Saturday, January 30, 2010

Couponing Revisited

Today I received the JoAnn Fabric ad in the mail, and I realized I neglected an important part of couponing. In my earlier couponing post I talked about food and household goods, but I didn't mention fabric and craft items. This is one area of my life where I do actively search out coupons. You can get awesome deals by watching sales and using coupons.

I receive email notifications from Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and JoAnn Fabric. They usually are ads, but often include coupons (40% off one regular priced item!). I also get JoAnn Fabric ads in the mail. Today I noticed an awesome deal:
Fiskars Sewing & Quilting Cutting Tools (scissors, rotary cutters, mats, and more) will be 50% off Feb 12- 15. That's an awesome deal by itself (have you priced cutting mats?), but then I noticed a coupon for 10% off your total purchase, including regular and sale priced items. That makes the Fiskars items 60% off!
I've been wanting to get a cutting mat for awhile now- I really need to be more accurate with my cutting- but the price has always put me off. Come Valentine's/President's Day weekend, I'm taking a trip to JoAnns and buying a cutting mat- a big one!

If I recall correctly, past ads have included 15% off total purchase coupon, which would make for an awesome deal as well. The ad that came today also inluded a coupon for 40% off one regular priced item and a coupon for 50% off one regular priced item. These can't be combined with any other discount or offer, but that just means you can get an item you want for up to half off.

We don't get the Sunday paper, but my in-laws do, and their paper frequently has ads for Hobby Lobby and Michaels, which in addition to displaying sale items, will also usually have a coupon for 40% off a regular priced item.

When you buy stuff at Michaels, the register receipt usually includes another 40% off regular priced item good for the following week. I figure this is their way of getting you back in the store quickly. When you go back next week to use your coupon, they give you another one and you return again in a week to use that coupon. I've done it, and been able to buy some things that I otherwise would not have been able to afford.

And you can usually find good deals after holidays and in the clearance aisles. You don't need to spend a fortune to do your crafting/decorating/scrapbooking/whatever it is you like to do.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Repurposing: Babylegs... my way

This is a post that I posted back in November on my other blog. I thought it went well with the theme of this blog, so here it is again.

I love BabyLegs, and have several pair for Little Miss Sunshine. However, they're a bit expensive- $12-$15/pair (plus shipping if you can't find them locally).

About a year ago I tried making some myself- I'd heard of people doing it and figured I could make some myself too. For my first attempt I used a pair of tights and just cut off the top and bottom of each leg, then hemmed each end.

I wasn't thrilled with the end result. The hemmed edges didn't stay in place and they stretched out a bit more than they should have.

I recently found a tutorial here that shows how to make leg warmers from a pair of knee high socks. I bought a 3 pack of knee highs at Target for $6.99. I kept the boring grey ones for myself and made the two purple pairs into leg warmers for LMS.
I laid them out on the table:
Then cut the heels and toes off:
I folded the middle of the foot in half and pinned it to the cut end of each sock:A quick zig zag all the way around, and I was done:There's ribbing on each end, so they actually stay up, and they cost a fraction of the price of BabyLegs. Each pair cost $2.33 plus thread that I already had, and it took all of 15 minutes to make both pair. I'm much happier with how these turned out! As soon as I find more cute socks I'll make some more.

LMS modeling the polka dot pair:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Saving Money: Haircuts

When I was in college, my roommate and I would trim each other's hair. Nothing fancy, just straight cuts across the ends. Since then I've also cut my MIL, SIL, and nieces' hair on various occasions.

I learned to cut Mr. S's hair shortly after he joined the military (almost 8 years ago now!). The first few weren't very pretty, but I'm a lot better now.

When he's active duty, we have to cut his hair every other week. At $8/cut times 26 weeks in a year, that's $208/year, not including tips. I paid $10 for the clippers at Big Lots about 8 years ago, and just barely replaced them with a $24 set. I think I've more than broken even. I've also recently invested in some good haircutting scissors from a beauty supply store (rather than cheapo scissors from wally world). Good scissors make a huge difference when trying to cut hair accurately. I don't remember exactly how much I paid, but I believe it was in the $20-30 range, and totally worth it.

