An Introduction to Girl Scout Cookies

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It’s Girl Scout Cookie season here in Central Texas. If you live in the US, chances are that you’ve seen little girls in uniform selling boxes of cookies in front of stores or had them knock on your door.

These twins don't agree on how they feel about selling Girl Scout cookies today!
Perhaps you have a little Thin Mint addiction. Perhaps your No Soliciting sign has a Girl Scout exemption.

This post is an introduction to Girl Scout cookies for those unfamiliar with the point of cookie sales beyond satisfying your sweet tooth. It’s also for parents just getting started on their daughter’s Girl Scout journey. I know I was a little lost last year when cookie season began.

Where Cookie Earnings Go

Girl Scout cookie sales raise money for Girl Scout troops, but that’s not really the core purpose. From the $4.00 price tag of each box of cookies, our troop earns a measly 10%. That’s right. $0.40 for each box goes into the troop fund for the kids selling you cookies. We do get an extra quarter per box for the troop from our specific Service Unit if certain requirements are met by the end of sales season.

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There’s no obligation for Girl Scouts to sell cookies. In our troop, we ask parents who aren’t up for participating in sales to contribute what they can to the troop account, which we spend on things like badges, outings and a charitable donation.

Why Scouts Sell Cookies

Troops (groups of Girl Scouts who meet regularly and share activities) decide as a group what to do with their earnings. The point of cookie sales is to teach our girls the basics of entrepreneurship: Goal Setting, Decision Making, Money Management, People Skills and Business Ethics. 

Girl Scout cookie sales are only in very small part about making money. The more valuable aspect is giving girls an opportunity to learn to run a business.

Each girl sets for herself a goal for how many boxes of cookies she can sell during the sales season. Based on her age, she more or less independently sells the cookies. Daisies (kindergarten and 1st grade) are accompanied by older scouts at their sales booths and adults handle the money for them. Brownies can make their own change but parents are nearby for assistance. Juniors (4th and 5th grade) can handle most sales independently, but adults are there for assistance with credit card sales, check sales, and philosophical questions.

Last year, my girls convinced me to buy a box of cookies from them, then handed out free samples in our vet’s waiting room. Not surprisingly, they were able to score several sales off this approach. This year, I asked my 7-year-olds what they thought they were learning to selling cookies.

M: People listen better when we stand up more confidently.

J: Counting money.

To keep things fun, the Girl Scouts each earn an award for selling a certain amount of cookies. In addition to the badges and pins they can add to their uniforms to show the skills they’ve exercised selling cookies, they earn extra incentives for selling different quantities of cookies. Incentives vary by location.

Girl Scouts earn incentives for successful cookie sales.

A Twin Thing

My daughters actually asked me whether they could pool their sales toward a single (presumably better) incentive by crediting just one of them with all their sales. I said no. They were individual Girl Scouts and didn’t get to work the system. Our sales are evenly divided between the two children. We will probably modify that approach if they stick with Girl Scouts when they’re old enough to sell cookies more independently.

Keeping Track

One of the more challenging things for little girls is keeping track of what money is coming in and what cookies are going out. I made my daughters a chart, two versions shown here, to help them keep up with sales. They used tally marks to track cookie boxes and wrote down donation amounts in dollars. (Click the image for a printable PDF.)Cookie Sale TrackerCookie Sale Tracker

Different troops handle orders differently. In our troop, we discuss sales goals with our daughters and provide and initial estimate. Our Cookie Dad puts in an order for the troop and distributes the cookies once they arrive. If we realize we need more cookies, we can ask him and he’ll put in a couple of additional group orders during cookie season. We’re free to sell door-to-door or to our friends, but we’re also welcome to serve at booths set up at businesses around the community.

Other troops take orders by order form and only purchase cookies to meet their orders. They must then deliver the cookies. A couple of troops sell cookies online.

Types of Cookies

One of the things I found most confusing was the different types of cookies. Seemingly identical cookies had different names. People wanted to know why we weren’t selling their favourite cookie from the year before. People wanted to know why their cousin 100 miles away could buy Lemonades when we didn’t have them.

There are two different bakeries licensed to make Girl Scout cookies. They use different names (and recipes) for the cookies, although Thin Mints are Thin Mints regardless of bakery. So Samoas are Caramel Delites. Do-si-Dos are Peanut Butter Sandwiches. Also, Trefoils are Shortbread, Tagalongs are Peanut Butter Patties. Apart from the core 5 cookies, they make different types. Little Brownie Bakers’ lemon cookies are bite-sized powdered sugar-covered crescents called Savannah Smiles, while ABC Bakers’ Lemonades are lemon-iced shortbread cookies.

Also, from the official Girl Scout Cookie FAQ:

Half of the Girl Scout councils served by Little Brownie Bakers are taking part in the “Super Six” initiative and selling the core five favorite Girl Scout Cookies (Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, and Trefoils) and Savannah Smiles. Research shows that these core varieties appeal to the vast majority of customers. This initiative has been very successful and well received by both Girl Scout members and cookie consumers. The primary benefit to the participating Girl Scout councils is better management of cookie inventory and a way to streamline the sale process for girls and volunteers.

When Is Cookie Season?

