Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Internet is probably the best tool the cheap chick has. Where else can you sit in your pjs, drink tea and find free or almost free stuff? It also lets you network with others that may know where good deals are.

I have been online since the only thing that you could log into was BBS and even then half the time you couldn't get through or there was nobody there. Now you can get info at the click of the enter button. When you do a search you will get 100s of 1000s of sites there for you to comb through. But as every treasure hunter will tell you - you have to find a lot of rocks before you get that diamond.

Google the term 'frugal' and you get 10 400 000 hits. That is a lot of money saving ideas. Google 'free stuff in Canada' and you get 3 780 000. Potentially a lot of free stuff. But out of all this about 75% of it is junk, outdated info and sites which are phishing for info from you.

I have a few that I like to visit on a daily basis. Some I go to several times a day. Others I go through on a weekly timetable. I thought I would share them with you and perhaps give you an idea of what to look for in a 'good' site.

Don't let the title fool you. This site is packed full of goodies. Being that I also supplement my children's learning I guess I fall into that homeschooling group. Everything I have sent for from here has come. If it asks for the school I just give them the name of my home school. Tons of posters, teaching aids and fun stuff for kids. A lot to go through but well worth the time and effort. I did the kid's stockings last year strictly from stuff I got from this site. They seemed pretty excited by most of it.

This is a good site to check daily, even more than that if you have time. They have a coupon database, a freebies section and post the flyers weekly. You can sign up and become a member (free to do so) and earn prizes, cash and treats. I visit and have found some very good deals before other sites have posted. Best part is it a 100% Canadian.

This site was my first freebie site so it will always be near and dear to my heart. Though not always up on things as quick as others, they do have a very good selection of shareware and things to use on your computer. Excellent for removing dead links quickly. The best thing this site has is a UPC data bank which is also searchable. This has been a God send when entering contests for me. Well worth bookmarking just for that.

I found this site while looking for ways to make really cheap yet healthy and tasty meals. At first it was the name that cracked me up and made me go look inside. I was expecting RoadKill Pie, Chitlins and grits...but actually I found a wealth of information. Her recipes have never failed me - especially the homemade yogurt made with powdered milk. I sold my yogurt maker after making hers. Also great on this site is the $45 emergency food diet for a family of 4 to 6. It is well balanced enough to get you through a really lean week. Though American has a lot of great ideas. Try the grape jelly made with frozen grape tastes just like Welch's! Um, well yeah duh I guess it would...I make it with Welch's juice...sometimes I am a bit on the slow side!

This is really one stop shopping for all your frugal needs. Coupons, contests, freebies, recipes- you name it, they have it. What to learn how to make your own laundry soap? How to collect UPCs or stretch those Shopper's Drug Mart points? They have all the tricks of the trade. Make sure you read some of the articles as they are a wealth of information. Also great part is they have a search engine that is pretty good. I found this site searching for a recipe for baked beans of all things! BTW - the beans were pretty darn good.

Some honorable mentions are:
A good freebie site.
A good site to let the kids play games on and earn everything from free ice cream to tshirts. Truth be told I do it daily with my morning tea.
A growing site with a little of everything.
A user driven site with tons of everything. I love the info I find but I find it a bit all over the place.
A great site for decent, presentable homemade gifts.
A slick and pretty funny blog with lots of recipes and crafts.
An excellent site for tons of free cross stitching patterns.
A great site for kiddie recipes, birthday party help but best is their craft section. All easy and all with stuff you have around the house.
Up next: Why cleaning saves you a lot of money.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dollar Stores - friend or foe