LMS has had a grand total of 4 hair cuts in her life: I cut her bangs when she was about 16 months old- that was all she had, and I regretted doing it later, since it took longer to grow out and match the rest of her hair

Her next hair cut was at 2 years old: I just trimmed her ends to get rid of the baby mullet she was sporting.
notice the candy sitting in front of her as bribery!

She had another cut shortly after she turned 3, and I trimmed her ends again.

Yesterday I cut her hair again. I was going to wait till her next birthday, but her hair is thickening at the roots, leaving the ends looking scraggly. She also acts like she's dying anytime I try to comb out the snarls. Totally not worth the hassle.

Bribery definitely helps kids hold still while you turn their heads back and forth and try to make sure you're cutting evenly. I forgot this time around, and I think everything would have gone a lot smoother if I had had some on hand.

I get my hair cut once or twice a year. I think in the just over 2 years we've been here, I've gotten my hair cut three times. However, I don't cheap out when I get hair cuts. I have thick hair that's straight in the front and sides but with a weird, uneven curl in the back. I tried a Fantastic Sam's once, about 7 years ago, and it was the worst hair cut ever. Uneven and unflattering. Ever since, I pay more, but am much happier with my hair. Having longer hair also allows me to go longer between cuts. When I had shorter hair, I was having to get it trimmed about every 6-8 weeks.

A couple years ago I gave in and did what my hair wanted to do: fall forward into bangs- and cut bangs. I trim my own bangs on a regular basis, and when I bought the good haircutting scissors, I also bought some thinning scissors to give my bangs some texture. I've done a lot of experimenting with my bangs, and sometimes they look better than others, but I've mostly figured out how to make them look decent most of the time. It probably helps that my hair doesn't have to look absolutely perfect 100% of the time. I'm just not high maintenence that way.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saving Money: Be a One Car Family

Little Miss Shoestring at 18 months

We’ve been a one car family for 5 years now. Most of the time it works out pretty well- especially when Mr. S is gone for extended periods :), but it does take some effort to make it work. When Mr. S was in language school he usually rode his bike the 8 miles or so from our house to school. There were days where this just wasn’t an option though, and if I happened to need the car that day also, I would have to get up early, load LMS into her car seat, and drop off Mr. S at school. After class, I’d pick him up or he’d catch a ride with someone.

The major advantages of having only one car are only one car payment and paying for insurance, gas, and upkeep for just one car. The disadvantages: juggling schedules and the inconvenience of not being able to run to the store whenever you need to (though this is actually a good thing if you're trying to save money). It does help that LMS is not old enough for school or in lots of activities yet. When she starts preschool in the fall we'll be back to juggling schedules. We're looking for a house to rent close to where Mr. S will be working, so hopefully we'll be close enough for him to ride his bike or for me to take a few minutes and run him to work without taking all morning.

Today Mr. S left for Virginia, taking our car and our little flatbed trailer with him. We debated back and forth which way would work the best: fly out and rent a car, take the train and rent a car, or drive our car. Ultimately, it came down to us not having the money for a rental car, which made the logistics of flying or taking the train too expensive. Since he took the car, that does leave me vehicle-less, but it should be fairly doable. Because of the incredibly tight finances right now, I haven’t been going into town much- it’s best if I stay away from stores so I’m not tempted to spend money we don’t have. Should I need to go to the library or do a bit of grocery shopping, my FIL has been kind enough to let me use his car as long as I give him a days notice so he can work from home the day I use his car. Mr. S’s parents will also be taking us to and from church since they already have car seats in their SUV for LMS’s cousins, and she can borrow one. Much easier than wrestling our car seat into my parents minivan. When LMS and I move out to Virginia, we'll take the train and Mr. S will pick us up. Easy peasy.