Cookie season varies from region to region. I imagine that weather plays a role. I’m certain that Minnesota troops have no interest in selling cookies while there’s snow on the ground, while we Texas scouts certainly don’t want our cookies melting in our cars in the summer.

Officially, cookie season is limited to 6-8 weeks to allow girls to focus on them for that period of time and then move onto other Girl Scout activities. Unofficially, I wouldn’t be surprised if the limited availability was intended to maintain consumer interest in the product. After all, people are more likely to buy a whole lot of cookies if they know they won’t be available again for 10 months than if they can run to the store if they run out.

If you’re interested in seeing when you’ll be able to buy cookies, you can check out the Girl Scout site’s cookie finder.

Any questions? What’s your Girl Scout cookie preference?

A big thank you to Michelle for editorial review!

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How to Afford Twins: Reviewing My Finances

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Categories Divorce, Finances and Saving, Financial Literacy, How Do The Moms Do It, Theme WeekTags Leave a comment

To me, money is a tool I use to accomplish my goals, not a goal itself. There’s nothing wrong with money accumulation being a goal. Nothing at all. It’s just not a goal of mine. My life goal is joy accumulation. Money matters to me in that it helps me and my children find our joy through fulfilling relationships and activities.

I needed to review my finances after I got divorced. I don’t create a monthly budget as many families do. Instead, I have a general idea of where my money is going and where I want it to go.

I pride myself on being financially independent, as does my ex-husband. When we split up in March of last year, we didn’t see any need to bring lawyers into the mix. We just split our shared savings down the middle and each walked away with our own retirement savings. He took the house. I took the furniture. He took the cat. I took the kids. We agreed to a child support payment based on the difference between rents on a house for three and an apartment for one, plus half the kids’ groceries.

Reviewing My Finances from hdydi.com
Photo Credit: photosteve101

The split was amiable. My ex is prompt with his child support payments. I was the primary breadwinner in our marriage. Our 7-year-olds attend public school. Despite all these marks favouring my financial health, there simply wasn’t going to be as much money coming into our family as there had been before. I couldn’t just tighten my belt for a while until things got back to normal, because my income plus child support is now our normal. I took some major steps in adjusting my expenditures to make things work.

My ex-husband and I had purchased supplementary life insurance from Primerica and reviewed our finances when we were married, and I was happy with the experience. Once the initial whirlwind was over–my ex moving out, signing the divorce papers, my buying a new house and moving back to Central Texas from El Paso, the kids getting settled at their new school–I met with a rep from Primerica and took a serious (but free) look at what my finances looked like. I could always follow up with a real financial planner later if I needed. I looked at what was coming in, what was going out, what I had saved, and where I could cut. I was already in the market for additional life insurance. If something were to happen to me, I wanted money not to be a concern for my ex, since he would likely have to change careers to raise the children.

I highly recommend meeting with a financial planner, but aware that not all planners are made equal. Choose carefully. Look for someone who is ethically bound to put your interests first (a fiduciary), not someone who earns a commission for selling you something, unless you’re fully prepared not to buy and have the wherewithal to see through self-serving advice. I wasn’t looking for a new job, so I knew I’d stand firm against the whole recruitment aspect of the Primerica experience.

The most important short-term goal I had for my finances was for my children not to see a major change in their lifestyle. Divorce is hard enough on them without the girls picking up on the financial challenges that come with it. My ex-husband and I have kept our discussions during and after our divorce focused on the kids’ well-being. Co-parenting, for us, just is not about money.

Here’s how I go about being financially responsible as a divorced single mom:

  1. Know how much money is coming in and how much is going out

    This is hard and painful and ugly. It makes me twitchy thinking about it. I wrote out all my monthly expenses: bills, groceries, entertainment, clothes, pet care, school costs, childcare, healthcare, gas, parking. I looked at what comes into my bank account in the form of my salary and child support. I decided that I could afford to keep my lawn service, but that I needed to stop eating out with the kids. The girls could take dance lessons, but piano would have to wait. Now that I had closed on my house and paid off my college and car loans, I could afford to put the annual maximum in my Roth IRA again. I’d reduced my contributions when my ex informed me that he would be leaving.

  2. Prioritize retirement

    This is a little counterintuitive. You might think that saving for college would be the most urgent focus. I think of my retirement investments as a gift to my children, in that supporting me financially in my old age won’t be their problem. The more I put into retirement now, the more I’m earning interest on for longer. I looked at my current health, my lifestyle choices, how old I’d like to continue working and how much I’d like to have to live on, and mapped out how much I’ll need squirreled away for age 70 and on.

  3. Expect the best, but plan for the worst

    I don’t expect things to go wrong. I seem to keep landing on my feet, thanks to amazing friends, exceptional daughters, and years of therapy. I try to plan for the worst. I have a will that specifies who would take custody of my children if something were to happen to me while they were still little. (Their dad first, of course, but if something happened to him, his parents. If something happened to them, it would be close family friends.) I have life insurance that would cover the girls’ needs through college tuition in the event that someone else did have to raise them without my income coming in. I may let my policy lapse once they’re done with the college. They won’t need my financial support any more at that point, most likely.

    I have health insurance and go to all my scheduled check ups. I upped my car insurance, paying an extra $5 monthly for a $500 reduction in my deductible. I don’t plan to get in any accidents, but I’m willing to pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that I could manage if I did.

