Showing posts with label Dollar Stretching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dollar Stretching. Show all posts

Sep 9, 2016

How Moms Can Make Money at Home

It's a question I frequently hear - on playgrounds, on social media, among friends meeting for coffee.
It's a question I also ask myself: How can I make money to help out my husband or family? A reader also recently asked this question of me:

"Hi Kristina,
My name is Jamie. I'm a 34 year old Christian wife and homeschooling mama of 4 little ones (only 2 of them are school aged)...I have a simple question to ask you that may be difficult to answer but I'd love any advice you have! I often think about what it means to be a Proverbs 31 wife, and something has been tugging at my heart for several years now. I long to help my husband out in the financial area, (i.e. work from home) but there's one major problem...I don't know what my talents are! Sounds funny I know, but I honestly don't know what I could do to make a little extra money to help us out. We are not necessarily in dire straits with finances but my husband is self employed and is often stressed about money since all the weight is on him and I wish I could do more to help...I feel stuck. And I know we are total strangers but do you have any advice? Right now the only answer I can come up with is 'Pray.'
Thank you for any help!
In Christ,

Jamie, you're not alone! I think most stay at home moms ask themselves this question on a regular basis. Many stay at home moms even feel guilty for not helping their family financially. In fact, it seems that in our society, it's expected that both the husband and wife should bring in some income. Even in my own household, I often feel there's an expectation that I must bring in some sort of income, or earn extra money when it is needed.

But I'd like you to question this whole idea.

Until quite recently, in all but the very poorest American families, wives were not expected to make money. Not because they weren't capable of doing so, and not even because our society expected husbands should be able to support their wives and children all by themselves. Wives generally didn't work because...they were already working.

They were working in the home. Caring for the children, keeping the house tidy, cooking...All important things, and all things that would cost an arm and a leg to hire someone to do.

So, if you think about it, they were helping their husbands financially by not going out and getting a job. 

Even today, if you add up what the average working mom earns, then subtract all the expenses of her working away from home (including fuel, work clothes, lunches, convenience or restaurant dinner food, and childcare), you'll usually find she's not adding much at all to the family income. (Here's a good example.)

Maybe that's why so many modern moms strive to work at home.

But here's another little secret that didn't use to be a secret at all: Back in the day, housewives contributed to the family income in another important way. They were excellent house managers.

That's not a term we hear anymore. What exactly is a house manager? It's someone who keeps the household running smoothly. It's someone who saves her husband time and frustration. It's someone who makes it easier for her husband to go off to work every morning. And it's someone who sees to it he has to work less hard, rather than more hard.

That's a far cry from many wives I see today, who go on shopping sprees with the attitude that "he'll just have to figure out a way to pay for it."

And so one very important way you can contribute to the family income is by spending the family income wisely.

How much can you save by being a good household manager? Potentially thousands every year.

Now, maybe you already are a good household manager and all you (and your husband) need to do is appreciate just how much you contribute to the family. If that's the case, another thing to consider is your lifestyle. Do you live like the average American, expecting expensive vacations, the latest gadgets and grown up toys, lots of stuff, lots of "going out," and lots of debt?

If so, learning to love a life living within your means is an important goal. Start recognizing that debt is slavery. (Really think on that!) Start realizing that stuff is also a sort of slavery. And start recognizing that if your husband is stressed out trying to pay for things you don't really need it's not worth it. At. All.

I don't know you, Jamie. So I don't know what your lifestyle is like or whether I'm "preaching to the choir." You may still be thinking, "We still need some extra cash." I get it. I seriously do! So here are some thoughts on how you can save or earn money, making your family more comfortable:

* Keep praying. Prayer is so powerful, and if you allow God to, he will either change your heart so you don't feel the need to work, or he will provide the perfect job for you.

* Remember Proverbs 31. I don't believe for a second that she did her trading and clothes selling while she had young children at home. Because young children require pretty much everything a woman has! That section of the Bible shows us the entire life of one "noble woman." Keep that in mind.

* Build skills. Build one of your interests until you're an expert at a marketable skill. For example, in the full version of the email you sent me, you said you like to write; so consider developing that skill by blogging and contributing to small local publications, and eventually you may become professional enough to grow your blog or write for national publications. Or choose one of your other interests to develop.

* Use Swagbucks to earn gift certificates for places like Amazon, where you can buy discounted food and other necessities. Or use those gift cards for school supplies and gifts throughout the year.

* Consider doing more shopping online. Some people find they can get better prices on diapers, toilet paper, and so on by shopping at Amazon, especially if they use Subscribe and Save.

* Keep a price book for groceries, toiletries, and other commonly used household items.

* Stock up when you can. When items you use go on sale, buy a bunch. In the long run, that saves money.

* If you're not already, get organized about serving food. Meal plan (here's my super easy method) and always have easy peasy meals on hand (in the pantry or freezer) for those "I'm too tired to cook nights." Eating out is not only unhealthy, but it burns through money fast.

* Pack your husband's lunch, if possible. If he loves eating out for lunch, see if he'll agree to doing it only once or twice a month.

