her subsequent 8 books on related subjects) advocates keeping your square footage to a reasonable amount (4,000 square feet or less) and better using your financial resources  to create lovely areas that add character, personality and storage to your home.  She highly recommends adding architectural details (moulding, railings, stone. . .) to bring charm and real beauty to your rooms, rather than just wanting
    big, big, big spaces that end up feeling cool and/or bland.  She recommends noticing the view from one room to the next (lining up doors properly -- if you were building a house, having complimentary color schemes, etc) that entices you to enter another warm and welcoming room and that brings a feeling of harmony throughout your home.

    Her ideas are simple but thought-provoking and help you understand how to get the most pleasure for your housing dollar.  I hope you'll seek her books out at the local library and find your own inspiration on how to create the house of your dreams.