  4. Set priorities on all other expenses

    I want my kids to grow up to be happy, healthy, wholesome, productive adults. I invest in the things that contribute to that goal. I don’t need to pay for anything else. It’s a challenge for me, but I choose to prioritize for my family, not keeping up with the Joneses. My daughters take tap and ballet lessons because it fulfills them and brings them joy. They’re not longer taking soccer, which is Daddy’s passion, or piano lessons, which is mine.

    Do I need to buy as many books as I like to? No, I can check them out of the library and move my margin scribbles to a notebook. Do I need to hire a babysitter once a week so I can go to choir practice? That’s a hard one, but I really just can’t afford it.

    I’m celebrating my birthday tomorrow night with friends. My birthday was in May, but this weekend happens the girls’ paternal grandparents are in town. It’s not just a matter of being able to afford a babysitter or cashing in on a babysitting favour. It’s also that I enjoy the time I have with my children, which is limited since I work outside the home. I don’t particularly feel like leaving them to go out without them. This weekend, though, they’re brilliantly happy to be spending time with their Grammy and Grampy, so it’s time for me to hang out with my friends for a bit. Budgeting isn’t just for money. I also budget my time.

  5. Make wise investments

    I could have rented a home after I moved, but I knew that I wanted the money I spent on housing to be an investment. I swallowed my pride and accepted a gift from my mother to help with the down payment. It helped that I had near-perfect credit. In order to keep it that way, I avoided anything that could negatively affect my credit until after I closed on the house. I didn’t apply for anything that might involve someone checking my credit. I kept my credit card balance at zero. I had paid every bill on time for the previous decade or more. My mortgage payment came out to $450 less per month than rent for comparable homes in my neighborhood, per month.

    Do I miss the granite countertops and tile floors of the first home I owned? Absolutely. Given my current financial reality, though, I can’t afford something like the house I had when I was married. If you already own your home, look into refinancing. Yes, rates are going up, but they may very well be less than what you already have. It doesn’t cost you anything to look, and costs surprisingly little to complete.

    I also take advantage of the flexible spending accounts offered by my employer. I can put tax-free money aside for childcare and medical expenses, up to $5000 per year. I max out my daycare allotment, since I’ll spend significantly more than that on after school care and summer camp. I just have to send in my receipts on a monthly basis to get reimbursed. I put less aside for medical expenses, enough to cover our prescriptions, my glasses and contact lenses, our dental co-pays and my medical co-pays. Thanks to the army, the girls don’t have co-pays or deductibles.

  6. Pay off debt

    I’ve generally avoided credit cards, using them only to build up my credit and paying off the balance in full every month. Last year, though, I allowed myself to go into debt immediately after I got divorced. Moving from El Paso to Central Texas wasn’t cheap, and I had to pay for help moving, since I knew hardly anyone there. Even with the gift from my mother, paying for all the little things that go into setting up a new home added up, and I felt that it was very important to buffer my children from the financial fallout from the divorce. (Perhaps that was wrong. I just didn’t want to pass on the type of bitterness I’d seen during the unravelling of my parents’ marriage.)

    Now, I’m really focusing on paying off my debt. I’m choosing to pay extra on both my mortgage and the card that is costing me the most in interest in any given month. Of course, that requires me to think and review my balances and interest rates monthly. Some people advise to just put extra against your debt with the lowest balance. When that’s paid off, shift all the money you were paying into that debt into the next highest debt until you’re debt-free. There’s something to be said for paying money for convenience or simplicity. There’s no one right way to get out of debt beyond making the effort and prioritizing it.

  7. Minimize debt accrual

    I’m not putting anything new on credit cards or taking out any new loans. I want to be getting out of debt, not getting deeper. Some people cut up their credit cards. I’ve even heard of freezing a card in a block of ice to keep from using it on a whim, but having it around for an emergency. Fortunately, I have the self-control to carry my cards and not use them.

  8. Know when it’s worth paying more

    Saving money is not my highest priority. Joy is. There are some things that are worth paying for, slowing the march towards my financial goals, to maximize joy. My lawncare service and pest control company fall in that category. So do my chocolate habit, my love of baking for friends, our annual cookie decorating party, the occasional theatrical production. There are luxuries worth spending on. I hope to never be in a financial position to have to cut every one of our wants out of our budget.It really boils down to wants and needs, that simple dichotomy I keep preaching to my children. We fulfill our needs first: love, housing, nutrition, safety, kindness, education. Then, with what’s left, we choose carefully between our wants to decide where we want to spend what time, money and energy is left.

Do you plan out your finances?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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How to Afford Twins: US Government Assistance and Other Resources

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While this may be a controversial subject to many, the truth of the matter is that not everyone has helpful families, friends, neighbors, or communities.  Some new parents find that they lack much in terms of financial resources for their future twins, triplets or higher order multiples, especially when such pregnancies are unplanned or expensive.  For them, the question of how to afford twins is very real, and very tender.  And, it is for them, that we would like make aware of certain programs and resources that are available to help them afford twins and more.

Medicaid

If you are expecting twins and don’t have medical insurance coverage for your pregnancy, or you are uninsured, or costs get astronomical (as with high-risk pregnancies) then you may want to look into your state-funded Medicaid.  And after your children are born, they may qualify for medical coverage under Medicaid as well.  The coverage is based on income and resources and doled out by the state in which you reside.

