3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Gifts

Are you trying earnestly to save money and just needs some tips along the way? While this is not a comprehensive, fix-all post for all your gift giving needs, these are some practical ways to help your dollars go a little farther. 

My heart is totally there – I’d LOVE to give my family and friends ANYTHING they want. Seriously. I aim to please, what can I say? But while my heart is there, my money is not there. (Trust me, I’ve looked.) So this post may fall more into the category of “you gotta do what you gotta do” than “these are the best shopping tips for gifts I’ve ever seen!” Or better yet, maybe this would fit better in the category of “first world problems.” At any rate, may they help you along your frugal way! 

1. Shop clearance and major sales – depending on how much of a shopper you are, this make take some time and patience. I might not shop as often as other women, but I do frequent clearance sections pretty much everywhere I go! If you have the storage space, you can shop after certain seasons (like Christmas) and hold on to your gifts till next year. I’ve found $5-$7 Old Navy polos in spring and saved them for birthdays or Fathers Day a few months later. (Sorry, Dad, now you know!) I’ve found some great Black Friday deals (like $10 crockpots) that made for some good wedding gifts. Like I said, it takes some time and patience sonetimes, but the savings is worth it! 

2. Regift thoughtfully – this is the thing that so many people do and so few people admit to! Okay, so you have to admit that sometimes you receive a gift that is just not you. It was kind, generous, expensive, beautiful…whatever it was, it just wasn’t you. Take those opportunities to save some money down the road. Think of who that gift would be a great fit for and plan to give it to them on their next birthday or at Christmas, whichever comes sooner. 

I was once given some jewelry, and while I’m grateful for it and appreciate being thought of, it was definitely not my taste. But I knew someone who would wear that jewelry so well (oh and it’s important to note that the person who gave it to me and the person I was planning to give it to did not and most likely will never know each other). So after holding on to the jewelry for a couple months, I gave it to this other friend for her birthday, and she loved it!! I’ve seen her wear it a few times which makes me so happy :). If you don’t regift it, it’s likely a waste. As long as you’re thoughtful about it, why not regift?

3. DIY gifts – this is my favorite. A homemade gift usually means so much more to the recipient than something you bought. (It all started as a kid when I would give my mom coupons for free foot massages or breakfast in bed… ) But seriously, when I know someone put their precious time and energy into something, it usually means much more to me than money or store bought gifts. Some gift ideas that don’t break the bank but don’t require sowing or ludicrous amounts of time include bath salts, sugar scrubs, baked goods (already baked or ingredients in a cute jar).

Tip: Here are 51 ideas for some awesome gifts in a jar.

Happy gifting! 

2 ingredient, cheap, natural ant “Raid”

Need a quick, easy, cheap, natural fix for ants in your home? You’ve come to the the right place! 

Spring is here! For us that means gorgeous weather, fresh air breezing through our little casa, enjoyable spring cleaning (so far, enjoyable).

Unfortunately this spring, it also meant ants. I’m thinking they came through our screened window in the bathroom. There was never a trail, so it’s hard to say for sure. And when you can’t tell where they’re coming from, how do you find the source? The answer for me was to just spray everything and everywhere. (And with this amazing natural ant killer, it’s okay to spray everything!) 

We had ants in our apartment a couple years ago when my parents were about to visit. Of course, the ants were in the guest bedroom where my parents would stay. And this time there was a trail; I just couldn’t find the ultimate source (I think it was under the bed, coming out of a phone jack). Every time I sprayed with Raid, there would be a trail of dead ants, and then (eventually) another trail would form of live ants right above the previous (dead) ant trail. After each time I sprayed, the trail would get longer than it did before! They eventually made it out of the guest room, into the little hallway, and around the corner into the kitchen. It was incredibly frustrating. 

Being renters, it’s natural to think that the obvious fix is to tell your landlord. However, this is not my first encounter with pests in these apartments. Suffice it to say, there’s more than one reason I didn’t want to have our landlords run to the rescue, so that option was out for me.

So with Raid not working and my not wanting to have the place fumed, I began Googling my options. I love finding options that are so cheap and easy that it’d be silly not to try them. Now that this salt water solution has worked for me on two separate occasions (about two years apart from each other), I think it’s a must-try! 

Here are my conclusions of Raid vs salt water: 

Pros to using Raid

Um….I’m thinking 

  1. It comes already made; all you have to do is buy it 

Cons to using Raid: 

  1. It doesn’t work; the ants came back (case closed!)
  2. It’s toxic 
  3. It’s expensive (comparatively)

Pros to using salt water:

  1. If you already have a spray bottle, it costs about $.20 or less to make
  2. Salt is a common household product 
  3. It’s natural (non-toxic)
  4. You can spray it just about anywhere without having to wipe or clean it up (huge plus when you can’t find the trail!)
  5. It works at killing ants AND keeping them away!

