I typically spend Black Friday cleaning out my house. The goal is simple: to find better homes for all of my unwanted items and to make room for any new gifts that might appear between now and Christmas.
Five or six years ago I spent the day after Thanksgiving decluttering and ever since that day I’ve found the experience quite cathartic.
It feels good to get rid of the clutter and even better to pass it on to someone else who might need it more than I do.
Why spend the day shopping when I own too much already? I stopped exchanging gifts with my brother and sister-in-law and hope to do the same on the other side of the family.
Other than toys-for-tots and my niece and nephews I have no need to purchase gifts anymore.
So instead of shopping I spend the day decluttering and counting my blessings for all that I already have and own. I am so grateful for everything.
We’re all looking for ways to save money online. That much is evident from our shopping patterns, and in a way, it makes sense. The Internet certainly didn’t give birth to the idea of everyday savings, but it’s sure made them more a part of the savvy shopper’s everyday life. The sociological reasons behind that are a story—and PhD-worthy study—for another day. For now, the fact remains that from eBay to Amazon, Groupon to Expedia, we’re all looking for the best deals online.
But how can you go about finding them successfully? Here are the top four ways to save money online.
ONLINE COUPON SITES
Let’s think back to 1995. In that prehistoric, (that is, pre-Amazon shopping time), how did people save money while shopping at old-fashioned brick and mortar stores? Why, by clipping coupons of course! The same principle applies today, as online coupon sites have quickly become one of the hottest properties on the Internet. Take a look at sites such as Groupon, for example, which has quickly come to define the new online coupon market, or competitors such as Coupons.com, Retail Me Not, CouponNinja, Groupon, Fatwallet, and many more. All of these sites have their own particular quirks, and finding the one that suits you best can bring you big savings online.
Any Amazon shopper can attest to the fact that this online giant has a way of offering great deals (well, except on Prime Day, anyway.) As such, if you frequently shop on Amazon, or think you might be interested in doing so, you’ll definitely want to invest in an Amazon Prime account, which can yield huge savings as well as faster shipping options
By that same token, online memberships in general can be a great way to save big. You’ll need to verify that a site’s memberships and savings are real and not a scam, but if you find sites you can trust, a membership may well be worth it.
There are a great many ways to save money online, but this is perhaps the most heralded. With the Internet making shopping easier than ever, overspending has likewise shot up as well. Controlling your urge to shop ‘til you drop is a quick, practical way to save money online.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in saving money. While my older brother spent his allowance on music, games and toys I placed mine in my piggy bank and let it sit there for as long as possible. At a relatively young age, (I can’t remember when exactly), my father took me to the bank so I could open my own savings account.
I saved up all of the money I earned from chores and birthday presents and asked my dad to take me to the bank every time I collected $20. I’m not sure why I chose that magical number, but I was thrilled beyond belief when I placed my pennies, nickels and quarters into paper rolls and counted out $20.
Many of my early memories involve money. I remember my dad counting coins at the kitchen table. I have vivid memories of the smell of old coins mixing with the scent of morning pancakes. In elementary school our teachers taught us about the stock market and asked us to choose and track five stocks. The teacher told us to think carefully about our options and I selected Hershey’s and Heinz, because I loved chocolate and ketchup, though not at the same time.
I am grateful for that early introduction to investing. I bought my first stock, (FedEx), in college followed by a few others. There are various investment options available and it can be quite difficult to decide where to invest. As for myself, I made many mistakes along the way. I bought stocks that plummeted and gave up on others just before they took off.
After graduation I began investing heavily in my 401(k). I started contributing in 1999 with my very first paycheck and continued until I left my job in 2011. I couldn’t max out my contributions in the beginning but it didn’t deter me from putting aside as much as I could. Here is a snapshot of my contributions from 1999 to 2011.
