It seems like everywhere I go, everyone is talking about preschool recently. Apparently January is the month to start looking for preschools (who knew?). The thing is many schools start registration in February or March and the good ones fill up fast. We’ve decided enroll the little one in preschool in the fall and it’s a huge decision. I’m full of nerves – am I making the right decision? Is this decision going to affect him for the rest of his life?

While our family is all for being frugal, we’re willing to pay for our kid’s education – it’s just one of those things that we feel is worth it. But some preschools are just ridiculously expensive – there’s no way we can hack it. Besides, even if we could, we’d like to save that cash for, you know, college. So we’re in the midst of trying to find the best preschool at the lowest price. Here’s how we’re doing it.

Set your priorities

What are you looking for in a preschool? Do you want a specific learning approach (like Montessori or Waldorf)? Do you want something that’s right around the corner or are you willing to drive further for something really great. Determine what’s most important to you and your child and keep these priorities at the forefront in your search. For me, the specific style of school isn’t so important as long as I like the general vibe of the school. That’s why visiting the schools you’re interested in is key.

Ask around

The best place to find preschools for less is your friends. All of the places I’ve looked at so far were at the recommendations of others. Moms really do know best! Chances are someone you know knows someone who has had experience with pretty every preschool in the area. Don’t be afraid to ask about prices. In my experience, moms aren’t shy about this kind of thing. If they found a great deal, they want to share that knowledge. If you’re new to an area, reach out to community services – like schools and libraries. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Go public

Public schools are usually the least expensive around. One of my favorite preschools we’ve toured so far is connected with a nearby town’s recreation program. Since it’s a non-profit, the school is easy on the wallet. Plus, it’s a really nice school with a great educational program. We’re not 100% sold on this school, but it’s definitely a front runner.

Look for scholarships

While public preschools are usually the cheapest, some private schools offer scholarships or sliding scales for lower income families. I haven’t had personal experience with this, but friends of mine have saved thousands with tuition assistance. Churches also offer discounts to parishioners on their preschool programs – to the tune of 10 to 15 percent off.

What are some of the ways you save on preschool? Also, do you think every kid needs preschool? I’d like to do another post on this because long story short, I don’t.

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Sorry about being MIA for the last few months. I’ve been busy, busy and unfortunately, this blog fell by the wayside. I promise I won’t do that to you again (if there are any of “you” still out there). I might not be able to post every day, but I’m going to try to stop by here a few times a week. I really enjoy blogging and I miss your sweet comments. Anyway, on to today’s post…

Here in New Jersey we’ve been spared the frigid cold of winter so far. It’s been hovering in the 30s and 40s and I haven’t been complaining. Well it’s not going to last much longer. There’s a cold front on its way and it’s about to get brutally cold. I’m not a fan of this time of year when it’s too cold to do anything outside. I don’t like being stuck at home, but the cost of fun indoor activities add up quick. Museums, aquariums, going to the movies – all are going to cost you. So today, I wanted to share a list of family activities that are (practically) free.

1. Make hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows.

2. Go to the library and check out some fun winter books.

3. If there’s snow, go sledding.

4. Make snow angles.

5. Act out a play.

6. Read a long book out together.

7. Try a new recipe.

8. Volunteer at a local animal shelter.

9. Plant seeds for spring.

10. Play board games.

11. Set your kids loose on an indoor scavenger.

12. Try a craft – the messier, the better.

13. Donate used clothing or toys to the needy.

14. Take a tour of your local fire department.

15. Build a fort with couch cushions and blankets.

16. Film a silly video and post it on YouTube.

17. Do a puzzle.

18. Visit friends or family who are out of town.

19. Take pictures of nature.

20. Host the winter Olympics – complete with gold, bronze and silver metals.

21. Bake cookies for family and friends.

22. Play dress up.

23. Build a gingerbread house.

24. Bundle up and go for a walk.

25. Rent a $1 movie, pop some popcorn and have a movie night.

 

Any other ideas? What activities does your family like to do when it’s chilly outside?

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Have you ever dealt with a personal negotiator? I hadn’t – until I was recently contacted by Jim Herst, a personal negotiator with over 50 years of experience in the business.

What Jim does is try to save you money on the bigger purchases in life – like cars, home repair, wedding expenses, or reoccurring bills (like cable and telephone). We often feel locked into the prices we are offered, but that’s not always the case. Many of these companies are willing to negotiate and lower their prices in order to make a sale or keep a current customer. These companies want to win and keep customers just as much as you want to save money.

