Mom Saves Money: Giveaway parties

I went to a clothing swap once.

The host let us bring our old stuff, plop it down in her dining room and then spend the morning there sorting through everyone else’s old stuff – to see what we wanted to make our new stuff.

Today, Nicole McDonald gives us some tips on pulling off a successful giveaway party. (Any of you ever done one?)

Nicole McDonald, momsavesmoney.net

Want to refresh your wardrobe, find new toys for your kids, get new reading material without spending any money or just get rid of items you aren’t using?

Host a giveaway party!

How does it work? Invite friends to bring their gently used items to your house and let the shopping begin! Everyone will be able to get rid of items they aren’t using and take home ‘new’ items they can use. Pick a theme, so you aren’t overwhelmed with items in your home and make it easier for guests to go through those items.

Some theme ideas:

  1. Kid clothing – Those of us with children know how fast they grow out of clothes and how expensive they are. A clothing swap is a great idea to refresh their wardrobes on a budget.
  2. Kid toys and games – Kid toys seem to multiply in my house and there are so many they don’t even play with anymore. Why not give those toys to someone else and pick some new ones for your kids to enjoy?
  3. Books, magazines and DVDS – I did this party a few weeks ago and it was fabulous! We had a huge assortment of DVDs, kid and adult books and everyone went home with at least one large bag of new reading material and DVDs. After the party, I donated the remaining books (three huge boxes) to the local library.
  4. Kitchen gadgets – Remember that rice cooker you got for your wedding that’s still sitting unopened three years later? This is a perfect theme party for foodies. A gadget that is useless to you may be the perfect addition to someone else’s kitchen.
  5. Adult clothing and accessories– Let’s face it: Most of us have a huge chunk of clothes in our closet that never see the sunlight. Swap with other people to refresh your wardrobe. Add purses, shoes, jewelry and scarves to the party to get more variety.

Tips to a Successful Party

  1. Invite everyone. The more people, the better.
  2. Co-host with a friend or two. They will invite their guest list of attendees, so you will double or triple the turnout.
  3. Ask guests to bring friends. Encourage your friends to invite their friends and family to the party.
  4. Send a reminder. A few days before your party, email or call. People are busy and sometimes forget. A reminder is always appreciated, plus it gives you a good idea of how many people to expect.
  5. Keep refreshments light. It’s a giveaway party, not an eating party. Serve a few beverages and if you want, a few small snacks. Don’t go overboard with the food. (This is hard for me because I really like to feed people.)

After the party, you will probably have many items that still need a home. Instead of asking your guests to take their stuff back home, offer to donate it to a local shelter, thrift store, library or kids’ organization. Your guests will appreciate that you take care of the leftovers and they don’t have to lug their stuff back home. You can simply call one of the thrift stores that does pick up, so it won’t take much effort for you to donate the items.

Giveaway parties are fun and the ultimate in frugality and recycling.

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at www.momsavesmoney.net.

New sun rising

I asked her how she was and she cried.

We were on the playground, the winter wind bit at my ears, made my eyes leak, my nose run.

I was pushing my daughter. The little girl laughed as the swing returned to me each time, her feet bumping my abdomen. I exaggerated my reaction. “Argh! You got me AGAIN.” She giggled that little-girl laughter that makes everything better.

But my friend who I hardly know was crying and I was instantly guilty for asking her how things were going, for causing those tears just then on the playground, for not knowing what to say next or how to help.

I kept pushing my little girl, and then the grown-up girl told me, her voice low. Her husband had a health scare … the hospital … meds … his heart … he’s OK but what if he’s not ….

Scary stuff is what happened in her world this week. Scary stuff she told me later she hasn’t been able to tell anyone else. Her husband asked her not to, plus it’s hard to tell people you love scary, real-world, what-if-he’s-not-OK stuff. I get it.

So she told me about her worries. About health insurance. About maybe having to go back to work herself. About her husband. About her kids. About her. About priorities and how they’re ever-changing. We talked about how in the world we ever truly know what the right choice is, where that balance lies.

I told her the sun rises each morning whether we want it to or not, whether our dispositions are in the right place or not, whether we’re going to choose to be happy or positive or sulking or panicked, whether we’re going to live in fear or just say, “Well, fuck it,” and get on with putting one foot in front of the other, doing our best to live one day at a time.