* Shop used. Children's clothes, for example, are so much cheaper used. Also, depending upon where you live, you may find thrift stores, Craigslist, etc., can provide quality household goods for a fraction of the cost.

* Dump the dish or cable. TV is outrageously expensive. Learn to live with Netflix (saving thousands per year). Consider DVDs from the library, too (as long as you can get them returned in a timely way).

* Cook from scratch as much as possible. Your family will not only be more healthy, but you'll save a lot of money. I also think you'll find that cooking from scratch often really isn't that much more time consuming.

Readers: What are your suggestions for how Jamie - or anyone - can save or earn money?

Aug 25, 2016

How I Earn Extra Money for My Family Using Swagbucks

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

 This post originally appeared last year, but Swagbucks has recently made it even easier to earn gift cards, so I felt it was worth updating you!

This month, I earned an extra $25 using Swagbucks for 1 - 16 minutes each day. And yep, that will come in handy during the back to school season! Best of all, most of the time I spent on Swagbucks was time I would have spent on a different search engine...except that by using Swagbucks, I earned money.

What is Swagbucks?

Swagbucks is site that allows you to earn points for doing things you probably already do online (like use a search engine). Then you can turn those points into gift cards for PayPal, Amazon, Walmart, Target, and many businesses you likely already shop at. How much money those gift cards holds really depends upon you. I tend to put in very little time, and get at least one $25 gift card a month - but I know of someone who let her points rack up and used them to have a $0 Christmas! That's right; she didn't spend a single dollar on her whole family's Christmas gifts!

(UPDATE 8/16: My goal for 2016 has been to use my Swagbucks not only for school supplies, but also for birthday gifts. So far, I've met my goal!)

How I Use Swagbucks

There are a lot of ways to earn points on Swagbucks. I don't use them all. In fact, I'm sure there are some ways to earn points that I don't even know about! But I earn the most points just using the search engine, which is a version of Yahoo. I use it just like I would any other search engine, looking up the answers to the crazy questions my kids ask, looking up local business phone numbers, finding news stories on certain topics, etc. If I think of it, I also go through the Swagbucks search engine when I'm going to a site I already know the web address for. For example, if I want to go to Facebook, I type "Facebook" into the Swagbucks search engine, then click on the search results in order to get there. It takes seconds longer than typing in the web address myself - and helps me earn points. As you search, Swagbucks periodically gives you points. One time, you might earn 20 points, another time you might get 6 points. It's pretty random.

I've also developed a daily routine for Swagbucks. When I turn my computer on, I usually go to Swagbucks first. (FYI, you can use Swagbucks on any device that goes online.) There, I take the daily poll, go through the daily offers, and click on the "daily crave." The poll is a super quick question. The daily offers are mostly information you can send away for if you like - but I never do; I just click through them and when I'm through, I get points. The "daily crave" is either two videos or two slide shows. I just let the videos play in the background. In total, this routine takes 1 - 2 minutes to complete, and results in 4 points.

(UPDATE 8/16: Swagbucks recently introduced a very handy home page daily "to-do" list with 7 easy ways to earn Swagbucks. If you complete at least 6 of those items, you get bonus Swagbucks for that day. Because I do my daily 6, I'm now earning more Swagbucks than ever.)

If I have a little extra time, or I just really want to earn more money, I do surveys. I tend to stick to the shorter ones (usually 10 - 15 minutes is the estimate for them, but I find they are usually quicker than estimated) and choose the ones with the highest earnings first. However, some surveys sway me to take more time if they offer more Swagbucks for completing them.

(UPDATE 8/16: An awesome new update at Swagbucks is that if you attempt any survey, you get 1 Swagbuck, even if you don't qualify to complete the survey. (If you're not familiar with doing surveys, there are always a few questions to see if you're the sort of person they want to a"talk" to. This is called "qualifying."))

And that's it! I find that if I stick to this routine, each month I can easily earn enough points for a $25 Amazon gift card (my favorite!)  - or a gift card worth more, if I spend extra time on surveys.
Now it's your turn! Sign up for Swagbucks right here.  Why not give it a try?

Jul 14, 2016

14 Tips for Using a Clothesline

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

Every summer, when I was a kid, my Dad and I flew to the state of his birth: Missouri. And every year, it felt like we were stepping into another world - a better world, with a slower pace, cousins to play with, ponds to fish, sweet tea to drink, and Grandma's house.

Grandma's house was a place to love. It wasn't fancy, mind you. But it had a huge, musty basement with a huge musty bed for my cousins and I to sleep in. Plus cows in the nearby pasture. Plus a pond and "crick" (creek). And my Grandma's clothesline.

I don't know why I was so fascinated by Grandma's clothesline - or, more specifically, watching her hang the laundry on it. It might have been as simple as the fact that I'd never seen anyone use a clothesline before. Or maybe it was the way Grandma hummed as she pulled pins from her clothespin apron and hung my summer shorts on the line. Suffice it to say, I have romantic memories of clotheslines. So one of the first things I've wanted to do on our new homestead is use one.

