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Mystery shopping

Keeper of the Home has moved- click here to find my new blog site!

After reading Crystal’s blog at Money Saving Mom, I felt inspired to rack my brain and think of another way that I’ve made money from home, and then it hit me- I’ve never mentioned mystery shopping!

Now, in my experience it’s difficult to actually make cash money from mystery shopping. Perhaps in the US there are some companies that pay more money than what is available in Canada. The one that I signed up for did not pay a lot of actual cash (although sometimes the opportunity simply required time and a small cash reward was given, perhaps $10-20).

But usually I was rewarded through free services or items. This isn’t quite making money, but if you can get things that your family needs and might have otherwise had to pay for, then it can almost as good.

For instance, through my mystery shopping we got free dinner for date nights, a free oil change, and free professional carpet cleaning in our home! Those are fairly practical things that were really helpful and enjoyable for us!

There are many websites to be found if you google “mystery shopping” or “secret shopping”. For anyone in Canada, the one that I used is called Sensus.

Just a short tip this morning, as I’m off to try to grocery shop on a much decreased budget (for the Savvy Spending Challenge). Make sure you check out Making Do Mondays and add your own link!

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Keeper of the Home has moved- click here to find my new blog site!

Thanks for visiting our very first ever Making Do Monday blog carnival! (Who knew that talking about being thrifty could be so exciting that we could label it a carnival?) This is an extension of the Savvy Spending Challenge, going on all month at Keeper of the Home!

I’m so eager to read about all of your ideas and tips on being frugal, saving money and just making the most out of what you’ve got! Feel free to add your link at the bottom of this post, along with your name or site name and a short description of what your post is about. For example, Kara @ HappyMommy (frugal meal planning tips). Just remember to keep it family friendly and to link to the specific blog post, rather than the homepage of your blog. Thanks for joining in!

And now, for my Making Do Monday post:

I want to share some ideas for how we can stay entertained while sticking to the Savvy Spending Challenge, with lots of free family fun and date night ideas!

Since we have demolished our usual recreation and miscellaneous budgets for the purpose of the challenge, I know that there will come times this month when we feel sorely tempted to go grab a Booster juice smoothie to share, or rent just one DVD for a family movie or date night. So, I thought I’d list some great ways to bust boredom and keep it free!

  1. Visit the library. Not only can you borrow books, magazines, etc., but it’s also fun just browsing around or if you’re lucky, sitting in an easy chair or in the kids section.
  2. While you’re at the library, rent a DVD or CD. My husband loves to rent CD’s when he’s craving new music to listen to (he’s a musician and to him, there is no such thing as owning enough music) and the money’s just not there. Also, a friend recently enlightened me about the fact you can rent DVD’s from the library, and not just documentaries (although we personally enjoy those as well). But if you do a DVD search online or at the computer terminals, they often also have a selection of regular movies, although they are not as up-to-date as the video store. But hey, $5.49 at Blockbuster or slightly older and free at the library? I know which one I’ll take.
  3. Have a themed dinner. Recently, we ate dinner off of my almost 3 year old’s plastic plates from her little kitchen set, on top of plastic kid placemats, using plastic kids cutlery and took pictures of how silly we looked. It was a bit silly, but it made our dinner feel a bit different and fun. How about a Hawaiian dinner, with leis and hula music, or a Middle Eastern dinner where you sit on pillows and blankets on the floor, or a Japanese dinner where you make your own sushi and eat with chopsticks and afterwards try making origami or doing karaoke.
  4. Pack up a picnic and go to the park. Bring a frisbee, croquet or bocci ball.
  5. Host a games night. Invite a family or two to join you, make popcorn and other goodies, and play some of your favorite games. Our personal favorites are Settlers of Catan and Taboo, but you can play whatever you like. :)
  6. Read together. Make some coffee or hot cocoa (or carob), and read a novel together. This is a fun excuse to read a good book that you wouldn’t normally take the time to read.
  7. Find out about local festivals or special days. Recently a small town nearby hosted a Cranberry Festival, so we packed up the kids in the rain and went with my parents to check it out. There were lots of goodies to taste, booths to look at, music to listen to, etc. Check the internet to see if our city has a site with local events, or if your newspaper has an events column.
  8. Go through old photos or personal videos. My husband and I recently spent a Friday night organizing all of our digital photos on the computer, and I thought it would feel tedious. But, it was actually a really great, nostalgic night, as we remembered so many sweet moments in our marriage, our travels and with our kids.
  9. Be a tourist in your own town. Have you ever actually visited the museum or art gallery or a historical center where you live? I know that there are lots of places nearby that we haven’t explored yet.
  10. Check the internet and see if there is a family activities site for your area. In Vancouver, there is a site that I’ve used before called Find Family Fun in Vancouver. It is full of different places to explore, all within a couple of hours of where we live, and many of them right nearby us. Some cost money and some are free, but a good site will tell you what to expect. For instance, I just googled “Chicago family fun” and came up with a site that lists events and activities in the Chicago area.
  11. Rather than go out for dinner with your spouse, after the kids go to bed (put them down a little early, they’ll never know!) set the table with a nice tablecloth and candles, put some music on and eat a special meal together. Make a yummy desert to eat while you snuggle in front of the fire.
  12. Trade babysitting with another family, and go somewhere like Chapters or Borders (make sure you bring your own hot drinks in mugs so you’re not tempted by the Starbucks!) and wander around, looking at books you’re interested. Or just walk around the mall and window shop (I’d suggest a walk outdoors, but at least where I live it’s fall and rainy and wet outside), enjoying each other’s company. Just don’t bring your wallets or any cash! The point is being together, not spending money.

