Friday, May 24, 2013

10 ways to save money

With all these changes in our life, few are more important than changing the way we spend money.  My salary as a stay-at-home mom doesn't pay what my full-time job paid (or anything for that matter) so as we go from two incomes to one, we need to make adjustments immediately.  I was really surprised how much money we instantly saved with some minor cut backs.  Here are 10 detailed ways to save money.  Be prepared to make some phone calls and get out your current monthly bills.   Would you believe I saved $838 a month with these changes?  It's true and here's how. 

1. Start by calling your cable company.  I called Hargray and told them I was looking for ways to save money.   The customer service rep ran down a list of my options and we ended up saving $65 per month by cancelling call waiting, caller ID, premium HBO service, reducing the number of channels we get (we're on "Digital Light" now) and no HD service on the 2nd box.  So now Molly is watching PBS instead of Nick Jr and I answer the phone "hello" instead of identifying the person by name immediately.   Big deal and $65 a month saved! 

2. Take a hard look at your mobile phone plan.  Since I am not working, I don't need data service on my mobile so I called to cancel data on my phone. I found out I could keep the data (horray! I can still check my Facebook on the go...) but go down to 500MB at 3G and then a slower speed after 500MB, while keeping Mike on the same speed.  Can you believe it but we saved $100 per month just by doing this.  We use T-Mobile. 

Red lawn mower on green grass

3. Check your lawn care.   We unloaded $45 per month by cancelling the lawn treatment that our landscaper uses per month.   We were watering 3 times a week and now we are watering 2 times a week, saving $14 per month.   That's $59 in lawn services cut and if it were really necessary, we could cut another $145 by mowing and taking care of the lawn ourselves.

Feet of woman mopping kitchen

4.  DIY Cleaning.  At one point we were paying our cleaning lady $80 every week, then more recently $100 to come once month.  Though it's much more work, I'm not above cleaning my own toilets, mopping,  and vacuuming a few times a week. I found a great site called Clean Mama who helps organize your cleaning by day.  (Monday is bathrooms, Tuesday is dusting, Wednesday is vacuuming.  Plus she has amazing lists and deep cleaning schedules like"30 days to a deep clean.")  This is the saddest cut back for me but it has to be done and Clean Mama helps me and feeds my love of lists, order and organization. 

5.  Cancel magazine subscriptions.  Cancelling Martha Stewart Living, Us Weekly, and Food Network Magazine saved us $156, or $13 per month.  I can read most articles online and I hope for less clutter with unread magazines lying all over the place.  

6.  Cancel gym membership.  I save $35 a month by cancelling my gym membership.  I wasn't using it anyway and there are plenty of at-home work outs I could do.  Who am I kidding.  I am not working out right now anyway. 

7. Cancel random monthly memberships. I sign up for services that bill annually or monthly if they are small.  They sound like good ideas at the time but really have added up over the course of a few years.  For example, I cancelled a subscription to,, Avast computer security software, video editing software that was being unused, and my Amazon Prime membership (which I am not using in an effort to save money anyway).  Getting rid of these memberships saves $257.88 a year, or $21 a month. 

printable screenshot Free Printable Planners

8.  Plan your trip to grocery store.  This probably should be a separate post since I have a lot of tips here but first, I recommend downloading and printing a Weekly Menu Plan and check out all these printables from 5dollardinners.  Then carefully make a list of all that you need for the week.  I am limiting my shopping to two times a week, and if we are out of BBQ sauce, we are out until the next trip.   Planning my grocery trips and sticking to a weekly budget is saving us a lot so far but I estimate about $40 a month. 

9.   Coupons.  This seems obvious, but now I am couponing.  I am not headed for Extreme Couponing (though this article was interesting)  I don't need a stockpile of soaps, ketchup and razors but I could benefit from some weekly savings. has coupons that you can load directly onto your loyalty card.   This is perhaps the easiest way I ever saved $5 off my grocery bill and it takes a few minutes.   Other coupons are available at and, or if you go directly to the manufacturer's website, or like them of Facebook, you can get instant coupons.

MAJOR SAVINGS: Anytime you make a purchase online or in-store, you should check Retail Me Not first for all available discounts.   Unbelievable how much you can save!

10.  Refinance your home mortgage.   We get solicitations in the mail almost daily to refinance and I just kept tossing them in the trash. Until one day Mike took a hard look and made some phone calls.  It took months and a lot of paperwork, but we closed last month with zero closing costs and are now saving $443 a month.   Start by calling your bank who you pay your monthly mortgage to.