- 1999 — Limit $10,000 — My Contribution $898.49
- 2000 — Limit $10,000 — My Contribution $4042.65
- 2001 — Limit $10,500 — My Contribution $6521.03
- 2002 — Limit $11,000 — My Contribution $10,452.81
- 2003 — Limit $12,000 — My Contribution $11,843.89
- 2004 — Limit $13,000 — My Contribution $13,000.00
- 2005 — Limit $14,000 — My Contribution $14,000.00
- 2006 — LImit $15,000 — My Contribution $15,000.00
- 2007 — Limit $15,500 — My Contribution $15,500.00
- 2008 — Limit $15,500 — My Contribution $15,500.00
- 2009 — LImit $16,000 — My Contribution $16,000.00
- 2010 — Limit $16,500 — My Contribution $16,500.00
- 2011 — Limit $16,500 — My Contribution $16,500.00
If you add up those numbers you’ll see I saved $155,758.87 in just over a decade! I think this is one of the reasons automatic savings is so valuable. You start out small and increase the percentage ever so slightly with every raise and wham twelve years later you wind up with a large chunk of change!
When I left my job in 2011 my 401(k) account contained over $272,000. That’s a difference of more than $116,000! Since leaving my job I’ve kept my money in the market and continued to let it grow.
The first step is to save your money. The second step is to invest it. The last step is to watch it grow!
Ready to laugh about motherhood and be encouraged? Tired of feeling overwhelmed and stressed out in the baby and toddler season? Need some fresh vision and perspective so you can enjoy—not just endure—your young children?
Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years offers moms-to-be and moms of young children short, real-life parenting stories that encourage and inspire. Leah Spina, mother of three children ages five and under, and former journalist, unleashes humor and perspective for tired moms who are parenting the “little” years. From the excitement of the positive pregnancy test to morning sickness and the banes of pregnancy, to childbirth, babies, toddlers and new parent struggles, the stories will make you laugh and see beauty in the chaos. Each story also includes thought-provoking takeaways to help busy moms gain a fresh outlook.
Strangers remind us that our children will be small only for a short time and to enjoy each moment. But then we return to the wild reality of parenting young children! All-night crying sessions. Never-ending laundry. Every-three-hour feeding schedules. Diaper explosions and projectile spit-up. Teething. Potty training. Yes, we enjoy our children, but we’d also like to enjoy a shower that lasts more than two minutes, or a meal that isn’t lukewarm (if we’re lucky). The truth is, pregnancy and parenting young children can be hard at times. But it can also be one of the best chapters of our lives, if we can learn to laugh and change our mindset.
Young children are one of life’s greatest gifts. Each page of this easy read will help you truly enjoy the “little” years!
Meet the author:
Leah Spina is a former journalist of a national newsweekly magazine and also worked as a childbirth coordinator at a large adoption agency. She has her B.S in Business Administration from Thomas Edison State College. She has two adorable children – Samson and Esther – and resides in Dallas, Texas with her husband, David. When she’s not changing diapers, she enjoys singing Broadway, sun tanning on Italian beaches and riding horses.
Interview with Leah Spina:
- Tell us a little about you. Sure! I am a former journalist of a national news magazine turned stay-at-home mom. I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area with my husband, David, and three children, age five and under. Samson is five, Esther is two and we have a baby that’s only five-weeks-old. Whew!
- What’s your book about? My new book, Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years is a short, easy read for busy moms of young children. It’s full of real life parenting stories to help overwhelmed parents laugh and change their parenting perspective so they can enjoy, not just endure, the little years. It’s full of encouragement and inspiration for the tired mom!
- Why do you feel your book message is important? I feel that so many parents, including me, can easily get bogged down in the constant caretaking that young children require. It’s not a fun way to live and you can start resenting your children because you are not enjoying it. I believe, with all my heart, that if we can STOP in our busy day to find and enjoy ordinary, extraordinary moments with our little ones we can truly enjoy this crazy but wonderful season of young children!
- What are some of the topics of your book? Oh, the chapters titles are topics all parents can relate to! Pregnancy, labor and delivery drama, sleepless newborn nights, teething, potty training, traveling with children, eating out with children, nursing, etc – it’s all there. The nitty gritty of new parenthood.
- Who is your target audience? Expectant parents and parents of children age zero to five years old is my target audience. But have I have also had grandparents and parents of older children read it and say it was fun to relive the little years through the stories.
I must admit that the first few chapters of this book made me want to close the cover and walk away. The author begins this book with a laundry list of complaints about pregnancy, childbirth and the experiences of mothering her first child. I believe the author was writing honestly about her feelings, but I was turned off by her tone, and I would imagine other new mothers might feel the same. She writes about the inability to adventure on her ‘babymoon,’ about driving around in her Suburban and about being grossed out by breast milk and other bodily fluids. It sounded like a whole lot of grumbling by a woman living an overly privileged life.
