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Category: Earning & Managing Money

Ask the Readers: Saving money on formula?

We've talked about a lot of different things recently related to Having a Baby Without Breaking the Bank. As many of you know, I'm a big proponent of breast-feeding and believe that in most cases, with the right support and determination, most moms are able to breastfeed.

That said, I know there are cases where breastfeeding is not possible–such as when there are medical or physical conditions hindering a mom's ability to breastfeed or when you are adoptive parents, etc. And in those cases, buying formula can quickly become very expensive.

Sariah recently emailed me her predicament and I wanted to post her question for discussion since I know she's not the only one who is struggling or has struggled with this:

I'm about to give birth to our fourth child. For reasons that
are too long to get into here, I can't breastfeed my kids. The last three children have required a gentle formula for
digestive issues, and I've been very brand loyal to Enfamil. It's
scary to me to consider switching to another brand, but Enfamil is so expensive.

Do anyone of your readers have ideas on how to get name brand formula at a discount or input as to whether
any of the generic brands (such as Wal-Mart or Target) are comparable
to the name brands? -Sariah

If you have suggestions or input for Sariah, I'd love to have you take a moment to comment.

Note: As I do my best to keep this blog upbeat and free from debate and I understand that the topic of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding can (sadly) quickly become a very divisive issue, I would like to kindly ask that all comments be kept to the questions at hand. Thanks so much!

9 Insider Tips for Successfully Selling on Craigslist

Make big bucks on Craigslist and become the ultimate seller with these super helpful tips!

Guest Post by Carrie from SpringsBargains.com

Have you been to Craigslist? It’s like the ultimate online garage sale! We’ve used it for several years now and have bought and sold pretty extensively. It’s a great way to make a few extra bucks and declutter at the same time.

In all the transactions we’ve done, I’ve learned a few tips on selling that I hope are helpful to you:

1. Post good photos.

Use a “real” digital camera, not a cameraphone or otherwise poor quality camera. A fuzzy photo makes people wonder what you are trying to hide, even if you’re not trying to hide anything!
Take several different photos (the maximum is four) from various angles. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a horizontal photo and a vertical photo taken from the exact same angle.

2. Write an accurate description and price accordingly.

Your leather couch that your dog has chewed on is not going to go for the same price other leather couches without teeth marks are going for.

Disclose any flaws that you know of. Don’t say, “I paid $1000 for it 5 years ago and I only want $750!” If you think you can get that great of return on something you’ve used for 5 years, please don’t say how much you paid for it. In my opinion, it is rarely a good idea to quote the original price. It can almost always be used against you.

3. Note what area of town you are in.

There is a place on the form to do this. Are you north, south, east, west? What neighborhood? “Rockrimmon” gives a lot more information than “West Colorado Springs.” And by the way, everyone else in the world is not a zip code geek like you so putting only your zip code down is silly because very few people are going to know what part of town that is!

4. Be ready to respond to inquiries.

It should be obvious that you should not leave on vacation an hour after posting your ad. But you may post it and be gone for a few hours. In that case, it’s not a bad idea to include your phone number. If you’re not going to be able to check your email for some reason, include your phone number.

5. Don’t waste time on deadbeats.

If your item is in high demand, you will often get ten or more emails in the first hour or two. If someone is already trying to ask for a lower price, or wants to know a hundred things more about it, I don’t waste time on them unless they are the only inquiry.

Although it is considered courteous to offer the item on a first-come, first-served basis, if there are more than a few responses I usually skip over anyone who gives any indication they will be difficult to work with, such as wanting a discount before seeing the item, difficulty in arranging a time to pick up the item, or asking a myriad of questions that are irrelevant for a used item that’s being sold for a fair price.

6. Specify when you want to get rid of it.

We had over 25 inquiries the Sunday afternoon we posted an ad for a mattress. I promised it to the first person I emailed, and they were going to pick it up that night. They called later and wanted to know if they could pick it up the next day, which was fine but then they didn’t show up.