So those are my tips to share but what have I missed?  Will you share your ideas with me here?  I know there are a lot of money saving ideas out there. I look forward to reader's suggestions on areas I have missed.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The life of a SAHM

With my recent change in employment, Connor is at home with me while Molly is at school.  For the first time in my career, my job title is "stay-at-home mom."   This is not one I have had before.   I have mixed feelings about it and it can change at any given minute.  It changes so often that I'll probably require some mood stabilizers soon. (Kidding. Sort of.)  One minute I am thrilled.  Connor and I are hanging out in the living room, playing with his latest "ball machine" from his grandparents.  He's dancing away and we are having a blast.  But then the next minute, I need to _____  (go to the bathroom, check my email, unload the dishwasher, get something to eat, return a call to the insurance company.  Insert any of those plus many more in the blank.)  But I can't.  I have a little one that needs my attention.   And I am only on Day 4.    By 3pm, it really feels like 6 pm and I am ready for a glass of wine. Note to self: don't start drinking at 3 pm.

Connor's not the kid that you could put down and he'll independently play.  Actually, he plays well independently but with all the wrong things.  Though he has a hundred toys, he loves wires, electrical outlets, tall pieces of unsecured furniture, and I caught him the other day underneath our buffet table in the dining room.  It's about 18" underneath, he was wedged under and completely stuck.  I thought I was going to have to call the fire department to extract him - it really was that bad.

So there's no chance of working at home with him at my feet.  Mostly because he doesn't stay at my feetand he just gets into everything he shouldn't.  Consequently I don't work when he's around.  I quickly learned that I can only work during naptime.  Naptime is now a mad dash to do everything I possibly can. What I used to be able to accomplish in 6 hours, now has to be crammed into 1.5 hours, 2 if I am lucky.

Here's what I have accomplished in the last 4 days as a Stay At Home Mom.

  • 6 loads of laundry (I have never been so on top of laundry!) 
  • Bleached my toilets & took a magic eraser to the walls of my kitchen - man, that thing works! 
  • Cleaned out the water table toy that has been outside for the last 2 years 
  • Made sugar cookies with Molly 
  • Worked on Connor's 4 month photo book 
  • Went to Target and bought sippy cups.  
  • Paid some bills.  Wait - that's on today's list of things to do and I am dreading that. 

Truthfully, I am not the stay-at-home Mom type. I actually like working. I derive a lot of self-worth from my career and I am highly motivated.  I get a lot of satisfaction and enjoy being a part of a business or seeing something succeed outside of my children.  

So I am busy figuring out what's next and exploring all my options.  No possibility is being discounted.  There are a lot of interesting opportunities out there and we will just have to see what's the best one and have faith that everything is just going to work out. 

In the meantime, I am going to work on keeping my mood stable and really, really enjoying this precious time with Connor (and Molly when she's home and not in camps this summer.)   When he's awake, I am all his and he is all mine.  We'll never get this time back and we won't have it forever.  And aren't we lucky? And during naps, I'll drink a lot of coffee and accomplish a lot.  While everything's a bit unsure and unknown, I am so blessed to have these kids and my husband.  (And my mom who is incredibly supportive.)  Because if you don't have family, you're missing a lot. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Monthly Baby Photos

Today is Connor's 1st birthday!  Over the course of his life, I have taken thousands of priceless pictures of him.   Perhaps none are more telling and document his life better than the ones I have been taking on the 17th of every month.  It is amazing to see his growth month to month.

Connor was born May 17th, 2012 at Hilton Head Regional Medical Center.  He weighed 8 oz. upon birth but dropped to 6 lbs 8 oz by the time we left.   He made tremendous gurgling sounds all night long. He was a noisy, noisy baby.   

He was so tiny! 

The first month and more he was terribly jaundiced.  His eyes were very yellow for almost 8 weeks. He was scrawny and had little chicken legs. He had wildly spikey hair.  And he never slept longer than 2.5 hours straight.  He was a hungry boy that demanded to be fed round the clock. This seems so long ago.

By his second month, his jaundice cleared and his eyes got whiter.  He perked up, was more alert and started to smile.  He still has this wrye smile - like maybe he's up to no good and knows something that you don't...

By three months he was really quite fun.  Though he wasn't sleeping, he was actively playing with toys, reaching for things and interested in his sister Molly.

And it just kept getting better from there.  His thick black spikey hair became a bit more red, more blonde and he started to sport a Donald Trump hair do.

Full comb over now.   I am not sure why I didn't get it cut.  Seriously, look how long that was. 

By 6-months his hair is really long and we will always look back on pictures now and ask - WHY didn't we get his hair cut?  I guess it was part of his charm.  Here he starts looking like a baby and less like an infant, too. Maybe it's in the double chin and those thighs.  He smiles all the time and I am stopped at the supermarket - "your baby is SO happy."  I know! 

