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My Frugal Life: Advice From a Stay at Home Mom

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I've always been pretty smart with money, but three very special little boys have taught me that simplifying all areas of our lives is one of life's sweetest lessons learned.

When I was pregnant with my twins (Surprise!), I became so ill that I had to quit my job. This was the beginning of learning to do more with less. I was fortunate enough that my husband had a decent income and that I could stay home, but things like dinners out a few times a week and my shopping habit had to be curtailed. (A "horrible" thing for a mama expecting TWO babies!)

When my boys were born, prematurely and with a genetic disorder (Surprise again!), it was decided that I was now a stay at home mom for the long haul (which was OK with both of us!) This required long term lifestyle changes that I was not entirely prepared for, but was willing to learn. I've since had another child, he too, has the same genetic disorder. My frugality is based on a whole lot of practical things, some of my ideas follow.

  • NEVER go without health insurance. Even if it is high deductible with catastrophic coverage, this will protect you from the "what ifs" that sometimes happen. If we don't have health coverage, we would be under in just one illness from any one of the boys. There is low-premium catastrophic coverage available for purchase.

  • I don't use lights, dishwasher, do laundry or a whole lot of electricity during the daytime hours. This is an extremely tangible thing that you can do to cut costs. We go outside and play, do outdoor chores, swim in the kiddy pool, read, whatever. I have lots of laundry (three boys, a husband who goes through two or three outfits a day (basketball clothes, work clothes, softball clothes...), plus my own clothes. I do one load per day. I throw the laundry into the washer around 11 pm, when electricity costs go down. I have a cup of tea and try to relax for a bit and then throw the clothes into the dryer when they are done washing. I then get them out of the dryer before the baby gets up in the morning.

    I don't iron, I don't have anything that needs ironing. If hubby needs to wear a dress shirt (usually a couple days a week), I hang it on a hanger after washing it and just hang it up somewhere to dry. This took some getting used to, as I'm not really a night owl and by 10 or 11 o'clock, I'm exhausted, but it really frees me up during the day to spend my time with the children as well, and it became routine quickly. I also run the dishwasher right before bed, it can be loaded anytime and just run during the cheaper hours.

  • I use coupons for everything I can. Often the coupons in the Sunday papers coincide with sales at our grocery store during the week. Sale price + coupon = big savings. I use the coupons and sales prices to buy "snack" stuff that I would not otherwise buy, but for such a reasonable price, my boys love to have a snack once in a while. Example: Pizza rolls... there are always coupons for 50 cents off and often sales for 94 cent boxes of pizza rolls. So the sale price + coupon gets me a box of pizza rolls for 44 cents. Not a bad price! I also use our local Aldi for staples: flour, sugar, milk, eggs and cream of ... soups. This saves more than 50% than if I got these items at our regular grocery store. There are some things I prefer not to use the generic brand for (peanut butter, yogurt, pasta sauce) so I am careful to use coupons for these things.

  • I frequent garage sales and our local Salvation Army Thrift store. I am pretty picky about any clothes I buy for the kids (not picky about play clothes! I can always find lots of play items for them at these places!) but sometimes find excellent prices for great stuff for the children. I always buy my clothes second hand or through bartering, I don't need many clothes, so this works well for me. On Saturdays, clothes at the Salvation army are 50% off and that's off of already great prices! So, when I go, its always on a Saturday. My best find to date at the Salvation Army? A full "Hooked on Phonics" set ($299 retail!) for $7.99. More on that later. The deals are out there, you just have to look.

  • I barter for other things I need. I belong to an online barter group and the only thing I pay for is shipping for the items I have to send out. I've received clothes for myself and the kids, natural toys, musical instruments, essential oils for my lotion making hobby, some great books, movies for the kids on a rainy day, lots of other stuff... all in exchange for things that I no longer need but are still functional and someone else can use.

