Tag Archives: money

Money saving tips for gift giving

On the SantaRosaMom.com forums, a question was asked regarding what the normal amount is for gift giving at the holidays.  Is it $50 per child?  Is it $500?  More?  The answer varies for each family.

I feel so fortunate that we are able to afford gifts this year for the kids to open on Christmas morning.  But there’ve been some years when I saved all year long and still had barely enough to make Christmas special.  Or so I thought.  It seems some of our poorest years were actually our most special as more meaning was put behind family and all we are blessed with rather than what we received off our Christmas lists.

With the economy the way it is, I know there are plenty of families in tight spots as the holidays loom.  It can make the season of giving seem pretty unfriendly.  But there are ways to get around this. Here are six ideas to help you save a few dollars and ensure a very merry holiday season.

1. Go small
My sisters and I would usually tear through the larger gifts at Christmas, but truly savor the ones placed in our stockings.  These were gifts that we never asked for, but took the most thought because our parents picked them out just for us.  Years later, we still look forward to our stocking gifts most of all.  I’ll never forget our very loud reaction the one year my mother insinuated we might be too old for this tradition.  As a result, I’m in my 30’s and still receive a stocking full of fun trinkets that include everything from decorative socks to wind-up toys.  My suggestion is to buy one big gift, or even just rely on relatives for the big gifts, and focus on the stocking.

2. Utilize Craigslist
One of the moms on the forums suggested this avenue as a way to save money, and what she has done herself in years when pennies needed to be pinched.  Some of those larger items your child wants can actually be bought in good second-hand condition without having to pay full retail price.  I’ve seen Power Wheels for $150 or less, toys for under $20, videos and DVDs, bikes, play kitchens, games, and more.  You can even find some quality clothes online from kids who have outgrown them faster than they can wear them out.  Why pay tons of money on something that is still new to them?

3. Skip the baby gifts
Truth be told, babies have no idea what day it is or even what they want for the holidays.  They aren’t even old enough to unwrap presents.  So why spend a fortune on gifts for them on a retail-driven holiday?  Use this time to purchase anything you actually need for your baby – like onesies, clothes, bottles, baby food or even just diapers – and let the relatives spoil your child rotten.  Trust me, it does not make you a bad parent, it makes you a smart one.

4. Toy swap
I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find other families who are looking to save a few pennies this season.  So why not trade toys?  Have your child gather up all their toys they don’t need anymore and host a toy swap party with a few of your mom friends.  You’ll rid yourself of all those toys you’re tired of looking at, and gain some new-to-your-child presents that cost nothing more than a little effort.

5. Make your gifts
Show off your baking skills and save a few dollars by baking cookies, bread, or something else equally delicious for your friends and family this year.  Need some ideas?  Check out some of these submissions for BiteClub’s Cookie Contest with some delicious tried and true recipes by locals all over Sonoma County.  Or get crafty and create a unique one-of-a-kind gift for those you love.  They won’t have anything like it, and they’ll appreciate the thought and care you took to create something just for them.

6. Holiday Service
Just this morning, my son and I sat at the stoplight on our way to school.  On the sidewalk was the old homeless man and his dog we see almost every single day.  Outside, it was colder than freezing.  Judging by the early hour they were standing there, they’d probably spent the night in this cold.  “Should we give him something?” my son asked, and I nodded as I handed him a couple dollars.  We pulled up to him and opened the window, and my son handed him the money.  “Happy holidays,” the man said.  “Rusty and I thank you.”  As we drove away, my son told me how warm he felt inside from this small gesture.  Imagine how wonderful a gift that would be for your child – to feel what it’s like to give to someone less fortunate than them.  Give them the gift of a warm heart by adopting someone from the Giving Tree, offering time serving food at a shelter, donating food or clothing, or even just visiting some forgotten souls at the convalescent hospital.  Trust me, this may just end up being their favorite gift of the season.

What have you done in the past (or are doing now) to save money on holiday gifts?