The first few chapters were a torture for me to read, but thankfully my feelings changed quite a bit around chapter eight. In that chapter the author describes an experience with miscarriage that altered her view of mothering. As a reader this chapter changed my perspective of the book and I found the words that followed much more enjoyable to read with interesting tidbits on treasuring the moments parents experience.
The takeaway from this book is to cherish the time we have with our children. Even in those early days and years of motherhood when our bodies are misshapen and our brains are tired from lack of sleep.
After years of infertility I never felt resentful or unhappy with my children so this book did not speak to me, but I would imagine the later chapters might speak to a mother struggling with the transition to motherhood. If you are unhappy with this phase of life I would imagine the author’s words would ring true:
“Unless you purposely stop in life to appreciate the here and now, you’ll rush through each day often unhappy and unsatisfied. Instead of resenting the new-parent pace of life, be grateful for this temporary, once-in-a-lifetime magical slow season of young children. Try to find times in your day to stop and relish the moment with your children… Savor today’s special moments and anticipate tomorrow’s rainbows. You’ll only find them if you look for them.”
Whether you or unhappy or not it never hurts to look for the special moments of motherhood. Over the years I’ve found it helpful to keep a journal for each of my children. I want to capture my thoughts and create a record of feelings as my children grow.
I liked some of the lessons in this book, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the tone in which those lessons were presented. Perhaps a mother struggling with her new found parental status would enjoy it more than I did.
Yesterday my husband offered to go grocery shopping with me. Rather than rushing off to work first thing in the morning he hopped into the passenger’s seat and accompanied me to the store.
Before leaving the house I grabbed a few coupons. A flyer arrived in the mail two days earlier containing $5 off a $50 purchase, $2 off a $5 produce purchase and a few for free items.
Somewhere between the produce section and the checkout counter I lost that tiny stack. Ugh. I’m not sure if they fell out of the cart or if someone snagged them out of it, but either way they were gone.
It wasn’t the end of the world, but I was still pissed about it. My husband absolutely hates the amount of time it takes to use coupons. He is unwilling to wait in line or in the middle of an aisle while I search for relevant coupons, not to mention the fact that coupons rarely seem to ring up properly at the register.
He told me to walk back through the aisles to see if the coupons had fallen somewhere. I walked back quickly, but couldn’t find them. I didn’t want to waste a ton of time, so after a quick glance I moved on.
I don’t know why I was so mad about those dag on coupons. I don’t clip many these days, but I didn’t want to pass up $7 worth of free groceries either.
Seven dollars is nothing in the big scheme of our finances. We are certainly not desperate for cash and my husband keeps reminding me that its more important to look at the big picture than a few dollars here or a few cents there.
I know he’s right but it’s tough to break old habits. I started worrying about money when I was in college and twenty years later I still have a hard time recognizing how much we have.
After an exhausting day at work, hitting the drive-thru or nuking a pre-fab meal is all too often the go-to decision for feeding a family. Cooking a meal from scratch using fresh ingredients can seem beyond the average person’s time, energy, or financial means. But with mounting evidence pointing to processed food and our industrial food system as the culprits behind many of our nation’s health problems—including obesity, diabetes, and cancer—it’s now more important than ever to be fully informed about what goes on your family’s dinner plates.
If you’re ready to take control of your food choices but don’t know the difference between grass-fed versus grain-fed, pastured versus free-range, or organic versus sustainable, read this book to discover:
• How to create your own thirty-month plan to convert your family from junk food to real food, without a revolt!
• Recipes and advice on planning and prepping meals so you can make homecooked a habit for your family
• Instructions for getting the most out of produce using techniques such as lacto-fermentation, dehydrating, and canning
• introduction to the world of farm-direct sales, including tips on locating local farms, seeing through marketing buzzwords, and shopping with CSAs Ditching the Drive-Thru exposes the insidious hold the commercial food industry has taken over the fast-paced lives of the average American and the danger these processed foods and diet plans pose to our health, environment, and emotional wellbeing.