We were finally able to sell it to someone else on Monday, but it was maddening to sit at home thinking someone is going to come by our house to buy something and then they don’t show. We started putting something like: “The first person who’s able to come get it by tonight gets dibs!” on the ad to prevent something like that from happening again.

7. Save your “back-up buyers” emails.

Sometimes you will have someone not show up, or cancel, or decide they don’t want it. In that case, you could post it again, or if you’ve saved the emails other people sent, you can just email them all directly and and re-offer it to them. If the item has already been promised to someone but hasn’t been picked up yet, I will usually email any further inquiries and tell them it’s pending pick up, but that if there is a no-show or something I will email them back.

8. Meet at a location other than your home.

There are two reasons for this. One, you never know what kind of person is going to show up to buy the baby crib you’re selling. Two, it is easier to tell someone to meet you at the McDonald’s at a certain intersection than to give them directions to your house. Be sure to pick a place that is convenient for you.

9. Follow the rules and be courteous.

If your item doesn’t sell, re-post it according to the guidelines. If you’ve posted it twice with no response, it probably means no one wants it or you are asking too much.

As a buyer, it gets really annoying to see the same exact postings get posted every couple of days with no change–no new pictures, same description, no price adjustments. I have seem people post the same thing every day for a month, and I have to wonder if they really want to sell it or if they just like posting stuff!

Carrie Isaac blogs about deals in Colorado Springs at SpringsBargains.com.

photo by Unhindered by Talent

Having a Baby Without Breaking the Bank: Baby Doesn’t Need a Room of Her Own (Guest Post)

Do you have a baby on the way, but you're worried about your finances? Read this encouraging series on how to have a baby without breaking the budget! TONS of great tips!

Guest Post by Carrie Kirby from Shoplifting With Permission

Open any pregnancy magazine, and you’ll see that parents-to-be are expected to devote considerable time and money to furnishing and decorating a nursery for the new baby. Upscale publications even depict parents agonizing over how to apply their sophisticated decorating sensibilities to a baby’s environment by finding curtains, crib bumpers, and wall appliques that aren’t too cutesie.

I have been spared such dilemmas, because I never put together a nursery for either of my girls–nor am I planning one for the baby we’re expecting this summer. What I have realized over the course of raising two babies is that the last thing an infant needs is a room of her own. Since moving to a bigger home is one of the most expensive changes families make when they have kids, it’s worthwhile to consider whether a move can be postponed or avoided.

With our first baby, we lived in a one-bedroom condo and didn’t have a separate room to decorate. At the time, this situation pained me, because I felt like I was sitting out of an all-important nesting activity. I did try my best to decorate and furnish the end of our bedroom that would be the baby’s, and this compromise ended up fulfilling both the baby’s needs and my need to play out the full expecting mother experience.

I worried, during my pregnancy, that we were terrible parents for not moving to a bigger place–something that would have been impossible for us at the time. I didn’t realize that for most families, that lovingly decorated new nursery is superfluous in the early months because babies typically spend their nights in the parent’s room. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that newborns sleep in the same room as their parents.

We put the changing table up against one bedroom wall, hung a baby organizer and some baskets on the wall for holding burp clothes and little hats, and put a Pack ‘N Play next to the bed as a bassinet. The crib we placed in a spare corner of the living room, so I could keep an eye and an ear on my newborn during her naps.

The only time we ever needed the baby monitor we’d received at the shower was when I went to the basement to throw in a load of laundry. When the baby was older, we put away the Pack ‘N Play, got rid of most of our bedroom furniture besides the bed, and managed to squeeze the crib into our room.

When does a baby need a separate room to sleep in? Technically, never, if you think about the fact that in the course of human history, the idea of private bedrooms for each person is a relatively recent innovation. Even today, it’s not universal–plenty of cultures worldwide still consider it normal and desirable for the whole family to share a room, or even a bed. But practically speaking, where to keep the children is a decision that should be based on each family’s needs and resources.

We began to feel the need to get the baby out of our room when I wanted to stop getting up to nurse her at night. This happened between the ages of 12 and 18 months. If I had it to do over again, I probably would have moved the baby’s crib back to the living room at that point. Instead, we kept the baby in our room and when the she cried–when my attempts to soothe her without nursing failed–we’d try to sleep through her yells. One of us would usually end up on the couch, where there was not enough room for two. It was not a fun time.