What every teen needs to know

By the time our kids reach their teenager years, we can see the end in sight.  Of course we’ll be jumping for joy sad when they take that next step of independence to find a place of their own or move away to college.  But let’s face it, who wants to still be raising their children when they’re 35?  To ensure this doesn’t happen, there are some very basic skills that every teenager should know. If I’ve missed any, be sure to add them in the comments.

How to boil water
…as well as other means of cooking.  If you’re not there to make your teen a sandwich, will they starve?  If you haven’t already, start teaching your child the fundamentals of making a meal, staples they should always have on hand, using food before it spoils, grocery shopping so that there’s still food on Friday when shopping is done on Sunday…  They should also know how to work a microwave, a stove, and an oven without burning the house down.  And they should be aware of how to read labels and make healthy choices to avoid the Freshman 15, and that in the long run, eating out costs much more than making food at home.

How to save a buck
Raise your hand if you really hope to be your kid’s ATM for life.  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  Then this skill might be the most important one you can teach them – how to handle their money.  Your teen should know how to create a budget and stick to it – putting money aside for bills to be paid on time before any money is spent on fun.  And money for fun should be included in that budget as well.  Help them open a checking account of their own and teach them how to keep it balanced, how to use the ATM machine, and that the balance the bank says they have is rarely ever the real balance.  Have them apply for a credit card, but stress how important it is to use it for necessities and not to furnish their whole apartment – and the importance of paying it off on time to build good credit.  They should also know how to save for things they want, put money aside for emergencies, give to charity, and how to get the best deal. 

How to get dressed
Ok, they are well past the time of needing you to pick out their clothes and tie their shoes – hopefully (if not, you have quite a bit of catching up to do).  But they will need to learn how to wash their clothes regularly so that they actually have something to wear.  And no, buying new clothes is not an alternative way to do laundry.  Teens will need to learn about when to use the Hot Cycle, and when to wash it in Cold.  And to ensure their whites don’t turn pink or their lights become dingy, they can use a lesson in separating colors as well.  Other important skills are how to sew a button or mend a rip, how to iron, how to fold and put away their clothes, how to treat stains, the importance of reading clothing labels, how to hand wash, and even how to best pack a suitcase (for all those trips back home to, ahem, do their laundry).

How to have respect…
…for everyone, but particularly for their housemates.  Sure, they may be used to leaving their dishes around, a clothing trail from the door to their room, and the toilet paper roll empty when they’re done doing their business.  And why shouldn’t they when MOM is there to pick up after them?  But Mom’s not at college, and I guarantee their housemates aren’t going to be too keen on seeing Jr’s dishes left in the sink.  A friend of mine told me of the time that he left his dishes in the sink one too many times, and finally his roommate did clear them out – by dumping them in his bed.  So for your child’s sake, and for their roommate, teach them how to do their own dishes, how to keep the noise levels down, common courtesy when it comes to guests in the room, and leaving OPP (other people’s property) alone as well as having boundaries in place for their own property. 

How to be organized
If your teen would like to flunk out in the first semester, the best bet would be to skip keeping a calendar and to lose every piece of paper or information that comes their way.  For everyone else, a calendar is essential.  If they have a smart phone, this is the most convenient place to keep it since they are likely attached to this particular piece of technology at all times.  Get them in the habit of putting everything in their calendar and referring to it regularly.  Another good habit for teens to get into before college is to create a filing system to hold all their assignment needs, bills, and any important document they may need to refer to later.  Not sure?  Place it in the filing system just in case.

How to…
…deal when sick, what to do or who to call if there’s an emergency (and have those numbers programmed in their phone), how to lock the front door behind them, how to fill their gas tank, how to understand their health or car insurance…and how to understand the many risks that are going to be in front of them. 

College is, for many teens, their first real experience away from parents.  This means that it’s their first brush with responsibility.  It also means it’s their first time without someone there to say no.  Now would be a good time to admit some of the stupid things you have done as a teen, anxiety you may have felt about being away for the first time, struggles you went through with a college schedule, and even the great parts about college life.  Sharing your good and bad experiences will help you be able to connect with your teen on a deeper level, and maybe even help them avoid some of the hard parts.  Of course, in the end they’re the ones who get to make the final decision.  And some of their decisions might not be the best despite your most valiant of efforts to steer them on a certain path.  And that’s when you also need to make it clear that no matter what, you’re there for them if they need it.