  • We are a new home schooling family. My boys have special needs and the government schools are simply not meeting their needs. (Here is where the "Hooked on Phonics" comes into play... it saved me $291!) Home schooling will save us money because we don't have to buy special "school clothes", don't have to waste gas driving to and from school when someone forgets his snack or lunch, school fundraisers (I think school pictures are awful. I take my own when I want an annual photo of the boys or I can get my own taken for far less), all of this adds up to something far more valuable to me: spending time raising my boys.

  • I try to cook very healthful meals. Veggies and protein at every meal. Cooking healthfully is much more economical than a fast food diet is. It DOES take planning and time to cook, but is very worth it. My boys are not picky eaters in the least and it is because they were introduced to fresh foods very early on. Right before my youngest son was born, I was at a farmers market with my boys, my husband and my parents. The twins were 4 and were so excited about getting fresh asparagus and were eating it raw as we were browsing. Fresh, raw veggies are an excellent snack food for little growing bodies as well as for moms and dads.

  • We have decided to look for a small farm. We still need plenty of room for the children, but being a home schooling, homesteading family, a lot more of their time is going to be spent outside helping with chores and playing than their current "I wanna stay inside.". We've decided on raising chickens (eggs for us, extras will be sold or bartered, meat for the family), a few goats (milk for us, pets for the kids... errr, children), and we can sell or barter any additional goats (goat babies). We will add rabbits to our animals after the first year, as chickens and goats will be enough to get used to!

  • Entertaining friends and family is a very important part of our lives. This can be done very economically and still be very nice. I rarely cater a party, I make food fresh for our guests. I remember a couple years ago, we were invited to lunch at the farm of a family we had just met. The fellowship we had around that table, my youngest was only a few weeks old, being passed from one set of loving arms to another, constructive conversation, discussions about home schooling, exotic animals, the children had a part in the conversation, not just the adults, sharing food (home cooked venison stew, creamed potatoes, fresh vegetables and fresh dates... I will never forget that meal!) was just the most uplifting experience ever. It was not a fancy house, we weren't in the middle of an upscale subdivision, and I wouldn't want either of those in place of the love that was present that day. Its not about the "house". Its not about the "money", you don't have to spend a lot of money on a lovingly prepared meal for your friends. You being who you are and spending your time lovingly preparing for your guests shows through and is so much more appreciated than a quickly thrown together "anything".

  • Breast feeding is the economical choice... and the most healthy for your baby. Many, many babies have grown up to be just fine on formula, so lets just look at it on a purely practical level (although there's probably not a nursing mama in the country who will not tell you about the million and one other benefits!). In the first year of baby's life, not purchasing formula will save well over $1,400. That is a LOT of cash! Extrapolate that over two or three or four children (or more) and that is just an astronomical amount of money.

  • My children enjoy the outdoors. (HA, they have no idea how much more of the outdoors they will experience in the near future!) They have nature bags and take those bags with them on hikes. They collect pine cones, rocks, leaves, nuts and other items they find when we hike. They use these items in craft projects or to put in their collections. We enjoy reading, playing games as a family, having popcorn and watching a movie once in a while. These are inexpensive and positive forms of entertainment. Children don't need to sit in front of the television for hours a day. I sometimes think I'd love to sit and watch TV, but I get bored if I even try to so I read or clip coupons or go outside for a walk instead.

  • I make and sell (and barter) lotions, bath salts, salt scrubs and baby slings (for moms to wear their babies as well as for kids to wear their dolls). This is a healthy and constructive hobby for me and helps with having spending money for the extra things we might like.

These are some pretty basic things that we do to same money and time. The greatest thing that my frugality has given me is more time with my children. I can't put a price on that and it is worth every bit of sacrifice on my part to build a better life for them.

Crunchy Mama (Jen) from Maple Park, IL

Do you have a frugal story to share with the ThriftyFun community? Submit your essay here: http://www.thriftyfun.com/post_myfrugallife.ldml

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By Patricia B.08/06/2012

I enjoyed reading all the helpful information.

