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,

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

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,

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

Mom Saves Money: Smart shopping

I really want to use coupons.

Really, I do. I actually enjoy flipping through the Sunday ads, scissors in hand, clipping those glossy little $1-off-my-favorite-makeup-brand rectangles.

I’ve tried buying a coupon organizer that I’d keep in my purse.

I’ve tried organizing the coupons by category in different envelopes at home.

Nothing has worked. Ultimately, all those well-laid plans to save money fall by the wayside and I end up at the store sans glossy rectangles.

Today’s guest blog, though, makes me want to give it another go. If you take Nicole McDonald’s word for it, clipping coupons and watching sales can be SO WORTH IT.

Nicole McDonald,

Stockpiling is smart shopping.

I know. Some of you hear the word “stockpile” and think it’s synonymous with hoarding. If you’ve watched TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” you’ve seen the giant stockpiles that some coupon users accumulate over time. It is called extreme for a reason.

But don’t let that scare you from having a modest stockpile to save huge amounts of money on groceries and toiletries.

You don’t need an extra room or a garage that can be taken over with products. A small pantry, freezer or extra cupboard will suffice. And it’s worth it: Stockpiling 3-4 months of goods can save you an insane amount of money.

What is stockpiling?

Stockpiling is simply the accumulating of goods or items for future use. People throughout the years have been doing this by canning their fresh veggies and fruits or freezing/preserving meat from a deer, cow or pig. Now, we think of having a small mini-mart in our home to store non-perishable items.

Why stockpile?

Stockpiling when grocery prices are rock bottom means you won’t be forced to buy that item at full price when you run out. For example, this week 5-pound bags of flour are as cheap as 49 cents in the Omaha area. Crazy cheap, right? Well, I propose you purchase 3-4 months worth and store it in your cupboards to use throughout the winter.

Let me show you how much money this will save a family who uses just one 5-pound bag of flour every month. The regular retail price of a 5-pound bag of flour is usually around $2.99.

4 bags of flour at 49 cents each = $1.96

4 bags of flour at $2.99 each = $11.96

You saved $10 over the next four months just by buying flour at a ridiculously low price and stockpiling. In fact, the four months worth of flour cost less than one bag at full bloat retail.

Now, do that with butter, cheese, sugar, canned goods, frozen veggies, etc. and you can imagine how much you will save over time.

Here’s another example: Canned vegetables are as low as 29 cents in Omaha this week. These retail for at least 69 cents, if not more. My family eats about 10 cans of veggies per month. Let’s say we buy four month’s worth of vegetables now.

40 cans of vegetable at 29 cents = $11.60

40 cans of vegetables at 69 cents = $27.60

That’s a $16 savings for just a little pre-planning and stockpiling.

Note: If you are a new stockpiler, you will spend a little more on groceries at first, but soon you will find that you will spend way less at the grocery store because your pantry is full. In fact, if hard times hit, a good stockpile can get you through the rough patch. Ask any coupon user who’s lost a job and they’ll tell you their stockpile kept them from starving.

Don’t go overboard

Sales are cyclical and you only need 3-4 months of stockpile before the next sale on those same items. No need to buy two or three year’s worth of flour and clutter your cabinets, a modest amount will get you through until the next sale. Don’t forget to check expiration dates and rotate your pantry. There is nothing more frustrating than spending money on food and have it go to waste. Only buy what your family can reasonably use before the expiration. If you find yourself with more than you can use, donate it to your food pantry.

How to spot rock bottom prices

I recommend paying attention to your store’s retail prices. You can even make a small price book of your most commonly purchased items. When the price is 75 percent or more off retail (with sales and/or coupons), that is when you stock up.

I NEVER pay more than $4 for a jumbo bag of diapers or $1 for a box of cereal. I NEVER pay anything for toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, razors, floss, makeup, tampons, contact solution and more. In fact, I make money buying some of those items. I combine coupons with sales and stock up when the prices are low. I am never again forced to pay ridiculous retail prices because I have a modest stockpile that I acquired at the lowest price possible.

Even if you don’t use coupons, following sales and building a small stockpile will save you hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars over time.

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at

Mom Saves Money: Gift wrapping on the cheap (and the sly)

It’s Monday. That means it’s time for Nicole McDonald of to tell us how to be, well, better (at least when it comes to our finances!).

Today, she offers tips to save money on gift wrap and stave off the kids’ curiosity.

Nicole McDonald,

The thought of buying $3-$4 gift bags and $2-$3 worth of tissue really bothers my frugal side. That’s more than $5 just to wrap a present! Crazy.

I would rather use that $5 and buy a nicer gift, especially when a kid will just rip the package open anyway.


So I am sharing my frugal wrapping ideas to save you money and still stay in the holiday spirit. I also included some tricky ways to fool those curious children.

