Moneywise MoM: Santa can be frugal, too!

Happy Holiday season! With this past weekend of shopping, you’re probably well into the spirit by now. Last month, I shared some tips to plan ahead for the holidays, such as setting a budget for gifts. This month, I’ll share a little secret for how I save BIG on toys and other gifts for the kids:

It’s okay to buy used for the holidays.

It is! If you have certain toys, bikes or products in mind, take these next steps:

  1. Open your mouth and ask: A few years ago, I mentioned to some friends that I was thinking about buying my twin girls a dollhouse for the holidays, and one piped up with, “We’re about to sell ours on Craigslist.” I ended up with a Dora Dollhouse in excellent condition with every stinking piece of furniture ever sold for just $75. I never would have spent $250-300 for all those pieces, so this was a great deal!
  2. Check with your multiples club: Our group has an online classifieds section where we can sell to each other, maybe yours does too. Look for Little Tikes slides, bikes, and other large items that are in great shape. It’s also great to get the point-of-view of other moms of multiples whose children are older than yours. Ask around for toy suggestions and find out what toys last, which were forgotten, and which are strong enough to hold up to twins (or more).
  3. Look on Craigslist: Families in your local community are selling toys and more on Craigslist right now to make room for the new; this can benefit you! Craigslist is a great place to find train tables, bins of Duplo blocks, and gently used Thomas the Train toys.
  4. Look on Ebay: For a larger pool to choose from, head to Ebay. I have had great luck finding used video games, Leapster games, and board games on Ebay. I buy used video games for my husband, too.
  5. Dress them up! Now that you have your gifts, fancy them up a little to take away the “used” look. If you bought a few used DS games for your child, put them in a character-themed case (bought new). It won’t matter that you don’t have the instruction manuals or boxes. With the Dora Dollhouse, we set up the rooms and characters and got a huge “Wowww!” when the girls came downstairs. Many of the toys that Santa leaves are unwrapped and assembled before being put under the tree, so this is right in line.

Buying toys and other kid gear used works for me! Have you tried it?

I hope you’ll stop by MoneywiseMoms.com for gift deals and other helps for the holidays. Have a great month!

Moneywise MoM: Plan Ahead for the Holidays

*Gina is stuck in the mess from Hurricane Sandy, so we are rerunning her post from last November*

It’s time! Get into the spirit and start thinking about the holidays, everything from cooking to entertaining to gift shopping to cards. Yikes!

Take a little time to plan ahead for the holidays, and you’ll save yourself immeasurable stress and certainly a lot of money. Make a date for yourself and head to a quiet spot with a pen and list-making paper. Let’s get started:

1) Figure out where you’re having your holidays. Are you traveling? Hosting? Either option takes planning when there are multiples involved. Minimize your stress now by delegating tasks to your spouse and other family members. We’re hosting, so I’m already thinking about how to split up meal prep and other tasks between the three families. How will you enjoy your guests instead of

2) Make a list for gifts, and think about a budget (either per person or overall). You can remember teachers and neighbors with a nice card and baked treat. Keep an eye out for price drops on toys for kids (use Amazon Mom for FREE Prime Shipping on those quick drops). Remember to include wrapping and shipping in your budget total.

3) Get started early with your holiday cards, if you plan to do them at all. Try to get a photo of the kids now, so that if it doesn’t work out, there’s plenty of time to try again. See my earlier post on Holiday Cards for ideas (even the idea of skipping it!).

4) Consider earning extra income between now and the holidays to ease your budget. Over at MoneywiseMoms, I’m sharing small ways I earn extra income, including one of my favorites: Swagbucks. I’m even winning blog giveaways and using the prizes as gifts. I’m also selling our clutter on Craigslist and Ebay, which bring money in to spend at the holidays while decluttering my house–so I’ll have more room when company comes!

Take the time now to plan ahead, and you’ll end up with a much smoother holiday season. For more tips on holiday prep and lots of great gift deals, head to MoneywiseMoms.com.

How do you plan ahead for the holidays?

 

Moneywise MoM: How to Save on Lego

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, are you already thinking about toy shopping? I like to start watching prices early so that I know I’m getting the best deal. When you know what “regular” price is for your big-ticket purchases, you’ll know when a sale price is worth it.