You already know this is a house with quirks. One of them is that there is a nice, existing clothesline with sturdy poles...but the previous owners planted blackberries on it. And then hung a string across the front porch to dry their laundry. This doesn't fit my romantic ideal for a clothesline, so eventually, the clothesline will get moved. (And then I want my hubby to build me a clothesline that looks just like this.)

Romantic notions aside, clotheslines are a super way to get outside more, conserve electricity, and save money. But since so few Americans use them anymore, the art of hanging clothes out to dry is nearly lost. Fortunately, I remember a few tips from Grandma.

1. Wipe down the line before every use. An old washcloth works well for this. Other homesteaders tell me cotton clotheslines are less likely to end up with gunk that won't wipe off.

2. Hate the stiffness of line dried fabrics? Add about 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the wash - ideally during the rinse cycle. This will make your dried clothes and towels feel softer.

3. Using too much laundry detergent can also make your clothes feel stiff. Try using less; the truth is, you probably routinely use too much.

4. Promptly remove laundry from the washer, to help prevent wrinkles.

5. Use decent clothespins. I quickly learned that cheap clothespins from the Dollar Tree or Walmart don't last long and sometimes have rough edges that snag fabric. It's worth spending a bit more to ensure you have smooth clothespins with strong springs that will last for many years. (Wood clothespins seem to last longer than plastic ones.)

6. Don't hang clothes in full sun, generally speaking. This will eventually fade your clothes and make fabrics wear more quickly. Instead, choose an area of open shade for your clothesline. That means not too close to trees, which can shed leaves, seeds, etc. on your clothes. Hanging clothes inside out may also help reduce fading. On the other hand, if your whites are looking dingy, a good hang in the sun will help brighten them.

7. Hang like items together. This saves a lot of time when it comes to folding and putting away. For example, instead of hanging a kitchen towel, then a shirt, then a sock, hang all the kitchen towels together, all the shirts together, all the socks together. Once everything is dry and you're taking items off the line, fold them as you put them back in the basket.

8. Hang an individual's items together. Make folding and putting away easier still by putting all of one family member's clothes on one part of the line.

9. Prevent ironing by hanging right. There are different schools of thought on this, but I like to hang shirts from the hem. Pants, too. This prevents more wrinkles, in my opinion. (Other people like to hang shirts right side up with clothespins on the armhole seam. Still others hang shirts first on a hanger, and then hook the hanger to the clothesline.)

10. Another way to prevent wrinkles: Before hanging, hold the item from one end and briskly snap it in the air.

11. Hang heavy items securely. For example, fold towels generously over the clothesline - even up to the halfway point - then use four clothespins to keep in place. They will take longer to dry, but they won't fall to the ground.

12. Save space by hanging small towels on one another. For example, hang one washcloth on the line, then use clothespins to attach another washcloth to the first, and so on.

13. I hear tell that a sock hanger saves time and space. I think you could use one for washcloths, too.

14. While taking items off the clothesline, shake. Sometimes a little bug lands on a piece of clothing, and this simple step prevents bringing it into the house.
Courtesy of and Wikimedia Commons.

This post featured at

A Wise Woman Builds Her Home

Mar 30, 2016

Get Dinners Out...on the Cheap! Limited Time Only Deal

I received a gift card for the purpose of this review. This post was made possible by Mom Spark Media. Thoughts are my own.

I love to cook - I've written three cookbooks, after all. But sometimes cooking every. single. meal can feel like such drudgery. That's why I think the best gift you can give any mom is dinner out. Because what mom doesn't love a night off from cooking??

The only problem? Eating out can eat up your food budget quickly...something I'm frequently bummed about.

That's why I was excited to see that is having a FANTASTIC deal on certificates. For just $3 you can get a certificate worth $25 at local restaurants! And not only do these certificates make mega-super gifts (Mother's Day is coming, friends), but at this price, you can do a little self care and buy a bunch for you, too.

Happily, certificates can be used at more than 23,000 restaurants nationwide. I live in a very small town, yet I found several local restaurants that accept certificates. Happy dance! The site is really easy to use, too; you can search for restaurants by zip code, city, state, type of cuisine, price range, etc.

All you have to do to take advantage of this deal is use PROMO CODE: SALE at All the site's other deals are on sale, too. For example, you can also get a $10 certificate for $1.20. Offer ends Thursday, March 31, 2016 at 11:59 pm grab 'em while you can!

I received a gift card for the purpose of this review. This post was made possible by Mom Spark Media. Thoughts are my own.

Jan 26, 2016

How Many Hours Did You Work For That?

How Many Hours Did You Work for That
Back in the 90s, I read a life-altering book called Your Money or Your Life. One of the concepts in the book that I'd never heard before was learning what everything you buy truly costs. No, I don't mean in dollars. I mean in "blood, sweat, and tears." I mean in terms of being away from the people and things that really matter. I mean in LIFEtime. In other words: How long do you have to work to pay for whatever item you're considering buying?

This is a completely life-altering way to look at things. For example, now when I don't feel like cooking and I'm tempted to order pizza delivery, I consider how many hours I have to work to pay for that pizza...And ouch. Maybe pizza doesn't sound so great, after all.