Many people use the dollar store regularly. Many will only buy certain items. And there are even some that won't set foot into one. A dollar store evokes images of cheap Chinese goods oozing lead or worse. Some people think of them as places where only those with very low income shop because it is all they can afford. And some just feel that it is below them.
BUT I LOVE THEM! If I haven't been in a long time I can actually get a tingle wondering what goodies I might find. What cheap-o treasure I may bring home. And how when I go to pay Ihow I actually can spend that much when everything is a dollar.
A good dollar store (there are bad ones out there) can be a great help in being frugal. But they can also be your downfall. You must let them know who is control in the relationship! Just because they are giving good love doesn't mean that you have to always foot the bill.
There is a lot of potentially dangerous crap in there. I would never ever buy anything for a baby in there. Especially things which will be going into their mouth. PVC, lead and the toxic melamine have all surfaced in items there. And frankly some stuff just sucks and will break after you have walked out of the store. And with their strict no return/exchange policy you have to choose wisely.
At times you may walk in and find name brand products. Example was I found monster tubes of Crest there. I was holding it, turning the box over in my hand and something didn't sit right. It was the right color, everything was where it should be but something told me that it was either a second or a fake. About a week later I saw on City Pulse news that several stores were forced to remove it because it was fake. So you do have to be careful and if you see a product that looks like a top brand real the label carefully. Look for a company address. Dove shampoo for example should not have a Chinese mailing address. Yes, I am sure Dove has expanded to China, but the labels would not be in English and very rare for it to be found outside China. If in doubt ever...leave it. Also read the label. Something may say where it is made, somethings only mention where the warehouse is, meaning you have no idea where it was produced. A deal is great but not at the risk of making yourself or family ill.
In my opinion the best deals are:
- coloring books, work books and books
- school supplies like pens, erasers etc.
- gift wrap, gift bags and seasonal decorations
- licensed Disney products for kids like stickers, notebooks etc
- paper, office supplies, envelopes
- loot bag stuffers
- mine sells 1L coke products and Lay's products - these are legit as I have seen the guy coming in to stock
- cleaning supplies, scrub brushes, sponges etc
- hooks, picture frames (sometimes look good but fall apart) and gag gift type things
- I don't scrap book but the selection seems pretty impressive to me
- great arts and crafts supplies
- ERA plastic ware - made in Canada!!!
- garbage bags and freezer bags
- dish cloths and sometimes I find the odd thick tea towel
- hair stuff like clips
- I have been very happy with their combs and brushes
- painting supplies, their small brushes have helped paint many a room in my house
- fishing lures
- napkins and party ware
- cards
Things I refuse to buy:
- anything that deals with electrical needs
- candles (many of the wicks have lead in them, burn poorly and quickly)
- food
- made in China plastic ware
- dishes (I am too concerned about lead)
- their plastic kitchen tools, these don't just melt, the go from a solid to a liquid state in about 2 seconds flat
- anything that has to do with the issue of being safe, locks, bike chains etc
- any health product, not sure how accurate their preggo tests are
- anything that goes in your mouth or on your skin, lip balm, skin cream etc (unless I can be 100% sure it is a brand name)
- their bar soap
- make up
- anything for my first aid kit
- baby stuff of any kind
You get the idea...some great things to be found and somethings that though a great deal you need to pass on.
Also keep in mind that store is designed to make you shop. Ever go in to buy one thing and walk out with 10? Those aisles are narrow for two reasons. 1- they can cram more in per square foot and 2- two carts can hardly pass each other, once there is more than two you are forced to stop and stopping means you have time to look around and hence more ends up in the basket. They are also good at making sure what you usually go in to buy is at the back of the store. This means you will pass by more shelves to get it - increasing your chances to buy more. Same with the way the store is put together. It would make sense to have dish soap and sponges in the same aisle but by separating it by a couple more aisles you will buy more. And that is why they always switch things around, so you have to go looking for it passing more things and this means increased temptations.
Read this article:
They have turned our buying habits into a science. They pay people HUGE amounts of money to get us to buy more.
So after you have hit all the aisles at the dollar store makes sure before you go through the cash you step to the side and go through your cart. Question yourself if you will really use it, how many uses you think you will get out of it and if you can buy a better made product that will have a much longer life for a smaller investment. Try doing this and you will be surprised at just how much you put back.
And a note for those in Canada. Dollarama is set to increase prices in Feb. 2009. They also said many items will not go up in price but I have noticed that package size is already shrinking. Sandwich bags which use to be 60 to a box are now 45 to a box. So though the price will stay the same you won't get as much. So really they are increasing the price but in a sneaky way. They also claim they are raising the prices so they can now afford to bring in a better quality and selection of products. Time will tell on that one...
To read the article go here:
Next up: My 5 favorite web sites (that I am willing to share)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Honest - you too can be more organized than Martha!

Yup, the t-shirt says it all. I am lazy so I am organized. It also saves me a wad of cash. And this is how.....

What good is a great deal if you forget that you have the item and go buy another one? Or it gets ruined awaiting to be liberated into use? Or worse - clothes that get out grown before kids have a chance to wear them? You have just thrown away money which is strictly forbidden. Seriously, break this rule and the Frugal Gods will make you pay full priced retail for years.