One of the most popular gifts at my house each year is Lego–yours, too? Here are some strategies for how to save on Lego:

 

Know the Basics

As you’re entering the Lego years of your life, know right off the bat that trademarked sets cost more than the Lego-brand sets. You’re paying for the licensing to get names like Marvel, Cars and Harry Potter. I’ve talked about that with my kids when we’re looking at Lego sets at the store, and sometimes it affects how they spend their allowance. Second, shopping for Lego is like shopping for groceries. No one store has the best selection or price. Your best bet is to keep an eye out for deals, and you’ll see some good sales between now and the holidays. If you’re okay with large bins of bulk pieces, you can buy Lego secondhand through Craiglist or Ebay. Learn more about Buying Bulk Lego on Ebay.

Selection and Pricing

Target and Walmart offer a smaller selection of Lego at their stores, but the prices are generally lower than the Lego Store or Toys R Us. In November, Target will release their annual Toy Coupon Book, which usually has a few coupons for specific Lego sets on sale through Thanksgiving. Walmart sells some Lego Bundles online at better value, often 2-3 sets packaged together.

The Lego Store and Lego.com offer the best selection (particularly online), but their prices are typically the MSRP, and free shipping is only for $75+ orders. On the up side, they occasionally offer freebies when you purchase certain sets or spend a certain amount, and they do have a VIP program where you earn points per dollar and can redeem them later.

I’ve been pretty happy doing my Lego shopping at Toys R Us the past few years. They offer a Buy One, Get One 50% Off Sale a few times a year (including November, so expect it for this holiday season). Generally, the prices are higher than the same sets at Target/Walmart, but they have a much larger selection. They also offer free items with purchase, especially at the holidays. I usually use those little minifigs as stocking stuffers.

 

Beware of Amazon

I love Amazon, don’t get me wrong. But what’s tricky is that Amazon lists products that have been out of print or not manufactured for years. With a collector’s item like Lego, you’ll see sets from 5-20 years ago at exorbitant prices. That’s not the current price for regular sets you’ll see in local stores or regularly in stock online. It’s easy for kids (and parents) to get excited about a set (with my son, it’s the Harry Potter Train from a few years’ back) that’s no longer made and selling for hundreds on Amazon. Since we’re buying to play, not to “collect,” that’s not happening. They will offer some great price drops between now and the holidays, but now what the regular set prices are (via Lego.com) so you’re not fooled by a third-party seller’s huge markup.

Take Advantage of Freebies

Surprise your Lego fans with a FREE subscription to Lego Magazine. For kids 6 and under, get a 2-year subscription to Lego Jr. Magazine. For older kids, get a 2-year subscription to the Lego Club Magazine. My kids love getting mail, and they enjoy the games, comics and building instructions in these magazines. You can view, print and download many years’ worth of Lego pictures and instructions at the Lego website. Consider making a binderful for your Lego builder as a special gift, like this one from Pink & Green Mama. If you live near a Lego Store, the first Tuesday of each month, there’s a FREE Mini-Build at 5:00pm for kids ages 6-12. Your child will get a free mini-set and instructions, themed for the season.

 If you’re a Lego family, how do you save on Lego?

 

 

PS–if you haven’t had enough Lego, check out my son’s 6th Birthday Party–Lego themed and very frugal, of course! I’ve got lots more money-saving tips at MoneywiseMoms.com.

Moneywise MoM: Best Buys at Consignment Sales

Welcome to consignment sale season! Many multiples clubs around the country are hosting huge consignment sales in September and October. If you’re a new parent of multiples, it can seem overwhelming! If you’ve never been to one, read these basic tips for shopping consignment sales. Since it’s now fall, I made a list of the Best Buys at Consignment Sales for this season. Hope you have great luck shopping!

Winter Coats and Boots

When kids are young, these specialty items get very little wear and can look almost new the next season. I’ve found heavy winter coats, snow pants, and boots at 25-50% off their original prices. Look for good brands like Lands End and Columbia, and you should be able to pass them down to younger children or resell at a future sale.

Halloween Costumes

You can’t beat the prices at consignment sales for Halloween costumes, and the selection is great if you’re looking for doubles or coordinating costumes for your twins or triplets. These are another item that are barely worn, but keep in mind that for preschoolers, it might be worth picking up a few extra costumes to stock a dress-up station at home. My girls kept these bunny costumes longer than they fit!

Holiday Tees & Formalwear

There’s no reason to spend top dollar on fancy dresses and suits that only come out for the winter holidays or are worn for a few hours for family portraits. Like the winter wear, you’ll find practically-new tops, dresses, ties and pants for boys in amazing condition since they’re only worn sparingly. I also like finding Halloween and Holiday tees for a few dollars compared to $8-15 new in the stores. Since they can only be worn for a few weeks around the holiday, I prefer not to pay full-price!