We’ll be paying off our car in the next few months, so we won’t have a car payment for too much longer. However, since we’re trying to get out of debt and stay out of debt, we won’t be buying a second vehicle till everything is paid off and we’ve saved enough to pay cash (it’ll be a used commuter car that gets good mileage, so hopefully it won’t cost a lot). The plan is to be completely out of debt within two years, so hopefully the second car won’t be too far behind that milestone. Just in time for LMS to be in school and starting other activities.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Saving Money: Books

I love reading and I love having books. When I was a child and we visited my grandparents in Oakland, we would also take a trip to the used book stores in San Francisco.  After spending the day combing through stacks of books, we'd have several decent sized boxes of books to take home with us. 

Shortly after we moved to the small town my parents currently live in, we checked out the local library. After a quick look around, we quickly realized that my parents had about the same number of books as the library. Luckily, the library in the next town over is pretty good and allows us to use it free of charge.

So how do I save money with books? Instead of paying full price for brand new, hard cover books, I usually check out books from the library, and if I really like it (as in, I will read it again and again) then I'll look for them on Ebay, Amazon and When I have the money, I buy it from whichever site had the best price. I also put them on my wish list on Amazon so people can buy them for me for Christmas and birthdays.

The challenge comes when one of my favorite authors has a new release. I have a hard time waiting  for my turn on the hold list at the library, and I'll end up buying it anyway, so I try to buy it in the first day or two after being released (it's cheaper then).  Or, if it's available, I'll pre-order it on Amazon- the price is usually discounted. If I can manage to be patient, I'll wait and find it online.

We've also found some great deals on kids books at yard sales. If I remember correctly (most of our books have been in storage for more than two years so I don't remember what we have anymore), we picked up a bunch of Judy Blume books, the complete Little House on the Prairie series, and lots of Dr. Seuss books, among others, at various yard sales we've been to.

It's possible to build up a personal library without spending a fortune- just be patient and diligent when searching for books to add to your collection.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Long Awaited Job is Near

Mr. S has accepted a job with a company in Virginia, and he'll be starting on Monday. They spoke to him last Monday and asked if he could start on the 25th. Of course he can- whatever it takes, we'll make sure he's there! The paperwork has been taken care of and the official offer was extended today, so we'll be pretty busy the next few days, getting everything ready for him to leave. LMS and I will make the move around the second week of March.

We're starting our path to being debt free. Yay!
WooHoo! Mr. S got the job! We were waiting for the paperwork to go through, now it has, and he starts on Monday! Sooo happy, excited, relieved, less stressed...

More details will follow, I promise :)

Saving Money: TV

Before LMS was born, I used to watch a lot of TV. Well, I don't know that I actually watched it, but it was on most of the day. Usually HGTV, so somewhat educational, but still not the greatest habit. As LMS got older, I realized that if I didn't want her watching a lot of TV (which I didn't), I needed to set a good example. I started watching less, and made sure it wasn't on all day- mostly just in the evening after LMS was in bed. We had a DVR on our cable box, and that was wonderful- we could watch our shows when we wanted, and not when the TV schedule dictated and we could fast forward through the commercials.

When we moved, we got rid of our TV- I bought it when I was a junior in college, and it was definitely showing its age. If we had wanted to keep using it, we would have had to get one of the digital converter boxes. Instead of buying a new TV or a converter box, we watched movies on the computer and discovered streaming TV. Now we watch our favorite TV shows on the network sites or Hulu.

We don't have cable, but we do subscribe to Netflix, which is waaaay cheaper. We pay less than $15 a month to have two dvds at a time and unlimited streaming of the shows they have available on their website.

We also borrow dvds from the library. The library in one town we lived in in the past charged $1 per movie, but our current library lets you borrow dvds for free.

