Category Archives: saving money

7 Smart Ways to Use a Stimulus Check or Tax Refund

Regardless of your political views on it, families and individuals across America are looking at larger sums of money in their bank accounts recently. With tax refunds and stimulus checks hitting at the same time, many are faced with the important question of “What do we do with it?” If this is you, here are a few suggestions to consider.

7 Smart Ways to Use a Stimulus Check or Tax Refund

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Set it aside, earmarked for mortgage/rent.
Especially if your work situation is unstable or you’re currently unemployed, this option could relieve a lot of stress and be a necessary move. This would also free up other income each month for saving or investing throughout the year.

Most people have felt some irritation or discouragement when trying to build up a decent savings, and it didn’t build as quickly as they desired. If 2020 taught us nothing else, it taught us just how important a back up plan is. Get that safety net in place.

Pay ahead on utilities.
This can be especially helpful if you struggle with wanting to spend instead of save. Once the money is spent in this way, you can breathe a little easier each month, but also don’t have a large amount sitting, tempting you to go on a shopping spree.

Pay off debts.
Seriously. Just do it. Less debt means less stress.

All the things that you usually put off unintentionally. Property taxes, pest control contract fees, car tags, car insurance if you don’t pay it monthly, etc. This could be a number of things depending on your personal situation. Also, car tags can usually be paid for multiple years in advance.

Pre-purchase or stock up on things you purchase regularly, yearly, or a couple of times a year.
This could include things like homeschool curriculum. If you have a particular curricula you use each year, you could go ahead and purchase all you will need for the next few years. Prepaid gas cards would be another useful purchase. Many places also allow you to prepay for propane for your home, and prices are usually lower in the warmer months.

Fill the freezer.
Another great way to spend some unexpected funds is stocking your pantry and freezer. There are many dry goods that can be purchased in bulk and safely stored until you need them. If freezer space is available, consider purchasing meat directly from a farmer in larger quantities. This method protects your wallet from fluctuating food prices at the grocery store, makes meal planning easier and less time-consuming, while also supporting a local business and family.

Other Food items to add to your bulk shopping list:
Frozen/Canned vegetables
Dry beans
Coffee Filters
Peanut butter

(Be sure to pick up some food storage containers like these 5 gallon BPA free buckets.)

Last but not least, start another stream of income!
If you have ideas you’ve been working on or a long-time dream for a side hustle, now is a great time to make it happen. So often people don’t go after a dream simply from the lack of funds to get started. You can cross that off the excuses list now.

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5 Thrifty Tips for Building Your Home Library (Homeschooling on a Budget)

We have 5 kids, and live on one income. For many, that in itself seems like a major feat. Add in homeschooling, and it can quickly appear overwhelming for almost any budget. That doesn’t have to be the case though! There are lots of ways to give your children a quality education at home without spending more than you have. Homeschooling on a budget is very doable.

One of those ways is by offering them lots and lots of opportunities to read about a wide variety of subjects. (Like with our 100 Books in August challenge!) We love reading in our house! I believe that helping them gain the ability to read well and instilling a love for reading in my children is a very important part of their education. In order to encourage a love for books of all kinds from an early age, I love having shelves filled with books of all kinds of topics that may interest the children – fiction, biographies, how-to books, travel books, books of famous artwork, storybooks, etc. At first glance, our shelves of books would seem like a huge investment, but I’m going to share a few tips for building a home library on a budget.



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1. Thrift stores and second hand bookstores – This is probably the most obvious place to start. We are not lucky enough to have a second hand bookstore nearby, but I love searching through the stacks of books when I do come across one. Many thrift stores also have a sale schedule that allows you to buy items at an even bigger discount.

2. Yard sales – This is a favorite of mine. I picked up a huge lot of Magic Treehouse books, a favorite series of my oldest son, for 10 cents each last summer.

3. Amazon used book dealers – This is another favorite of mine. Many books can be found for as low as 1 cent, plus $3.99 shipping. I check out the vendor’s ratings before ordering, but I have not had a single bad experience with buying books this way. The next time you click over on Amazon, don’t assume that Prime price is the lowest you can score. Look for the used prices too.