Even if, as a Proverbs 31 woman, you don't work for money, you can consider how long your husband has to work to pay for an item. Let's say he earns $18 an hour after taxes and the cable plan you're looking into costs $65 a month (an average price, according to the FCC). How many hours of his life does he have to give away in order to pay for television programming each month? 3.6 hours.

Now let's say you want to buy a new tv to go along with that cable. When I search tvs on Amazon, the very first thing that comes up is a Samsung 32 inch LED for $166.97. That seems like a good price, so let's go with it. To buy this television, your husband would have to give away 9.3 hours of his life - assuming you pay cash and don't incur credit card interest, in which case he'll sacrifice more of his life to pay for that tv.

Now it's up to you (and your spouse) to decide if the true cost of those items is worth it.*

In 2016, I challenge you to adopt this way of thinking. If you're like the average American, I'm betting it will save you thousands! And if you teach it to your children, they will have a huge head start when it comes to managing their finances.

* And if you want an even more accurate look at things, first figure your true wage by subtracting all the expenses incurred in order to have the job - things like fuel, clothing, vehicle maintenance, etc.


Dec 29, 2015

Most Popular Posts 2015 - and All Time!

I've been blogging at Proverbs 31 Woman for six years (and have written over 1,140 posts!), but honestly, I never have any clue which posts are going to be the most talked about or viewed. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and judging by what posts are most popular here, I have to agree! It's always a pretty eclectic list. I hope you enjoy it!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")

Most Popular Posts from 2015:

1. Why I Don't Watch HGTV (And Maye You Shouldn't Either)

2. Free Art History Curriculum: Edgar Degas (this whole series is popular, but this is the most popular post from the series)

3. How to Kill E.Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

4. No Fail Healthy Pie Crust Recipe

5. Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)

6. 12 Old Fashioned Birthday Party Games for Kids

7. How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

8. "I Am..." A Self Worth Craft for Kids

Most Popular Posts of All Time:

1. How to Train Chickens (and Get Them to Do What You Want Them to Do)

2. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

3. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

4. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

5. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

6. How to EASILY Clean Ceilings and Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen

7. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

8. Easy Refrigerator Pickled Beets

9. Freezing Apple Pie Filling

Sep 24, 2015

How I Lowered Our Natural Gas Bill by HUNDREDS!

When we first moved into this house about 15 years ago, I was astonished at how high our natural gas bill was. We use gas for our water heater and for heating the house in spring and fall (when running the wood stove would make the house feel like the tropics). I was always careful to wash most clothes in cold water, used an efficient dish washer, make sure our filters were clean, and turn down the high temp on our water heater. Yet our gas bill was still $300 or more every month.

Over the years, we avoided using gas heat as much as possible, and were able to lower our bill to $20 - 25 a month...unless it was spring or fall, when gas heat was our only comfortable option, and our bill went back to hundreds of dollars.

Then our house became infested with mice. I could watch them coming and going through the heating vents throughout our house. Ugh! Once we got rid of the mice, we knew it wouldn't be safe to run our gas heat without having the ducts cleaned. Mice and other rodents can have serious - even deadly - diseases in their feces and dried urine. And you don't have to touch the dust of their urine or their feces; just breathing it in can make you very, very sick. So I hired some pros to come in and clean the ducts.

Funny thing was, they discovered that every single duct in our house was no longer attached to the vents! So for years, we'd been mostly heating the space underneath our house; very little heat was actually getting in the house itself. It took the workmen a handful of minutes to reattatch the ducts to the vents...and guess what? Ever since, our gas bill has been very reasonable - even in the spring and summer. We never get a bill over $30, and around $25 is much more common.

So if your gas bill seems high, and you've tried all the usual advice about lowering it, you might consider checking to see if all your ducts are properly attached to the vents!

Aug 13, 2015

My Crazy Life...and Back to School

The give away pile.
Has anyone ever told you I'm crazy? They were right, you know. Or at least, that's how I feel this week. You see, I've started packing. We have some repairs to make on our house, and we need to have our stuff out of the way before we can start on them. Our little hauling trailer is empty now (the first load of things is already in our shipping container) and soon the shipping container will be insulated and completely ready to be filled with furniture, family photos, books, and yes, even my piano. But I'm doing the packing alone - in my spare time (ahem). Time is a little critical here (gotta get it done before the rainy season). So I'm feeling a weeeee bit stressed.

Because in addition to packing and working on and off for clients, I'm prepping for school. My daughter is begging to start, but I'm not quite ready yet. This year of homeschool will be my most complicated ever, since my son is starting kindergarten and 1) it will be the first time I've really taught two grades at once (to my way of thinking, preschool is so easy, it doesn't count) and 2) I'm working hard to make kindergarten as interesting as possible for my son, who is an unwilling school kid. So there's that.

Plus, I'm preparing for a birthday party. Every year, my husband and daughter share a party, and most of our local family comes. As it happens, this is also the year my daughter turns a decade old, so it feels like a bigger deal than usual. So as I pack, work, and prep for homeschool, I'm also working up games (like a bean bag toss, pin the tail game, and pinata). The good news is, my daughter wants to help with everything. Finally, her "I want to do it myself" attitude is paying off!