The high cost of education

In my family, it’s not a matter of “if” my kids go to college; it’s a matter of “when”. I have never allowed the possibility of my children NOT going to college into my vocabulary, intent on making sure that their future plans include college in the equation. And my daughter, at only 12, has decided that San Diego State College is where she plans to go for college. It’s a breath of relief, as there are plenty of great colleges out there that will cost more than the estimated $15,000 +/- a year it will cost for her to attend that school – most likely more, with the way college costs are rapidly rising. Her decision, I admit, has been swayed by the fact that her aunt lives in San Diego, a town we have grown to love during our annual visits there. And her hopes are to be able to bunk at my sister’s house while she studies for her future, not only a fun idea for both her aunt and her, but also as a way to keep costs down.

With several other universities costing upwards of $40K per year, it’s a wonder how many families can survive the college years, especially if they have more than one child who will be attending college at the same time. But even the “low” cost of my daughter’s 1st choice college seems daunting. You better believe that when college time comes close, DQ and I will be researching every available grant and scholarship there is to help relieve some of the costs for her to attend. The final amount, unfortunately, will lay on her shoulders – most likely in student loans. It’s not a responsibility I wish upon her, and if I could pay the full cost of her tuition I would in a heartbeat. But her brother will be entering college three years after she does, creating another search for grants, scholarships, and acceptable loans. And reality has dictated that it just doesn’t seem possible for my income to cover college costs for two kids over a combined total of 8 years or more.

And now there are reports of college costs skyrocketing. College tuition to the average 4 year school has recently risen 7.9%. And by the time many of our kids are entering the phase of searching out colleges, that number will more likely than not be even higher. To compensate, many families are taking advantage of the numerous avenues for federal aid out there, such as the Pell Grant – a grant that was given to 7.7 million students last year alone.

But alarmingly, many of these students that have completed college are still not guaranteed a well-paying job. “When you look at all college degrees, there are more than 317,000 over-educated Americans serving us our meals, more than 80,000 shaking our martinis and some 62,000 mowing our lawns.” Lauren Kelly, AlterNet.com. The sad truth is, many college graduates (17 million of them and counting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) will not be entering the workforce any more secure than those without a college degree. They are just as fragile as the rest of us looking for work, and could still end up waiting tables or cleaning our schools – even with a PhD under their belt.  This is not only dismaying regarding the reason behind going to college, it also makes it really difficult for those job-challenged students to pay $500 or more a month after they graduate in efforts to pay back student loans they have taken out.

But still, I want my kids to go to college. Call me naïve, but I believe in the power of higher education. And I want to believe that my kids will have a chance of making a life for themselves so much easier if they go to college. And so I feed talks of college into their dreams, littering our conversations about the future with things like “when you go to college”, or “this is what you will need to study in college to make your dream job come true”. And all the while, I am praying that my inability to pay for their college out of pocket will not get in the way of making that happen.

However, I’m not alone in this decision about how my children’s college will be paid for, though some parents have come to this decision through intention, raither than as a result of economics. Sally Herigstad wrote an article for Money Central on MSN.com, stating the reasons why she and her husband are NOT saving for their children’s college, including reasoning that saving for her retirement is more important since she can’t get a loan for that necessary financial obligation but her child can for college, and the fact that she believes her child’s education falls on their shoulders alone. And, as Claire Bradley stated in an article on Forbes.com, choosing your child’s college tuitions over your own retirement is risky for not just you, but for your child too. “Too often, parents put their children’s college expenses above saving for retirement–a costly mistake. The best way to ensure your child’s financial security is to make sure your retirement is taken care of, so you’re not a financial burden.”

Has your family given thought to how you will be handling college costs? Will you be paying for your child to attend, or will you be relying on your child to take out loans and pay for it themselves?