This does not mean, however, that you need to move to a home with a separate bedroom for the baby by the time you want to night wean or when she hits a certain age. For most babies, the period when there is a lot of crying at night is short (although it feels like eternity at the time). Some families are even successful getting their babies to sleep through the night without any crying.

You can probably find a temporary solution that allows other family members to get their rest if the baby’s being noisy. When our second baby was a few months old, we moved to a three-bedroom house. Our plan was for her to transition from our room to sharing the second bedroom with her sister, then 3 years old. The third bedroom we reserved as a guest room/den.Naturally, the second baby went through a time when she was waking her sister with nighttime crying. We experimented with various set-ups, moving the Pack ‘N Play to the guest room and the living room at different times. Eventually, we moved her back into the kids’ room and her sister learned to sleep right through the crying. And, then, thankfully, the crying mostly stopped.

Probably the most important issue when living in a small home with a new baby is not the baby itself, but all the equipment that often comes with a baby. If you share a small space with a baby, it’s essential to keep equipment and toys to a minimum to stay sane!

Here are some other creative ideas for housing the baby in a small home:

1) The baby doesn’t have to be changed in the same place she sleeps. In fact, the bathroom is the best place for a changing surface if there is room. If space is really tight, skip the changing table and simply keep a basket of supplies and a changing pad wherever’s handy.

2) One family I know put the baby’s crib on the landing between the bedrooms. Just make sure that the crib can’t roll down the stairs!

3) To make room for a crib in a kid’s room, consider bed sharing or bunk beds for older siblings.

4) Check out this breakfast-nook-turned-nursery created by Maggie Mason, who blogs at MightyGirl.net. Their budget was $1,400, most of which went toward having doors custom-made for the formerly open nook.

5) At the website, Apartmenttherapy.com, readers recently weighed in on how long a family of three could live in a 400-square-foot apartment. Read the thoughts and ideas shared here.

6) There’s a helpful tutorial on EHow on turning a walk-in closet into a nursery here.

Freelance writer Carrie Kirby blogs about frugal living at Shoplifting With Permission and about parenting at My Funny, Funny Family.

photo by Erik van der Neut

Get Your Finances in Line in 2009: Monthly check-up (and some thoughts on setting goals)

Is it almost the middle of March already? Time is flying! Now that February is well behind us, it's time for our monthly check-up to see how well we're doing on our financial goals for 2009.

After I shared specific reasons last month on why we've made it our goal to save up to pay 100% cash down for our first home (read them here if you missed that post), I realized by the emails and comments I received that a number of you are missing my point in sharing this.

The point is not that everyone here needs to save up and pay 100% cash down for a home (though I certainly hope we might inspire some of you to consider doing this), the point is to encourage you, by our own example, to work hard and aim high.

Perhaps you can't save up to pay 100% down on a home, but you can certainly do something and start somewhere. And that is what this monthly financial check-up is all about.

As you've probably heard it said before, "if you don't know where you're going, any train will get you there." If you don't have any financial objectives or goals, you'll likely spend most of your life aimlessly earning and spending and making little traction in the process.

You can choose to continue this endless cycle which will get you nowhere, or you can choose to start doing something and going somewhere today. Do you know where you want to be in a year from now, or five years from now, or ten years from now? Set down and map out some written goals and then make a plan to accomplish these goals.

If you've never set financial goals before, I encourage you to start small. Perhaps you could commit to sticking with a grocery budget for three months. Or maybe you could purpose to give up a particular small weekly expenditure and put that money directly into a savings account instead.

Whatever you do, do something. Even if it's something seemingly minuscule. Often, just taking a baby step in the right direction can propel you farther than you ever dreamed possible!

Setting financial goals and working intensely towards them takes sacrifice, self-discipline, effort, sweat, perseverance, and work. But it is so very worth it.