4. Bulk book sellers – Yes, you can buy books in bulk! One book seller I’ve used is Books by the Foot. You can purchase books about a specific topic, art or golf maybe, by the foot (usually 6-12 books per foot, their site gives numbers for each subject). They also offer boxes of children’s books! Some new, some used, and some boxes can be a mix of new and used. You don’t get to pick the titles, so it was a fun surprise to sift through the big box and see what treasures had arrived! I purchased a box a year or so ago. Some of the books we already owned, and some I just didn’t care for. Those few, I separated out and sold in a yard sale of my own. 🙂

5. Local library sales – Most people think of the library as a great economical way to read. Endless shelves of books you can read and return for free! But most libraries also sell their discarded books. Our small town library has a shelf tucked under a window where they keep piles of books that can be purchased for a quarter or two. The larger library about an hour away has two rooms full of books available to be purchased! A few months ago I happened to be able to stop by while they were having their monthly bag sale. That means you can fill one of their blue bags with as many books as you can cram in it, and they will all be yours for $2. Needless to say, I didn’t stop at 1 bag. 🙂 I purchased 2 bags for a total of 29 books at $4! That’s less than $.14 per book. Of course not every book was for the kids – 2 or 3 were for me. 🙂 Go check out your local library, even if it’s a tiny one!

We still use and love our libraries borrowing great books, but I also love having all our own books. Some books might not have looked exciting enough in the moment to be chosen at the library, but on a shelf at home, will be later discovered at the perfect time, as a treasure by one of my kids when a new interest is sparked!



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You can freeze that?

Want to know a secret about me? I freeze everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but a lot of stuff. I have two freezers, and I use them both to their full potential. I often get into conversations about cooking or groceries and mention having something in my freezer when the person I’m speaking too gives me a strange look and says, “You can freeze that?” I often have leftovers, a freezer meal or two, cookie dough, and maybe some muffins or homemade burritos waiting to be devoured, but here are a few other things you may not have thought about keeping in your freezer.

Chopped veggies
I have ziploc bags bell peppers, onions, and celery chopped and ready for use in my freezer at all times. If a recipe calls for half an onion (or one of the others), I cut up the rest and store it in the freezer. These are great for later recipes, pizzas, or omelets. I have also stored leftover diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers all in the same bag for quick omelets! I cook a lot, so this is a great time saver for me.

Broth/Stock Starters
I always have a bag in my freezer where I dump carrot, onion, celery, etc. extras. The last carrot that’s on the verge of going into the trash? Toss it in. The celery that’s not quite crunchy? Toss it in. Then when I have some deer bones or cook a whole chicken, I have everything I need to make my own broth.

When I make a batch of chicken or deer broth, I divide it into bags of 2 cups each and freeze it. It helps to lay the bags flat, as they take up less room frozen that way.

Buy up those end of season, too ripe to last more than a couple of days fruits, and chop them up to freeze! Those are great for smoothies! Bananas too ripe but you don’t have time to bake? Put the whole thing in the freezer. When you’re ready to make banana bread (or another tasty treat), just thaw it and squeeze it into your mix.

Sometimes I buy lots of potatoes, and then our week gets crazy, and I have to rearrange my meal plan. Instead of having sprouting potatoes, peel and cut them to whatever size you like and blanch them. Then they can be frozen without fear of having a bag full of brown potatoes in the freezer.

I don’t remember the last time I bought canned beans. Raw beans are cheaper, easy to cook, and usually healthier. I’ve found bulk cooking to be easiest with beans. I like to cook a few different kinds and then store them in 2 cup quantities (most cans are 15 oz.). These are great for chili, soups, quesadillas, crockpot recipes, etc., pretty much any recipe you would use canned beans for.

We love cheese and use tons of shredded cheese. I buy a lot when it’s on sale, and I toss the extra bags into our extra freezer.

This is the one most people give me strange looks about. We use a lot of milk. We are 25 miles from Kroger, and the smaller stores nearby are much more expensive, so this saves us a lot of money. I buy 5-6 gallons every 2 weeks, most in half gallon jugs.  I’ve found those thaw better. Those little circles on the sides of the milk jugs? When the milk expands during freezing, those pop out, so the plastic doesn’t crack. After the milk is thawed, shake it to mix it back up, and it’s good to go.