How to Afford TwinsWIC

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a wonderful program with higher income levels than Medicaid.  WIC offers vouchers for supplemental nutritional foods for women, infants, and children.  Pregnant and nursing moms can qualify for food assistance.  Babies can receive free formula (talk about making twins more affordable), jarred baby foods, and cereals.  Toddlers and young kids can receive much of the same nutritional foods as Mom, like fresh fruits and vegetables, juice, cereal, whole wheat bread, eggs, cheese, milk, peanut butter, and beans. WIC is also a state-run program, and unfortunately, not all groceries stores accept the vouchers, but many large chains do.

WIC also offers many other services.  One of those that can be very helpful to mothers of multiples is an on-staff lactation specialist.  WIC offers breastfeeding classes before the babies are born, and then one-on-one help if needed (and a hotline!) after the babies are born to help make breastfeeding successful for you and your little ones, and all at NO cost! Some WICs may also offer a B.A.B.E. (Bed and Britches Etc) type program (Indiana does), where you can receive B.A.B.E. coupons for going to your doctor appointments, nutrition counseling, and other educational/health classes. With the coupons, you can then redeem them at B.A.B.E. stores for things like cribs, clothes, bottles, formula, diapers, and so on. You’ll have to check your state for such a program.

Car Seat Assistance Program

Having trouble affording two (or more) car seats?  You are not alone.  One of the most important things, and one of the things you are not supposed to buy secondhand is a car seat.  So, when you are faced with buying brand new car seats, you are faced with a large, unavoidable expense.

The good news is that you can take advantage of your state’s car seat assistance program, where you can often receive a free car seat, as long as you are income eligible.  You will usually be required to attend a class or have your car seats inspected before you will be given new ones.  My family took advantage of this program when our twins outgrew their infant carriers and we didn’t have money to afford two convertible car seats.  We went to a local fire department.

Each state runs this program differently, but a great place to start looking for more information on this program is a local hospital or Department of Human Services.  Hospitals, fire departments, police departments, and health care centers often administer this program.  I also suggest getting your car seats inspected.  Click HERE to find a local inspection station near you.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Food Stamps

Once your children start eating, the cost of all that extra food can be strenuous on the budget.  So, if you meet your state’s income and asset requirements, you may qualify for food stamps, which can be used at most grocery stores and even convenience stores and other locations.  Food stamps can help buy formula, baby foods and cereals, and just about any other food in the store, except ready-to-eat dishes, tobacco, and alcohol.

Lifeline Assistance Telephones

Being without a phone is almost unheard of today, but phones, even a basic, plugged in the wall phone, costs money to use.  There is a government Lifeline Program that helps low-income families pay for a phone, whether a small monthly payment towards your landline phone, or a low minute basic cell phone.

Section 8 or Federal Public House Assistance

Individuals with very low-income can qualify for a housing choice voucher, or section 8, so that they can rent decent, sanitary, and safe housing.  Unfortunately, many large cities and states have long waiting lists of applicants, or are not currently accepting new applications, so you may not be able to take advantage of this program.  To find out, contact your local Housing and Urban Development Agency, or your local Public Housing Agency.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

Have an apartment but can’t afford to keep it cool in the summer or warm in the winter? That is where the LIHEAP comes in.  Based again upon your income and assets, this program helps you pay for heating and cooling costs by sending payments to the utility companies in your behalf.

Meals for Children

National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

If your kids are in school, you may be able to qualify to have your child receive free or reduced price lunches from their school.

School Breakfast Program (SBP)

The School Breakfast Program provides cash assistance to state to operate nonprofit breakfast programs in schools and residential childcare institutions.  Check to see if your local school participates.  Again, based on your income your child may receive free or a reduced-priced breakfast.  However, some schools and institutions provide free breakfasts to all children.

Summer Food Service Program

In the summer, when school is out, your child, under 18, can receive a free, hot meal from numerous free summer lunch program sites, regardless of your income.  You can try to find a local site HERE.

Diaper Banks

Huggies partners with different non-profit organizations and retailers to supply diapers to people in need through food and diaper banks.  To find a local diaper bank, click HERE.

Churches

Even if you aren’t a parishioner or member of a specific church, many churches have food pantries or offer other resources available to the general public.  Some have storehouses with more supplies (like diapers) than food alone.  They also may be able to assist you in other local organizations for more help.

Income Based Repayment Plans for Your Student Loans

It seems that just about anyone who goes to college anymore gets to walk away with some student loan debt.  If you still owe money on your student loans, and are expecting or have twins or higher order multiples and will have a hard time making payments, you may want to look into an income based repayment plan, or other repayment plan.  You can most likely claim a temporary financial hardship, because, well, twins or triplets, are a (temporary) financial hardship.  With less money going towards your student loans, you may have some breathing room financially.

Freecycle and Craigslist

On freecycle.org not only can you browse through local listings of items people are donating for free, but you can request for items as well.  This isn’t a guaranteed way to acquire things you need, but you may luck out.  You can also always check craigslist‘s local free listings as well for things you need.  You can sometimes score things like clothes, toys, baby food, formula, diapers, baby furniture, and much more.  If you are diligent in searching and able to pick things up, this can be a great way to get things for free, so you can afford twins.