So how do you avoid this from happening? You get organized sister! (Or brother...)

In my dream life I throw open the doors to a perfectly organized airplane hanger sized storage area. Birds sing, beams of light cut through pristine windows and everything is labelled with sub-labels. In reality I have built a system that I can work with and won't break the bank. Each person has their own way of doing things but the concept is the same. Everything has a place and everything in it's place.

First thing to do is find space. Many of us would look around and say I just don't have the space to store all the wonderful things I want to stock up on. But you are just not thinking outside the box. Great places to 'store' stuff is all around you...just plan and it will show itself!

Great places for storage:

- under the bed. This is an excellent place for canned goods, toilet paper, diapers and other things of similar heights. Rubbermaid and the various knock offs make large, low containers great for under the bed. Perfect in a kids room because it stops things from getting kicked under the bed saving you time. Tell the kids it is keeping the monsters in and they will never touch it. Use all the money you save for their therapy in later years!

- closets - but not like you are thinking. If you have the average closet chances are you have quite a bit of headroom above that top shelf. You can't pile stuff too high because it falls over so a lot of it is wasted space. Either invest in an additional wire shelf to make an addition shelf or if you have a handy person around (you are too busy clipping coupons to do it) use some L brackets and cut some plywood (which you got off of freecycle for free right?) and make an additional shelf. All of a sudden you doubled that space. This place is great for extra blankets, Christmas gifts you don't want the kids to find, light items like towels, paper goods etc. If you have very deep closets chances are you have those black holes at either end - that dead space. Great to put more shelves. Use for shoes, toiletries like shampoo and toothpaste, sweaters etc. By getting this stuff out of the way you now have room to reorganize other parts of the house

- kid's closets. A waste of space when they are little and we know that teens have a severe hanger allergy which is why they are terrified to hang anything up. The ends of a teen's closets are great for stacking cases of canned goods, cleaning supplies ('cause you know they will NEVER touch those) and other items that stack well. With little kids store on the upper shelves keeping in mind anything left on the floor is going to be investigated. Safe bets on the floor are totes of clothes for them to grow into.

- people abuse linen closets. They cram it full of linens. A real shame. That mini closet screams out, 'Please stuff me full of things you go for nearly free.' Everyone in our house stores their towels and sheets in their room, in the closet. A couple sets of sheets and a few towels do not take up space and leaves me that closet to do with what I will. This is the gift cupboard and yes, I did put a lock on it. In here you find gifts for birthday parties, wrapping paper, tissue, bows, tape etc. This is also where I store all the craft supplies for the ankle biters. Last time my mini Picasso awoke at 3am and did a wonderful mural I decided to get that stuff under lock and key!

- the laundry room is an important part of your life! And not because of laundry either. You can freecycle it into a storage paradise with shelves, free standing pantries or recycled kitchen cupboards. Use this for soap, fabric softeners etc. This is also where I store things like candles, batteries, rags etc. Only because these things aren't overly heavy and I can cram a lot into a small space. This is also where I store all my extra mop heads, vac bags, rubber gloves and all those girly needs. (And by girly needs I mean mop heads, vac bags and rubber gloves.)

- tops of bookcases are neglected storage. I took a bunch of shoe boxes with lids (not the flip lid style) that I got for free from Payless. I covered them in maps and wrapping paper and stacked them on top of the bookcases. They look cool and they store all sorts of bits and bobs in them. Cookie cutters (these only come out once maybe twice a year - only when trying for the Mother of the Year Award), bills I have to keep for taxes, film negatives...stuff that you don't need to pull down much. Great thing is that it is all sorted so you only have to grab the box you need. I printed off small labels from the Queen of Organizing - Martha.

- the guest room, if you have one, is storage central. Sturdy boxes with things such as clothes or extra sheets/blankets can be stacked on either side of the bed and covered with vintage fabric. Or you can get suitcases at second stores, older and funkier the better - fill them up with what you are storing and stack in graduating sizes. Old trunks can be spray painted or faux painted...couple pillows on top and you have a nice little bench for the end of the bed.

- things like hat boxes are great and can be tucked away or into all sorts of settings. So can some of the high-end gift boxes that places like Winners will sell for a few dollars in the off season. I bought a great set of nesting boxes at Winners with Japanese cherry blossoms on them for $1...when I got it home I was thrilled to find five inside. They sit on the floor beside the computer. They hold extra cables, stickers, discs, extra parts etc.