This is another one some people are weirded out by. There are a few tricks to it though. First, really cheap bread doesn’t freeze/thaw well. Second, it is best to not leave it frozen for long periods of time, though it would probably last longer if it was double-bagged. Ours is usually never frozen more than a couple of weeks, so I haven’t tried doubling up the bags.

This isn’t something I freeze regularly, but on a few occasions I’ve been given more eggs than we could use in a reasonable time. I first crack them into muffin tins, stir a little to break up the yolks, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer. When they are frozen, I pop them out of the muffin pans into ziploc bags. I will say, I’ve only used frozen eggs in baking. They might do fine for breakfast eggs, but I have no experience with that.

Is there anything you freeze to save time or money? I’d love to hear about it!

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Weekly Grocery Shopping

This month I have started taking a closer look at our grocery spending. I find it rather ridiculous the amount of money we spend at the grocery store, considering I’m usually the only person eating at home and, I don’t even eat at home that much.

My last trip resulted in the laundry detergent rambling. Last time I went to Country Mart on 1/08/2009 and my spending totaled $51.99. It looked like this:

I found that small pile to be a bit sickening compared to the price.

Today I decided to try a couple of different stores. First I stopped by Big Lots just to see what they had. I was pleasantly surprised with their grocery selection today and did most of my shopping there. I also stopped by Dollar General to pick up a few more things.

**Note: You might notice there is no meat in either picture. Our freezer is currently stocked with ground beef, chicken, and steaks. I don’t usually cook a lot of meat while Steven is gone because I eat out so much.

Today’s trip:

Big Lots:

Suddenly Salad (my favorite!) 3 @ $1.50 ea.
fruit juice 1 @ $2.00
Kraft Mac & Cheese Deluxe 1 @ $1.30 (This was a great deal. I found this same box for over $2 at Dollar General!)
Sunflower seeds 1 @ $1.00
Trail Mix 2 @ $1.00 ea.
Oreos 1 @ $2.00
Cereal 1 @ 2.00
Pringles 1 @ $.90 (another good deal – this is the cheapest I have ever found them)
wheat bread 1 @ $1.20 (another deal! This same bread was $2.75 at Dollar General & is usually ~$2.80 at Wal-Mart!)
White bread 1 @ $1.20 (and another deal! This bread is usually $1.85 at Wal-Mart)
6 rolls of toilet paper $3.70 (Quilted Northern, not generic brand stuff!)
12 bars of soap $4.50
Duncan Hines cake mix $1.00

and my best deal…
1 package of a chocolate peppermint bread mix @ $1.50
– I looked up the web site for this product and was shocked. This bread mix usually sells for $8.00!!

total: $30.55

Dollar General
saltines 1 @ $1.00
1/2 gal milk 1 @ $2.50
Cherrios 1 @ $2.00 (these also had a $1.00 coupon on the box for my pop-tarts! woohoo!)
FiberOne strawberry pop-tarts 1 @ $2.00 (before coupon)

total: $6.80

Grand total: $37.35

For more grocery shopping lists and deals, check out The Grocery Cart Challenge.


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I hate buying laundry detergent.

It’s true. I absolutely hate it. I hate the fact that I am paying someone else between $14 and $16 each time – so that I can wash my own clothes. Yes, I realize that’s pretty cheap when you think about the per load price, but it still irritates me. At $14 a box, I think that should include someone else to do the folding/ironing. 🙂

For a while now, I have been following this genius lady over at The Grocery Cart Challenge. While my money-saving abilities are nowhere near her level, I do try. You may remember a while back, when I posted about making my own fabric softener. That was another of her genius ideas. That worked really well, and I plan to do it again soon. The only reason I haven’t made another batch is that I happened across a bottle stashed in the back of my cabinet that I had somehow forgotten.