Learn how to break free from the grind and return to a simpler relationship with food from farmers, not factories, and home-cooked meals that are created in your kitchen, not on a conveyor belt.
Buy the book: Amazon Barnes & Noble
Modern Tools Help You Source Better Food by J. Natalie Winch
Once I was married, I never ate commercial beef at home. My husband’s family, who live in Minnesota, had been getting their beef from the same in-state farmer for fifty years. As insane as this sounds, we too began getting our beef from this same farmer, in Minnesota. Did I mention we live in New Jersey? My in-laws would pack it all up in their car and drive it out to New Jersey every year at Christmas time, and this was our supply for the year. We were all very sad when we were told that the farmer was retiring and none of the children were taking over the farm. We needed to find a new meat source, because the steaks we picked up at the grocery store just didn’t have the same flavor or consistency, and we weren’t happy with the rather expensive meat from a local butcher shop, either. It was all very depressing, but this cloud had a platinum lining!
Where does one go to find a new source for beef? The internet, of course. Even if you don’t have internet at home, I would venture a guess that your local library does. My search for local, sustainable meat at last landed me at the website Eatwild.com, founded by Eating on the Wild Side author Jo Robinson, dedicated to providing research-based information about the benefits of choosing modern foods that are nutritionally similar to their wild, natural forebears. The site’s directory of pasture-based farms and dairies led us to places like Nature’s Sunlight in Newville, Pennsylvania, and our CSA at Fernbrook Farm in Chesterfield, New Jersey. That was back in 2004, and we found quite a few farms where we could purchase pastured meat products. When I accessed the site about a month ago, I was awed by how it has grown. There are so many farms listed! How do you sift through? Slowly. Decide what you would like to try first, read through the listings for your area, and give the farm a call. The farmers are friendly people who want to do business with you. They will answer your questions. Just be aware that, unlike a grocery store, you can’t call the farm on a Monday and expect to go pick up a side of beef on Tuesday. Many of these farms take orders well in advance (six months to a year in some cases) and raise animals to fill those orders.
Ditching the Drive-Thru by J. Natalie Winch (2015, Spikehorn Press, ISBN 978-1-943015-06-1, $19.95).
J. Natalie Winch lives in southern New Jersey, not far from where she grew up, with her husband, two children, and dogs. When she isn’t mothering, teaching, grading, or making lesson plans, Natalie runs the Hebrew School at her synagogue, coaches soccer, teaches lacto-fermentation classes, writes the occasional entry for her blog Food Empowerment (tradsnotfads.com), and fights the dust bunnies that threaten to take over her family room.
Connect with the author: Website
Ditching The Drive-Thru is a book about real food. Do you want to know where your food comes from, when it was cut from the trees and plants it grew from and how it was processed? I know I do. At this point, in the year 2015, we are more abstracted from food then ever before, but Natalie Winch, the author of this book, wants to broaden our minds. She wants us to understand more about the items we eat. After all, we eat for sustenance and nourishment every day. Shouldn’t we understand what it is we are biting into?
Winch hopes this book will help readers regain control of the food we eat, by understanding where food comes from, how it is processed and ultimately how what we eat impacts us each and every day.
This book steps the reader through the every day catch phrases of food and distinguishes the differences between categories like all natural and organic. The author talks about the perimeter of the grocery store, why it’s important to pass by boxed, ready-to-serve meals in favor of real food that must be cut and cooked.
After my children go to bed my husband and I prepare dinner two nights a week. You can find us in the kitchen at 10 o’clock at night mixing up sauces and sauteing chicken. It is a time to fill the house with warm smells and to prepare meals that can be heated up throughout the week.
I purchase a lot of organic meat, fruits and vegetables I didn’t realize how much there was to learn about food and the means by which it gets from the farm to our table.
One moral of Winch’s story is to place more importance on the value of time. You can spend hours mindlessly surfing the Internet and checking Facebook or you can purchase real food and learn how to prepare it.
As a personal finance blogger I would add that we all need to eat, but when money is saved in one place it can be spent in another. Unless you live paycheck to paycheck you can choose to avoid unnecessary spending and to use the money saved to purchase food that truly nourishes you.