- if you have a couch or chair that has the skirt style bottom these are great for sliding things under. I store all my serving platters under there as they only come out once or twice a year (when trying for Hostess of the Year...) I wrap them in a shopping bag and label. Just make sure that you are sitting in the spot when you slide it under, that way you know it is safe when the seat is in use.

- many people no longer have a finished attic or even a crawl space. And this is very sad. All that storage and no way to use it...oh wait you can. I hoisted up a couple sheets of plywood (well, okay I didn't do it, I told others how to do it) and just sat it on the rafters. I double checked before doing this with the guy putting my insulation in and he said it was fine. I had the blown in type as well so baled is definitely fine. I store boxes of things I want to have on hand but not sure when I will getting around to using. Up there right now are cases of canning jars, old toys I can't part with yet (do not put anything soft up there...getting to that) and several boxes of nylon cording (somebody gave it to me and I can't get rid of it yet). NOTE: do not store anything up there that would not respond well to temperature change. So this place is a no-no for clothes, canned goods etc.

- if you have a finished basement and have space try putting the TV or stereo on a dresser. If you plan on buying foot stools make sure they have storage inside, use bookcases...even better if you can find bookcases that close...oh the storage possibilities. If your basement is unfinished you are a lucky one. First, less rooms to clean. Second - a vast storage playground. Simple shelves can be built, bought or trade for. If your basement is dry you could have a monster pantry. I have one in my back room in the basement. I collect those white press board cubicle modular system thingies at garage sales. I stacked them against the wall so I have a series of cubby holes. Each hole is dedicated to one food. One holds jams/jellies, another tuna, another coffee/tea etc. Since they are small spaces they suit well to this purpose. One cubby hole holds 6 small jars of peanut butter which is all I need/want to ever have on hand at any given time. It holds 3 cans of coffee and 3 boxes of get the idea. Since I have a max. number that I can stock up on I know how many to buy when something is on sale. It is also great because I hardly ever run out before an item goes on sale. Even better is the fact I don't worry if bad weather hits us, somebody is sick etc. I know that I can easily feed us for over a month on what I have stocked up. NOTE: have everything at least 6 inches off the floor in case of flood. Don't waste that space though, splurge (even better freecycle) some tall rubber totes. I store things that are either cheap to replace or things I secretly wish would get destroyed. Also allow for room for air to circulate around things. An entire floor to ceiling wall of baked beans is like, a really bad idea.

-baskets are your friend! I am always on the hunt for vintage baskets, I really like old wicker picnic baskets. We each have one by our beds to throw in books, magazines, Kleenex, the remote etc. Keeps the room looking tidy. I also use them for knitting supplies and because 10 years later I am still learning to cast on they just look nice. They also hold magazine collections, one by the downstairs bathroom holds nothing but toothbrushes/dental floss and the one on top of it holds deodorant and hand cream. I have one in the kitchen with all the tea towels I grabbed for .05 each when Eaton's was closing (um, like, yeah over 10 years ago...but hey they were reg. $6 for the price of one I got well, a lot...okay truth be told I bought about $10 do the math :) ) Great to have something at your finger tips when needed but you don't have to look after it or dust it.

- backs of doors are great places to hang stuff. I get over the door hooks at the dollar store and hang cloth bags from them. I store extra pillows, extra towels etc. I also keep stuffed animals here...which I hate. My daughter knows they have to go back in the bag at the end of the night and only one can go to bed with her. (Which Mommy helps fall on the floor after she is asleep.)

- I have a lot of doors in my basement that hardly ever get opened. I also have a lot of funky purses that were my grandmother's. I hang them on door knobs and keep things I have to attend to in them. Bills to be paid, things I have to mail. library books I have to return. Then when I go to do the task I just grab the bag and walk out the door.

Storage solutions is now this handy catch phrase you hear thrown around. It is just a gimmick to get more of your money. I mean come on - a wrapping paper caddy? If you are frugal you have about 30 rolls of the stuff and probably would have to buy 6 to store it all! Ever seen the price of some of these custom closets? Had a quote done for fun - $5000!!!!!! Designer Rubbermaid totes in fashion colors etc etc etc. Okay, the idea behind storage is to have a way to store all the great deals you get. Not get great deals and use all the money you saved on storage totes. So how do you do it? The cheap way....

