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How I Found an Extra $100

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When I need an extra $100 or sometimes even $200, I look in my pantry.  Money hidden in the pantry?  Don’t be ridiculous.  If I hid money in the pantry, I certainly wouldn’t advertise the fact online.  I find money in my pantry by doing a month long pantry challenge!

Pantry Challenge—>intentionally limiting grocery spending in order to use items that are already on hand in the pantry, fridge, and freezer. 

You probably won’t find that definition in the dictionary since I just composed it myself for this blog post. The pantry challenge principle is quite simple, but it works because most of us tend to overspend a little at the grocery store from time to time.  We buy more than we need, and that excess piles up in our cabinets, pantries, and freezers.  Instead of using up all of the groceries that we buy each month, we add to it the next month.

I have found that I can trim $100 or even $200 from my grocery budget a couple times a year by committing to eat from our surplus rather than buying more food at the store.  During a pantry challenge month, I still buy some groceries.  I have found that the best way to do this is to budget a set amount that is about 50% less than what I would normally spend.  For instance, I might aim to spend $25-$50 a week instead of $100.

If you are different from the vast majority of people I know and you never overbuy, then a pantry challenge will not work for you.  You’ve got to eat, and you’ve got to feed your family.  If you have no excess in your pantry and freezer, then this method for freeing up a hundred dollars is not for you.

In the past, I’ve done a pantry challenge when Jack and I wanted a little extra money, and we didn’t want to take the money from any of our regular spending categories. We once paid for a weekend getaway using money from our grocery budget, and we certainly didn’t starve in the process!

This month is pantry challenge month at our house.  If you’d like to try a pantry challenge, here’s what you can do to prepare:
1.  Do a quick inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer.
2.  Make a meal plan using ingredients that you have on hand.
3.  Make a note of any ingredients you may need to purchase to round out your meal plan.
4.  Set a weekly grocery spending limit.
5.  Enjoy the challenge!

Who knows, you just may find some money in your pantry!  

What would you do with an extra $100 this month? 

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A Trick for Too Tight Pants

denim blue jeans

I’m a little embarrassed about posting this hint on my blog.  For one thing, I don’t really like admitting to people that sometimes my pants are too tight.  For another thing, this hint is so well-known that it’s unlikely that many will find it useful.

This Trick Can Help You Breathe Easier

But on the outside chance that someone somewhere might breathe easier because of this hint, I’m going to go ahead and share it.  Recently, I shared this hint with someone in person, and she was impressed and appreciative.  So here goes!

If you’ve never wished for a little extra room around the waist of your pants, then I hate you you can skip this post.  For the rest of us, there is a way to gain a few extra inches around the waist of your zip and button pants. This works only if you are not planning to tuck your shirt in to your waist band.
blue jeans that fit but are too tight when I sit down

Here’s a regular pair of jeans that are quite comfortable when I’m walking or standing, but when I sit down, the waist feels too tight.  If you know of what I speak, then grab a rubber band or ponytail holder, and we’ll transform these pants from tight to comfy.

You can use a rubber band for this trick, but I prefer to use a soft ponytail holder.  If you need to use the one on the left in the picture below, you might want to buy new pants.  The smaller size will allow the waistband to stretch an additional inch or two. how to fix pants that are too tight around the waist

To complete our little “fix”, just thread the elastic band through the button hole in your pants, and then pull one end of the band through the loop so that it is secure in the buttonhole as pictured below.
how to fix jeans that are too tight around the waist
a quick fix for too tight jeans

Now, you can loop the elastic band over the button allowing the band to stretch as you move giving you a little extra room in the waistband.  Trust me, this works!  That little elastic band can mean the difference between being able to wear a particular pair of jeans or not.

While it’s probably true that those of us who need to use this trick probably already know about it.  But just maybe there’s one poor, sad soul out there who’s suffering through the day with her waistband digging into her muffin top.  This post is for her!

‘Fess up!  Have you ever used this nifty trick? 

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How Much Should You Buy for Christmas?

Black Friday is less than a week away, and if you’re planning a big shopping day, you may be wondering just how much you should spend this year on Christmas gifts. I’m not going to tell you exactly how much money you should spend or how many gifts to buy, but I am going to encourage you to evaluate your spending by considering how much enjoyment the gifts will bring.

I’ve shared before things that I’ve learned from two of my favorite frugal books The Complete Tightwad Gazette and Your Money or Your LifeBoth of these books discuss a concept known as The Fulfillment Curve.

The idea behind the Fulfillment Curve is that money spent on our basic needs like food, shelter, clothing, and the like, provide the biggest bang for our bucks.