That’s it for me- now I’d love to hear from you! Just click below to enter you name, topic and link, and then please leave a comment. Thanks for joining us!

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Keeper of the Home has moved- click here to find my new blog site!

Last weekend, I went to my favorite place to buy my children’s clothing! I shop at a local children’s swap meet, where there are over 100 tables of other local moms, selling their used children’s and infants clothing, shoes, toys, strollers, etc. It is a phenomenal place to get everything you need for your kids for the next season, all under one roof, all on one morning. It’s a long anticipated, and carefully planned event for me, as I want to make the most of each opportunity. I try to go about 3-4 times a year, depending on my children’s needs as they outgrow their clothes.

Without further adieu, here are my finds:

Clothes from kids swap

For my almost 3 year old daughter:

4 dresses/jumpers (one Gap and one Next- very nice quality, and two others that are for everyday)

2 skirts (Children’s Place and Bum Equipment)

2 dressy shirts- one short sleeved Old Navy, one long sleeved Gymboree)

3 casual long sleeved shirts (Old Navy, Children’s Place)

1 knit sweater

2 pairs two-piece winter pajamas

1 pair Osh Kosh suede-look winter boots

1 pair Gap khaki pants

For my 5 mth old son:

1 pair corduroy Please Mum (excellent Canadian brand) overalls

3 long sleeved casual shirts (all Old Navy and Please Mum)

1 long sleeved button up shirt (Children’s Place)

1 knit sweater (Old Navy)

2 onesies

1 pair soft leather booties (ugly laces, so I’ll replace those for $1)

1 corduroy fall/winter jacket

And, I got a brand new $9 sleeper (with the tags still on it) for $0.50 that I will use as a baby shower gift. (

Grand total (drum roll, please…):

$53.00!!!

Here are my basic swap meet rules:

1) I don’t pay more than $5 for any one item, no matter how nice.

2) I always remind myself that no matter how nice those $9 baby Gap jeans are, there is another table selling something similar for half the price, and I need to leave quickly (before I loose my resolve!) and go find it!

3) I always, always, always barter. And it works best if I can find more than one item at a table, so that I can group the items together and offer a lump sum for all of it. People are more likely to accept this, as it feels like they are making more money, and they are selling several items at once that they might otherwise not sell.

4) I plan ahead (for weeks, sometimes), going through my kids current clothes, looking through the bins and bags of clothing in the next sizes up to see what they already have, determining what they truly need for each new season, and then making a detailed list. At several points during my swap meet morning, I will get out that list to check off what I have already bought, and determine what items I need to still keep an eye out for.

