While being a mom is an entirely volunteer position, it doesn't mean that it's a cheap job. Any mother who has been asked to bake cupcakes for a classroom birthday party, pick up Halloween costumes and realized that they needed to replenish the pencil and paper supplies for the little ones' backpacks all in a single day knows that being a mom adds up.
Every single one of these activities has the potential to be way more expensive than it needs to be. In the next ten pages, we'll explore some lesser-known ideas for turning mommy-duty into a well-oiled savings machine. We'll also get you into the loop of some terrific websites and blogs that do the savings work for you, by keeping track of discounted items, special deals, and even your own financial and budgeting information.
Read on for how something like an at-home haircut will save your family expensive upkeep costs -- no bowl required.
Make it! Bake it! Fix it!
We all know the stereotypical DIY mom who makes all her kids' barrettes and sends lunches to school with sandwiches made from fresh bread. And while we kind of don't like that mom, we have to hand it to her that she knows how to keep those household expenses down.
With the proliferation of DIY sites on the internet -- including mommy-oriented ones like momsdiy.com and wondermom.net -- there's more information than ever about how to save money by doing projects at home. Crafts and projects are a great way to entertain kids without breaking the bank. If you've got one eye on rowdy kids and another on a pile of old paper bags, you can easily search a link-sharing site like Pinterest.com for "paper bags" and find ideas that will bring the two together.
While baking bread for daily lunches sounds like a pain, we'd be remiss to pretend that making things from scratch isn't a terrific way to save money. Shopping once a week and planning meals ahead will ensure no expensive last-minute pizza delivery dinners, and over-priced pre-packaged lunch trays for the kids.
But crafts and cooking aren't the only ways to save money by doing it yourself. Read on for more ways to be a super savvy mom.
Don't Pay Adult Prices for Kids' Stuff
Kids are cute, whether they're dressed up for formal events (little bow ties are adorable!), covered in mud or wearing superhero costumes. With this in mind, remember that your kid doesn't need expensive products, clothes and maintenance to make them cute.
So how does that translate to saving money? First step, don't be afraid to wield those scissors. Sure, we all have cringe-inducing ideas -- or perhaps memories -- of what a made-by-mom haircut can look like. With the glory of the internet, you can look up haircuts for your kids that are free, easy, and won't have them looking like a cartoon character. Along with instructions, there's a plethora of videos that allow you to snip with security.
Keep in mind that many kids don't just want a trim, but a style, like intricate braiding. Many stylists for youngsters may not be accustomed to the needs of all hair types. It's easy to find videos or tutorials on how to achieve haircuts or styles specific to certain hair types or ethnicities, so you aren't stuck paying a stylist who didn't understand the first thing about your child's hair.
As we'll see in the next section, the internet is chock-full of moms who are happy to share their wisdom with peers. Read on to discover some sites where you'll find savings (and maybe a little bit of camaraderie).
Mom Approved (and Tested)
There are plenty of sites on the internet that will give you all sorts of advice about how to save money. From complicated and savvy investment tips to the standard "clip coupons and turn those lights off when you're not in the room" pointers, you might find a craving for something a little more specific.
Don't be afraid to visit those "money-saving mom" sites that have cropped up like weeds. (In fact, you might want to try moneysavingmom.com, momsavesmoney.net or mommysavers.com.) While the sites offer tips like how to cut down on your dryer use in the winter, they also offer a frugal parent's dream: a succinct, clear list of what the best deals are on the internet this week. Instead of opening seven windows on your browser to frantically check prices against one another, these sites will do that work for you.
Another fun bonus is that they'll post free samples or deals offered on the internet, so you can try out a new product (or just get something you already love) for free. Sites like moolasavingmom.com also will post savings and coupons at specific grocery or drug stores, as well as offering couponing tools to organize yourself.
We have a lot more to find out about coupons later (like are they really worth it if you don't have the time to be extreme about it?). But first, let's see take a trip bulk shopping and see how it can help -- or hurt -- the family's bank account.
To Bulk or Not to Bulk?
When you're in the large, cavernous spaces of Costco or Sam's Club, it's easy to think that there is virtually no place cheaper in the world. Nine tubes of toothpaste for ten dollars? Three gallons of maple syrup for the price of a six pack of beer? Dried mangoes for seven dollars, in a box bigger than your head? It is, as they say, a waste of money NOT to buy it.
