Readers' Tips

Repurposing Entertainment Centers

Repurposed entertainment centers make great play areas for children. A little paint and a lot of creativity can result in a little girls (or boys) kitchen, a tool station, a hair salon, or a dress up area. There are lots of ideas and photos on Pinterest. If you don't have young children of your own, it would make a great gift or you could even sell it on Craigslist or eBay.

editor's note: For more on repurposing entertainment centers, please click here.

Small Appliance Solution

If you've got older small appliances that you use every day, while they are still working is the best time to begin to look for replacements on Freecycle or Craigslist. If you are able to get one, set it aside so that it won't be necessary to pay full price for a new one when the old one no longer works. Even if the replacement isn't exactly what you want, it will give you time to wait for the right one to be on sale.
Susan in NYC

Affordable One Day Vacations

We love to travel, but going on vacation can be expensive, so we take day trips to nearby farms who offer DIY fruit/vegetable picking. These are usually in the country, and along the way, we go to garage sales and see other small towns. We pack a lunch and go to a park or the farm itself to eat. Before leaving home, I look up swimming holes nearby where we can stop for a dip. It has the "feel" of going on a trip without the cost, and as an added bonus, we bring home bushels of fruit at a low cost, which we then can/freeze for later use!
Julie S.

Out of Control Kids' Birthday Parties

When I was growing up, birthday parties with friends were limited to "milestones" like turning double digits. However, I was always allowed to invite one or two close friends over to share the celebration with the family.

With my own three children, I have found a lot of parents spend outrageous amounts of money on parties. We do not. We do friend parties every other year, and the budget is around $40. Their friends tell their parents that my kids' parties are "the most fun." We have them at our home, and I bake and decorate the cake myself. I make a pinata from a regular balloon and newspaper. Instead of covering it with tissue paper, I'll often paint the theme on the balloon. Then I fill it with generic candy or toys and the kids have a blast breaking it open. Kids are so overscheduled that they really enjoy being at a friend's house with just a few typical games and simple play.

It is difficult to raise children and keep up with the Joneses, so we don't try. We are proudly "counter cultural" and must be doing something right because my eight-year-old said to us, "We're rich because we have people to love us and everything we need."

Additional TDS Resource: More on keeping your child's birthday parties affordable

Grungy Shower Curtains

I wash my clear shower curtain liner in the washing machine on hot with a little bleach. It comes out looking like new, and I never need to replace it.

Stinky Food Containers

To get odors and stains out of plastic containers, baby bottles, glasses, juice containers, etc., I use a denture tablet. It doesn't need to be name brand. I fill the container with water and add one denture tablet. Then I allow the tablet to dissolve. This rids the object of stains and odors.

Low Cost Screen Cleaners

If smudges are on your computer or TV screen, don't buy the expensive "electronic wipes." Instead, use 100% cotton. It's also great for cleaning glasses. Don't use water or any other cleaner. Just gently rub off the fingerprints or other smudges.
R.C. in KS

Insurance Bill Shocks

When my husband and I first combined finances, I was shocked to find out all of the different insurance premiums we were paying throughout the year. Health insurance aside, we had bills for house insurance, life insurance, car insurance, ATV insurance, and the list goes on.

After being caught off guard with an $800 insurance bill, I sat down and made a list of every type of insurance we had, how much the premium was, and when it was due. I then did some simple math of adding all the premiums together and dividing by 52. I opened a separate savings account (super quick to do thanks to the ease of online banking), and each week an automatic transfer puts that designated amount into our "insurance savings account." Now whenever the insurance premiums pop up, I just go to that savings account and the money is already there!
Mandy in Virginia

Buying Used Trucks

I purchased a Ford Ranger extended cab 5 speed 4 cylinder from Atlanta on eBay without seeing it. I realized that it needed an engine, so I got a price from my mechanic and figured it into my bid. Since the "new" engine only had 50,000 miles on it, it was like buying a much newer vehicle. I have about $2,800 in it and have driven it for a little over a year. Included are tires that I purchased from a junk dealer for $100. They were "take offs" or tires that were taken off a new vehicle because the owner wanted better tires.