Anyway, back to my original point-

Last week I decided to try a new grocery store to avoid some impulse spending at Wal-Mart. (I have a weakness for craft supplies.) While I was surprised by a few good deals (bananas for $.69/lb), I was annoyed when my normal laundry detergent brand was not carried in the bigger boxes. I was even more annoyed to discover that the smaller boxes were sold out and on sale! After checking out and examining my receipt, I realized that $52 worth of groceries would have been less than $38 without the laundry detergent! I never win with laundry detergent. Oh, and did I mention that yesterday I found a brand I have been wanting to try (but couldn’t find at Wal-Mart) on sale for $4.99/48 load box at the pharmacy! I’m telling ya, the laundry people are spying on me and laughing hysterically…

This lead me to have a discussion with Steven over the weekend. I found it a bit humorous.

Me: I hate buying laundry detergent.
Steven: Why?
Me: It’s so stinkin’ expensive. It drives me crazy. This may sound crazy, but I think I’m going to start making my own.
Steven: You can do that?
Me: Well, yeah…the factories figured out how to make it somehow. Besides, Google knows everything.

I guess he just figured the recipe came to Mr. Tide in a dream? haha, who knows.

Ok, I’m rambling again. I say all of this to say that as soon as I use up the two small boxes in my laundry room right now, I’m making my own. I have not decided which recipe I’ll go with yet, but I’ll post it when I make a decision.


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Creative Money-Saving Idea #1

I found this idea on The Grocery Cart Challenge. I am going to try it, and I hope that it will satisfy my husbands “need” for liquid fabric softener.

“Homemade Dryer Sheets
2 cups of water
1 cup of vinegar
2/3 cups of any hair conditioner
Mix in spray bottle and stir. Don’t shake, this will cause foaming. Soak a cloth rag and ring it out until slightly damp. Then throw it into the dryer with your load of clothes.
This can also be used as a liquid fabric softener in the rinse cycle.
I use dollar store conditioner so this mixture costs me just a bit over a dollar to make. I’ve been able to get almost 50 loads out of one batch. I keep this stored in a tupperware container by my dryer with the rag already in it so all I have to do is squeeze and add it to the load in the dryer.
Simple and cheap with none of the wax from the store bought sheets that wear your clothes out.”


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Saving money.

I’m going to try to save more money through Christmas. I actually decided to start saving money on grocery bills, utility bills, etc when we first got married. Then I discovered who I married! People always said that no matter how long you date, you still learn a lot more about who that person is after you are married. Well, I discovered that I married a high-maintenance man!

The following are Steven’s responses to my common money-zapping issue complaints.

Me: “I just spent $50 on gas, and the car isn’t even full.”
Him: “So. Why didn’t you just fill it up?”

Me: “Why can’t our dog just be normal and eat the cheap food?”
Him: “Even if she could, I don’t want to feed her bad, cheap food.”
Me: “Why can’t the outside dogs eat cheaper food?”
Him: “I don’t want them to get the bad food. The other stuff is better for them.”

Not only does he not care how much money we spend on certain things, he insists on having a few certain high-priced, brand name items.

  • ice cream (Ok, I admit it. I agree on this one.)
  • liquid fabric softener AND fabric softener sheets (Can you say, ‘Laundry Snob’?)
  • toilet paper
  • bread
  • expensive sheets (nothing less than 400-450 thread count)

Oh, and did I mention that he doesn’t blink an eye at the thought of his wife buying her make up at a department store counter? Or that his idea of a night at home lately involves going to Wal-Mart to buy a DVD (or two or three!), even though we have Netflix? He also makes sure we keep a constant supply of treats for our dogs.

Add in the fact that we rarely eat a meal other than breakfast at home, constant home improvement projects, and we end up spending a lot of money every month. While we do have money put away in a savings account, it isn’t nearly as much as it should be according to our income.

Steven has been blessed with a well-paying job in a field that he loves. God works in crazy ways. We are so amazed by His blessings in our lives everyday. We live comfortably as a stereotypical, middle-income couple. However, if we plan to ever have kids (and we do), we need to figure out how to make that income stretch past more than two people!

I have identified three ways that I could decrease our spending.

  • Eat more meals at home.
  • Un-spoil my husband.
  • Be creative.

Well, the first two are out – at least for now. In the meantime, I’ll go straight to the last option. If you have any ideas or good web sites, pass them my way via the comments option!

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