Cons to using salt water:

  1. You have to own or buy a spray bottle
  2. You have to make it yourself 
  3. It might not work perfectly the first time (took me about 3 rounds of spraying for the ants to stay gone)

Disclaimer #1: I have no idea what kind of ants we had. I don’t have any more ants, or else I would post a picture of them! 

Disclaimer #2: the amount of salt seems to matter more for your spray bottle’s sake than for ensuring dead ants (my spray bottle got clogged when I tried to use too much salt)

What you will need:

  1. Clean spray bottle (bought mine from the dollar store)
  2. 3 tablespoons of regular table salt
  3. Warm water to dissolve the salt 
  4. Ants

Directions: 

  1. Pour salt into your clean spray bottle. 
  2. Pour warm water into your spray bottle; put lid on. 
  3. Shake to dissolve salt and mix thoroughly. 
  4. Spray wherever you see ants, wherever you saw ants recently, wherever you think the ants want to go next, just spray everywhere!!! 
  5. Come back a couple hours later to see only a fraction of the ants that were there before. 
  6. Spray all live ants and any areas you think you missed. 
  7. Continue until there are no more ants. This should only take a handful of times. 

For me it took about 3-4 times over the span of a few days. When I did this a couple years ago, I only remember spraying once, but my memory could be failing me on that one. 

I hope this helps get rid of your frenemy ants! 

12 Ideas for cheap, quick, easy meals


Ever looked at your budget and thought: the only thing that can give is the groceries! There’s just no other wiggle room! Well, the good news is there are plenty of resources to help you cut your budget without making everything from scratch (although that in itself can save you a lot of money!) If you’re not already doing so, going meatless one or two nights a week, is usually a help to your wallet.

Of course, these meals below are not meant to be consumed every single day for the rest of your life. This is just a season. A season for your finances to heal, for your savings to grow, for your bank account to get a fighting chance.

Maybe you’re not quite that desperate to save some money. You can incorporate one or two of these meals into your meal line up to save a little more here and there. If nothing else, you have some easy and quick go-to meals!

Basic carbs:

Spaghetti

Rice and beans

Baked potatoes

Mac and cheese

Garlic-Parmesan-Butter noodles

Breakfast for dinner:

Pancakes

Scrambled eggs and toast

Sandwiches:

Grilled cheese

Peanut butter and jelly

Soup:

Tomato

Vegetable

Black Bean

Here’s a meal for 4-5 that cost about $3.50. There was more than what’s pictured too! (I love Aldi!!)

Vegetables: $1

Spaghetti noodles: $1

Sauce: $1.50 (I think I used 1.5 cans; $1 each)

10 Reasons I Love Shopping at Aldi

If you don’t have an Aldi, I apologize. My heart goes out to you. My parents first got an Aldi (RIGHT around the corner from their house!), and they would rave to me about it… and now I understand why. We recently got an Aldi in the next city over, and it’s definitely worth the time and gasoline to go! Oh, and we recently got some big news: we are soon getting an Aldi, not just in our own city, but RIGHT. NEXT. DOOR. to our apartment. Aaaaaah!!!

Okay, so here are some reasons I’m so excited to have an Aldi right next door to us (in no particular order):

  1. Aldi saves me money on groceries!!! Hands down. It’s the best. Where else can you get 40 oz. (that’s a lot) of peanut butter for $3? That’s a dollar cheaper for the same size at Wal-Mart – not that Wal-Mart is the standard. Honey is also $1 cheaper than Wal-Mart! I seriously leave Aldi thinking, How did I get this much food for that low of a price?!
  2. Aldi has no membership fee. (No offense, Costco and Sam’s friends!)
  3. Aldi stores are small. Grocery shopping is so manageable in Aldi. You don’t have a massive selection to choose from (typically you have 2 brands to choose from) which I’m pretty sure helps my stress level stay quite low. Does anyone else get stressed going grocery shopping in big stores?
  4. They have caring, friendly, efficient employees.
  5. They have a double guarantee. If you don’t like the product, you can return it for a replacement AND get your money back!
  6. They keep their stores clean (can NOT say that for our local Wal-Marts). This also makes for a more pleasant shopping experience.
  7. They are speedy, so they consider all of their lanes to be “express lanes.”
  8. They have you rent a cart for $.25, so their store and parking lot are not crowded with carts everywhere. This also keeps prices low…and my stress level.
  9. You don’t have to buy bags. You simply take a box or two from the shelves while you’re shopping (but if you don’t, you may want to buy a bag for $.15).
  10. I don’t have to worry about what’s in my food. Even in their cereal, they refuse to put in harmful red dyes, and they are working on getting out some other known harmful chemicals. Here’s a little more about their brands to help you feel good about what you’re getting.