The problem starts when it comes to approaching these companies. It can be hard approaching them, not knowing what to ask  in order to get yourself the best possible deal. That’s where Jim comes in. He negotiates with the companies in order to save you the most money. He has 50 years experience negotiating for small-business clients and individuals, so he knows how to broker the best deal. Even better, Jim’s service is risk-free – meaning you pay him nothing in advance. His fee is a small percentage of the savings he obtains for you if you opt to take that savings.

When Jim approached me to review his service for this blog, I decided to give his service a try. I’m not looking to make any major purchases in the near future, so I decided to see what he could do for my cable/internet/phone bill. Jim worked tirelessly on my behalf, but as it turns out, I already have the best deal (go figure). Although I personally didn’t see any savings (and that’s probably because Comcast likes to be difficult), I feel confident that Jim offers quality service that can save you big bucks – especially on big purchases like cars, boats, and home repairs.

If you are making a big purchase or just want to save on your monthly bills, I definitely recommend checking out Jim’s site. Since it’s risk-free, it’s definitely worth a shot!

 

I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are 100% mine.

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I feel like every personal finance/frugal living is talking about Black Friday, so I wanted to jump on the band wagon. It’s just four days away, so you probably already have your plans set. But I wanted to share mine.

It’s all about online, folks.

First though, let’s back up a bit. I wanted to come on here railing Black Friday and all its assorted evils. Did you hear Target is opening their doors at 8pm Thanksgiving Day? Target is second in line at 9 pm. Which makes me wonder – what happened to Thanksgiving? You know, that holiday where you’re supposed to gather with friends and family over a wonderful meal and take the time to be thankful? Nah, forget that. We need to stand in line, out in the freezing cold, fight the crowds – all for the latest gadget (that they might not even have by the time you actually get inside the doors). People have actually died on Black Friday. Died! And now we have extended this national craziness to Thanksgiving day itself.

If you haven’t guessed, I don’t like Black Friday. It’s kind of like my theory on coupons – you’re only going to be saving on things you don’t need. Then, I started looking at some of the sales. And really? They’re not that bad. You can honestly save some serious dough on things you might end up buying anyway – toys for the kids, gadgets for the hubby, cozy slippers for your mom. I couldn’t consciously come on here and recommend staying the heck away from Black Friday when there actually are great sales out there. So, I came up with a compromise – online shopping.

Online retailers like Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy and Kohl’s are offering great sales on Black Friday in addition to Cyber Monday. A lot of these stores are offering free shipping. That means you’ll not only get a great deal, but your purchase will be delivered to your doorstep for free. So just take some time to look ahead for online deals instead of fighting the crowds Thanksgiving night.

It’s the best of both worlds. By shopping online, you’ll see some really great savings (provided you only buy things you would have anyway) and you’ll miss out on the crowds. Plus, you can spend Thanksgiving exactly where you should be – with your family (or friends).

What do you think of Black Friday? Do you brace the crowds or stay at home?

Earlier this week, I talked about creating a budget. Today, I wanted to talk about how to stretch that budget. Short of getting a part time job, or saving a little throughout the year (it’s a little too late for that), here are some ideas of how to make the most of what you’ve got this holiday season:

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Give the gift of food. Bake your family and friends their gifts at home! Instead of purchasing gifts that your loved ones may never use, why not bake cookies, fudge or loaves of banana nut bread as a present?

Make homemade cards. Get your little ones involved in this one and craft your own holiday cards. They’re way more personalized than those generic photo cards. Purchase some inexpensive card stock, glitter and paint and let your kiddos go wild.

Spread the joy of cookies. Have a knock-out cookie recipe? Then spread the joy. Layer dry ingredients in a mason jar. Attach the recipe with a ribbon and there you go – practical and cute.

Offer to host this year. Instead of spending all your money on travel costs, offer to host the holidays at your house. You’ll save tons of money by foregoing expensive flights. You’ll also be able to create your own special traditions and spend the holiday exactly as you want.

Get the most out of price matching. During this tough economy, stores are making the extra effort to have you shop there. That’s why stores like Target, Walmart, and even Best Buy, are offering price matching. Make the most of it when purchasing big ticket items for your loved ones.

Have any more ideas on how to stretch your holiday budget?