For the third time in three years my husband and I are planning a trip that involves a lengthy flight and a four night, five day hotel stay. The first two trips were cancelled. The first due to my husband’s business. The second due to flight restrictions during my pregnancy.
This time we plan to fly with two children in tow. We don’t plan to buy a ticket for our youngest, but I am a bit concerned about holding a squirmy baby on my lap for a four hour flight. I’d love advice on this particular topic. (My son will be almost one when the plane takes off.)
I’m also completely torn about our hotel accommodations. My husband wants to stay in a particular location and the rooms vary in price from $249 to $519. While I know the four of us can pack ourselves into a tiny studio, every part of me thinks we should pay more for a larger place.
My thoughts are as follows:
- The kids have never shared a room. Choosing to share while on vacation doesn’t seem like a great idea.
- The baby will most likely take at least one and possibly two naps per day. He is a very light sleeper so keeping him in the main room with the rest of us would not be ideal.
- I’d prefer a variety of sleeping options. I plan to rent a crib for the little guy, but if he has trouble sleeping I want to bring him into bed with me. My husband, son and I can sleep in a King bed together, but there simply isn’t enough room for the three of us in a queen. We’re not tiny people.
- I have trouble sleeping near noise and would prefer a bedroom that is not right next to the main living space especially if my husband might be up watching TV.
For all of these reasons I’m leaning towards a place with at least two bedrooms. Of course, the two bedroom condo ranges from $419 to $439. Is the peace of mind of this configuration worth the money? In my head and in my heart most definitely yes.
All told the larger location will cost us at least $120 more a night than a one bedroom and considerably more than a studio, but if that means everyone sleeps peacefully then it seems more than worth the money.
Since we never travel, (other than to the beach), it seems reasonable to spend a little more for comfort. On the other hand, I know a lot of people who can get by in tiny little cramped in places and make the experience a lot of fun.
So what would you do? In my situation would you spend the money to rent a larger place?
A few days before Halloween my husband looked into the massive bowl of candy and said “you did not buy enough.” “You don’t think that’s enough,” I asked, “It’s ten bags of candy!”
I really didn’t want to run to the store to buy more, but I had a sinking feeling he was right. A few years ago we greeted a few dozen trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, but things have changed recently and children are now arriving in droves.
Our tiny upscale neighborhood is surrounded by lower income housing. New high rises have altered the landscape and multi-generational housing is the norm in neighboring communities.
In the past children would walk door-to-door, but now they hop out of cars that line up on our street. It is clear they are driving in from somewhere else. To accommodate the increase our little bowl of candy grows larger and larger each year.
My son enjoys Halloween more than any other holiday. Forget his birthday or Christmas or any other occasion; Halloween is his absolute favorite time of the year. Every year we create a count down chain on October 1st with thirty-one links. He removes one every day and gets downright giddy as we approach the final week before Halloween.
When my son was two and three he enjoyed giving out candy even more than he enjoyed receiving it. In fact, last year we only walked to two or three houses before he asked to return home to hand out more candy.
This year he wanted to go trick-or-treating but he was also just as excited to answer the door. Whenever he heard a knock he went running to the front of the house. He even lined up the candy so he could quickly dole it out when children came.
He answered the door for an hour or so and then my husband and I took him out to collect candy. We walked down one street and back up another before he told us he was too tired to continue.
My mom gave out candy in our absence and when we returned there were only a few pieces left in the bowl. My son planted himself in the front entrance and waited. Within a few minutes we had only one piece of candy left so I turned off the light above our front door.
When a group of children knocked on the door he started to cry. “Mama I want to give them candy,” he said. I calmly explained that we were out of candy and that we didn’t have anything left to give the trick-or-treaters. “But I have candy,” he said.
I asked if he was referring to the candy in his bucket. The candy he collected walking door-to-door. “Yes,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I want to give them MY candy.” I handed over his bucket and watched him dig inside it. Within seconds he was handing over HIS candy to a group of four girls.
The oldest girl in the group asked “Is this your candy?” and when my son nodded she dug into her own bag and pulled out the biggest candy bar she could find. As he was handing her a piece of candy she secretly slid that candy bar into his bucket. She recognized his generosity and wanted to return the favor. The two other girls she was with reached into their bags and did the same. Each picked out a piece of candy he might enjoy.