Companies’ Multiples Programs, Discounts, and Samples

When I was expecting, I was told by my sister-in-law, who had twins ten years before me, that tons of companies had multiples programs and would send you free things in the mail.  When I investigated myself, calling or emailing many companies, I found that many had discontinued those programs.  However, some didn’t. Or if they had, they still sent me coupons, or samples.  I found this twin blog which outlined which companies did and didn’t and what they received.  You never know what a company might say, so it’s always worth a shot!  I received several cans of formula this way.

This list is not meant to be an inclusive, and there are still many local resources that may be available to you. We hope the question of how to afford twins doesn’t loom over you, and that you can instead focus on the blessing it is to have two (or more) bundles coming into your life.  You have enough craziness coming without having to worry about affording it all.

If you have other resources to share, please do so in the comments!

ldskatelyn is the mastermind behind this week’s theme week of saving money, trying to help others learn how to afford twins.  She loves saving money and making ends meet and is so excited that she is sharing some of her knowledge with others this week!  ldskatelyn has also used some of the resources listed above and knows how hard finances can be.  She blogs about her family and parenting over at What’s up Fagans?

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Foodie Fridays: Saving Money at the Grocery Store

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Food: you need it; you crave it; you can’t live without it. But, food is one of the biggest on-going expenses of our lives.  When blessed with multiples, your food costs also seem to multiply! ldskatelyn and MandyE are sharing what they have learned about saving money at the grocery store through couponing and price-matching.how to afford twinsCouponing – by ldskatelyn

I have been regularly couponing for over a year now, and I am amazed at how much money we have saved.  From January to August of this year, we have saved almost $600 using coupons.  That is some serious savings!  We use coupons on groceries, toiletries, cosmetics, paper supplies, laundry, cleaning supplies, and even at restaurants.  I am a sucker for saving money.  I love it!  I am not an extreme couponer, but I have been able to (finally) build up a little stockpile in our apartment.

Here is a brief overview of saving money at the grocery store with coupons:

  1. Subscribe to the Sunday Paper.  The small cost will be far outweighed by the savings. I promise.
  2. Sign up for mailing lists (with a non-personal email account) and print coupons from sites like coupons.com, couponnetwork.com, smartsource.com, redplum.com, bettycrocker.com, kelloggs.com, pillsbury.com, pgeveryday.com, rightathome.com, and armandhammer.com.  You can also like your favorite brands on Facebook for additional coupons sometimes.  Also, many grocery store’s loyalty cards can be loaded with digital coupons.
  3. Get your coupons organized.  I use a basic accordion file folder to store my coupons.  Some big time couponers use binders. I used to use just a few paper clips.  The point is to be organized so you can find the coupon you need, when you need it.  Put them into categories that make sense to you. Also, go through your coupons at least once a month to throw away expired coupons.
  4. ONLY use coupons for things you actually like or normally buy.  Coupons will not save you money at the grocery store if you use every coupon you clip, just because “you had a coupon.”  Clip smart, and only use coupons on products you already use or love.  If you don’t normally buy Hamburger Helper, then don’t buy it now.  (Well, you can use coupons to try out new products from time to time.)
  5. Save your coupons for when the item is on sale, otherwise buy generic.  Often, we like to think that our coupons will make what we buy a great deal.  But, it isn’t true. Generics, bulk buys, and store-brands will most likely still be a better deal if you aren’t using your coupons on TOP of store sales.  Coupons are for name brand products.  Name brand products cost more than store-brand products.  Coupons only save you money if you are getting a better deal, after its use, than the going store-brand cost. Stacking coupons on top of great sales is how extreme couponers walk away paying next to nothing for products.  It’s also how you can stockpile on your favorite non-food items.
  6. Make a “buy price” list to build a stockpile.  Figure out what is a great price for local produce, dairy, cereal, meats, and so on and compile a list of them.  Then, when you see a sale for less than that price, buy them in bulk!  Freeze the food, store them around your apartment, and enjoy saving money overtime.
  7. Use your coupons correctly and legally.  Did you know coupons are getting less valuable, and that part of that reason is because of extreme couponers, and people using coupons incorrectly?  Know your store’s coupon policy.  Some stores double or triple coupons, or stack coupons, but most don’t.  Some will allow you to use both a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon on the same item.  Do NOT buy coupons from on-line sources, or go past a site’s coupon printing limit.  Do not sell your coupons to others. Do not try to use both a digital coupon (loaded onto a shopper’s card) with a paper coupon, unless specifically allowed.   Read the fine print on coupons and use the coupon only for the product or products specified.  Don’t substitute.  And don’t use expired coupons.

Price Matching – by MandyE

I shop using coupons, as well, and I usually record about $25 a month in savings.  The bulk of my grocery bill is usually spent on meat, dairy, and produce, though, and I rarely find coupons for those items.

To save on what we buy most, I take advantage of Walmart’s price matching policy.  While Walmart’s prices are generally pretty competitive, some other chains run a high/low price strategy, where they will offer a few items at a considerable discount.  Walmart will match the advertised price from any local competitor, allowing me to take advantage of those sales without running from store to store.  (Click HERE for Walmart’s corporate policy.)