Being frugal

As a single mom, money is on the top of my list of things to think about on a daily basis. You could say that I obsess about it. I balance my checkbook every day, and am never off in my money assessment. I know how much free money I have, and how much I am not allowed to touch so that my responsibilities are taken care of throughout the month. I wish it were different, that I could spend money without abandon and never have to worry about what I will have to give up from my grocery shopping list if I buy a cheap pair of gloves to keep my hands warm. But it’s also a reality. Do I consider myself unfortunate? Hardly. I am lucky to have a home to live in, money to buy groceries, the ability to afford my bills, and enough leftover at the end of the month to add to my savings. There are many families out there that have way less. But our household does live on a tight budget to make things work, and I wish to pass some of the tips we’ve learned your way.

1. Know your balance. I’m not just talking about what your bank account says you have, I’m talking about what your true balance is. Write down every single thing that comes out of your checking account as soon as you spend it. At the end of every week (or more often, if need be), cross check your expenses with what has cleared through the bank. This will help you catch any expenses you may have forgotten to include in your balance. It will also help you be aware of everything you are spending money on.

2. If you don’t have the money, don’t buy it. Paying with a credit card because you do not have the cash on hand does not get you out of paying the bill. You just have to pay it later, with additional interest applied. In the long run, paying with credit is actually more expensive. And it also opens up the possibility of never being able to pay it, ruining your credit. I do not own a credit card. I live solely on the money I currently have, and that’s it. If you find yourself whipping out the card to buy yourself a new pair of jeans, question whether it really matters if you buy them now, or wait until you have the money in hand.

3. Map out your bills. My job pays me twice a month. The paycheck I get in the middle of the month is dedicated to all of my bills, grocery and gas money for the entire month, and a little to put in savings. The paycheck at the end of the month is dedicated to the next month’s rent. Before I allow myself any “free” money, I subtract all of the bills I have to pay with that paycheck. That way, if I’m ever “broke”, I at least know that my bills will be paid.

4. Savings. You’ll notice that I keep referring to my savings. I cannot stress this enough – save your money! Instead of eating out, buying coffee, or enhancing your wardrobe, throw your extra money into your savings account. I have gotten so that putting money in my savings feels just like spending it on something fun. I know the money is there if an emergency comes up. It’s also good for expensive events that are coming around the corner – like birthdays and the holidays.

5. Pack your lunch, and make your coffee at home. Sure, that $6 lunch or that $3 coffee isn’t very much to spend in one sitting. But if you’re doing this on a daily basis, how much is it costing you? About $200 a month! It’s so much cheaper just to keep a steady supply of coffee beans and lunch meat at home for your daily food needs than it is to indulge in a bite out to eat. Plus, the lessened caloric intake from a brown bag lunch will go easier on your waistband.

6. Make dinner, and lots of it! Eating out at night is even more expensive than lunches during the day. It costs so much less to just make sure that your fridge is always properly stocked. And if you create larger meals, you can have dinner for the next two or three nights. Our family loves the Crockpot for this very reason. It’s easy to create a large meal with very little prep involved. Dinner is ready when you get home from work. And there’s enough to stretch the meal over several dinners. Get your family used to leftovers, or just learn how to creatively disguise leftovers so it seems like something different every night.

7. Find alternatives to fun. Want to go to the movies? Rent a movie instead. In desperate need of a manicure? Do it yourself at home with your girlfriends. Need some new clothes? Consider consignment or thrift shops (btw, I totally scored on a cute skirt and shirt outfit for a total of $6 the other day, and no one was the wiser that it was secondhand). Itching for a gym membership? Spring Lake has some awesome hills that will work those quads in no time. Just because you are pinching pennies does not mean you have to give up on having fun. You just have to be frugally creative about it.

8. Nix the bills that you don’t really need. PG&E is a must, so you can’t give that one up. But there are other bills you should think over about whether they are really necessary or not. For us, we decided against a cable bill. Sure, it sucks sometimes not having a TV to tune out with. But it was the least important of all our needs, so we live without it. Is there a bill you are paying for something you could live without?

What are some ways that you are being frugal to stretch your income?