By Patricia B.08/06/2012

I enjoyed this article very much.

By littlegamma [7]08/06/2012

Great article for young "hopefuls". Please make sure that you read everything you can on farming/homesteading before you take this plunge. As a long time homesteader at 63, I started out just like you, young and hopeful and full of dreams. Many came true, some didn't, but it was hard work none the less so make sure that you know everything there is to know about the animals you choose to raise as well as gardening (organic of course! ;-) )

To save even further, consider making your own pasta sauces, yogurt, etc. It really saves you tons of money. I've been making my own for decades and it taste better than anything store bought.

One last thing for those who don't know this. Not ALL electric companies drop their rates after a certain hour at night. Call to check. Many blessings on you and your little family and good luck with all your endeavors.

PS: Could you give more info on the baby slings you make and sell? Do you have a website or sell on Etsy?

By susan [5]07/17/2011

Where in the world did you find low-premium, catastrophic coverage for a pre-existing condition? What do you consider low-premium and how much are the deductibles?

By Dede (Guest Post)06/06/2006

Loved the ideas you have! Do you share your recipes for lotions/scrubs, etc? Have you joined a couponing group yet? I just did and hope it is worth the postage to mail to next member. Good luck with your frugality, it is inspiring.

By msha (Guest Post)06/05/2006

I just finished reading all the frugal life-stay at home mom stuff above--I loved it all--sending you the blessings of good health, strength, healing, determination, fun, wonderful friendships and know by reading and your sharing so much, many people you don't even know pray for you in those wee hours of the night when you may falter...you are such an inspiration! Keep it up and keep on sharing with us!

By Elaine from Ohio (Guest Post)06/04/2006

I am 64 years old and have been on Social Security disability for years now and have used some of your wonderful ideas myself. I was a single mom and raised 3 wonderful children, so you know I had to be frugal. It taught them a very valuable lesson. For instance, I would generally take one child (circa 8 years or older) with me when I shopped for groceries. I taught them how to find the per ounce best buy and that the generics are mostly just as good as the name brands. We shopped with coupons so they got used to what, specifically like size, was required, etc. We shopped yard sales, swap meets, thrift stores, dollar stores when these types of opportunities became available. In this day and age you have so many more opportunies than I did back then. My children are all grown and have become even more frugal than me! I enjoyed what you said and hope a young woman, newly married or new baby is able to benefit from your ideas. I sure could have used them years ago. Thanks, so much. Elaine from Ohio

By Jen Zahm [3]06/04/2006

Hi Again Everyone!

Ha...Thank you much for the kind words...most people around here think I'm just weird. When we decided to homeschool & begin the lifestyle change of at least partially homesteading, I had to laugh... I was thinking..."OK, now we are 'OFFICIALLY' that weird Christian homeschooling family."...but that's OK with me. I think (not that my thoughts are worth any more than anyone else's) that its OK to march to the beat of my own drummer and that my children are going to be more independent thinkers because I am not afraid to say "You know...that just doesn't work for us...Why don't we try....(whatever)". I'm with you "Memere", doing free things is the way to go...even if one has a hefty disposable income, I'm not entirely sure why it would be wasted on such frivolity....not that taking the children to a more lavish place isn't nice once in a while...but the thing they remember most is spending time with mom and dad or Grandma & Papa... About a week ago, my husband got home a little early and we surprised the boys by picking up a pizza (we are fortunate because a friend of ours runs a pizzaria and my sister works there, and I cover some of her shifts when they need me to, so we get 1/3 off of our pizzas!) so, we picked up a pizza and went to the boys' favorite park. After we ate, we played on the playground with the baby & took a walk & the twins were so excited to find tadpoles. Kids are SUPPOSED to get muddy and messy, so the mud up to the knees & in the hair, which around here, is something so many moms would just freak over, is not something I choose to sweat. In general, I am a neat-nik when it comes to the boys, but we weren't going anywhere, so who cares if they are dirty (other than the fact that I had to throw booster seat covers in the wash that night)? Kids are meant to be kids...I try very hard to let them explore and be free of the stresses that adults have. I agree completely with the statement that kids don't need "joysticks and batteries..." This past February, Jonah, one of the twins, was in the hospital for testing (for his seizures). He was in for 4 full days, and the nurses of course, brought in the big video game system...I gave in and let him play it and it was so addictive to him! After the doctor saw a lot of seizure activity on the monitor while he was playing the video games, we spent the next 2 days with lights out and Jonah playing video games (we wanted to get as much seizure activity recorded as we could while he was in the hospital) Just in that short amount of time, he wanted things like french fries and burgers (easy to eat while playing the games)...when he got out of the hospital, he was, obviously, asking (constantly) for video games...ugh. Where to start with the reasons that this ISN'T a good idea! Ha... I've held my ground and Jonah survived.