Every Sunday, I sit down with a stack of sale papers for the local grocery and drug stores.  I make a list of sale prices for items that we like.  Occasionally I find prices on packaged goods, like cereal, crackers, or cheese, but the bulk of my price matches are on produce.

For example, Walmart currently sells pineapples for $2.98 each.  A local store was running pineapples on sale for $1.00 last week…you’d better believe we ate our weight in pineapple!

At the cash register, I simply say, “I’d like the price from XYZ Store on this item.”  The cashier may reference the sale paper from that store, and then she rings up the item at that price.

We eat a LOT of fruit and vegetables every week, so I save an average of $20 a week on produce alone!

In addition to the awesome savings, this policy allows me to do one-stop shopping, which is so very helpful to a mom of small kiddos.

To the tips that Katelyn outlined, I would add that I keep a spreadsheet of my weekly savings.  It takes a few extra minutes to go through my receipt when I get home, but it’s so rewarding to see how much money I’m saving our family.  It’s definitely motivation for me to continue the effort…and it occasionally serves as justification for that trip through the Starbucks drive-thru!

ldskatelyn is a stay-at-home mom to twin girls and a baby boy.  While her husband is in charge of bringing home the bacon, she pays the bills and manages the finances. She prides herself in making ends meet, saving money, cutting costs, and getting great deals.  It was her idea to put together this savings week because she is so passionate about money.  Find out more about her life at What’s up Fagans?

MandyE is mom to 4 1/2-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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How to Afford Twins: Bringing in Extra Income

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With two or more blessings coming into your life at once, cutting back seems the obvious route to go when figuring out how to afford twins or more, but sometimes it just isn’t enough, especially if one of the parents is now at home with the kids.  That is why you may want to consider bringing in extra income, because every little penny helps.  *Please be aware some of the links below are ldskatelyn’s affiliate or referral links.how to afford twinsDonate Plasma

Not everyone can qualify to donate plasma, and not everyone should or will want to (I have personally never done this), but if money is tight you might want to consider donating plasma.  You can help others and make a good chunk of change for going regularly.  It can be $15-35 per visit, or more.  To learn more check out donatingplasma.org and find a center near you.

Sell Your Stuff

Ebay, Craigslist, consignment shops, the newspaper, pawn shops, and yard sales are all ways you can sell things you already have and make some extra money.

Childcare at Home

As a mother of multiples, you already know how to do crowd control, so what’s one or two more kids around the house?  And an extra playmate for your kids might actually give you a break. Look into watching a friend’s children, or a neighbor’s child, or check local listings in papers, craigslist, and on sites like sittercity.com.  There are dozens of childcare websites out there, and lots of people looking to find affordable childcare, that perhaps you can help fill.  While I once looked into doing this, the thought of watching someone else’s child for 40+ hours a week, on top of my own, felt super overwhelming.  Know your limits, and know how many hours a week you’d be able to offer childcare in your home, and what to charge.

Independent Beauty or Other Sales Consultant

There are still several companies out there that still sell their goods through an in-home sales consultant.  Some of these companies are Avon, Mary Kay, Tupperware, Thirty One, and Lia Sophia.  So, if you love make-up, jewelry, kitchen appliances, storage containers, or purses, you may want to think about reaping the rewards monetarily from your love affairs.

Tutor or Teach

Were you a brainiac in school?  Did you excel in a certain field?  Do you do a craft or have a skill that could be shared with others?  Then think about teaching or tutoring.  Whether a cake decorating class, keyboarding 101, Zumba, math, or piano lessons, there is probably a need out there for you to fill.  You can try offering your services through places like craigslist.org and your local newspaper.  There are numerous tutoring websites and networks out there for you to apply to be a tutor on.  You can check with local craft stores, gyms, libraries, and even nursing homes to see if they would pay for you to teach a class.

Online Survey Sites

While not a great source of additional income, it is an easy way to make a few extra dollars.  I have signed up and used various online survey sites, and my favorite one has to be valuedopinions.com. But, there are dozens of survey sites out there, some better than others.  What I like about Valued Opinions is they offer cash, not points, in return for taking surveys.  I like cash.  I like knowing exactly how much I will earn from each survey I take, so I can gauge if it is worth my time or not.  Another survey company that does cash payouts is MindField Online.  Other survey sites I’ve used are Toluna, which offers by far the most surveys, increasing your chance of being able to take them and earn.  (See THIS post I wrote about how some survey sites compare.)

Rewards Search Engines

Did you know you can be rewarded for searching the internet?  Yes, just for doing regular searches in a specific search engine can mean a little extra cash!  I have used swagbucks for probably two years now.  You can download their search toolbar and make them your default search engine. Swagbucks doesn’t reward a set amount per search, and is a bit hit and miss, but typically awards 6-10 points at a time.  Points or swagbucks can be redeemed for an array of different gift cards and other rewards.  I most often cash out at just 450 points for a $5 Amazon gift card.  They also offer tons of other ways of accumulating points as well, like 10 points for using a coupon printed from their site.