5) I put in my pocket the specific amount of cash that my husband and I have budgeted for the needed clothing. Nothing more. When that money runs out, I’m done. If I finish checking off items on my list before it runs out, I get to have fun!

I love to challenge myself each time, to see whether I can get even better deals and get more for my money than the last time! On a side note, although I also use garage saling and thrift stores for my clothing purchases, I prefer the swap meet because there is so much under one roof, and it’s rarely hit and miss. I can always count on a good selection of all the things that I need, and I don’t waste precious time hitting stores or garage sales that don’t have what I am looking for. That said, I’ve often found great deals in both places, so I never rule them out as options.

For more great more saving tips, check out Super Saver Saturdays at Crystal’s blog.

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Keeper of the Home has moved- click here to find my new blog site!

Just wanted to give you all a heads up that this Monday (Nov.5) will be the kickoff of Making Do Mondays!

As a part of the Savvy Spending Challenge, you will have the chance to write a post sharing a way that you save money by:

  • simply going without (there are so many things that we can probably do without, that we think we need)
  • making something yourself
  • finding a frugal way to get an item cheaper
  • practicing contentment
  • creatively using or reusing things you have at home
  • anything else you can think of that saves money or simplifies your life or spending

So start brainstorming, write your post and come back on Monday to add your blog link and share your tips with the rest of us!

I can’t wait! See you Monday!

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 Keeper of the Home has moved- click here to find my new blog site!

Gleaning is a wonderful way to get things for free! And last week a friend introduced me to a place just brimming with organic apples, free for the picking. It’s in a large public park in our city, out in the country a bit. In a far off corner, she discovered that there was a small grove of apple trees.

Not ones to miss out on an opportunity like this, we both packed up our toddler and baby and headed out for a morning of apple picking. I’m sure we were quite a site, her precariously perched up on these ancient branches, and me attempting to catch and juggle the apples as she threw them down (or just shook the tree so much that they came tumbling down all at once!). I wish I had remembered my camera to take a picture of us, or of our 3 year olds munching on apple after apple, or trying to feed them to my little baby (probably wouldn’t have done much harm, he could have only gummed it, I suppose).

I didn’t think to pull out my camera until most of the apples had already been made into applesauce, but my darling hubby reminded me that I should post about my find. This pic is the remaining apples after I made several litres of applesauce, and my daughter had probably eaten more than 10 herself.

apples.jpg

Aside from them being free, the best part of it all was that they organic, untouched and virtually unknown to anyone! I guarantee, we’ll be back next fall!

It got me thinking about what else could be had through gleaning. One thing that we try to take advantage of (in fact, my husband practically counts down the days until they’re ripe) is local wild blackberries. In our area, blackberries grow like weeds (literally, we actually had a small bush in our backyard that I had to get cut down before it started to take over the whole garden area). We go picking as much as we can during the 3-4 weeks that they are in peak season, and freeze whatever we don’t eat fresh or in a scrumptious blackberry crumble (steaming hot, tart and sweet at the same time, with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sigh… I can’t wait for summer again) .

Is there anything in your area that grows naturally that you could glean? Berries are a common one, and many parks have old apple trees that people just don’t realize are there or free for the picking. Depending on where you live, what about rhubarb, nuts, other tree fruits (cherries, plums), even herbs (of course, you need to know exactly what you are looking for so you don’t pick the wrong thing, but they often grow wild- when we visited Rome we learned that Palatine Hill is covered in a variety of cooking herbs!).

Don’t forget to check out all the other frugal tips at Frugal Fridays, hosted by Biblical Womanhood!

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Keeper of the Home has moved- click here to find my new blog site!

What a great response we’ve had to the Savvy Spending Challenge! As promised, here are the rest of the details about what will be happening over the next month.

First of all, it’s important to establish where you’re at right now, and set a goal for where you want to be at the end of the month. So, you’ll need to determine a few things first:

1) What is your monthly take-home pay, after all taxes and deductions?

2) How much do you normally save each month, if any?

3) Find the percentage of your regular income that you save (it can be an average, because I know that each month can look a little bit different, but try to come up with a realistic figure that you can work with).