And, yeah. I told her I realized it was easy for me to stand there and say all that but actually living that way when all that stuff is happening to you and not the acquaintance on the playground is a much different matter. I told her: I get it.

And I told her I’m sorry, that I’m here if she needs anything else. Ever.

I have two nights left in this yellow house. I am sad. But I am hopeful. Hopeful that even though this is the house where my future husband and I fell in love, where my kids finally felt like they were home … where I did, too … that something better is up ahead, around the bend.

I know it is.

It has to be, right?

I’m going to believe it is. For all of us. For me and the rockstar and our kids. For my friend on the playground. For everyone worried about something. Let’s wake up and believe the wind will blow our way. Once and for all.

Filled with people’s lives

I’ve been thinking what the cold, musty-smelling storage place reminds me of this week as the little girl and I have carted four boxes at a time over there.

Ours is a giant warehouse of tiny garages, all filled with people’s lives, secured only by a padlock from the hardware store down the street.

What a strange thing we do: Pack up our stuff and put it in storage. I can’t help asking myself every second I’m packing, “Am I really going to want this four or five months from now when I go back to storage to retrieve it? If I’ve lived without it for that long, will I ever really need it?”

I know the answer, yet I pack up and haul it all anyway.

At our storage place, the ceilings are tall. The floors are cement. The lights are on some sort of automatic timer; they turn on only when you near the area right below them. So most of the time? You’re hauling your life on a squeaky wooden cart with a freezing metal handle that leaves your hands smelling like dirty copper IN THE DARK.

With a 2-year-old.

This morning, we took the little boy to first grade and skipped the gym so we could head directly to Storage (perhaps, these non-proper-noun places should be capitalized anyway for all their … glory?).

Usually, I pull up to the gigantic warehouse of beige and type my code into a wobbly keypad, which makes a garage door rise so I can pull my car inside to unload. Today, someone else was already in the small unloading area. So the little girl and I parked outside.

“Morning,” I said.

The man wasn’t rude but also wasn’t interested in engaging in any sort of small talk, which is fine. You all know how I feel about small talk.

But.

As I carried my boxes past this man (four trips), my daughter in tow, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. The ominous feel of the place, the not knowing what’s actually in all those rows of tiny garages … the idea that someone could easily put SOMEONE ELSE in one of those garages, back behind the rows of cardboard boxes and Rubbermaid totes and kids’ toys and couches you should just replace instead of carting around everywhere, and no one might ever know you were there.

The man, a heavyset guy in his late 50s, ignored us as he tied a queen-sized mattress and box spring to the top of his sedan, the white cushion billowing over the side of his car. The white rope he was using littered the ground. I pictured the little girl tripping over it, the boxes in my arms preventing me from catching her, if I even could anyway.

We loaded our rickety cart and headed into the dark, down the long hallway to the end before turning left, down another long, dimly-lit hallway. We stopped at our tiny garage, unloaded those parts of our lives and then headed back.

The man was gone. Somehow, that made it all even creepier.

We punched in our numbers, that giant garage door opened and we escaped back into the real world. Back into the real light and the real air, buckled safely in our car, headed back home.

Even if it’s not ours for much longer, that notion of home – even heading there – is a comfort I hope I can always find. No matter where home is.

No matter where we store those pieces of our lives, those reminders of ourselves.

Maybe it just will

Have you ever wanted something so bad that after you ask for it you feel like you’re holding your breath?

Like that easy art of breathing is suddenly threatened, like you realize 20 minutes later that you’re still not really inhaling, that those lungs aren’t working as they should, that you feel light-headed?

Because we’re all waiting for something that may not ever come. We all have something (right?) that we desperately want but have no control over whether we’ll ever get it.

For an overachiever like me, subjective decisions and wait-and-see and no-rhyme-or-reason outcomes are hard to take. I like being able to make my own destiny. What is that quote? Be the change you want to see in the world? Just Do It? Live today like you are dying tomorrow? Run a race to see who has the most guts? Carpe Diem?

Yeah. You get it.

I wonder if this is partly why people believe in God and Heaven and all those other things. Because the notion of some higher power being in control of everything is comforting. Does giving up your control, your idea of manifest destiny, to a deity make it easier to get through all the times when the outcome is out of your control?

I suppose it probably does. “I’m praying for you,” gives someone something to say, some small act of feeling useful in times when there isn’t much else to be done.