Another search engine you can do this with is Bing. Bing Rewards also allows you collect points for using their search engine which can be used to cash in on gift cards and other prizes.  Honestly, I haven’t used this very much at all, but I think I may start.  Bing is a much more powerful search engine than the growingly popular Swagbucks website.  My husband, for instance, hates using swagbucks to search for things because he doesn’t like that results he gets.  Also, earning is simple with Bing. You earn 1 credit per 2 Bing searches, up to 15 credits a day.  If you got 15 credits a day, it would only take you 35 days to cash in a $5 amazon gift card.  Whatever you prefer, it is a simple way to earn without having to spend any extra time.  You’re going to do internet searches anyways!

Cash-Back Online Shopping

This is one of my very favorite ways to bring in a little extra money.  I feel like I win the lottery each time I do it because I save even more on my bargain hunting online.  There are many cash back online shopping sites, and I use three different ones.  Why three?  Because sometimes one will have a better deal at the moment than another and not all websites have contracts with all of them.  And ShopAtHome.com will do 110% Price Match Guarantee (which I have used numerous times). The three I use are ShopAtHome.com, Ebates, and UpromiseUpromise – The Smart Way to Save for College is a free service, and by adding your credit, debit, or grocery card means that you can begin saving money for college every time you shop at participating retailers.  However, you can always just cash it out too.  Upromise offers 5% cash back or more on just about all of their online retailers.  Not all online retailers (like Amazon) are connected to these cash back websites, or only offer cash back on certain purchases.  Always make sure the check the fine print.  So, before you buy something online again, STOP, and shop through one of these sites!  It’ll be like getting the tax back on your purchases!

Baking and Cooking

Do you love to cook?  To bake?  Then maybe you should think about doing it to make a little extra income.  Cupcakes and specialty cakes seem to be all the rage.  Offer your services to friends and neighbors who will be having a themed birthday party soon or online.

Photography or Art

Are you an artist or a photographer?  Think about offering your services and creations to others.  There are lots of local venues and markets for artists to share and sell their goods, as well as bigger art fairs.  You can take requests and do commissions, a guaranteed way to make money. Or, create several works and take them to a fair or art show and try to sell them. Or think about opening an etsy shop with prints of your works.

Etsy Shop

Do you have a crafty hobby?  Do you already spend time creating?  Then you might want to think about starting your own business via etsy.  Etsy is a great place for creative people who also know how to operate a small business.  I have known many people to be very successful etsy sellers. It isn’t for everyone, as it is indeed a business and can be time-consuming and expensive to start up in the beginning, but can be very fun and rewarding!

Blogging

Everyone is passionate about something.  And sometimes that passion can be profitable.  If you love writing, social networking, websites, and graphic design, you may want to think about trying to make money from blogging.  There is never a guarantee return with blogging, especially as more and more blogs start every single day, but there are tons of resources out there to help you try.  Also, the more focused your niche (your hometown, animal photography, Atkins dieting, whatever) the more likely you can be successful.

What have you done to bring in extra income to afford your twins (or triplets)?

ldskatelyn is the mastermind behind this week’s theme week of saving money, trying to help others learn how to afford twins.  She loves saving money and making ends meet and is so excited that she is sharing some of her knowledge with others this week!  She blogs about her family and parenting over at What’s up Fagans?

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How to Afford Twins: Secondhand Shopping

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Buying great items for well under what stores sell them for is one of life’s great pleasures. Having something you really want to get, pouncing on it when it appears on Craig’s List, haggling a little with the seller, and then bringing it home for a fraction of the store price (legally I might add). Pure. Joy. In case you haven’t broken into this unknown glory, let me help you get your feet wet.second hand shoppingI have a TON of things that I’ve bought secondhand. There are so many options available for buying secondhand these days too. Consignment sales (such as the M.O.M.’s bi-annual sales), individual garage sales, community garages sales, secondhand stores such as Kid-to-Kid and Goodwill, Craig’s List, eBay, Freecycle (totally free), and more that I’m sure I haven’t even tapped into yet.

In my experience children’s secondhand stores tend to be a little more pricey than I like. For example, I went to one in my area called Cottonwood Kids and found a Leap Frog music table that I had been wanting for my son, Cameron. Normally these are about $40. The one in Cottonwood Kids was being sold for $20, which is still a great deal, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pay it. I resisted and the next day was rewarded at a garage sale. There it was in the dewey morning grass. I rushed over to check their price on it as if it was the last one on the shelf at Black Friday and low and behold, $3. THREE DOLLARS??!! I snatched it. Oh man, that little table still puts a smile on my face.

I have had success with a couple pairs of shoes at some children’s secondhand stores though. If you want a nice looking pair of name brand shoes, these kinds of stores are a good place to look. I also got a bumbo from Kid-to-Kid for $20 and they are $39.44 on Wal Mart and $43.99 on Amazon. It was something I really wanted, so I was willing to settle for 50% off.

Craig’s List and garage sales are where I most often strike gold. Partly because if it’s not the perfect price you’re looking for, you can haggle. I probably haggle about 95% of the time. I’ve talked people down $10 on a 250 piece Mega Bloks bin, $5 down on a Little Tikes lawn mower, $50 down on our couch, $100 down on our bedroom furniture set, and the list goes on. That’s all on top of the money you’re already saving just from buying something used instead of brand new. Don’t be afraid to put an offer on the table!

The other beauty of Craig’s List is that if it’s a fairly common item you’re looking for and you don’t love the price the seller is stuck on, you can just pass it over and wait for another one to pop up. Your Craig’s List shopping can be as leisurely as you want it to be.