- milk crates, if you can find them, are great. They stack well, allow whatever is inside to breath and are extra strong. But they have gotten wise...the are now too small to hold records. Guess too many people were stealing them.

- laundry baskets are great for items that don't stack well, these can be had at the dollar store. (They are too flimsy to use to do laundry but are just fine for sitting on a shelf with stuff in them)

- old or mismatched pillow cases are great to store platters, non-stick bake ware etc. Snip a small hole along the top where it doubles over and thread some cord through, hang on the back of a door or hook in the basement

- large bags that onions come in (the 10lb or greater size) are great for putting sand box toys in, gardening tools, rolls of wrapping paper etc, hang on a hook

- baskets are excellent for out in the open storage as are trunks, suitcases, coffee tables with lift-able tops

- store sheet sets in their pillow case, you won't misplace anything and you can wrap them up so they take up little room, I store these in the top dresser drawer

- dressers are easy to get on freecycle. But they are not pretty as a rule. Still great in garages, basement storage rooms etc. Dedicate each drawer to a need.

- look up and down...what can you stick there?

- Wal-mart carries totes that are pretty cheap, though they all come in this ugly blue green color. But very sturdy. I use these for clothes.

- cardboard boxes are excellent. I go to the pack your own grocery stores like No Frills and look for 4 or 5 boxes the same in good shape. This way I know they will all stack on top of each other neatly. I use these for Christmas decorations, toys, shoes, games etc. They are free, easily replaced and all you need to label them is a marker. If you are just starting to organize use boxes. They are free so you can start tackling it now.

So now you think, you have made me read this really long post and because of you I have stuff stored all over the house. I won't be able to find anything! Easy way to do it is one of two ways. Either by grouping - all baby stuff in one spot, all food in one spot etc Or you have a cheat sheet that lists where the item is i.e. - Christmas decorations - green tote in attic.

And when it comes to food I would recommend the following site : Run by a couple LDS ladies it gives you a way to plan for long term food storage but even better it has printable blank sheets for what is in the pantry. Even though they have a paid part to the site, these templates are in the free section. With the economy getting a tad rocky I am hoping to buy a little extra food. This will allow me to see just what I do have and when it expires. You can use these sheets as well to post inside of a closet door etc to list what is in there.

Once you find what works best for you happiness is your's young grasshopper. Not only are you saving money but also a lot of time. Which can be used for far better things like sticky hugs and cuddles.