I remember back to our law school days when we were living in a little basement apartment and could barely afford to buy groceries. There were many days when I wanted to give up and give in. It was hard to wear the same clothes again and again, to drive old vehicles, to wonder how we were going to pay our bills that month, to forgo invitations to go out with friends because there was no way we could afford a restaurant meal that month.

There was many a time when I had had enough of the scrimping and scraping, but, by the grace of God, and the resolve of my husband, we kept on with our objective of finishing law school without any debt. And I can't even begin to express how grateful I am that we didn't give up when the going got tough.

So many people told us that it would be impossible to live on a part-time income throughout law school without incurring any debt. But you know what? I've learned that just about anything is possible, if you're willing to set your mind to the task, work hard, and not give up.

The financial freedom we have now because we're not carrying around the
bondage of school loans is amazing and was worth every bit of sacrifice
during those law school years. And tasting the victory of meeting a financial goal after long and hard toil has only propelled us on to setting bigger goals–in all areas of life.

So, wherever you are and whatever life situation you are in, may I encourage you to dream big dreams, set big goals, aim high, work hard, and persevere? And you just might find yourself completely surprised at what all is possible when you're willing to set your mind to do something, make the necessary sacrifices, and stop listening to the naysayers!

Related: I encourage all of you to read this great article on High Performance Achievement.

And now for the monthly progress report:

We started out February at 36% of our house savings goal. As of February 28, 2009, we're at 37.5%!

I was hoping to make it to 40% by the end of February, but at least we made some headway. In addition, putting less into our house savings than we'd hoped in February has motivated us to examine all areas of our budget to see how we could cut more corners–which is always a good thing to do!

———————————–

How did you do in February? Whether
or not you posted financial goals for 2009, please take a moment to
post about your financial successes and failures in February and, if you'd like, the areas
you hope to improve in March. Then, come back here and leave your link
below. If you don't have a blog or would rather share anonymously, feel
free to leave your update in a comment. Let's all keep each other
accountable to be better stewards of
our resources!

100 Different Ways to Save $100 This Year – Part 2

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As we talked about in Part 1 of this series, not all of these different ideas of ways to save $100 per year will work for everyone in every situation. I just share these as things which have worked for our family and allowed us to live through some very lean years without going into debt.

My hope in sharing these is not to make you feel you must also follow in our footsteps or adopt all of these practices, but I hope to inspire you to consider ways you might also cut expenses in order to stretch your hard-earned dollars further so you can pay off debt, live within your means, save money, and most importantly, give to others.

For us, that is our ultimate reason for saving money–so we can have more to share with others. We see money as something God has entrusted to us and we want to be wise stewards of what He has given us so we can not only take care of the needs of our own family, but so we can also effectively help and reach out to those in need.

And it's been so exciting for us to see our hard work and frugality pay off in the last few years as we've not only been able to have more wiggle room in our budget and the ability to save more for our future, but we're also able to share much more with others. Truly, "it is more blessed to give than to receive."

If you've been feeling like there's no way you are able to give and bless others in need in your current financial situation, perhaps some of these 100 Different Ways to Save $100 This Year will inspire you to creatively cut your living expenses so you can share with others as well!

With that said, here are some more things we did during our law school years which saved us at least $100 or more per year:

11) Cut out cell phones or ditch your land lines. For many people, a cell phone is considered a "necessity". I was there, too. I'd had a cell phone ever since I was 15 and had become accustomed to the convenience and sort of security it was. But when my husband and I sat down and mapped out our budget before we got married, I realized that cutting out my cell phone plan would save us a nice chunk of change each month.

And so we dropped it and I survived just fine. In fact, even in an unfamiliar town with unreliable vehicles for those first few years of our marriage, I never found myself stranded on the side of the road. Believe it or not, I only remember one time I ended up having to use a pay phone!

Now, for your situation, having a cell phone might truly be a necessity due to your job or other circumstances, however, I'd encourage you to consider how much of a necessity it is and whether you might be able to live without it or at least go with a pay-per-use plan instead of a monthly contract.

If you can't ditch the cell phone, consider ditching the land line, if you haven't already. Either way, it's almost assuredly gong to save you at least $100 per year.