Despite my own beliefs, I’ve always appreciated someone caring about me enough to offer their prayers.

Anyway, I never realized when I had one how hard well-paying, career-track, professional jobs are to come by.

Now, I do.

Four hours after I applied for quasi-Dream-Job-number-two, I realized I was still holding my breath.

Because, as I told one dear friend, “This just may be the answer, you know?”

So I’m crossing my fingers and staying positive. I believe in the power of believing in something. Believe fully that something will happen and maybe it just will.

I don’t know. It’s all I got.

But maybe, just maybe, I’m right.

And I hope all those people with problems much bigger than unemployment — the unspeakable tragedies of our world (sick babies, cancer in anyone, loss of a loved one, unexplainable infertility, violence, homelessness, bullying, hate … my list could go on) — have something to hang on to, as well.

Prayer. The power of positive thinking. Meditation. Long runs. Music. Love as solid as a rock. Whatever.

Just something to keep breathing.

Mom Saves Money: Making a financial plan

I really love the idea of money.

Does that sound weird? It does sort of, doesn’t it?

I’m not Alex P. Keaton-obsessed with cash or investments. Not by a long shot.

Frankly, I could care less if I ever held another $10 bill in my hand again.

Except that we need money to live. (Yes, the idea of living off the land in western Colorado is appealing. But not realistic. It’s just not).

So what I really mean is I love the idea of not having to worry about how to pay for things. I wish we lived in a world where people all contributed to society and we were all taken care of. We all had a house to live in, clothes to wear, food to eat, records to listen to, running shoes to run in, books to read. You get what I’m saying. (Notice I didn’t even bring up health care or higher education).

Anyway, we don’t live in that world. And earning money so we can spend money in capitalist America is what we (are forced to) do.

(I’m not doing it very well, at the moment!).

After a short hiatus, Nicole McDonald is back with tips on how to save money. Thank God.

Nicole McDonald, momsavesmoney.net

I’ve worked with many people in various financial situations through my work as a financial counselor (a collateral duty during my years in the Navy) and anyone can make their personal finances work with a solid plan. Having a plan for your money will pay off big in the long run, no matter where you are now.

  1. Track your spending – An essential element of any budget is determining how much money is really being spent. Many people have an idea how much they spend each month, but tracking every penny can really be eye-opening. I recommend tracking spending for at least two weeks to a month and including everyone in the household for this to be effective. It may be shocking to see how much money really is spent on Starbucks coffee, online shopping or lunches at work.
  2. Create a budget – This is where you make categories and write down how much you spend each month on each item. I like to have two columns: one for fixed bills such as rent, electricity, car repair, medical bills, insurance and car loans; the second for variable bills such as entertainment (including cable), groceries, gifts, clothes, shoes, eating out, etc. The fixed bills have to get paid regardless and the variable bills can be tweaked and reduced as needed.
  3. Analyze the budget – How much money are you spending each month? Are there places you can cut costs? Do you really need 200-plus cable channels? Can you stretch your haircuts an extra week or even cut your hair yourself? Do you need a mani/pedi every month? Do you eat out frequently? Can you spend less at the grocery store using coupons or buying less prepared foods? Tip: Having several frozen dinners will pay off if it means you don’t go out to eat. Really look at the money you are spending and determine what stays and what goes. Some things you might not want to sacrifice and that’s OK, as long as you make it work in your budget. If you really want a Starbucks coffee or a meal out to treat yourself every week, go for it — as long as it fits your financial goals.
  4. Create a Revised Budget – This is the budget after you’ve analyzed your expenses and determined where you can cut costs. Don’t forget about car repairs (generally $100 per year of the car’s life – a 5-year-old car should be $500 in maintenance annually, for example), health costs, gifts, etc. The revised budget will be your financial goals and how much you intend to spend each month in each category. To follow this, you can set up a cash envelope system or track spending on Excel. My preferred method of tracking is an Excel sheet that I print each month and leave on the fridge for my husband and I to add our spending. When the money from each category, like groceries or entertainment is gone, the key is to stop spending until the next month. Remember, if you find you need more money than originally allotted, tweak the budget. A good budget should work for you, not against you.
  5. Develop a Money Saving Mindset – To really make a budget work, you have to mentally be prepared. Write down your financial goals and why following a budget is important to your future and your family. I find that having a specific goal, like paying off $3,000 in credit card debt, opening a business, adding $5,000 to an IRA, saving for a big purchase or just living within your means, can be a very powerful motivator. Write these goals on Post-It notes and place them where you will see them every day, like the fridge, calendar or bathroom mirror. Remind yourself daily about why following a budget and curtailing spending is so important to you. Over time, following a budget will become automatic and the cuts won’t really seem that drastic. You will learn that you really can live better while spending less.