For instance, I’ve been checking Craig’s List about once a week for the last month looking for a great deal on a double umbrella stroller to use when we travel. Most of them are in the $40-$60 range and since I don’t need it right now I’m fine just hanging out for a smokin’ deal. If nobody gives it to me by the time we travel for Thanksgiving, I’ll settle for the $40 range.

My last suggestion for any secondhand shopping is to know your prices. I normally refer to Amazon for customer reviews and Wal Mart for price matching because they generally have the lowest prices. My handy-dandy smart phone makes this super convenient as well. If I see something at a garage sale that I’m interested, but don’t know a lot about I can just look it up right then and there to make sure I’m getting a great deal.

Shopping secondhand does take more effort because you have to do a little more research and hunting, but it can save you loads of money. Plus, the bragging rights are sometimes priceless.

Shop on, Mom.

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How to Afford Twins: Introduction

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According to babycenter, I will be spending about $9,180 on raising my 3 year old child this year.  Little does babycenter’s “Cost of Raising a Child Calculator” realize that I actually have two 3 year old children, and a newborn.  While I’m sure a lot of the costs blend over from one child to another, like housing and transportation costs, it all adds up to a lot of money for raising a child, raising twins, and raising multiple children each year!  Having kids is an expensive endeavor, and new parents can feel overwhelmed at the idea of affording twins.how to afford twinsThat is why we are putting together a money savings series of posts this week.  Everyone likes having extra money in the bank.  Everyone likes being able to make ends meet.  And no one likes having financial hardships.

We hope that we can pass along some of our money saving and money making wisdom so we can stop stressing about money as much, and start enjoying our twins and triplets much more.

So, get ready to learn how to afford twins!

ldskatelyn is the mastermind behind this week’s theme week of saving money, trying to help others learn how to afford twins.  She loves saving money and making ends meet and is so excited that she is sharing some of her knowledge with others this week!  She blogs about her family and parenting over at What’s up Fagans?

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Children Lie

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I’ve gone back and forth on whether to blog about this incident. It’s embarrassing to one of my daughters, but not atypical for children their age. Seven-year-olds lie and even steal. It’s developmentally appropriate, but not socially or morally acceptable. Maybe our story will help another parent know that she’s not alone in tackling these issues. Here’s what happened.

For their 7th birthday, I got each of my daughters a gift card to a local bookstore. I like to use gift cards to teach my girls financial decision-making. The finite balance on the gift card teaches them that paying with plastic should be treated as responsibly as paying with cash. When they run out, they’re out. It encourages budgeting and exercises their basic arithmetic while they’re shopping. They have to factor in sales tax. Whenever possible, I try to set up situations where my daughters spend their gift cards over multiple shopping trips. I figure it helps them understand the idea of debit and the longterm record-keeping required to track their gift card balance is a good exercise.

The gift cards I gave J and M were identical. Although I suggested that we simply write their names on each one, the girls elected to distinguish them differently. One of them decided that she would remove the hangtag from her card while the other left hers intact.

Nearly two months after our initial shopping venture, the girls asked to go to the bookstore this weekend. I asked them to grab their gift cards and buckle up in the car. I gathered up my things while they packed up theirs. The one who’d left her hangtag on let us know that she’d found her gift card, but removed the tag so that the card would fit in the wallet. The other child was upset, feeling that Sissy had gone back on an agreement. It didn’t help that she couldn’t find her gift card.

I happened to know where the second gift card was. Someone had just left her card lying on the floor of the living room last time we went to the bookstore. Despite two reminders, it was never put away, so I picked it up and set it aside.

I retrieved the gift card and discovered that it was the one with the hangtag still attached. My daughter had claimed her sister’s gift card and concocted a lie to cover it up. I showed her the gift card and she instantly knew she was caught. Sister didn’t even realize what she was witnessing. I explained it to her, and she was understandably appalled. Her sister had essentially stolen from her and then lied to cover it up.

The offending party volunteered that the appropriate consequence for her actions was my permanently confiscating her gift card. I didn’t want to do that, but I did tell her that she would not be spending her card on this trip. Sister not only forgave her, but bought the offender a book with her own card.

The next day, I took a moment alone to talk to my daughter about why she’d made the series of choices she had. She didn’t want to talk about it because she felt bad. I reminded her that she had made some pretty bad choices, and one of the consequences of those choices was feeling guilty. She was going to have to talk about it and she was going to have to feel bad. Once she finally agreed to discuss the whole situation, she explained to me that she knew that she’d done wrong by not putting her gift card away. All the wrong actions that followed were to cover up that mistake.

I told her clearly that lying and stealing were far worse than the original offense, and those were the choices I was truly disappointed in. Dishonesty and theft would not be tolerated. Mistakes happen and can be fixed, but lying was unacceptable.

I live what I preach. I admit my mistakes to my children. The only lie I’m guilty of is eating chocolate at work so that my girls don’t know the quantity of sugar I consume. I’m working on fixing that one. I even struggle with the mythology of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Those feel like lies, even if our entire community is complicit.

This is another one of those ways in which parenting gets harder. You leave behind the sleepless nights and the diapers and potty training, only to have to help your children navigate morality and peer pressure.

What would you have done in my shoes? How do you tackle lapses in honesty?

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