Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Molly Saves" Contest and How to spin pennies into dollars, our top 10 ways to save money

I'm hosting my first ever contest with this blog post!  I wrote this especially for Molly Green's (of special monthly money saving digest, "Molly Saves."  This month is all about "Saving in the Laundry Room."    It usually costs $4.95 per  issue, but she is award one copy to a lucky reader of my blog.  If you'd like to enter for me to email your very own PDF digest, write a comment at the bottom of this blog post.  If you'd like your name in the hat twice, go ahead and click "Join this Site" on the right hand column.  There are some amazing tips, including this article, so it's worth your time!   

Grandma and Grandpa treated us all to a trip to Hawaii!
 Wow!  What a great place for a family portrait!

It's in my blood to be thrifty.  My grandparents had to pinch pennies growing up, and so raised their children to be very frugal and wise with money.  My parents raised us in Hawaii in a condominium on a pastor and secretary's salary, and with the high cost of food and living, every cent mattered.  One of the highlights of my childhood was receiving big garbage bags of hand me down clothes!

Now that my husband and I have five kids, ages 3-12, it has been a necessity to make thrift a part of everyday life.  As often is the case in large families, we don't always realize all that we do to make our pennies go just a bit farther.  It's always a great exercise to make a top ten list when you're trying to condense your ideas in one place.  These lists encourage us by outlining things in a clear way, and convey ideas in a matter of fact way so others can be inspired and encouraged.

1) Make your breakfast from scratch.  When even the economy sized bags of cereal cost five dollars a piece, and your children eat them in one sitting, you've got to figure out something else to feed the masses.  
One of our simplest breakfasts is oatmeal.  We like to buy giant bags of old fashioned oatmeal and a big sack of brown sugar at Costco.  We then put fruit we've frozen on top bowls of oats sprinkled with sugar, and sometimes we'll throw in nuts.  We heat water to boiling and pour it right on top, thawing the fruit as it cooks the oats.  Talk about fast food!

Homemade waffles are another affordable way we like to eat.  We buy big bags of flour through Azure Standard, then make double batches every few days, freezing the extra.  Once everyone knows the routine, it's easy to get the hubby or the big kids to help keep the waffle iron pumping out the goods.  Add some peanut butter and a little bit of frozen fruit on top, and you have a meal to last well into lunch.

2) Do U-Pick.  We can save $1.20 per pound by picking our own blueberries at the local blueberry farm. Our favorite organic strawberry farm only offers the U-Pick option.   If we were to buy the 20-30 pounds of strawberries we usually pick at fair market value, we might have to go without other food for a good chunk of time!  

Check out the web to find local U-Pick farms in your area.  A great resource for the Pacific Northwest is  We always make picking a family and friends event, inviting whoever we know that might be available to join us for conversation, laughs, good photo opportunities, and some really great produce.  Also, you can eat your fill as you pick, thus making for some very happy children!

3)  Use bulk ordering.  There are many companies through which you may order your food in bulk.  Some grocery stores will even do this on request.  We have purchased bulk foods through a local Seventh Day Adventist Church, and when that delivery stopped, we ordered foods through  They offer organic foods at affordable prices.  We always buy big bags of organic unbleached flour through them, saving many dollars over grocery store prices.  Organic peanut butter and Non-GMO canola oil are also staples we buy through them.  

Search the web for local CSAs (community supported agriculture)...this is a way for you to buy local farm fresh foods at a lower cost by committing to purchase a share of the crop. is a great national resource to find a farm close to you.  I actually buy my coffee through a local small batch coffee roaster CSA.

We also participate in an annual produce co-op, in which many families pool resources to pay gas and a bit extra to send a group of people to buy produce for preserving from farms in Eastern Washington.  Because we are buying by the box, we get great deals on organic tomatoes, sustainably grown peaches, pears, garlic, nectarines and more.  This makes canning season affordable.

4)  Preserve your own foods.  Early this summer, I ran out of freezer jam and canned jam I had made last year.  I was surprised to learn that a jar of jam can cost $3-$4 at the grocery store...even more if you're trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup or go organic.  This made me especially motivated to pick more strawberries than ever before and make a giant batch of freezer jam.  

It's easy to chop up the dreaded giant summer zucchini people give you and do nothing but throw them in a bag in the freezer.  They are great for stir fries, in fried rice, or chopped smaller for zucchini bread.  This costs a lot less than a bag of stir fry ingredients from Costco. 
 I keep frozen fruits in the freezer from our u-pick times, or if there's left over, from the garden.  This way, I can use them for smoothies or for breakfast toppings, saving many dollars over the smoothie kits one can purchase.  

We have property, and the kids do 4H, so we sold some of our more useless goats and bought a dairy goat.  We were paying $5 a gallon for organic milk at the store, so it's been nice to get to freeze the extra milk from our goat.  I don't buy the organic grain for the goat in order to save money.  The bulk of her daily food comes from our pasture, so I figure that balances it out. 

 The best part is dairy goats are seasonal milkers, meaning you don't have to milk them through the winter.  You breed them in the fall and milk again in the spring when they kid, sell the kids, and get some new stores of milk in the freezer, and in the summer, the human kids can earn some money showing the goats at the fairs, learning valuable skills in responsibility and self confidence along the way.  
 It's worth it to pay to run an extra freezer in the garage when it's stocked and saving you in the long run.

5)  Grow a garden.  There's nothing more fun than going out into the garden in the spring and bringing in a big bowl of salad greens for dinner.  Best part is, you didn't pay $5 for it in a big plastic box, and your kids get to see where food comes from.  In our freezer, we have many gallon bags filled with food from the garden.  When we eat it, we remember when we picked it, and I think that makes it taste even better.  