Additional TDS Resource: More on buying a used truck

The Fiver Solution

Keep every $5 bill you get. Don't spend it. Put it away for emergency money or to put towards something. When you purchase something and are getting change back, ask for a $5 bill in your change to put away. Make it a family event. Have everyone do it. You won't miss that $5. The very first week I started doing this, I saved $45! Try it and see how fast you accumulate money.

Thicker Shakes

Did you know that frozen bananas can be whipped? Since a friend shared this tip with me, I've been buying discounted bananas, peeling them, and then freezing them. Every day my family starts the day off with a thick creamy milkshake, made out of two frozen bananas, one small tub of yogurt, and half a liter of low fat milk. They are delicious and much thicker than the same ingredients without the bananas, and they are healthy and low in calories.

Stretching Meat Sauces

Years ago, our family of six had to stretch what little meat we could afford. One day I stumbled across a great idea. I was making chili and was already using stuff out of the fridge like a slice of leftover meatloaf, a spoonful of taco meat, half of a hamburger patty, etc. My chili wasn't "beefy" enough in texture, but the flavor was fine.

I got a can of hominy (which no one else would eat), drained it, chopped it up in the food processor, and added it to the chili. This made the chili thick and "meaty." After adding it in, the "crumbles" looked like the rest of the chili meat and took on the flavor of the chili as well. Since then, I stretched other dishes I made like spaghetti, tacos, etc. with the hominy crumbles, and I got the same result. No one knew but me.
Lois B.

Flavored Teas

We eat a lot of canned fruit in the winter. I save the juice that the fruit comes in and add it to our tea. Sometimes we have peach tea and sometimes we have pineapple or pear tea. When we get tired of that "flavor," I just freeze the juice in a labeled jar and use it later. We get expensive tea flavors for free.

Finding Ingredients for Natural Cosmetics

One does not have to go to the manufacturers to purchase supplies to make cosmetics. Most of the needed ingredients are available in grocery and produce stores and the pharmacy. When I needed lanolin, for example, I went to the drugstore and got some from the pharmacist. He was very knowledgeable in explaining how to apply it to my skin. I have a book entitled The Medically Based No-Nonsense Beauty Book by Deborah Chase, and I find it to be an excellent publication. There are plenty of books on the market now, and your local library should be able to help you out.

Additional TDS Resource: More on finding ingredients for natural cosmetics

I Can Save You Money

If you have more time than money in your life, your time can be a "gift" to friends. Recently, friends of mine needed to leave town at a moment's notice due to a family emergency. They could not afford a pet sitter for their dog, nor could they afford kennel costs. They know I'm an animal lover, and since their dog requires seizure medication every 12 hours, they remembered that I once told them that I'd be happy to help out. They covered my gasoline costs. I took care of their dog, and if I have to leave town for some reason, one of them is happy to water my plants, turn lights off and on, etc.

Let your friends know you're happy to help out with these kinds of chores. You'll save money and have the benefit of a true friend taking care of your pet or home (versus a total stranger). I've found that many people feel as if they're "putting you out" by asking for this favor. Stress to them that both of you benefit in the end, and it's just a great way to save money.
Teri K.

Restaurant Rewards

My husband and I like to eat out, but it can be costly. To keep the cost down, I subscribe to different restaurant reward programs. These programs are free. At IHOP, we never pay for two meals and the same is true at Bob Evans. On our birthdays, we can choose from several places to eat at while only paying for one meal. I just filled out a survey for Boston Market and got a coupon for a free dessert, which would have ordinarily cost $2.69. We usually spend no more than $18 each time we eat out, including the tip. It's worth a try to see if your favorite restaurant has a reward program.

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