So how does all this save us money?
  1. We don't have an expensive TV we're trying to pay off.
  2. We don't have a high monthly cable payment, for lots of channels we never watch.
  3. We don't see very many commercials. This is huge- no repeated bombarding of what we must have or do. Things that always cost lots of money. This is also great for LMS- she's at that very impressionable age where if she sees something she wants it. I know if she saw lots of commercials she'd be wanting more things. This helps us save money because we don't feel the need to go out and spend money we should be putting to debt  to buy stuff we don't need.
Eventually we'll save up for a projector, but I don't know that we'll get cable again. In the meantime, every little bit helps us save money, and we're helping LMS learn good habits.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Frugal Fun: Family Outings

There's quite a few things (this is certainly not an exhaustive list) you can do as a family that cost little or no money.

We like going to Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops. LMS likes looking at the fish and all the stuffed animals- there's always lots to look at. I think both places have scheduled fish feeding that people can watch, and sometimes help with (LMS got to once and thought it was great). They also have an inexpensive shooting gallery (Mr. S likes these). This Christmas we took LMS to Bass Pro Shops to see Santa. We got a free photo of her with Santa (not a great quality photo, but it was free), and there was a bunch of different games and such that the kids could play for free. If we'd gone on the weekend, there would have been free crafts and cookie decorating, too.

We also like hiking, and have found that LMS can often walk a good portion of the hike. This is usually free, unless there's a fee to get into the park.

Another activity to do as a family is going for bike rides. We bought a trailer on sale at REI about two years ago and have gotten a lot of use out of it, and will continue to do so. These can be found on craigslist, ebay, and so on, so they don't have to cost a lot. When LMS gets a bit older, we'll get a trail-a-bike (it's basically a kid's bike minus the front tire and fork, that attaches to the rear of an adult bike) so she can keep up with us on longer rides. We won't be paying full price- we'll find one on craigslist or ebay.

We also like to go for walks and runs together. I have the most practice at it, so I usually push LMS in the BOB jogging stroller that we found for a steal on craigslist. We've gotten lots of miles out of that stroller, and there's still many left. We like exercising together- it sets a good example for LMS, and though she rides in the stroller for most of the way, we have started having her walk the last bit home, and will continue to extend the distance.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Gluten free coupons

The other day I mentioned that it's really hard to find coupons for gluten free items. I have found a potential source of coupons, but I think the problem lies with the manufacturers and their willingness (or not) to give out coupons. Be Free For Me is a website that has recipes, articles, etc regarding food allergies and celiac disease. They also occasionally have coupons for gluten free items. Awhile ago, I signed up to have coupons emailed to me. So far, I've only received one coupon ($1 off Rice Works chips), which I've also seen in the Sunday circulars.

If you're looking for coupons for gluten free items, it wouldn't hurt to check out the site and sign up for their emails. Hopefully they'll be able to send out more soon.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Frugal Kleen Kanteen rehab

This is a project that didn't cost me much, but saved me a lot of money.
Original cost:
New lavender dot Kleen Kanteen bottle (from Pottery Barn Kids): $19.00
New lavender dot Kleen Kanteen with monogram (from PBK): $25.50

My cost:
$3.00 for the bottle
$0.50 for ribbon (guesstimate on how much the ribbon I used cost, since I didn't use the whole spool)
$0 for glue gun and hot glue that I already had
$4.15 for sports top on ebay

I will sell the loop top that came with bottle for $3.99 on ebay

Total cost for me:$7.65-$3.99=$3.66 for a bottle that goes for $19+. I think I did pretty good!
I posted this originally on my other blog back in October, and the hot glue has held up fine so far- the ribbon hasn't come off or even started pulling up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Growing up, we did most of our clothing shopping at thrift stores (with 9 kids in the family, it was the only way to not go bankrupt). As an adult, I've gone to thrift stores, but not on a regular basis.

Over the last year or so, I've developed a desire to spend more time thrifting, so naturally there are no thrift stores in the area. The closest is about half an hour to forty five minutes away. That's too far for me to drive on a weekly basis to maybe find some good deals.