My garden seed bill is usually less than $50 because I don't use the entire packet, planting only what I have learned we will use for fresh eating or preservation.  If you have just a bit of time each day, or a block of time on the weekend, and a little bit of self discipline, you can certainly coax food from the earth, having only paid in sweat and a little bit of cash.  

6) Use your library.  I was shocked to learn the value of the books we had checked out.  $802.  Why did I know this?  They were horribly overdue, and we were being threatened with paying for them if we didn't return them immediately.  August was an insanely busy month for us with fairs, food preservation, camping and school year prep.  I am embarrassed to say I forgot about the library books.  I do not advocate being an irresponsible library patron like I was, but I DO advocate using the library.  I think we must have made multiple trips to the library without the returning books part.  I am happy to say that I returned every single book and was returned to normal patron status.  

My kids know that they can order books on any subject through our library system,  and we have saved an enormous amount by using this resource.  In the meantime, my kids have read about things like llamas, photography, Hardy Boys, the Civil War, Organic Gardening and Samurai, all because of the convenient resource that is our local library.  

7) Avoid anything pre packaged.  You'll notice that one of the main ways we save is in our food budget.  With a family of 7, with several of the kids in pre-teen years, this is crucial.  The kids have decided that homemade pizza and mac and cheese are far better than store bought.  (thank goodness). 

After trying a prevalent homemade laundry detergent recipe, then having my septic filter clog, I came up with a more septic friendly homemade laundry detergent recipe.  It powers out both stains and odors, and can be made without cooking anything, just dumping in powders and water.  See it on my blog at

We make refried beans with an easy crockpot recipe we found online.  Instead of buying the little cans, we used the big bag of dried costco pinto peans.  All you need are beans, an onion, some cumin, garlic and water.  The crockpot does the rest, and all you do is mash. 

Avoiding pre-packaged things goes for things besides food too: if you think this way, you'll notice that clothes are more affordable at thrift stores, where they do not have packages, that garage sales offer many gently used items at great prices, and that Craigslist can find you some pretty killer deals.  A friend recently bought an entire like new bedroom set, mattress and 4 poster bed included, for $200!  We pay an awful lot for that plastic packaging on our merchandise.

8)  Stay home  This tenet has been the most difficult for me to embrace, but the most rewarding.  I grew up on the go.  From 6th-12th grade, I spent 3 hours a day on the bus commuting to school, so it was very strange for me to transition a few years later to the life of a stay at home mom.  I had to leave the house at least once a day, I found, or I would go stir crazy. 

 I found, after a while though, that I didn't have to go as far to get the same feeling of release.  I found that just going outside and enjoying the fresh breeze or rain started to be more satisfying than jumping in the car to take the kids to the nearest play place.  I've talked to countless people who feel like a hole magically develops in their wallet once they leave the house.  

Staying home and enjoying your family can help you save.  If you try to be creative, it can be really fun.  I like to take nature walks with the kids in our neighborhood, noticing weird bugs and squishy mud and flowing streams.  In the summer we always have a staycation, pitching a few tents in the yard and enjoying the luxury of nearby flushing toilets, and extension cords for night lights. 

9) Ask store clerks to help you find the deals: I'm not sure if it's because i look frantic, that they want to avoid chaos, or that they generally want to help, but asking for help in stores has been key for me in finding great deals.  Rather than grabbing the first thing I see and bee-lining it out of there with my five sidekicks, I embarrass them and walk straight up to the closest employee.  

My son was looking for a sweatshirt with the school clothes money his grandma gave him.  We found an employee, clearly stated our budget and desires, and after two stores, found that none matched his available funds.  This took just a few minutes, and could have taken us much longer, ending in a frustrated over-priced purchase.
Because we had saved time, we were able to purchase a sweatshirt within his budget and buy some sandals as well at the next store.  
When I needed to buy a volleyball for my daughter, I went into the local sporting goods store, asked where the most affordable volleyballs were, inquired about their quality, and ended up saving $10, buying a comparably good volleyball that lasted the season just fine.  Use your kids to your advantage.  Employees are there to help.  When they see you with your children, they will naturally want to pitch in and save you time.  If not, hightail it on out of there.  You'll likely find a better deal elsewhere.

10) Keep a budget.  This has been the biggest life changer for our family.  In a marriage, you are combining two different family paradigms.  Oftentimes they are polar opposites.  Because of this issue in our marriage, we ended up very deeply in debt because, instead of fighting, we just never made a plan.  We finally listened to all the people around us and took the short Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course at a local church.  We came away united in our desire to demolish our debt, and to do it by keeping a budget.  We  have a spreadsheet that we update each month on Google Docs, earmarking each dollar before it is spent.  We use cash in envelopes, and have paid off thousands of dollars in debt.  Thankfully, our frugal ways in other areas are greatly enhanced by the power of a budget. 

You can do it!   Take some time to thing about your favorite ways to save, then think about how you can build on them.  Soon you'll find you're spinning pennies into dollars!

 I wrote this for, but was given permission to post it on my blog as well.  

Angie Donnelson is a homemaking, homeschooling mom  living in Western Washington.  She's also a freelance writer and photographer.  Visit her blog at  Her husband, Brandon is a computer programmer and realtor.  Their 5 children are Eva, 12; Isaac, 10; Levi, 8, Saraiah; 5 and Maia, 3.  They share their little homestead with a 3 legged dog named Koa, some chickens, goats, alpacas, and a fearless llama named Natasha.  


  1. Would love to win. Loved reading your post!

  2. You will probably win by default! I will let this go till friday.

  3. Loved your article! I made oatmeal your "fast food" way for lunch today--why have I never done this before??


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