And guess what -- you will save money. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service did note lower prices in bulk stores, on average [source: AARP]. Unfortunately, the "on average" part is pretty important. Because although some stores might show lower prices on many items, others might be closer to nearby groceries, and those groceries will have lower prices to compete. Before you buy, do check out how much bulk buying is saving compared to a good deal -- or even an average day -- at a grocery store.
You will no doubt find a great deal at the bulk stores on something, but remember the reason we like going to bulk stores in the first place: the sudden, gripping need to buy things we just don't need. Impulse buying is already a no-no for frugal moms; coming home with pounds of bulk impulse buys is even worse.
We're on our way to savings now! But here comes a biggie. How can a super-saving mom coupon without losing her super-sanity? Or is there ways to save without paper cuts and exhausted minds? Read on to find out more.
If you happen to catch reality television often, you might think that couponing is an excellent way to save money, take up time, and possibly lose your mind. True, couponing has gotten rather extreme these days, but you don't have to be obsessed to save some family money.
For one, coupons are now a lot more accessible. Instead of clipping whatever coupons came in the weekly circular, we know have access to sites like couponmom.com, coupounmountain.com, and even store- or brand-specific places (think BettyCrocker.com or just visiting your favorite grocery store's website). This is great for super-saver moms because you're not just buying whatever is on sale whether you need it or not; you can actually plan ahead and snoop out online what you already need.
Here's a less intuitive tip: DON'T plan ahead. Instead of going grocery shopping with specific ideas in mind, make up meals on the spot with whatever is on sale, or what you find is cheaper. Although we're used to hearing that planning meals will save money and time, a savvy parent just might find that abandoning the plans for roast beef is going to save a lot of money when you can tell the rotisserie chicken is cheap and can last for three nights of leftovers.
Let's swing our shopping cart to the next page and turn on the charm, because we're going to learn if it's really possible for a thrifty mom to haggle her way into a better price.
I'll take it -- for less.
You don't often confuse Home Depot for an Indian bazaar, but it turns out that it's not so wrong to. As the economy struggles along, more retailers -- including big box stores and even clothing retailers -- are quietly willing to let their salespeople haggle with a customer on prices.
According to the New York Times, Home Depot has "adopted an 'entrepreneurial spirit' campaign to give ... more latitude on prices in order to retain customers" [source: Richtel]. They're not the only company; electronics stores like Best Buy and even apparel companies have been more open to bargaining these days. So how does one ask for a lower price without looking like a fool?
First of all, do your research. One of the reasons that haggling works is that the internet has made us aware of what deals can be snagged. If you've looked into it and found an item for a better value at a different store, that's a great place to start. Being the customer that is ready and willing to buy something but can easily spend your money elsewhere is a great position to be in.
Next up, let's look at some strategies for buying clothes and items for kids.
Keep Kids Clothed (For Less)
If you really want to feel like your kids' expenses are blowing money out of your wallet, take them clothes shopping. From socks that wear out every two weeks during the soccer season to jeans that seemingly shrink within days, super saver moms could use some help shopping without excessive spending.
Although secondhand stores are extremely popular for families who are looking to save, keep in mind that you can also shop for new clothes at steep discounts. Stores like TJ Maxx and Ross offer designer and brand name fashions at much cheaper prices by buying overstock merchandise. The savings aren't paltry; you can expect up to 70 percent savings on items.
While five states in the U.S. don't have sales tax, eighteen offer sales tax holidays. Ranging from a couple days to a week, these breaks offer no tax on items ranging from clothing, school supplies, certain technologies and even ENERGY STAR appliances. By planning ahead a bit, you can enjoy a tax-free shopping spree on some much needed buys for home and kids.
One of the best ways to save money as a mom is to be an organized and careful budgeter. Read ahead for more tips on how to save money by being your own financial advisor.
Be a Financial Family Whiz
Setting up a budget can be a little daunting; it's hard to keep track of your spending, let alone the categories and emergencies that come up. Fortunately for busy moms, sites like Mint.com basically do all the work for you. It will load all your financial information, including bank accounts and credit cards, and allows you to see where your money is going. You can set up a budget, and create goals to keep track of.