I don't mind at all sharing about my boys' disorder. They are who they are and part of the reason we decided for sure to homeschool is that I got completely fed up with "explaining" my children! I refuse to form them into people they are not for the sake of a teacher's convenience. Not happening. My boys are Daniel & Jonah (twins who just turned 6) and Samuel will be 2 this month. They've all got a genetic disorder (a recessive disorder, which means that my husband and I each have an "oops" gene. Statistically, 1 in 4 biological children of ours will have this disorder...our Neurologist says we should go to vegas and play our odds. I told him that if he babysits, I will do just that ; ). The twins are fraternal, so their genetic material is not identical) The disorder is called Pyridoxine Dependency. It is quite rare. Its a "syndrome" like disorder, it has many symptoms. Seizures are the primary symptom. Supplementation with Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) is the treatment. High dose pyridoxine has its own issues, which we are dealing with in Jonah, but they would not be around if it were not for a quick thinking neurologist who, in my humble opinion, was guided by God to give them a speedy diagnosis. The twins started having seizures around 4 weeks of age and the baby had his first seizure at 3 days old. Jonah (and the baby seems to be on the same track as Jonah...oh the similarities are uncanny!) has autistic tendencies ("normal" for this disorder. Jonah is very social, so the neuro won't formalize the autism diagnosis, but all of the other "stuff" is present and accounted for.), we don't have very good control of Jonah's seizures at this point in time, he needs occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy. The school system was "giving" him thirty minutes of OT and 30 minutes of speech once a week. The physical therapist who evaluated him told me that Jonah was walking on the balance beam and did great, he doesn't need physical therapy. I had to laugh...I had to wonder if she evaluated the right child! I tried to be as graceful as humanly possible and just said that Jonah doesn't walk well, he can't walk ten feet without tripping and I highly doubted that he was walking on a balance beam unassisted. My view with my children is that I need to, no matter how tired I might be, I have to find reasons to say "YES"...I don't need to make excuses as to why I shouldn't do something that they need. Jonah (and I try to include the baby with as much of this as I can now as well, because he needs it too) gets two hours of therapy at home, per day. During the summer it is easy...the swimming pool, playset, his little bicycle... all strengthening activities that keep him healthy and strong...Even things like eating, the chewing, the use of a fork and spoon, do not come easily to Jonah and Sam...so we just get down to basics and work on what needs to be worked on. The schools are not going to do this, no matter how much it is needed. The bottom line is that they don't care. I've made the conscious choice to not put my children in the hands of anyone who doesn't care. OK...enough of that...it really sounds like a downer when I talk about it...there is just so much detail...but it is truly so integrated into our lives that its not unmanageable, its just part of our lives. I don't know the reason for this, but if this is what we are to bear here, its not mine to question. I DO know that these children are the reason I was born and that anything I can do is my responsibility to do. Like I said, we are used to this...it probably seems like a downer to read about it, but its really much more of an organizational thing (meds on time, therapy daily, healthful diet rich in nutrients...) than anything else.