  1. Reusable bags – Instead of buying pricey paper gift bags that rip and get thrown out, buy a $1 reusable bag for the gift. You can find really cute ones at many stores. The best part is you are giving an additional gift with the present, a new reusable bag.
  2. Recycle gift bags – Anytime I get a gift bag in good condition, I save it for later use. I consistently reuse old gift bags to wrap new presents. Usually, the gift bags will last for several uses and the recipient never knows it’s been used (unless it’s one they gave you.)
  3. Paper bag wrapping – Next time you grocery shop, grab a few extra paper sacks at checkout. Cut along the side of the bag so it is flat and turn it inside out. You now have a plain brown paper sack to use to wrap a gift. Have your kids color it, paste collage pictures or paint it to dress it up. Add a cute ribbon for the finishing touch. Grandparents absolutely love this when their grandkids color the paper.
  4. Newspaper/comic/advertisements – If you subscribe to the paper, these are free and you can find colorful comics or advertisements to wrap presents.
  5. Use corresponding container – Wrap a tool in a tool box with a ribbon, jewelry with a jewelry box or beauty items in a cosmetics case. Add a ribbon and viola, it’s wrapped and useful.

Here are some fun ideas for tricking those sneaky kids who like to shake, poke and figure out their gifts early!

  1. Use multiple boxes – If you have a small gift, collect several larger boxes and start putting the small gift in the increasingly larger boxes with some old newspaper as filler. Really trick them by adding a brick or two for weight or marbles so it will rattle when they shake it. My parents did this to me all the time when I was young. I would get really excited when I saw a box under the tree big enough for me to fit inside and was always surprised when I got to the real gift. This works great for electronic games or jewelry.
  2. Cereal or cracker boxes – Put a present in an empty cereal box or cracker box and tape it up. Your kids will think you got them a box of food and never be the wiser.
  3. Make it a treasure hunt – Use small gifts to represent a larger gift. For example, if you get your kids a bike, wrap a bell with a small note directing them to the garage, basement or truck to search for the real gift. You can even make it more fun by placing envelopes with clues around the house. Each envelope sends them to another location with another clue until they finally arrive at the location of the real gift. Not only is this fun, but it’s really hard to wrap a large gift, so it works out well. You can also do this with your spouse or other family members.
  4. Use a deceiving box – Do you have a box that came with a tool, coffee maker or something else boring? Place the gift in that box without rewrapping the box. This way they think you got them a tool or some other boring gift. They will be surprised when they open it and it’s actually something fun.

Have other frugal gift-wrapping ideas or ways to hide the real gift from your kids? Send ‘em our way! (We can use all the help we can get sometimes, right?!)

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at

Mom Saves Money: Where to find coupons

Love that this picture is so ridiculous. "Look at all my coupons and how happy they make me and my boobs!"

Working in the newspaper industry for as long as I did, I heard from people on both sides.

There are those who get the Sunday paper only for the ads.

Then there are those who don’t get the Sunday paper because they don’t want to deal with all those ads.

(I’ve always sort of thought anyone who didn’t subscribe to the paper simply because they couldn’t stick the pile of ads in the recycling bin was a bit, well, silly. But what do I know?)

As it turns out, though, the Sunday paper is only one spot to find deals.

Nicole McDonald’s ( Monday guest posts continue today with where to find coupons outside of the newspaper.


Nicole McDonald,

Top 10 most unique places to find coupons:

  1. Wine tags – Check the liquor aisle for coupons hanging from bottles of wine. I’ve found coupons for meat, cheese, flour and produce and most with no alcohol purchase required.
  2. Magazines – Most magazines have coupons. All You magazine, available only at Wal-mart, regularly has more than $50 in coupons in every issue. Other magazines may have two or three coupons or a discount to a major clothing retailer.
  3. The doctor’s office– Next time you visit your doctor, peruse their literature. Often, you can find coupons for lotions, medicines, formula and even diapers. Some offices will give away recent magazines and those may include coupons. I’ve even scored a few All You magazines from my pediatrician.
  4. Birthdays – Many stores and restaurants will issue coupons for free items on your birthday. Just sign up for their birthday club online and wait for emails and mail to arrive a few weeks before your birthday. I get a free Starbucks drink every year in the mail and each of my kids gets a free $3 Toys R’ Us gift card for their birthday.
  5. Facebook and Twitter – Follow your favorite brands online and often they will issue coupons or freebies to followers.
  6. Ebay – It’s true: ebay has everything, including coupons. Technically, the coupons are free (since selling them is illegal) and you are paying for the seller’s time to clip them. Just make sure you are buying a legit coupon if you buy on ebay. If it looks like it might be photocopied, steer clear.
  7. Convenience stores – Check the cooler section for high value drink and candy coupons.
  8. Product packaging – Always double check the inside of the box or wrapper for a coupon. Frozen foods sometimes have a coupon in a small plastic bag and cereal boxes have the coupons printed directly on the cardboard box. I’ve been known to buy boxes of cereal, of course, with a coupon, just to get the coupons that come with it.
  9. Free samples – There are lots of free samples available online and many of them come with high value coupons. If it’s a new product, you can often match the coupon with a sale promotion and get a full-size item for free.
  10. Sampling programs – Companies want you to try their new products and will send you coupons for free products through their sampling programs., and are all companies that work with brand-name products.