For example- $100 savings divided by $2000 take-home income= 5% savings

4) Then, set a goal for yourself. Although it’s important to be realistic (because you still have some basic expenditures that you cannot avoid- rent/mortgage, food, etc.), it’s also important to set a high standard for yourself. You want to have something to really strive for, something that makes this a true challenge.

Here’s my goal: We are currently saving an average of 10% each month (although occasionally we need to use a bit of that savings for unexpected expenses). This month we would like to up that savings to 25%. I wish we could go even higher, but still, 25% is 2.5 times as much as we usually save! That would definitely make a dent in the car debt!

Now for the fun part (see, you knew this was gonna be really fun!)…

It’s time to get creative and encourage one another as we plunge into this challenge!

My commitment to you is that:

  • I will give weekly updates as to how are spending is going, and what percent we have saved so far
  • I will also be posting on topics regarding frugality, stretching your dollars, making do without, and even getting things for free, as often as I can
  • I will share many links to useful sites, whether they are sharing thrifty tips or have printable coupons for useful items
  • I will share all of the fun, frugal and free activities, creative solutions, recipes, etc. that I have come up with myself

And as for you, I (and all the other readers) want to know- what are you doing to make the challenge successful? So, I will be starting Making-Do Mondays, kicking it off Monday, November 5th. You will be able to put your blog link on my page, and share your incredible tips and tricks with the rest of us! I’m looking forward to hearing the ideas that will come out of this challenge!

And the challenge is on…

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Keeper of the Home has moved- click here to find my new blog site!

Do you have extra debt that you’d like to pay off faster? Are you saving (or wish you could start saving) for a particular item your family needs (a car, a computer, etc.)? Are you just as curious as I am to see how much more you could stretch your regular budget, what you could be getting better deals on and what you could actually do without???

Then join me for my Savvy Spending Challenge, starting November 1st!

Here’s the challenge:

If you were to go hard for one month, being extremely cautious and frugal about every single purchase, trying to go without and really save every penny possible, how much could you save? Our goal is to spend nothing more than what we absolutely need to live (bare essentials- house, food, car, insurance), and to use our creativity and ingenuity to find other ways to do what we want, make what we want, and still have a fanstastic month, saving a far higher percentage of our income than we normally save!

The beauty of the challenge is that it’s only one month. We can do anything for a short amount of time. I can’t imagine living this way indefinitely, but for one month, I know that I can do it!

Why am I doing this, you ask? Here’s the (sort of) short version of a long story: Last spring we were in the process of saving up for a new car, because we had no debt and desired to keep it that way. Sadly, the car died a little earlier than expected. We were left with two options- to buy a very cheap car with the amount that we had already saved (in hindsight, this would have been the best option), or to spend a bit extra and get a car that would go the distance for us, but have a small amount of debt. Because my husband is in sales, he earns extra commission checks that we do not count on as part of our regular budget. We reasoned that we could easily pay off the debt within 6-12 months, and be left with a debt-free car for the next 4-5 years after that. However, we did not count on my husband being diagnosed with cancer and being out of work (on disability) for 6 months, only two months after we bought the car (don’t worry- it has a happy ending- my husband is now in remission and started work again part-time two weeks ago- praise God!).

This unexpected change of plans (hmmm, doesn’t James say something about not boasting in our own plans?) left us with a debt, that although manageable, feels like a burden to us. We have discussed this issue a lot in the last few weeks and have decided to go all out (gazelle-intense for all you Dave Ramsey fans) and get this thing paid off by the end of 2007!

And thus the Savvy Spending Challenge was born! We have chosen November 1st to start one month of squeezing every ounce of savings that we can out of our regular income. And we wanted to invite you to join us on this adventure!!!

If you have never done this type of intensified scrimping and saving, let me tell you, it works! We have done it before, numerous times in our marriage. And we have often surprised ourselves with what we could go without and how little we could get by on! This is a character-building, marriage-strengthening, and financial freedom-developing activity. It has helped us to both pay off debts we had when we were married, and also to save up money for special purchases. This absolutely works for us, and we would love to have some fellow travelers in our journey.

WFMW header

P.S. Tomorrow I’ll be posting all the details of the challenge! See you then!

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