Month 7 is a real transformation - hair cut really helps.  He looks old.   Where has my infant gone? 

From 8-10 months, you can see subtle changes.  There are a few bumps and bruises on his head as he is always getting into something. 

Now that hair is really blonde!

By the time 11 months comes around, I don't even remember to take his monthly picture until the 20th of the month. I instantly feel guilty but have a lot going on with work so I forgive myself.  I take the picture but it's not the best one - he's so busy now, it's hard to get him to sit still.  I am pretty sure it's the lighting here but his hair does look a bit red...

And then there's today.  His birthday. His 12 month shot.  My infant, not an infant anymore, but a baby - a toddler even.  

It's hard to describe how I feel today.  Maybe you know because you have kids and you feel like they've grown up so fast.  It's a mixture of sadness and pride.  Happiness, elation and longing for a different time.   We don't have any plans to have any more children so this is my last baby. The last time I will rock a baby to sleep and hold a small baby that's mine in my arms.  With all the sleep deprivation over the last year, I kept wanting him to sleep through the night.  But the bonding that occurred in those hours in the middle of the night were crucial and have made us stronger.  When he takes his first steps (any day now), or really says his first meaningful words, it's nothing but full steam ahead.  Sometimes I wish I could just press pause.  Today's milestone is a good reminder to slow down and just enjoy every moment you can. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hungry Caterpillar Birthday

My son Connor turns one on Thursday and we gathered today to celebrate a few days early so all the grandparents could be there.   The book "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle has been a staple in our household. The colorful illustrations and interactive pages delight Molly and Connor.  But actually the book is a great metaphor for Connor and therefore made a very fitting party theme.   He IS a hungry baby boy who over the last few months has really blossomed into a very special boy.  As he gets older, he becomes more and more of a person with a personality, likes and dislikes, and become an integral part of our family. Today was an emotional day for me - turning one is a milestone.  A baby becomes a toddler and never goes back to a baby again!   Here is a look at all the Hungry Caterpillar party details.

I found Hungry Caterpillar printables on Etsy from Ven's Paperie.  After you purchase, they personalize a host of files for you with the desired name/age and then email you with a link.  They're yours to download, print and use for crafting!   A welcome sign, happy birthday sign, cupcake toppers, cupcake wrappers, food tents, toothpick flags, pennant flag banner, happy birthday banner, party favor sign, thank you notes, and so much more was included.  

I printed the letters and created the banners, hung them using twine from The Twinery.  I purchased paper fans from Oriental Trading Company

I also found a Hungry Caterpillar Hat and Bib on Etsy.  I ordered the bib from Monkey Pants and hat from Dainty Couture

I set up a kids table for my three-year old daughter Molly and her friends Parker, Griffin and Russ.  Their mother's are good friends of mine and have been very instrumental this past year in Connor's life.  At the kids table, I hung paper pom-poms by Spritz available at Target. 

I cheated on these party hats (I didn't make them from scratch this time, buying them is so much faster!)  I bought them from Target and then added the "Connor's 1st Birthday" stamp by PSA Essentials.  (I used the gabby personalized stamp and had it personalized for my occasion!)  

The coloring pages were great because they kept the kids entertained while they were waiting for their brunch. 

I did simple party favors - crayons, bubbles and loli-pops.  I stamped "Connor's 1st Birthday" onto 2" inch round stickers.

I found these cute bookmarks on and intended them to be party favors for the adults. 

Here's a few more table decorations and this "ONE" sign that we created at home.  I bought "O", "N", and "E" from Michael's in the wood section and Mike nailed them in.  Then Molly and I painted it blue.  It made for a nice centerpiece. 

I tried to add some photo personal touches too.  For the last 11 months, I have been taking pictures of Connor on the 17th of every month (he was born 5/17/12.)  I purchased the stickers on etsy and stuck them on whatever he was wearing and did a photoshoot.  It's so fun to see his transformation month to month.   I am waiting until Thursday (his actual birthday) to do the month "12." 

I also have been working (tirelessly) and Connor's scrapbook.  Scrapbooking is exhausting and I've learned that I don't love it as much as digi-scraping or photo books.  But I did a huge one for Molly so felt compelled to do it for Connor too.  His has 30+ pages of events in his life in here and now that he's 1, I am finished! :)   A blog post to follow soon... 

Now some people party photos! The birthday man himself.  Happy Birthday Connor! 

Perhaps my favorite picture of the day... we are SO lucky to BOTH sets of grandparents in our lives.