It might seem silly, but brushing up your math skills in general doesn't hurt for moms. Doing percentages in your head can help you quickly figure out if the 30 percent off deal for khakis will be better than the 25 percent off jeans for back to school shopping. And for quick looks, check out price per ounces on grocery store shelf tags; it'll help you decide if the jumbo ketchup container is going to be worth it opposed to the regular-sized sale price.
In the next section, we'll look at how rewards can save you money when shopping for the whole family.
Earn back what you spend.
Most super saver moms are well-aware of how preferred customer cards can save you money at grocery stores. Being a part of the "club" can not only give you lower prices at stores like Safeway, but can also give you points that you can use like cash for future purchases (like Fred Meyer's program).
But don't limit yourself to food shopping. Office Depot has a terrific rewards program that allows you to get 10 percent back on all ink, toner, copy and print services, and offer "Bonus Rewards" throughout the year on additional products. These bonus products often give a whopping 50 percent-100 percent back. Even better, when you receive your rewards certificate, you can pair it with coupons to make those back-to-school trips even more of a steal.
Staples also offers a reward program that gives 10 percent back on much the same services as Office Depot. Staples also offers a $2 reward fee for ink cartridge recycling. If you really want to be loved in your children's classroom, let your child's teacher in on Staples' Teacher Rewards Program, which allows teachers to earn 10 percent back on classroom and art supplies. No small thing considering the economic climate, and cuts in school budgets.
We're so close to becoming A-Plus students as super-saver moms. But there's still one more trick to go, and it's one that can save you tons of money year round.
Shop after the drop.
There's a few times a year we can't seem to avoid shelling out money for our families: back-to-school in the fall, around the holidays and around summer vacations. But instead of dreading each season's new demand on your pocketbook, any super-saver mom can relish these times to get the very best deals -- while also planning like a pro.
The simplest solution is to simply not buy during these high-peak times. Sounds easy enough, but as we pointed out, we can't exactly send kids to school in three-inch-short jeans or tell them they won't be receiving holiday presents this year. We all know that after the holiday rush has passed the real deals emerge, as stores are desperate to get rid of stock that has become outdated or unwanted overnight. The same applies to any seasonal push, and taking advantage of this by buying off-season is simply the most effective way to get awesome deals on new merchandise.
Of course, don't just buy for the sake of buying. Plan holiday presents a year ahead, or take the opportunity to use post-Christmas sales to stock up for birthdays. Buying back to school supplies after the fall rush is a great way to keep a cheap stock for year-round refills. And remember that it doesn't just apply to clothes and gifts; holiday-themed treats and decorations look and taste just as good the day or week after the holiday. Your kids will be happy to find black-and-orange Halloween treats in lunches any time of year, and holiday ornaments bought in mid-January will not be outdated by December.
Now that you've got all the tricks to being a super savvy saving mom, read ahead to find even more information about ways to maintain your household without hurting your wallet.
Dollar stores — where most items cost just a buck — always seem to make money. HowStuffWorks finds out how they do it.
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- Federation of Tax Administrators. "Sales Tax Holidays." 2011. (October 20, 2011) http://www.taxadmin.org/fta/rate/sales_holiday.html
- Moneysavingmom.com. "FAQs." 2011. (October 20, 2011) http://moneysavingmom.com/frequently-asked-question
- Office Depot. "My Worklife Rewards." OfficeDepot.com. 2011. (October 20, 2011) http://www.myworkliferewards.com/loyalty/customerService/wlrFAQ.do
- Ramnarace, Cynthia. "Do you Save Money at a Warehouse Club?" AARP. Dec. 9, 2010. (Oct. 20, 2011) http://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-12-2010/myth_buster_warehouse_clubs.html
- Richtel, Matt. "Even at megastores, hagglers find no price is set in stone." March 23, 2008. (Oct. 20, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/23/business/23haggle.html?pagewanted=all
- Staples. "Learn About Staples Rewards." Staples.com. 2011. (October 201, 2011) http://www.staplesrewardscenter.com/SORC/UserManagement/Benefits/benefits_base.aspx