Next up - Dollar Stores - Friend or Foe

How to (ab)use a coupon ethically

Coupons are key in saving money, especially on groceries and household items. But there is a right way and wrong way to use these scraps of paper. Use them wrong and you actually end up wasting money, use them right and you have won the lottery!
Things to remember:
- only use a coupon on an item if it is on sale
- try to use it on the smallest size possible so you get it for almost free
- look at the cost per unit when using a coupon, this is usually on the shelf and you find it usually measured in 100mls. Sometimes it is cheaper to buy three smalls instead of one mega big one. When I phoned and asked a certain company why they stated it had to do with packaging costs. A larger container may require a machine to be reset to fill it, they may be able to get 12 small jars in one box and only 4 large in another...boxes cost money and you the consumer pays for it!
- do not buy an item you haven't tried or are not sure you will like, unless of course you are getting that bag of flavored rice for .25...then it can be worth the risk.
- if you find an amazing coupon for a product that you use and will be using long term STOCK UP!! Don't buy one or two, buy one or two dozen. Case in point - Stayfree had a printable coupon for $2.50, the product is on sale at Wal-mart for $2.87 - I am paying .37 plus tax per package. I didn't buy one, I bought a couple hundred over the past few months! I will use them and have a daughter that will need them as well. Being that this coupon is good until the end of January I expect that I will buy about another 100 more. Sounds extreme but when you think of what these products cost full price, the fact you will be using them over at least 40 adds up! Have daughters? You price just went up. Kept in a dark and dry place they have indefinite shelf life. (I called. :P)
When does using a coupon become abuse? When you are being dishonest. Making fake coupons up on the computer (yup lots of folks do this), you have coupons sent to you under 15 different names or you try and use coupons not as stated on the coupon itself. If it says only good on 350ml size do not try and use it on the 30ml size. This only makes companies less likely to issue coupons in the future or makes stores refuse to accept them ,especially when it comes to one that you can print off from their website. It basically ruins it for all of us.
Then there is the ethically coupon debate. How many times can one or should one use a coupon? If it is for a grocery store item I say as many times as you want. But some coupons you should play fair with.
There was a coupon this holiday season from Mark's Work Wearhouse. It simply stated 'Spend $10 get $10 off'. I was frothing at the mouth think of all the things I could find for $9.99 and top up with a .50 comb or gift bag - making my purchase free as the coupon was taken off before taxes. During the first couple weeks I showed restrain, using a couple every other day. I did not want the company pulling the coupon at that location due to my thirst for free stuff. So I started by getting things that I needed...being careful not to draw too much attention to the coupon or what I was doing. But then on the evening of Dec. 23th, with the coupon expiring the next day, I went and bought up everything I could use. This paid off for two reasons: 1- I didn't possibly ruin it for everyone else and 2 - everything on sale was marked down 50%. So by playing nice I got slippers regularly priced $25 for FREE, in addition to my $850 worth of clothes, travel mugs, shoes etc that I paid a whopping $15 for.
Where can you get coupons you may ask? Well, this is the biggest challenge. Gone are the days where there was an insert in every Sunday paper or you use to find them all through the newspaper. I find that I have to hustle to get mine. Good places to check are:
-You sometimes find them on shelves in the grocery store but lately I find these have a short expiry life.
- Sign up to newsletters from your favorite products. They will sometimes send you samples or links for printable coupons.
- Web sites like and the such are great to find coupons. If you have a neighbour, friend or family who can let you use their address you can get extras that way as well.
- Email, call or write to companies and ask for them.
- There are many coupons that you can print from home from various company websites. Ocean Spray, Huggies, Depends are just a couple I regularly get. NOTE: make sure before you print you change your settings to gray scale - this will save you a bundle in ink - those colored refills are expensive!
- There are many websites dedicated to coupons where people trade coupons. Each area will have different coupons. So BC may have a coupon floating around for jam and ON will have one for peanut butter. Swap and you can make sandwiches for next to nothing. NOTE: you are exchanging personal information like name and address so spend some time getting to know people before you enter into an exchange. Also a letter can be sent with a part name. If you go by Suzanne Smith - try using Sue Smyth etc.
- Though I have never done it I have seen coupons for sale on eBay. It may pay off if you have a new baby and can get $60 worth of diaper coupons for $2, especially when you know they are going on sale next week. Many people offer them for free on kijiji as well, all you have to do is pick them up or as I have done, ask if you can send a SASE. Saves on gas and time. Most people are happy not to have somebody dropping by.
One of the biggest keys to coupon use is to carefully read the coupon. I get happy when I see the word ANY. Ocean Spray had a printable coupon for $1 off of ANY Ocean Spray product. It had a picture of the 1.89L bottle on it. These retail on average for $2.99, an okay deal but not great. Being it said ANY I bought the cranberry juice frozen for $1 each. It makes the same amount for a bigger savings.
Many companies now are offering the printable coupons. This saves them money as they don;t have to print and mail coupons that may never be used. Some stores are very uptight about using them from what I have heard but I have yet to run into a problem. If you do ask to speak to the manager. I always write down the website on the back of one of the coupons where I got it so they can pop into the office to verify of need be. I also point out that there is a bar code, expiry date and the address for the vendor to return the coupon for payment. These are the holy trinity of the coupon world. Should they still refuse - email the company explaining the problem. They will get back to you telling you the coupon is valid (and often send you additional coupons). Print this off and return to the store. They will most likely accept the coupon after the effort. If it was a fake or scam nobody would go through such hassle for $5!
Also find a way to organize your coupons. Nothing worse having a juicy coupon expiry on you. I personally feel robbed! I bought a small plastic envelope styled folder with dividers at the dollar store. It has six slots so I labelled them Jan/Fed, March/Apr etc. Then I know what is expiring and when. Sort them as you get them. You can keep track and it will help you in the long run.
Next up - How to organize your deals.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Step one...clothe the little heathens.

How to clothe the dears without breaking the bank.....

When I had my son he was a preemie and luckily made it home from the hospital. At the time I had more money than brains (sigh) and the thought of clothing him in second hand clothes was at the very least upsetting. Even Baby Gap wouldn't do. No, this little bundle of joy was wrapped in the finest of threads from upscale European children's shops. I thought nothing of spending $30 on a tshirt for an which he would vomit on repeated. I thought that in order to be a good mother he had to be wearing hip and trendy clothes. The ones that make people stop and ooh and ahh. The frugal Gods really need to come down and slap me up side the head.