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**This giveaway is now closed. A big thank you goes out to all of you who entered. I wish I could give you all a free eBook, but I have to choose just one. That person is… Jen who said, “In trying to slow down, I need look no further than my young children. They are happy with the simplest things…a tree with the ornaments they have made, as opposed to stressing over the perfectly decorated tree; not trying to impress people and really remembering the reason for the season.” (Jen, check your email.) If you weren’t the winner you can still get a copy of the eBook for only $0.99 today.**

 

One of my favorite blogs (and daily reads) is Money Saving Mom. Crystal Paine, the brainchild of MSM, always shares great tips and advice about how to save money and living better on less. When I found out about the opportunity to review her latest eBook, I was super excited.

Crystal’s advice always comes across in a practical, straightforward and motivating way that makes you think why didn’t I think of that? Plus, her common-sense strategies are really easy to implement in daily life. Crystal has done it again with this new eBook, Celebrating & Savoring a Simple Christmas, which shares detailed ways to prepare for and enjoy every minute of this holiday season.

Covering topics like setting a budget, decorating, gift giving, this eBook is filled to the brim with ideas for slowing down and enjoying the holidays. She shows you easy ways to stay organized and de-stressed in what is easily one of the most nerve-wracking seasons of the year. Don’t you want to just slow down and enjoy the holidays? Then this book is for you!

Right now, you can buy the book at the super low price of $0.99. At just under a dollar, it will definitely be money well spent.

But, wait, there’s more! Crystal has generously offered one Doggone Thrifty reader a FREE copy of the eBook.

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment telling us how you chose to slow down and celebrate the holidays. Note: This giveaway is a quick one and will end at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, November 14, 2012.

Good luck!

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This week, I wanted to talk all about holidays. Thanksgiving is next Thursday and… well, we all know how quickly the holidays are upon us after that. So, today, let’s talk all about holiday budgets and how to create them.

First, make a list of categories for your family’s holiday spending. Usual categories are things like gifts, gift wraps, holiday cards and postage, holiday family photo, holiday meals, baking, decorating, and travel expenses. Determine every area that you normally spend and try not to leave anything out.

Next, determine a bottom line. How much do you feel comfortable spending overall? Once you have that number figured out, you can go ahead and split it up between your categories. Obviously some categories will get more than others (like gifts as opposed to postage stamps). But, you need to keep your bottom line in mind and try not to go over that amount. If you come up short, look for low-cost or no-cost ways to make up the difference without breaking the bank. Short on money for gifts? Why not hand make a few items for friends and family to get the most bang out of your buck. We’ll talk about stretching your holiday budget tomorrow!

Lastly, stick to it! This is most likely the hardest part of creating a holiday budget. It’s so easy to tell yourself It’s the holidays, I have to get it or This gift is so perfect for so-and-so, it doesn’t matter that it blows my budget and end up spending far more than you’ve allotted. Remind yourself why you made this budget and why it’s important to stick to it. Track everything you spend in each of the categories. Use a cash envelope system if you feel comfortable that way. Or, keep track of your expenditures on Mint.com or in your own personal system.

And have fun – that’s what the holidays are all about!

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I talk a lot about living the simple life on this blog – paring down to essentials, and the like. I like to keep things simple, avoiding the hustle and bustle of modern life. But, it’s funny, you realize very quickly that you don’t know a thing about living the simple life when your electricity goes out for days. Suddenly, you’re facing the dark with candles and lanterns like those in the pioneer days. It’s times like these when you are forced to really slow down. You get a instantaneous lesson in how programmed you are to something you’ve come to depend on entirely too much.

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If you haven’t heard, New Jersey (the Jersey Shore especially) was walloped by Hurricane Sandy this past Sunday and Monday. We were without power from 7 p.m. on Monday until just yesterday morning. Most of New Jersey still doesn’t have power and doesn’t expect to for another four or five days at the least. Unfortunately, loss of power is nothing compared to what some have faced. Houses have swept away, blocks destroyed by fires and the shore towns have just been devastated by flooding.

Instead of thinking abut what we didn’t have (hot water, a stove top or oven to cook, television, internet), we focused on what we did have. We were safe. We had a house over our heads and we didn’t have any damage. We took it as an opportunity to slow down, read stories by candle light, play games, and talk to each other (instead of letting the TV or radio do it for us). Once the storm was over, we took walks – the three of us, me, my son and my husband, hand in hand. We read long stories, all cuddled up together in a giant blanket. We gathered closely around a cluster of candles for dinner – revealing in the intimacy and the one-on-one time with each other.

We were lucky. We were also taught an important lesson in simplicity. For as much as I tout the simple life, I realized I don’t know as much about it as I thought I did. I learned to appreciate the time we had with each other. We learned to make the best of a situation. Instead of wallowing, we made good, lifelong memories, despite the chaos around us – hopefully some that my son will remember for a long time. We learned to embrace true simplicity at its core. We also learned that there are a lot of things we’re willing to go without in today’s world – i.e. the biggest house, the most expensive car, designer clothes, etc. – but electricity is not one of them.