At any rate, you can see that all this doesn't leave much time for blogging. So today, I just want to point you to some archived posts about getting the kids back to school. I hope they help you!

* Back to School Breakfast Ideas - Quick, healthy ways to get your kids off to a great start each day.

* Back to School = I Love My Crockpot - Make school time easier by making good use of your slow cooker.

* Age Appropriate Chores for Kids - Back to school time is an ideal time to set up or revise chore charts!

* Sleep Deprivation: The Childhood "Epidemic" - Poor sleep means poor learning; here's how to help your child sleep better.

* 5 Safety Rules for Every Kid - School time often means more time away from mom and dad. Be sure your kids know these important safety tips.

* Why Homeschool Preschool? - Why I, and so many others, choose to homeschool during the preschool years.

* Homeschool Preschool: Thoughts on Readiness - How do you know when your child is ready to learn?

* Letter of the Week Activities - Easy crafts to help toddlers and preschoolers learn their letters and the sounds they make.

* Activities to go with The Little House on the Prairie Books - This series has been a real blessing in our house. If you're considering reading it to your children, consider some of these easy "go-withs."

* Keeping Toddlers Busy While Homeschooling - Tips from a mom who's been there!

* 10 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies - In case you missed it.

Aug 7, 2015

10 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies

One of my friends recently told me she spent over $500 on school supplies for her two public schooled children - not including clothes! I admit to being bowled over. I don't spend that on school supplies and curriculum combined for my two home schooled kids! Nevertheless, stocking up on basic school and craft supplies can take a chunk of change. I could easily spend $100 or more on pencils, binders, papers, and other common school supplies. But I don't. I can't afford to! And I know many of you can't afford to spend that much on school supplies, either - whether your kids attend public, private, or home school. Thankfully, you don't have to.

How to Get School Supplies for Less

1. Get supplies for free. Many businesses and local organizations give away basic school supplies. Typically, you don't have to prove what your income is, or fill out an application. They just give the supplies to your kids. In the past, I've avoided these giveaways because I felt others were more in need, but this year, I'm considering taking advantage of the offerings. Where can you find free school supplies? Often the local news will make announcements. Or your children's school might notify you. Or you can just ask around. Common places to get free supplies include churches and local businesses.

2. Take a half hour to compare prices online. I think the easiest way to do this is to search for what you need and drop it in your online shopping cart. When you're done, print out the shopping cart list. This year, I did this at Office Depot, Staples, Walmart, and - as an afterthought - Amazon. Printing the carts made it really easy for me to make comparisons and the "shopping" itself didn't take much time. (Incidentally, I found that Staples and Amazon had the best prices - plus free shipping!)

3. Consider price matching. Staples, for instance, has a great price matching guarantee (at the time of writing). Not only do they give you the item at the competitor's lower price, but they give you an additional 10% off for using price matching! On the other hand, price matching can be a bit of a pain. I don't get a local newspaper, so it would take some effort to track down competitor's sales flyers.

4. Consider buying at more than one location. This year, I'm shopping at Walmart, The Dollar Tree, and Amazon. I go to Walmart regularly, so that is no big deal. Neither is doing online Amazon shopping. And I have a Dollar Tree nearby. If I had to drive out of town for certain deals, however, it probably wouldn't be worth the extra time and fuel.

5. Start early. The earlier you buy, the easier it is to get what you need. Most stores that are going to have back to school sales are already having them, so take advantage of them now. If your child's school hasn't yet released a list of the supplies you need, you can still buy the basics you know will be necessary, like pencils and erasers.

6. Don't do it all at once. This likely won't reduce your cost, but it will spread out the expense, making it hurt your budget less. For example, do part of your shopping this paycheck, and the rest after the next paycheck.

7. Buy quality. Yes, you can buy binders for under $1. But will they last the whole school year? Probably not. It's better to buy something of better quality...and buy it once.

8. Keep it simple. Before you shop, explain to your children what the budget is. Then help them navigate what stores want them to buy (more expensive character backpacks vs. plain or patterned backpacks, for example). Not only does this save you money, but it teaches your children a valuable lesson in consumerism.

9. Reuse what you have. I know, I know, everyone loves fresh, new school supplies. But it's just plain wasteful to throw away last year's pencils if they are still perfectly functional.

10. Put your child's name on everything. This will save you from having to replace lost items. (Even if you home school, this can be helpful. This year, for instance, I'm marking my children's pencils with their first initial to help prevent squabbling about which pencil belongs to which kid.)

Jul 20, 2015

How We Homeschool on a Shoestring Budget

Wishing you could start homeschooling but are aghast at the cost of curriculum? Or are you worried that you can't continue homeschooling because of the high cost associated with it? Well, let me introduce you to my world, where homeschooling costs are much, much less. I'm not saying you must homeschool this way - but if money is keeping you from homeschooling, or if reducing homeschooling costs would be a blessing for your family, read on.