We are not LDS. We are Christians (nondenominational) and this has helped immensely in making the tough choices that we've had to make. Praying about tough choices and feeling peace once choices are made is so much better for us than ruminating and worrying. When you have a belief system, whatever it is, I think choices that you make are much easier to make and much easier to live with....I knew that whenever we made the decision to homeschool, it was a decision that we were going to stick with for the long haul, so I waited and waited and waited for "my" time to be right...and when the school decided that it wasn't providing what my children needed...my timeline went out the window. I believe that everything is for a reason, we may not know the reason, we may not like the reason, but there is a reason for it.

OK, I'm doing middle of the night rambling. On a good note, I made over $85 at the farmers market. It was a beautiful day outside and was wonderful to spend time in the sun with my dad and my husband surprised me by bringing the boys to see us...I missed them by the time they got there!

We had a family birthday party to go to today and we "announced" (actually, Daniel let it "slip") that we are homeschooling next year and looking for a farm and everyone was very supportive. Not that our family is EVER not supportive, but it was certainly nice to not have to contend with the usual comments we get. Those comments don't necessarily affect me, but sometimes, especially because Jonah's needs are so obvious, people who really have no business questioning me, do just that. I hold firm to our faith and our decisions and don't allow other's perceptions to interfere in our lives. I have to do right by my kiddos and doing the best I can do is the best I can do. Thanks again to all for the kind words. Ha...and for reading my sleep deprived ramblings!

Hugs, Blessings & bare feet! Jen

By truus de mier06/03/2006

hi crunchy mama! Here are some words from over the other side of the earth. I realy admire you!!! And I wish to live like you.. but over here it is too expencive to buy a house or farm, so we just rent a small family house. Still it is good for us and our 4 kids. I also love to go to flea markets and also the salvation army where all our clothes come from. So, there are some symilairities. Also I love to do something creative that I could sell, but What??
Maybe one day I got the right Idea! Good luck and may God bless you all!

By sandy (Guest Post)06/03/2006

wow is right. i am single and have no children but i get tired from just reading your letter. The children will grow up much happier not having to depend on the tv, videos and sugar. i applaud you in the homeschooling department. i work in the special education classroom at a local school as a student assistant. the child i help does not get half of the help he should get. he needs pt, love, speech, occupational therapy and more. he gets 1 hour per week of occupational therapy and speech therapy and no more. good for you.

By Memere (Guest Post)06/03/2006

WOW!!!!!!!! Too many of us are caught up in the fast lane. On my limited budget, I do things with my 3 granddaughters, both as a group and individually, that cost little to nothing. A picnic by the Red River is our favorite outing, although the 7 rear old opted to stay here Thur and watch the Nat'l Spelling Bee.

By Jen Zahm [3]06/02/2006

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for the kind words...you really DO get used to it...I took the boys garage sale-ing today and had to teach one of my dear, sweet boys that we simply don't have to buy something from everywhere we go...a tough lesson for a just turned 6 year old!

When we make a decision to cut something out (for example, the sattellite...although we've not done that yet, although we should for as much as we use it, but dh is a consultant and a sports nut, so he uses the news channels for work), anyhow... when we decide to cut something, I put away half of what it saves us (so if its a $50 a month savings, I squirrel away $25)...This money isn't missed because there is still extra in the budget. I use this to either put in my money jar (ahhhh, how I wish it were "mine") and use it for Christmas gifts or a birthday gift or an unexpected "something" that comes up. I have used this to take the boys out for pizza, just stuff like that....it doesn't often get touched, so I have a nice little stockpile in case of an mini-emergency....I have used this when one of the boys was hospitalized so I had cafeteria money without bothering my husband during a stressful time to get me some cash to the hospital... It comes in handy, and most of the time, I forget its there, so I'm not tempted to spend it.

We are located in Northern Illinois. Look at your electric bill or call Com Ed...they can tell you what your off peak hours are...big savings...definitely worth a phone call!