Large-Scale Baby Gear

No matter the season–fall or spring–consignment sales are the best place to find an assortment of low-priced baby gear like Exersaucers, high chairs, Pack & Plays, swings, strollers and more. At the beginning of the sale, you’ll find many of these in various conditions at every price range (some new sellers often overprice these items trying to recoup their expense). By shopping early, you can score the lower-priced gear in excellent condition. There is very little that you can’t buy used–a huge way to save money as a parent of multiples–but be sure to purchase your car seats new to be sure they meet current standards. You may also want to carry your smartphone with you to the sale to look up products on the CPSC Recall list.

If you’re a veteran consignment sale shopper, what are your best buys?

Moneywise MoM: Save Money on School Lunches

It’s Back-to-School season, and for many moms of multiples there’s a big expense on the horizon: school lunches. Now that all three of my kids are in school full-day, it’s a big job for me to pack those lunchboxes. I prefer to pack lunch so I have more control over what they eat (I see what comes home uneaten), plus I prefer the nutrition of what I pack over what the school provides. It’s also a lot less expensive, especially with three kids!
Here are some strategies that help me save money on school lunches:

Reusable Water Bottles

I switched my kids to stainless steel Thermos Funtainers a few years ago, and I no longer spend any money on disposable juice boxes. They drink water daily, which is healthier and cheaper! These straw cups have lasted us for several years, so at $10-15 at Target/Walmart, they’re a great value.

Buy Larger Packages

Instead of buying individually-packaged Goldfish, pretzels and other lunchbox treats, I buy larger bags or packages and make my own serving sizes. We use reusable containers, either fabric or plastic, and wash them instead of purchasing disposable baggies. This saves me a lot of money and I can make the serving sizes appropriate to the age of my kids–less for preschoolers and more for my son with a huge appetite. You can also do this with yogurt, canned fruit and applesauce and avoid those expensive single cups.

Use up Dinner Leftovers

Under the guise of avoiding the sandwich rut, I make my kids eat our dinner leftovers! They appreciate something new once in a while (and lunch meat gets expensive). I can use up chicken, rice, and veggies from dinner by heating it in the morning and serving it in a Thermos cup. You can also put pieces on toothpicks for a little “party food” type of lunch. My kids see that others have “Lunchables,” so we talk about what’s in it and then make our own. I add fruits and vegetables and healthier versions of crackers and cheese. To see more ways that moms use leftovers, check out this great lunch photo gallery.

If you’re a veteran lunch packer, what are your strategies to save money on school lunches?

Finding Summer Fun Around Town

Summer is upon us, and while it’s great having the kids at home, it won’t take long before you hear, “Mom, I’m bored!” With a little planning, you can fill your calendar with FREE and low-cost family activities around town. Here are a few suggestions:

Museum Visits
Check the websites of museums in your area for their regularly-scheduled discount days (some offer FREE admission the 1st Wednesday of the month, for example). You can also check for FREE and low-cost museum admission through programs like Bank of America’s Museums on Us program or Target’s Art & Culture program. Military families get FREE admission all summer at museums participating in the Blue Star Museums ProgramPhoto by D’Arcy Norman at Flickr

Summer Reading Programs
National chain bookstores Borders, Half-Price Books and Barnes & Noble offer summer reading programs where you can print out the reading log, have your child complete the requirements, then head to the store to choose a FREE book in-store from a participating selection. Check with your local library for their Summer Reading Program as well; ours rewards kids with a coupon book with a free ice cream cone, game of mini-golf, and other activities. Photo by Stewart at Flickr

Free and Low-Cost Kid Movies
There are plenty of opportunities for air-conditioned fun with many theaters offering $1 or FREE movies for kids all summer. Check out local theaters in your area that are part of the Carmike, Cinemark, Classic, Harkins and Regal chains for their $1 programs. National Amusements Theaters are offering FREE weekday movies when kids bring in a book report, and both Clearview Cinemas and Rave Theaters are offering completely FREE movies. Movies are G and PG and are usually on weekday mornings. Photo by cybaea at Flickr

Hands-On Activities
Almost every Saturday, there’s a FREE kids project happening somewhere in my area. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot offer kids’ building clinics on Saturdays, where kids can use tools and wooden kits to create (best for kids ages 5 and up). If your family enjoys arts and crafts, check out the FREE project every Saturday at Lakeshore Learning. Michael’s also offers occasional projects (some require a small purchase), and they have a week of Father’s Day events scheduled. Photo by woodleywonderworks at Flickr

I’ll be posting more frugal summer fun over at my blog, Moneywise Moms, so please stop by!