12) Only have one vehicle. Once again, like cell phones, two (or more) vehicles is very much considered a "necessity" these days. However, I think it's all about perspective: if down-sizing to one vehicle meant you were able to save more money, stay out of debt, live on one income, etc. would you be willing to do it?

Early on in our marriage, our second vehicle died permanently and we couldn't afford to replace it, so we just made do with one vehicle for the next three years.

Honestly, we didn't really miss having two vehicles. I learned to love staying home and making my home a haven for my family. I learned to be creative and make the most of what we did have. Since we didn't have transportation during the day while Jesse was at work, I often hosted play dates or get-togethers at our house or we'd take long walks around our neighborhood, to the park, or to the library.

By only having one vehicle, we saved quite a bit of money–not only on gas, upkeep of a vehicle, and insurance costs, but we also saved money because we did a lot less running around. And, let me tell you, staying home most of the time is one very easy way to spend less money!

Have you ditched your cell phone(s) or landlines or cut back to only having one vehicle? If so, I'd love to hear about your experiences in this regard and how it has worked for your family.

photo by Refracted Moments

Guest Post: The Best Places to Save Your Money

Guest post by J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly

Five years ago, I had over $35,000 in consumer debt. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck even though I had a decent salary. Since then, I've managed to turn things around, and am now debt-free except for my mortgage. I've even begun to save some money!

I didn't get out of debt overnight, though. It took a lot of work. I clipped coupons, I bought from thrift stores, and I sold a lot of stuff at garage sales. I learned how to be frugal. But I also learned how to save my money in a bank–something I had never done before. I'm here today to encourage you to save, too, and to show you two great ways to do it.

Rewards checking

Right now, the best interest rates in the U.S. can actually be found through special rewards checking accounts at local banks and credit unions. Different banks have different names for this service. Where I live, one credit union calls it a Fusion Checking Account and offers a 4.25% APY. Another simply calls it Rewards Checking and offers 3.75% APY. Other banks around the country are currently offering up to 6.01% APY.

Obviously, these rates are fantastic. There aren't many places you can earn a guaranteed 6% return on your money. Unfortunately, there are a few catches. These rewards checking accounts usually come with some combination of the following limitations:

  • You must receive your monthly statement electronically–not via snail mail.
  • You must log into your account at least once per month.
  • You must make a certain number (generally around 12) debit card purchases. (ATM withdrawals do not count toward this number.)
  • You must make at least one electronic transaction each month. These include automatic payments to your utilities, for example, or a direct deposit.
  • The rate only applies to the first $30,000 (or so) in your account. (The cap at some banks is $10,000; at others, it's $100,000.) The portion in your account above the cap only earns a tiny return.

If you use your debit card often, a rewards checking account makes a lot of sense. You can read more about these accounts at My Money Blog. Better yet, here's a huge list of rewards checking accounts by state. (Those listed with a red asterisk are available nationwide.)

Online savings

Another great option is to open a high-yield online savings account. This is the route I chose for my savings.

For me, the advantage of an online savings account is that the money is completely separate from my everyday checking. If I want to access the cash, I have to go through the process of transferring it from the online account to my local bank. This may seem like a hassle, but in this case that's good; it prevents me from spending the money recklessly. Another advantage is the ability to set up automatic monthly deposits, which helps me to save on "autopilot".

The bank I chose was ING Direct, which is very popular with the readers of my personal finance blog. Its rates are generally modest, but the customer service is excellent. Best of all, ING Direct allows me to set up multiple accounts. I have one account to save for emergencies, one to save for a new car, one to save for Christmas, and one to save for vacation–and I can track them all from the same screen.

ING Direct is not the only option, though. There are many great online banks with good interest rates, which you can research in this list of the best savings accounts.

I am a huge fan of clipping coupons, shopping at thrift stores, and learning to make your own food. These things save money and offer a great deal of satisfaction. But I've also discovered that it pays to keep my savings someplace that will pay me interest.

For more information about saving and investing, visit Get Rich Slowly, where you can read about topics like how to get out of debt, how to earn extra money, and how to save at the supermarket!