I've been doing a lot of blog hopping over the last couple months, and it has really opened my eyes as to the potential of things that I would have classified as ugly junk previously. Old, out-dated dressers can be re-finished to look quite nice. Good thing, since we need to find at least one or two dressers when we move. We sold one of ours shortly after moving here because it was MDF and we've never been real happy with it. Now we have to replace it. Oh darn. And we need other pieces of furniture as well...

Anyway, I've been getting lots of ideas and learning to look past surface ugliness. Once we move, I'll be searching for and refinishing some pieces of furniture, and I'll share the process here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ebay, Amazon, and Craigslist

I'm a big fan of Ebay. I've bought and sold many items on Ebay over the years, and I've gotten good at finding good deals.

When I'm looking for a particular item, I compare Amazon and Ebay (and if it's a book or movie) to see which site can offer me the best deal.

Ebay has a feature where you can save a search. You can use whatever key words and categories you want to conduct a search. Once you get the results back, you can opt to save that search and receive emails when new items matching that search are listed. I use this extensively when there's something I want to buy but want to wait for a better price. When I receive an email with search results for an item I want, I look them over, and if it's an auction I want to keep an eye on, I just have to add it to my 'watch' list. I've gotten many great deals using this process.

The fees from selling items on Ebay are a bit of a pain, but if I'm getting money for items I wanted to get rid of, I'm not going to be too picky.

Amazon has a wish list feature where you can add items from Amazon or other sites to your wish list. Others can then use your wish list to get ideas for Christmas, birthdays, etc. I use it to remind me which books I want. I've read a lot of books lately that I checked out from the library. Once I decided they were worth buying, I added them to my wish list. Some I received for Christmas, and the rest I'll gradually buy as I save up money for them.

I've gotten quite a few good deals on things I've bought on craigslist. Most of these items were bigger toys (like a play kitchen and a sand and water table) or other things for our daughter (like a toddler bed and our jogging stroller), but I've also bought 3 different log beds, all for good prices, and one of them was just down the road from us. Another was clear in the city, so it all averages out. As long as you're willing to make the drive, you can usually find something close to what you're looking for at a good price.

I've tried selling on craigslist with limited success. It seems to work well for larger items that you wouldn't want to ship, but I haven't had much luck selling smaller items. Which is too bad, since there's no fees for selling stuff on craigslist. Although, I'm not real happy with them right now since they've put my account on hold (they just recently made you sign up for an account before you could post anything), and despite multiple emails to their 'customer service', I have yet to receive any response as to why they did that.

In any case, Ebay, Amazon and craigslist are all valuable tools for finding (or getting rid of) items at great prices.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Clipping coupons

Clipping coupons isn't terribly effective for me. I do it, but it doesn't save my tons of money. We've all heard stories of people who go into the store with a stack of coupons and come out with a cartload of groceries that they paid $2 for. That wouldn't happen with my grocery list because most coupons are for processed foods or cleaners and beauty products with lots of chemicals in them.

I'm gluten intolerant, so I don't buy most processed foods- the few that I can eat are from specialty companies that don't have coupons. If I can find them, I'll use coupons for canned or frozen goods, dairy products, and paper goods. However, even for those items most of the coupons available are for over-processed, full-of-chemicals (lots of artificial flavors and colors, unnecessary sauces, etc) items, so there's only a small fraction of coupons that I can use.

So, I buy groceries on sale, generic where possible/available, bulk when it's cheaper to do so, and cook from scratch as much as I can.

I can't use mainstream cleaners because I have lots of chemical sensitivities- so I use Melaleuca products because they are kinder and gentler and don't aggravate my allergies. I also use Melaleuca toiletry products and Arbonne face products. I love the products, but there's no coupons for them. They do cost a bit more than generic cleaners or run-of-the mill toiletry products, but they don't give me migraines, so it's worth it.

When I shop online, I always look for online coupon codes, which have saved me a lot of money, and I'm a big fan of Amazon, Ebay and craigslist (but that's another post).