When we stepped back inside I set those pieces of candy aside. My son returned to his spot inside the front door and patiently waited for more trick-or-treaters to arrive. He held proudly onto that bucket and gave away all but one piece of candy he collected that evening. (He set aside one piece for me and kept a lollipop for himself.)
It’s one of those moments I wish I could have captured on video. There was my son, a little four year old boy so excited about Halloween and so excited to make the other children happy.
If you are surrounded by friends who have just started having kids or are currently pregnant, the amount of stuff they need can be confusing and overwhelming. Do you need a wipes warmer? What’s a Diaper Genie? What can we buy them that won’t be clutter, but will also be something that the parents and their kids can enjoy? That’s where we come in – with this gift guide, you can be sure to find something for new parents, whether they already had the kids, or are expecting soon.
Gift Cards Galore
The first thing any new parent will tell you about, besides how adorable their babies are, is how much diapers cost, and how much of a mess their babies make with them. So if you are really and truly completely out of ideas, a gift card to stores like Amazon.com, or Babies R Us, will be received by new parents with welcome and relief that it’s not another onesie that their child has already gotten too big for.
Playmats Are Lovely And Practical
Get your friends’ kids some imaginative playmats. The babies can use them for tummy time, and exploring as they learn how to sit and stand. They should be easy to clean and maintain, portable, and you can find uniquely patterned ones at places like Gilt City.
Happiest Baby On The Block
For new parents, one of the biggest mysteries to solve is what to do when their baby cries. Luckily for new parents, Dr. Harvey Karp has come up with a great solution for them, with his Happiest Baby series. From newborns to toddlers, Dr. Karp provides expert advice on everything from colicky babies to stopping tantrums. Get them the DVDs and the books, so that the parents can watch and learn directly how to swaddle their baby and rock them to soothe them.
As babies get older, they will be eating more solid foods, but in smaller proportions. Moms and dads will need food containment options. Many parents these days are making a huge effort to avoid BPA and plastics, so sturdy mini containers like the Wean Green glass cubes are great practical choices. Another great option is to pick stainless steel containers, which do have the advantage of being less prone to breakage.
Baby Board Books
Get your friends’ kids off to a great educational start with some solid baby board books. It’s never too early to start reading to your kids. Studies have shown that kids whose parents read to them will do better later on in school and in life. Baby board books are great because they can take a lot of abuse and saliva, as baby starts to chew and play with them. There are a ton of options, but we especially love Charley Harper’s line art, Susan Goldman Rubin’s educational series on art masters like Magritte and Matisse, and tongue-in-cheek ones like HTML for Babies.
Towels & Napkins
New parents are forever cleaning up messes for their kids. If they hate having to resort to wipes or paper towels every time, which can get expensive, treat them to a nice big stack of mini-towels or washcloths, which can be used for years.
- My husband asked when I might stop worrying about every little dollar. I told him when we finish paying off the mortgages on both houses or reach $2 million in assets. His response: A rolling chuckle.
- Our little guy is growing too fast and my ovaries hurt every time he reaches another milestone. As my second and last baby I’m just not prepared for how quickly time is passing and how quickly he’s moving on to the next phase of babyhood.
- My house finally feels like a home. After $60,000 worth of remodeling I am finally feeling at peace with my surroundings. I didn’t realize how much the ingrained dirt of this 1950s house was impacting my mood. I lived here for fourteen years before making significant changes and focused exclusively on saving money for the majority of that time. I now realize I should have focused more on my mental well being. This is one of those instances where I am reminded that money should be spent.
- Speaking of spending money my husband and I managed to rack up $1000 worth of expenses at IKEA in a little less than an hour. We purchased a bunch of new items that help my feel warm, comforting and clean! I do not feel the least bit guilty for spending this money.
- This month marked my son’s fourth birthday. We didn’t buy any toys to mark the occasion, but he did decorate the house and cake.
- I made the decision to buy Hyatt Reward points to keep my account active. I’m not sure we’ll travel any time in the near future, but we have thousands of points available if we ever decide to leave home. It would provide at least two or three nights of hotel accommodations.
- I want to thank all of those who emailed and left comments regarding my messed up family situation. I’ve received a lot of great advice.