I am setting up at a farmers market tomorrow with my dad (we split the cost of a booth, he sells antique-y stuff, I sell my lotions & hot packs & such), so I have to get up in three hours...hmmmm, not been to bed yet! I sell my lotions (4 oz of organic product) for $3.50....I don't make much off of it at that price, but I do sell quite a bit of it, and have a lot of repeat customers who love my lotions and other products...I make rice (or flax seed) hot/cold packs with organic chamomile and/or lavender and those go well too. I will post some recipes another day... Just as an example of how much money I save making the stuff (for my own use)...I LOVE salt scrubs, you rub the goopy stuff on your hands and elbows (knees, feet...) anywhere you have rough skin and when you're done they are silky smooth. It costs me about $3 to make two pounds of the stuff. I sell a small tub (over a pound) for $5. A smaller container of the same thing at bath & body is well over $12 or $13... It just doesn't compare...plus, homemade with love always feels and smells better!

Thanks for the tip on laundry detergent recipes...I will have to check it out...I love making my own stuff. I have very sensitive skin and like to know everything that is in the stuff I use for myself and the kiddos.

Last but not least, there are several bartering groups online. The one I like most is mama barter. It is a group through yahoogroups and there is no fee or anything...you just join the group and jump in with your in search of and for trade lists. It is awesome. I've got 4 packages going out on Monday! Fun stuff...If you make saving money a game and have fun with it, you don't miss it nearly as much. I spent a dollar today garage sale-ing with the boys (on a video for the boys, they asked for it, its one I personally don't care for, but they like it and its not an objectionable movie...so for a buck...what the heck!) but we spent a couple hours of fun time together...and we spent a dollar! I just didn't see too much I was interested in, so we had fun together and there was no loss in that, we had a great morning!

Thanks everyone! Hugs, Blessings & Bare Feet! Jen

By KLS8800 (Guest Post)06/02/2006

If I may ask, what diagnosis do your children have. I have a five year old son with autism and a two year old daughter with speech delay and she displays autistic tendencies (although drs are reluctant to dx a 2 yr old w/autism). There are NOT enough facilities for special needs children in the mainstream society. The school the district wanted to send my son to did not have a fully enclosed play yard (HOW an elementary school can have this oversight, especially since the school is VERY close to a busy road is just amazing). Although you do homeschool and homestead (are you LDS?) do you or could you belong to a support group for special needs children and their families? I belong to several groups online, but we are so rural here, that I do not belong to any offline. Thank you for your wonderful post. It is nice to know that kids can and are exposed to things that are not run by a joystick, or batteries, and take heart, mind, and curiosity. GOD bless.

By (Guest Post)06/02/2006

Congratulations on your "new" life...it is very uplifting to see that we don't need the commericalsm of today's culture and I know what you mean about the dinner.

Anyway, I would love to know about your online bartering and how you make money with your lotions. I work part time and would like to have another baby within the year and will not be working then so I am looking to make some extra money.

Thank you

By Mary (Guest Post)06/02/2006

I have just discovered making the greatest laundry detergent I have ever used and I am 61 and the mother of 4.

Many recipes for it on this site.

Do you share recipes for your salts, lotions, scrubs, etc?

Congratulations on your choice to stay home with the children. I made the same choice when mine were little and never regretted it one minute. Best time of my life!

By Crystal [1]06/02/2006

Thanks so much for your Story and tips!! I am trying to adjust without all the "extras" right now and it is hard, but I am trying to focus on the positives (more quality time with my two kids). Thanks for sharing your great attitude and hopefuly I can have the same one soon =) My husband just canceled our Satalitte TV so I have been pouting all day,but I know in the long run it will be good, saving over $50 a month and getting alot more quality time with my kids!! Thanks!!

By (Guest Post)06/02/2006

I NEVER NEW THAT ELECTRICITY IS CHEAPER AFTER 11:00PM WOULD YOU PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE IM IN MICHIGAN????

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