Now I spend about $150 a year on each child, if that. That includes everything, shoes, outerwear etc. And they look equally cute and people still stop and ooh and ahh. Maybe it was the kids all along and not the clothes!

How do you do this mistress of all things frugal you may ask? Well, first thing was I got off my high horse about second hand stores. Secondly I realize that kids get really dirty and destroy their clothes. This whole thing about kids playing helping their development....and I also realized that if your children are presentable, meaning clean, hair combed and no fingers up their nose...nobody passes judgement on your parenting. Kind of cool huh?

I refuse to buy underwear, socks, bathing suits and shoes/boots second hand. And of course these can be the most expensive items. I do the following things to reduce the expense:

- when I find running shoes on sale I buy one of every size. They need indoor shoes at school so they will always get worn. I try to mix up the color and style a bit because it would be boring wearing the same shoe for the next 2 or 3 years.

- when Payless has their BOGO sales (buy one get one) I take advantage of these. The sale does not apply to just shoes. I buy slippers this way, again in multiple sizes. If the sale comes just before summer this is when sandals are purchased. I have also bought backpacks, umbrellas, socks etc. The key is to buy all items on sale so you are double dipping. Many things like backpacks and socks are put away for them as gifts. Best deal I ever got there was 8 pairs of slippers for $9. Thank you kindly to the person at head office who decided to run this promotion during my mall's sidewalk sale. Total score!

- Wal-Mart starts lowering their price on winter boots even before the snow melts. Boots can be a bit hit or miss to buy ahead. I usually go 1.5 sizes ahead and let them wear extra socks. But boots can be a safe bet if you have several children. I would recommend buying non-gender colors like navy and black. Unless your son has a thing for Hanna Montana...

- swimsuits are now taken care of for my daughter until she is about 14...sad I know. But I picked them up at Real Canada Superstore for .98 each. I bought 10, one in each size. You can get great deals on suits its true...but not when they decide to grow overnight and you have to buy the first one off the rack because swimming lessons are in 15 minutes.

- I buy mega bags of sweat socks in only three colors: black, white and grey. These can be worn by any child. I will splurge and get something a little girly for my daughter but refuse to spend more than .50 on a pair.

- Underwear. Cripes do you see the cost of that stuff? Especially for girls? And imho it isn't all that well made. When I find well made underwear on sale I clear them out. Again in all the next sizes. Best deal was BUM brand ones, 6/$1. I bought enough to last her three years. (I buy 9 prs per week, figuring I will force myself to do laundry at some point during the week.) Last month I found 8 prs for $3. A good deal of a no name brand...I was a bit leery and bought one pack, brought them home and they washed up great. Sadly, when I got back there I only found 4 packages...but she is good for the next 3 years.

So we have the basics covered...on to the second hand shops.

First off I have to say that I think Value Village is a rip off. I may get roughed up a bit for saying that but come on...$5 for a kid's shirt I can get at Wal-Mart for $4. These people don't know their prices. The only time worth going is when they have the 50% off sale. Go early and be there when the doors open, if possible stick around for a bit because they are bringing out stuff nonstop.

Goodwill I find a bit more relaxed. I also get amazing deals. They have $2 sales where all the kids stuff is a Toonie. But last week I hit jackpot...everything was $1. Thank you Santa!!! I bought about 8 garbage bags worth for about $80. It was all new with tags flapping away or nearly new. Gap, Old Navy, Jacob Jr, Columbia etc. My daughter is set for many many summers to come..and my son got a few things as well. (He is a slow grower so things last longer.)

There are a couple tips to shopping these stores. This is what I personally found:

- best selection seems to be after a long weekend. I guess people are cleaning out closets etc. A couple weeks into the school year provides really good in season stuff. Guess the mommies are doing inventory. Also really good time to go is during bad weather. The store is nice and quiet.

- grab everything you like and put it in your cart. You can inspect it carefully before you go to pay, it allows you to see if you have outfits that will go together and it keeps somebody from snagging it on you. Make sure you go over it carefully for stains, check the zippers, look for missing buttons, check seams and also make sure you look at the bottom of pants and cuffs for wear.

- stay away from fashion colors. Hot pink may be in today but next year it can be out. You don't want your kids to look dated. What would Mr. Blackwell say?