The Robinson Curriculum

I knew almost from the beginning that I wanted to homeschool our children. But when I looked at the cost of curriculum, I had sticker shock. How on earth was I going to spend hundreds of dollars each year on curriculum? Happily, my sis-in-law, who was also grappling with that question, discovered The Robinson Curriculum. It's a real life saver for those who need to homeschool on a shoestring. (There are also other strong reasons to use this curriculum, which I'll mention momentarily.)
The Robinson Curriculum comes on CDs.

The Robinson Curriculum, which is good for kids from 1st grade through high school, is $195 (new). In addition to that, you you'll need to buy math books - and if you don't have a Kindle, you'll either want to purchase a one for the reading materials, or you'll want an efficient printer to print out the reading material included on discs in the curriculum. I've found that most of the reading material is available free in digital format from Amazon or Project Gutenberg, so my daughter uses an old black and white Kindle (that can't go onto the Internet and doesn't have all the fancy bells and whistles) for reading. I buy the math books at reduced cost (More on that in a moment.)

Once the curriculum CDs are purchased, we pay about $60 - $80 a year for curriculum. Yesssss!

If you are really pinching pennies, I recommend buying the Robinson Curriculum CDs used...but make sure the discs that comprise the curriculum are compatible with your computer. Some desperate families read the guidelines for the curriculum online, find the reading list elsewhere online, and don't buy the curriculum at all. What are they missing? A much more thorough explanation of the curriculum and how it works, plus digital access to an encyclopedia, dictionary, and grammar book; printable math fact flash cards; vocabulary cards; and exams for many of the reading materials.

While the inexpensive nature of the curriculum is awesome, so is the curriculum itself. It's an old timey philosophy, focusing on math, reading, and writing. All other subjects are taught through reading. And did I mention that (with the exception of very young students), the kids self-teach? The Robinson philosophy really works, and is incredibly freeing for parents, while teaching children valuable skills for life.

I will add that I do like to supplement the Robinson Curriculum with artsy projects, science "experiments," and other stuff that isn't necessary. I save this "extra curricular" stuff for the end of the day, as a reward for completing the main course of study. I get ideas (and sometimes free printables) for these things online, at many of the sources mentioned below.

A tiny sampling of some curriculum I've purchased used.
Used Curriculum

You can save an incredible amount of money by purchasing curriculum used. (In our case, we're only buying math books.) I typically buy used curriculum on eBay. To make this less time consuming, I save the search terms I'm using and have eBay send me emails whenever something matching those terms appears on their site. (To do this, do a normal search. On the results page, just above the results of the search, there are green letters saying "follow this search." Click on that phrase.)

There are also websites that focus on selling used curriculum; you might also try Amazon and Craigslist. In addition, I buy a lot of reading materials and extra curricular workbooks and such at thrift stores. St. Vincent DePaul's is our favorite because they organize their books like a bookstore does (by author and topic - they even have a special homeschool and curriculum section, and their "I Can Read!" books are separate, too); their prices are unbeatable.

Oh, and a bonus of using used curriculum? Older materials are usually of a higher academic standard!

Saving Curriculum

Instead of buying new curriculum for each child, we save curriculum, buying it only once, but using it repeatedly. That means that instead of writing in workbooks, I make photocopies of workbook pages for actual use. (My printer, a Brother HL-22800W, is very cost effective when you refill the cartridges yourself, and has a copy feature.) I have also sometimes covered workbook pages with a sheet protector and had my children use a dry erase markers to complete the worksheet - but my kids find this a bit cumbersome.

And if you do this with all your children, you'll be able to sell the curriculum when you're done with it. Score!

Teachers Pay Teachers

This is a fantastic website where teachers create materials, then sell them to other teachers (including homeschool parents). I've purchased some materials from this site, but mostly, I love the freebies. I signed up for the site's newsletter, which highlights a handful of freebies in each issue. You can also find freebies on the site in the following way:

In the left hand menu, select a grade level. Then select the price range ("Free" - also in the left hand menu). To further narrow things down, sort by "Rating." (You'll find this option just above the search results.) Hint: I recommend only using this method when you have plenty of free time. There are TONS of freebies on this site!

Homeschool Commons

If you love older books, and if you have a Kindle or other ebook reader, you'll love Homeschool Commons. This site contains links to Kindle and other free ebooks that are in the public domain and may be useful for homeschooling. I've found some really delightful books on this site.

The Crafty Classroom

Here you'll find all kinds of free printables and ideas to use in homeschool, including science projects, planners, reading helps, math helps, and yes, crafts.


At this website, there are lots of free ideas and printables for gradeschool kids.


Truly, this is one of my favorite sources for homeschool ideas. Try searching by grade, then by subject, too, if you desire.

A Note About Preschool and Kindergarten 

Teaching preschool and kindergarten doesn't require curriculum. You may choose to use curriculum, but it's definitely not necessary - and depending upon your child, may actually cause more harm than good.

These grades should be about learning very basic things. Preschoolers can learn to use scissors, to count, and to recognize shapes, colors, and at least some letters and numbers. None of this requires curriculum. (Though you should read as many good picture books to your child as he or she will let you!)