Before you go to Aldi, keep a few things in mind:

  1. You need a quarter to get a cart. You’ll get it back.
  2. Pick up a box while you’re shopping (empty the box if needed) and stick it under your cart for check out time.
  3. They probably won’t have the exact brand you’re looking for. Their generic brands are pretty good though, and Aldi strives to make its generic brand as good as or better than the nation’s leading brands.
  4. Don’t expect to get 100% of your shopping list there, particularly if you have some new recipes you’re shopping for. They don’t have a wide variety of spices…and you can’t find spray starch there (but you can make spray starch for super cheap!).

If you haven’t yet experienced Aldi (and embraced her for all her awesomeness!), I hope you’ll go soon and let me know what you think!

Photo credit: Ben Tsai

5 Ways to Save Money on Clothes

I was recently asked how I save money on clothing, and once I thought about it, I realized that there’s not just one way…at least not for me.

Personally, when it comes to clothing, I can’t remember the last time I paid full price for something. My husband on the other hand, if he’s with me and sees that I like the item and not the price, he won’t hesitate! Anyway, just saying “never pay full price for anything,” seems insufficient. You can easily find a 15% off coupon for Kohl’s, so instead of paying $100 for a coat, you pay $85 (which for me feels like it only covered the tax. You’re welcome, California). That’s not a deal, even if your 15% off wasn’t for an expensive item. And so, I have some money saving tips to help with our clothes shopping battle:

  • Shop only the clearance section. If you are truly a deal finder (and you have the discipline to only buy a great deal), you can probably safely branch out of the clearance section, but if you are truly trying to save money, the clearance section is the place for you. Now mind you, Target’s 30% off “clearance” is not really clearance. My idea of clearance is about 60%-70% off. Even 60% is sometimes not tempting.
Tip: try on anything you want to buy! Once you have it on, you may realize that it's not worth the price!
  • Find your top 2-3 favorite stores and only shop their major sales. This requires that you get some classic clothes that will remain “in season” for a little longer (solids for example), but it doesn’t mean you have to wear clothes from the last decade. I think my favorite go-to store is New York & Company; they have some GREAT markdowns in the summer and right after Christmas. And on top of that, they offer $10 off of a $30 purchase (and I can spend $20 at NY&C!) and the deals continue to go up as you continue to spend money.
  • Welcome hand-me-downs. When a friend knows 2 things: 1, that you like the clothes she wears and 2, that you are trying to save money, she may very likely offer you her unused or unwanted clothes. This assumes you’re similar sizes, of course, and that your friendship is strong enough that you won’t offend your friend by not wearing them. It’s safe to say that about half my closet (or more) was given to me. And I have no shame in that!
  • Find the best consignment and thrift stores around you. For me, that means I have to travel about 45 minutes. But when I go to my motherland, the great state of Texas, it means I have to go 3 minutes down the street to Thrift City (and I might just find a $3 Gap sweater or a $5 Ann Taylor skirt – both in great condition). Finding a nice area matters for a couple reasons: 1, the nicer the area, the better brands you find (which matters not because of having a certain status of wearing name brands but because often better brands last longer and look nicer) and 2, they’ve taken care of their clothes; they typically don’t donate them with stains or rips, and they haven’t worn the clothing to a pulp; they simply don’t want or need that item anymore.
  • Find clothes on Poshmark or other clothing resale app. I’ve sold unwanted or unused clothes on Poshmark, and I’ve used those earnings to buy things I do want (another $5 Ann Taylor skirt!). So I’m basically trading what I don’t want for what I do want. But you can also find good deals on there without having to sell something first in order to pay for it. For more info, check out my post on buying and selling clothes online. Use this code to get $5 off your first purchase (I get $5 also): JXAXJ
Tip: Ask yourself, Would I rather have this article of clothing or $(name the price of the item)?

My hope is that at least one of these tips will work for you or at least get you thinking about how you can improve your saving and spending on clothing. Happy saving!

Photo credit: Picture of Money

Under $1 – DIY Insanely Aromatic Home Fragrance!

DIY home fragrance: saving money and reducing our toxic burden one product at a time

I won’t deny that I LOVE the potent smell of some of Bath & Body Works’s candles. And there’s something about the way candles make a house look so cozy and homey. However, candles have who-knows-what in them, and if you have young children, they are even less safe.

And then there’s the price. Truthfully, that’s what really got me. How can I justify spending $20 on a candle that lasts maybe 10 hours? I can use it up in about week! Is it it worth $2/hour to me? Not really. I’d rather just have free, fresh air! And so I got to work looking for a cheap potpourri that can smell just as good, be just as potent, but cost so much less.