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(Please ignore the peanut butter on my son’s jacket. Hurricanes make him hungry!)

As Hurricane Sandy (a.k.a. “Frankenstorm”) moves steadily towards the Jersey Shore, we’ve all been preparing for the worst. The store shelves are bare,there are lines around the block for gas, and people are hoarding batteries like gold. Generators, at $500 a pop, are selling out like hot cakes. But the frugalist in me swears you don’t have to cost you upwards of a grand to prepare for the storm. Mostly everything you need is right in your home already and the few supplies you need to ensure you make it through the storm comfortably won’t cost you that much. Here are a few tips:

Don’t buy bottled water! I’ve been meaning to write a post on bottled water for a while now about how I HATE bottled water. It’s such a waste of money and it’s bad for the environment (all that plastic agh!!). Just buy a Brita (or any other brand) filter and use the water you already pay for in your house. Anyway, while everyone in our area was flooding the stores to buy bottles of water, we were filling jugs of tap water. I’ve heard recommendations of putting gallons of water in the freezer and the fridge, so we did both. We just used jugs that we just had lying around and saved a lot of money that would have been wasted.

Fill up sand bags at the beach. If you’re preparing for a hurricane, chances you’re probably close enough to the beach to take a drive there (when it’s still very, very safe!) to fill up bags with sand. Don’t buy sand or pre-made sandbags unless there’s no way you can get to the beach. Sand bags are a good investment though – they’ll help keep your house dry and minimize the damage water can cause.

Stock up on essentials. It’s imperative to stock up on medication. When a storm is coming, there’s no telling how long you’ll be stuck inside. Therefore, you need to stock up on your medications. You also need to stock up on food. Think about things that don’t need much preparation (if you’re like me who has everything in their house running on electric, if the power goes out you have no way to cook). We stocked up on peanut butter and jelly. And, of course, bread. Also, be sure you have a first aid kit. If you have a baby, buy enough diapers to get you through a good long time.

Do laundry now. The best time to do laundry is before the power goes out (obviously). You don’t want to be stuck without clean underwear when the electricity kicks the bucket. Do your laundry before the storm hits to ensure your family has enough clean clothes.

Tape your windows. Masking tape is inexpensive. A shattered window is costly. Take the time to tape an “X” across your window to keep it from shattering. It may save you a bundle in the long run.

Charge your cell phone. You won’t be able to use your home phone if the power goes out, so charge up your mobile device. Charge it now so you’ll be able to check on family members and friends throughout the storm.

And stay safe!

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Whether you’re working towards reducing your debt, stockpiling your savings for retirement or just trying to make ends meet, when you embark on the journey of frugality, you’re embarking on a new lifestyle that often goes against the grain of what everyone else does.

Instead of thinking about all that you’re missing out on, take the time to enjoy the journey. Have a look at these benefits of frugality:

  • By embracing frugality, you’re also embracing a simpler life. When you’re not keeping up with the Jones, you have less gadgets to buy, less designer-name clothing to keep up with, less never-before-heard-of ingredients to track down.
  • On a similar note, living the frugal life lends itself to an attitude of contentment. Living a frugal lifestyle means you’ll make the most of what you have and you’ll appreciate it more. This makes for a far more content life, rather than a life obsessing about acquiring more and more things.
  • You’ll also learn what’s “good enough”. Is good enough the latest new thing? Probably not. Good enough is probably sitting on a shelf in your home right now. When we stop focusing on getting the best of everything, we realize that good enough is perfectly fine.
  • Frugality also teaches you a lot about yourself and the world. Frugal people often do a lot for themselves like growing vegetables in a garden or sewing a pair of pants. These skills were once considered necessary to survive, but have now been phased out in recent years. By learning these skills, you’ll be more equipped to survive on your own. Nothing spells accomplishment like learning new skills that are essential to survival.
  • By being frugal now, you will be in a much better place in the future. Like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else later.”
  • Being frugal often equates to being healthier. Since becoming more frugal myself, I’ve eaten healthier and exercised more. I’ve stopped eating out and started making more from scratch recipes. In addition, you’ll do more for yourself (like cutting the grass or paint a room) leading to more exercise.
  • Frugality often calls for you to slow down, where you can get down to the roots of life and what really matters – friends, family and happiness.

So take a moment to enjoy the journey and be thankful that you’ve chosen the frugal path.

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