In Kindergarten, your child can more thoroughly learn the letters and basic phonics. He can also learn to count to higher numbers, begin memorizing addition math facts, and learn how to write letters and numbers - and, if your child is ready, perhaps start reading a bit. (Not convinced kindergarten should be this simple? Read this post by Creekside Learning.) Again, none of this requires curriculum.

But...if you child likes worksheets, a simple addition to your homeschool is an inexpensive workbook from a store like Target or Walmart. For more on how and when to use such workbooks, please click here.

If your child is ready to start reading, I suggest phonic-based books for beginning readers. (My children have used Hooked on Phonics books and Bob books; I'm not a huge fan of the Bob books, though, because they look hand printed, and my kids sometimes found that confusing compared to the machine printed books we're used to.) Libraries often have phonic readers, so you might not need to buy any. If not, buy them used!

From there, I recommend the leveled "I Can Read!" books, which I also buy used.

Your child will be ready to start using the Robinson Curriculum once he or she knows her addition and subtraction facts and can easily read level 3 "I Can Read!" books.

Jun 29, 2015

Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)

Keeping the House Cool in Summer With and Without AC
Keeping Cool Without Air Conditioning

1. Keep blinds and drapes closed when the sun is near or on windows.

2. Open doors and windows when the air outside is cool; for example, in the early morning or evening.*

3. Cook outdoors, or use methods of cooking that keep the kitchen cool, such as crock pot cooking.
4. If you have a dryer in the house, try line drying clothes, instead. (Don't have a place for an outdoor clothes line? Check out "Air Drying Laundry Indoors.") If air drying clothes just isn't possible, use the dryer only in the early morning or late evening, when temperatures are cooler outdoors and in.

5.  At night, or when working in a single location, use a fan. On it's low setting, with just a light breeze being made by it, it can make you feel considerably cooler.

6. At night, place fans near open windows to help draw cool air in.*

7. Make your own swamp cooler. Place a metal bowl filled with salted ice in front of a fan that's blowing over the ice.

8. Turn on your stove fan and open your chimney flue. This draws hot air out of the house. (Some stove fans are heat-generating; obviously, if this is the case in your house, try to leave the fan off.)

9. Keep lights, computers, televisions, and other heat-generating appliances off.

10. Use satin or silk bedsheets. They feel cooler on the skin.

11. Close off the hottest parts of your house. For example, if you have bonus rooms upstairs, they likely get very hot. Close them off and don't use them during the hottest months of the year.

12. Install inexpensive heat-reflecting film on windows.

13. Use light-colored roofing materials. Approximately 30% of the heat that enters your house comes from the roof, and having a dark colored roof only intensifies this.

14. Get mini-blinds; they will make your house feel about 50% cooler. 

15. Install overhead fans, which can make rooms feel up to 7 degrees cooler.

16. Add awnings to the outside of your windows. According to the U.S. Department of energy, this can reduce heat felt in your house by 77%.

17. Plant shade trees near the house (but not so near their roots will destroy your home's foundation).

18. Don't use rock, asphalt, or cement on the west or south sides of the house. Unless it's shaded, it will only increase the heat - indoors and out.
19. Weatherize and insulate your house. 

20. Consider making your own $15 - 20 "air conditioner." Here's one example; YouTube is full of instructional videos for variations on this technique.

And if You DO Turn on the Air Conditioner:

1. Do all of the above, anyway. You'll appreciate it when you get your electric bill.

2. Make sure it's the right size. An AC unit that's too small for the room won't be very effective. Learn more about AC units and room size here.

3. Clean the AC air filter at least once a month.

4. Shade the outside of your AC unit; this can make the air coming into your house 10% cooler. (Just don't block the air flow of the AC unit.)

5. Make sure appliances and lights that generate heat aren't near your AC's thermometer.

6. Make sure plants and trees are at least 3 - 4 feet away from your AC unit, to encourage good air flow.

7. Consider installing AC only in rooms where it is really needed. It's unlikely you need air conditioning in every room of the house. However, if you just can't sleep when it's hot, it makes sense to install air conditioning in your bedroom.

* Consider safety, too. Open windows can be an invitation to criminals. Use your best judgement.

Jun 10, 2015

How to Get FREE Backup Cloud Service

I've blogged before about how much I dislike backup services. My history with them has been just plain awful. That said, I realize not everyone has the technical know-how to set up their own automatic backup system, and others may fear they will forget to manually back up things on a second hard drive or other device. So, many of you are paying a company to backup your precious family photos and important documents. But did you know you're paying too much?

Yes, that's right. You are paying too much for backup or cloud services.

How can I know that? Because if you're paying anything at all, it's too much! The average person simply doesn't need to pay for backup services...because they can get such a service for free. Yes, FREE.

Many reputable backup service companies offer their services without charge. Why would they do this? Because they hope that once you switch to their service, you'll decide you need more space to save photos and documents and will therefore opt for a plan that requires a monthly fee. But being frugal, once you see what's available without payment, I think you'll agree free is where it's at.

Where to Get Free Backup/Cloud Services

Just Cloud: Unlimited storage, completely automated.