- if you have a whole soccer team under your roof try and go for neutral colors. Navy, black, gray, red etc. A navy sweatshirt can look girly with a pink turtleneck underneath. Or you can get princess patches at the dollar store and add one. This way it can go through many kids...even if they just end up as play clothes.

- always travel with a list (I personally have a little book) of what they need or will be needing. It lets me know what to get so I don't over spend. I also have a set list of what I have on had for them. It will vary depending on your kids but for me the list is something like 3 sweatshirts, 2 sweaters, 3 shirts, 3 long sleeved tshirts etc. I buy ahead according to these numbers for them to grow into, topping up as they need things.

- be very careful with black, white and red. I find these colors show the most wear.

- if you see decent snowsuits and get them for $2 or $1 buy them. Extra snow pants are handy, especially if they come home wet from school and want to go out and play. And I have bought many a snowsuit for $2 and actually make a profit on them. (More on that in a moment.)

- always ask yourself would I have bought this item new? If you like the style, color and it would look good on your child...then the answer is yes. Don't buy for the sake of getting a good deal.

Quite often I have ended up dressing my kids for free. How? I sell the things on after they have out grown them. I do this on eBay, kijiji or one of the moms online communities. Sometimes I have made a huge profit. I bought a Tommy snowsuit brand new for $3 and sold it for $40. So it pays to pre-treat stains, make repairs and generally look after their clothes. Once you no longer need them they can be sold or if you can afford it, donate them to many of the deserving places that require them. Or you can just take them back to the shop.

And if you are a handy person there is also great deals on wool and fabric there as well. I bought 4M of Carebear polar fleece for $5. It was enough to make my daughter a pr of pjs and a sleep bag. I still have 2M left and will probably at some point make her a house coat. Or maybe a gift for another kiddo. Even if you can't really sew...pj pants are VERY easy to make and only take about 40 minutes to cut and stitch. If I can do it, you can as well. There are many videos on places like youtube that walk you through it.

Well you are thinking, this is great advice, but where am I going to put it all. Storage is very important to the frugal mom and it is something that we will get into at a later date. I can show you places to create storage that you didn't know exsisted.

Coming up next - How to (Ab)use a coupon ethically....

A new year and a fresh start.

I have always been cheap. Though this tightwaddery has taken different forms over the years.

When in my 20's, young, no overhead and no responsibilities this meant buying designer clothes on sale. I have to admit that I thought nothing of spending $200 on a pair of shoes. Keep in mind that was twenty years in today's term that is more like $350! (If I knew what I knew now that money would have been invested. But no sense crying over the latte once you have dropped it!)

Life marched on and I found myself without a spouse and two children. One whom has special needs. His day to day care means that I find myself unable to work a full time job. Impossible to find an employer who will let you take two weeks off without notice. What is a girl to do? How can I go from buying what I wanted when I wanted, eating out every day, sometimes twice to tightening the purse string so tight it almost snaps?

I got frugal baby!

It started slowly. Maybe checking out second hand stores if I was in the mood to buying a couple extra items at the grocery store when they were cheap. But when my income fell by 50% I had to step up my game. The last year I have been getting better but I really need to make the extra push this year. I have some debt that I want to clear ASAP. I have a credit card and a line of credit that total $7000. This debt is a hair away from drowning me. And I am going to drag you on this journey with me. Some may already be on the frugal express and some of you may have just had a sudden setback. Be it job loss or reduced pay to keep that job. We are all getting hit hard and I am afraid that it won't be getting easier for many of us. I want to share what I have figured out myself or have been taught by some really decent, kind hearted people online. I also want your ideas...though I think I know everything, um, I don't!

A little background about me. I am not on welfare nor do I get any government help outside my baby bonus and a small disability payment for my son. Combined I am 53% below the poverty level for my area in which I live. Yet I have to say that though I have my money worries I live a pretty decent lifestyle and my children want for nothing. We eat very healthy, my children look presentable and my home is comfy and looks nice. We get to the movies once in awhile, have fun and don't feel deprived. So if I can do this on so very little, imagine what you could do with a single or double income household?

So being that this is a new year, it is also going to be a fresh start. I want to even save more money and hope to be out of debt in about 18 months. That means I will have to be saving $4000 a year out of about $12 500 a year. It will require some pretty fancy foot work on my part but I am up for the challenge.