I wish my calculations were a little more exact. Because the recipes aren’t exact and because I can’t guess what you pay for electricity or gas (I struggled with even figuring out the price for my own gasoline!), I guesstimated the prices. Even if I’m a little off on all of the prices, the cost of this in addition to the reduction of chemicals is a big win!

Basic recipe:

A peel of a citrus: $.10-$.25 if you buy it for the peel only, depending on the sale (or free if you only needed the fruit itself!)

A couple spices you enjoy: $.05-$.50, depending on what spice and how much you use

4 cups or so of water: free for me (sorry, no idea… but cheap!)

Electricity or gasoline: Depends on how long you use it and what rate you get, but I’m guessing about $.50… I tried to calculate via SoCal gas. I just know it’s super cheap! (And their rates even went down as of this month!)

Fragrance potency: ridiculously amazing!

Life expectancy: at minimum, 5 hours if you continue adding water to it!

Basic cost for me: less an $1

 

For those of you who need to have a definite recipe, I made an attempt at some specific blends. Just know that the water, gas, potency, and life of these blends all depends on the amount of time and level of heat.

Rosemary Christmas Blend:

A few sprigs of FRESH rosemary (found on the side of the road growing wildly): free to me!

A few cinnamon sticks (bought in bulk at Winco):

Peel of citrus fruit (I used lime): $.10

Water: free for me

Gasoline for stove: depends on how long you let it go 🙂

Total cost: definitely under $1! 

Orange Spice Blend

2-4 cinnamon sticks (1-2 tsp of ground cinnamon works too!): $.20

1-2 tsp of clove and/or all spice: $.20

Peels of oranges (3 would be great!): $.50

Water: free for me

Gasoline for stove: depends on how long you let it go 🙂

Total cost: definitely under $1! 

Next potpourris to try: citrus-basil (yes, like Bath & Body Works!) and a refreshing peppermint scent.

Enjoy your new homemade fragrance!

Photo Credit: cinnamonvogue

$.05 DIY Spray Starch

DIY spray starch: saving money and reducing our toxic burden one product at a time

Are you the type to be encouraged by baby steps in the right direction? I’m typically not, but I guess since this was the first DIY household product recipe that worked well for me AND my picky husband likes it, I’m more than okay with this baby step!

This started with our feeble attempt at a “no spend month.” Feeble is the exact word. There was no forethought of what we already had on hand or how long we would go. We just liked the idea of not spending any money. I think I took it a little bit more seriously than my husband did.

And that’s what gave me this incredibly cheap, super useful spray starch! A box of cornstarch is half the price of a can of spray starch you’d buy at the store. And you only need a small, small amount of corn starch to make this!

My husband wears a dress shirt six days a week (at least), so you can imagine that we go through quite a bit of starch. Now commercial spray starch is only about $2 a bottle, saving us maybe $25 a year. But 1, I’ll take an extra $2 onto my grocery budget every month! 2, that’s one fewer thing I have to remember to check on and add to my grocery list. 3, our Aldi doesn’t sell spray starch, and Aldi is where I primarily shop. 4, while I don’t use non-GMO cornstarch, I know there are many, many fewer nasty chemicals to irritate my husband’s razor-burned neck! 5, it doesn’t take forever to make. And 6, I don’t have to worry about messing up the recipe. Need I say more? At about $.05 a bottle, it’s a win in so many ways!!!

I used this recipe from Brendid; she gives 3 options for making non-toxic starch, but for me, her middle option of boiling the cornstarch and water is the best and cheapest. I think just mixing the cold water and cornstarch would clog up the sprayer way too easily.

So here’s the recipe I used and love, and you can check out this link for 2 other options (she also has free printables!).

1.5 Tbsp Cornstarch

2.5 Cups Water

Empty spray bottle with a mist nozzle (I used a washed out Febreeze bottle = free to me!)

Mix together 2 ½ cups of tap water and 1 ½ tbsp cornstarch in a saucepan (make sure there are no lumps).

Bring the mixture to a boil for 1 minute then cool to room temperature.

Fill spray bottle.

The heated starch stays suspended and works perfectly: no shaking, no clogging, and nicely starched clothes!

I occasionally add some warm water to make it a little less thick and/or to make it go a little further. For us it lasts longer than the aerosol spray. I’ve kept it stored in the closet for about a month or so, and it has done just fine. However, there are no preservatives in it, so it could eventually rot. If you don’t use spray starch very often, I suggest making a smaller batch. But at $.05 a bottle, I wouldn’t feel bad saying goodbye before I’m ready! I’ve also not noticed any damage to the plate of our iron – it still looks good as new!

Let me know how you like this or if you find a way to make it even better!