OpenDrive: 5 GB free, with auto syncing.

Syncplicity: 10 GB free; auto syncing.

Dropbox: 2 GB free storage space. Manual backups necessary.

Drive: 15 GB free storage, with manual backups.

OneDrive: 15 GB free storage; manual backups.

iDrive: 5GB free storage.

Amazon: Technically not free, but there is an unlimited photo-only storage if you have a Prime membership for other reasons.

Tips for the Paranoid

* Use more than one backup service, for extra protection against loosing important files.

* Remember that online storage is never 100% secure. Backup accordingly.

* Print out and keep hard copies of especially important documents.

* Have your favorite family photos printed and put them in a photo album or box.

* To protect photos and documents against house fires, store them in a fireproof safe or bank safety deposit box.

Apr 28, 2015

Saving Money on Garbage Fees

Although many news sources keep insisting the economy is improving, most of the people I know are struggling financially. The cost of everything is going up, and most people aren't getting wage increases - some are even taking hour or pay cuts. When times are like this, it's important for the Proverbs 31 Woman to look closely at her family's finances and cut expenses wherever possible.

One way my family did that recently was by getting rid of our garbage service.

First, we priced the cost of taking garbage to our local dump. (Actually, in our case, it's a transfer station.) We learned that we could take four average-sized garbage cans there for just $10.

Then we considered how much it would cost in time and money to drive the cans to the station. Our transfer station is about 5 minutes away, so it doesn't cost much to get there.

Then we told our garbage company to take a hike.

The garbage company was charging us $37.15 a month ($445.80 a year) to take away our garbage. After an investment of about $80 for our own curbside garbage cans, we now only pay $10 every month-and-a-half to dump our garbage. That means it costs us approximately $70 a year...which is a savings of about $375 a year!

Also note that because, Lord willing, we'll be moving soon, I'm not currently composting. (There's not much of a garden to put compost in, and the composters would be too heavy to move while full.) If I were still composting, we might only dump our garbage every two months, making the savings even greater.

Another bonus: We can take recyclables to the dump and get reduced rates for dumping our garbage.

And by owning our own cans, we avoid the problems many people who make dump runs have. We don't have our garbage sitting around in bags that cats, dogs, and other critters get into, spilling the contents. And our stored garbage doesn't smell because the plastic garbage cans we use are well sealed. Plus, the cans look neat and tidy tucked into an out of the way spot.

It's a win-win for our family. Check out your local dump or transfer station rates. You might be able to save hundreds, too.

Apr 17, 2015

The Easy Way We Save Thousands Each Year

I admit it. I'm shocked and amazed to hear what most people spend on television. We're often talking hundreds of dollar per month - thousands per year. For television, people.

How much do we spend on TV at my house? $7.99 a month.

That's because we long ago ditched cable or satellite and bought a Roku device. The Roku is a small box (about 3.5 in. square) that connects your television to internet TV. The Roku itself costs about $60 - $100 (depending upon which version you get; we have Roku 3, which Amazon sells for about $85)...and almost all of the channels we have are free. Yes, free! Some of our favorite free channels include The History Channel, A&E, The Smithsonian Channel, and PBS Kids.

In addition, there are many Roku channels available for purchase. A great many are under $5. We only have one paid channel: Netflix. It costs $7.99 a month. But there are hundreds more channels to choose from, many of which are only available through a streaming service. There are channels just for those who love to cook, or love to hunt, or want to learn to garden. There are Christian channels, classic tv channels, classic movie channels, and radio channels. A friend of mine has a child who wants to learn French. She found a Roku channel that teaches French for only 99 cents a year. You can bet she was more than happy to pay it!

True, streaming is bit different from regular television. For one, there are often no commercials! For another, there isn't quite the selection you get through cable or satellite. (Although more channels are added regularly.) Many of the free channels are the same as the websites cable channels have. For example, The History Channel website is essentially the same as The History Channel on Roku. So some episodes are free to watch right away, while others you might have to wait weeks (sometimes months) to watch. No matter; we can always manage to find something decent to watch through our Roku.

Pros to Streaming with a Roku:

* Commercials are rare. (We only have them on free channels, and even then, usually only during peak hours. Also, there's typically only one commercial during a commercial break. There are no commercials on Netflix.)

* You can watch whenever you like; you don't have to wait a certain hour for a show to air.

* You can binge watch. Love a show? You can watch as many episodes as are available, all at once. Ha!

* There's lots of content. Through the Roku, you can get Netflix, Hulu Plus, NBA, NHL Game Center, EPIX, Amazon Instant Video,Vudu, CNBC, The Blaze, FOX News, NBC News, and so, so much more.

* It's so inexpensive!

* Did I mention how cheap it is??

Cons to Streaming with Roku:

* Streaming is not a good choice if you have a very slow internet connection.

* If your internet service has limits on bandwidth, watch out! Streaming takes a lot of bandwidth.

* If your internet connection goes out, so does your tv.

* You may not be able to watch all the shows you want; you may have to wait for the latest episodes of TV shows.

But, for us, the cost difference is so HUGE it utterly and completely outweighs any cons. What about you?