Obviously, this is a basic overview of budgeting, but it can be powerful. There are many great books about budgeting, finance and many resources online. I am not a financial expert by any means but just provided the basics to get you started on meeting your financial goals. Seek out the additional information you need and get started on finding your financial freedom. It takes dedication, but it will feel so good when you pay off that debt or build a nest egg for your family. The bottom line is: Just Do It!

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at www.momsavesmoney.net.

Something to see, baby

My yoga teacher likes to share quotes with the class.

Yesterday, hers was about friendship, about choosing wisely who you let in as a friend. Be careful, the quote said. But once you decide to friend someone, open up. Tell them things you would only tell yourself. Be real about it all. Be genuine. Be true.

I’ve been thinking about that. About the notion of friends and acquaintances and Facebook “friends.” About all the people we know and how many of them we actually know.

Not very many.

And I think that’s OK. A friend of mine a few months ago over lunch told me that she’d read somewhere we could only ever have two true friends.

Two.

I might argue the number could fit on one hand because I do feel I’m lucky enough to have at least five good, true friends, if not a few more. But I definitely agree with the notion.

People are afraid of opening up. That’s why the social circle of friends at the bar or the gym or work or our kid’s school is big – and safe. Usually, you’re not expected to talk about your insecurities or your failures or your bad skin or bad relationships or any of that. You just show up and make small talk and drink and laugh or sweat or watch the girls chase your son around.

And I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have a close friend who’s known you since you were someone else (a kid, literally or figuratively) or a friend who’s known you a much shorter time but gets you just the same. A friend you trust and love.

I know I’m lucky to have a few of those. Definitely on my list of things I’m thankful for.

I’m meeting one of those friends this afternoon. Another of those friends just booked a flight to Omaha for my wedding in April. Yet another one is planning to make the 11-hour drive from Western Colorado. I’m hopeful another one will be able to fly in from the East Coast. The few others live here already and will be there, too. I hope they know how much that means.

I can’t talk about friendship without thinking of my best friend growing up. We had countless sleepovers, camp experiences, Ouija board freakouts, first kisses (with boys!) … and so much more. I can’t do the relationship justice in words.

The time since I’ve seen her last is far too long, and I’m fairly sure I’m long overdue returning an e-mail. But I think about her everyday.

And last night, while driving back from dropping my babies off with their grandparents for the weekend, this song came on the radio. I turned it up.

“Pink Houses” – John Mellencamp

This one always makes me think of my childhood true friend and all the others I’m lucky to have now.

New beginnings

In 24 days, my pretty yellow house will belong to someone else.

It sold.

On the market for 32 days – over the holidays – my two-bedroom Dundee house sold last week. We close on Feb. 1.

I’m excited and relieved and happy … and sad and melancholy and overwhelmed.

I haven’t packed a single thing. The Christmas tree is still up. The toys and gifts we all got are seemingly everywhere.

And, once again, I feel like I own way too much stuff. The urge to purge is running strong. (But can I really get rid of those boxes of childhood school papers? And high school cross country medals? And college newspaper articles? And what about my diplomas; what in the world does anybody do with those?)

Anyway, to storage it all goes (anyone have a good storage place to recommend?), while the kids and I stay with family for a few months.

Let the packing begin.

***

What I really want to be doing is thinking about the wedding.

I bought a Martha Stewart Weddings magazine the other day, though nothing in there is what I want. Seriously: Every dress pictured was huge and over-the-top and at least $4,000.

Same goes for most of the decorations and other ideas.

Our celebration will be simple. And beautiful. And perfect.

I can hardly wait.

It’s set for the evening of April 7. That’s only three months from tomorrow.

But it seems like forever. 

I’m excited about the small, intimate, backyard ceremony we’re planning. And, most importantly, about the real-life happily ever after we’ll all finally get to live, every day after that.

***

A song for today. It’s about a relationship ending, but it’s pretty anyway. And it somehow ties in with new beginnings.

“Country Clutter” by Delorean