What other unusual places have you found coupons?

(Learn how to coupon and more at Nicole’s next coupon class this Wednesday, Nov. 30. Full details and sign up here.)

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at

Freebie Friday: #2

The first time I told my son he was eating so many waffles that he might just turn into an Eggo, I knew: I’d become my mom.

Most days, I think I drink so much coffee that I might just turn into a pot of the black, hot, good stuff.

It’s only fitting then that this week’s giveaway is, YES, coffee.

Delicious, warm, hit-the-spot-every-time coffee.

Not just any coffee. CRANE COFFEE.

Locally owned and operated since 1995, Crane Coffee now has seven locations around Omaha (77th and Cass, 153rd and Weir, 60th and Center, 129th and Maple, 119th and Pacific, 84th and Spring and inside Methodist Hospital). They make great drinks and great pastries, and more importantly, are always just so nice.

So. I’ve got a Crane Coffee tumbler and a pound of vanilla Crane coffee to give away.


Leave a comment here to enter. One winner will be selected at random on Monday. Good luck!

Mom Saves Money: Surviving Black Friday

If you don’t know her yet, you’ll want to.

Meet Nicole McDonald, blogger/owner/CEO of

Head over to her site. You’ll like it.

Know why?

Cause she tells us how to save money. 

Awesome. We could all stand to learn more about that.

And get this: Nicole has agreed to partner with me and offer a guest blog each Monday on Single Mom with Love.

It begins today.


Nicole McDonald,

Are you excited for the biggest shopping day of the year? I love the Black Friday deals, but let’s be honest: This day of shopping can be stressful.



Here you go.

My tips for maximizing your Black Friday shopping experience:

1. Preview the Black Friday ads and devise a plan – Where will you shop? What will you buy? What time do the stores open? Plot a map of the stores and make a road trip and time plan. Visit the store a few days before Black Friday to get a feel for where the deals will be placed. Don’t wait until the last minute to plan your shopping trip.

2. Arrive early for door-buster deals. Quantities are usually limited, so if you really want a certain item at the sale price GET THERE BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE. This is the only day of the year I willingly wake up before 6 a.m. Some stores offer freebies to the first 100 or so shoppers. Be aware that you may have to wait in line (outside, in the freezing cold) 30 minutes to an hour to snag a coveted freebie. I recommend some dollar-shop hand warmers and a good winter coat, scarf, hat and gloves.

3. Shop with several reusable bags instead of a cart. You can maneuver better through the store and won’t be stuck in shopping-cart traffic. Just place your purchases in your reusable bags and get your shopping done quicker.

4. Don’t take small children. If you’re serious about getting good deals, leave the little ones at home. They will slow you down considerably — and with large crowds, they’ll be safer at home, too.

5. Use the buddy system. If you make a shopping list and realize there is no way you can get all the door-busters you want, recruit a shopping buddy. Both want door-busters at separate stores that open at the same time? Make a list and you shop at one store for both of you and your friend shops at the other store for you. This way, both of you can get the deals you want. Or stick together but head to opposite ends of the store to snag the deals right away.

6. Stay safe and be respectful. Don’t push, shove or fight others over a deal. I only say this because I’ve seen it and it’s not worth getting hurt over a good deal. Also, keep your purse and wallet on you at all times.

7. Buy only what you need. Don’t buy something just because it’s cheap. Think about what purpose the item has, who will be the lucky recipient or how you will use it yourself. I know it’s hard to pass up those insane deals, but no matter how steep the discount, remember, it’s still your money you are spending. If you don’t have a specific purpose for the item, buying something you don’t really need is just throwing away your hard-earned dollars.

8. Have Fun. Enjoy yourself and don’t take Black Friday too seriously. If an item is sold out, it’s sold out and there’s nothing you can do about it. No need to join the ‘angry mob’ (I’m sure you’ve seen these people who start yelling and get so mad an item is sold out when the ad specifically says limited quantities). Just relax, sip a latte and have fun shopping. Maybe even put on your favorite Christmas shirt or Santa hat and jam to some holiday music in your car to get in the holiday mood.

Let the shopping madness begin!

What other tips do you have for Black Friday shopping?

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at