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A bit of background on us

While we were in school and underemployed, we never had enough money to pay all the monthly expenses, so each month we would end up putting something on the credit card. Despite our resolve to pay it off the next month, it never happened, and the balance gradually grew and grew.

Later, during the times we were earning a steady paycheck, we weren't able to make headway on the debt because we weren't earning enough (the military does not pay their lower enlisted soldiers very well). We were living pretty frugally, but there was still only enough to cover the bills and the minimum payments.

When Mr. S got deployed, our daughter and I moved in with family to be close to them and to lower our expenses so we could pay off our debts.

We actually made significant progress in paying off our credit card debt and even managed to put some money in savings.

However, when Mr. S returned and didn't find a job right away, the savings got used to pay bills, and we started running up the credit card again. While looking for a job he started his masters degree, so at least he's got a good start on that, even if we are more in debt than we were before he got home.

Once Mr. S starts working, we'll be putting as much as possible of each paycheck toward paying off the credit card and other debts (the car and my student loan). We'll be living as frugally as possible while still enjoying life.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Random thought

Here's something I've been thinking about for awhile:

What do people with food allergies/sensitivities do if they depend on food pantries and/or soup kitchens for their food?

Do they just not eat much, eat it anyway and deal with the consequences (if it's an allergy that doesn't result in anaphylactic shock), or what?

Are they undiagnosed, so they just feel like crap and don't know why? I can see this being the case, since even if you can afford to go to the doctor it doesn't guarantee they'll figure out what's wrong with you.

I suppose if it was just one type of food they couldn't eat it wouldn't be too bad, but if they had multiple food allergies/sensitivities it would be pretty complicated to eat. And I wouldn't think that a food pantry or soup kitchen would be able to accomodate their needs. Let's face it, most grocery stores can't, which is why so much of our shopping has to be done at Whole Foods, which is not the cheapest place to buy food.

Our food budget is higher than I'd like, but I really don't see any alternatives. The gluten free soy sauce I used to buy is no longer an option because of the soy, so my only alternative is coconut aminos, which run $6 a bottle, and it's not a very big bottle. I could just not buy it, but than our diet would be even more limited in flavor and meal options. Luckily, while I may wish we could spend less, at least we have the ability to spend the amount we do. I'm kind of glad I didn't get this all figured out any sooner, when our budget was super tight- then we really would have had to make some tough decisions about what we would be eating.

Any thoughts?

How we're going to get out of debt

Awhile ago, I read 'The Total Money Makeover' by Dave Ramsey. I really liked a lot of things he has to say about getting out of debt and building savings while still having a good quality of life.

He has some basic baby steps to follow:
1. start a $1000 emergency fund
2. pay off all debts
3. build up enough savings to cover 3-6 months of expenses (a full emergency fund)
4. fully fund your retirement
5. start college funds for children
6. pay off your home early
7. build wealth and give

One key element of his plan is to pay cash for everything, and to stop using credit cards completely. Since you have to have cash for this to work, we can't get started yet, which is why we don't jump right in as soon as I finished the book.

Once Mr. S gets a job though, we're jumping in with both feet and moving forward!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Why 'The Shoestring Diaries'?

Ever heard the phrase "living on a shoestring"?

I'm not sure where it originated, though I suspect it's from the Great Depression. Back then, people made do with very little. Times were tough, but they got through them together.

We've gone through some tough times financially throughout most of our eight and a half years of marriage, and the last year has definitely been challenging. Through it all, we've worked together and stuck it out, and been incredibly blessed.

Now we're on the brink of a new career: we're looking at several companies, and one of them should go through soon. When that happens, we'll have a steady income, enough to pay the bills with some left over to pay down our debt. We're sick and tired of being in debt, and are committed to getting completely out of debt as quickly as possible.

I'll be talking about our budget, what we do to save money, and things we do to still have a good time. Because it's no fun being on a super-tight budget if you're not enjoying life too.