We all know that spending money on things besides these basic necessities of life is still enjoyable, but to a lesser degree.  An example of this is buying a drink when you are so thirsty you can’t swallow (biggest payback on that money) and buying a drink so you have something to sip on in the car while you drive (still enjoyable, but not the same degree of enjoyment).

Spending on some luxuries can be fulfilling to a certain extent, but there is a point on the Fulfillment Curve where we actually receive LESS fulfillment for the dollars we are spending.   Most of us have seen this play out on past Christmases when a child loves the first toy he opens and would happily spend the rest of the day playing with that one new gift.  After his parents encourage him to open package after package, his enthusiasm for that first toy is diminished, and each new toy is greeted with a little less excitement.

It’s so very important for parents (and grandparents) to remember this when buying gifts for children.  Children and adults alike enjoy opening Christmas presents, but as the stack of gifts mount higher and higher, the enjoyment per dollar spent is proportionately less.

What do we do when it becomes more and more difficult to WOW people with a totally awesome gift?  We usually spend more money, but it doesn’t work.  What we need to do is find that sweet spot on the Fulfillment Curve for us and for our kids where enough is enough.  We must make a conscious effort to stop spending money beyond that point.

The bottom line is that is overspending on Christmas presents does not lead to a more enjoyable holiday.  It often leads to guilt, anger when the presents are not appreciated or cared for properly, and debt. Think about this when you are shopping for presents this year.

How do you keep the gift-giving and buying from getting out of hand at your house?

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The Benefits of Hiring a Pet Sitter

Teresa our dog sitter with MochaBeing a pet owner can be such a rewarding experience!  We love our little dog Mocha, but the question of what to do with her when we go away used to cause us a fair amount of stress.  We tried having friends or relatives watch Mocha in their homes, and while they treated her with love and kindness, we knew that having Mocha in their homes with their own dogs was disruptive.

Our answer to the problem was to hire a dog sitter who comes to our home and cares for Mocha here.  We’ve had good experiences with all of the dog sitters we’ve hired, and as far as we are concerned, there are definite benefits to hiring a pet sitter as opposed to taking our pet somewhere else when we are away.  Our current pet sitter, Teresa of TLC Sitting and Cleaning Services, has been a great fit for our family.  She has a flexible schedule, reasonable rates, and she loves Mocha as much as we do!

Here are four reasons why we prefer to hire Teresa to pet sit for us when we are away from home:

1.  A pet sitter keeps your pets in their familiar environment. 

Sending Mocha to someone else’s house when we went away was quite stressful for her.  Mocha barely ate while we were gone, and she was not comfortable having sleepovers with other dogs.

When Teresa comes to our house to care for Mocha in our absence, Mocha barely notices that we are gone!  Her surroundings and routines don’t change, and she enjoys having Teresa’s undivided attention.

2. A pet sitter can keep an eye on things around your house. 

Not only does Teresa take care of Mocha when she’s here at our house, but she also takes care of basic household maintenance.  She brings in our mail and newspaper, takes phone messages, and provides a presence in our home in our absence.   She even knows how to tend our wood stove and can keep the fire going when we are away.

Once when we were away last November, Teresa held down the fort at our house during a snow storm and power outage.  It was a comfort to us to know that someone was at our house monitoring things while that was going on.

3.  No additional immunizations are required for your dog. 

When your dog bunks in with someone else or has a stay at the kennel, he may be required to have certain immunizations to protect him and the other animals there from contagious diseases.  While it’s a great idea to keep current with the necessary immunizations, having a pet sitter come to your house eliminates the need to take your dog to the vet for shots before you can leave for vacation.

4.  Peace of mind.

Peace of mind is the biggest advantage to hiring a pet sitter.  When we go away now, we don’t have to worry about Mocha.  We don’t feel as if we are inconveniencing a friend or neighbor to dog sit for us.  We don’t worry about something malfunctioning at our home in our absence.

These are just four benefits to having a competent pet sitter come to your home.  When we leave Mocha and our home in Teresa’s care we can relax and enjoy our time away without concern for our dog or our house.  For us, it’s the sensible thing to do.

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Do You Practice Creative Deprivation?


Ever feel as if you don’t have a minute between activities to catch your breath?  If you consider yourself to be too busy and you long for a less frantic pace, you may need to work on cultivating some Creative Deprivation.

I first read of this concept of “Creative Deprivation” in Amy Dacyczyn’s Complete Tightwad Gazette.  If you were to read The Complete Tightwad Gazette now, you would probably notice that much of it is outdated, but there remain some nuggets of wisdom in that book that are universal and timeless.  This idea of Creative Deprivation is one of those nuggets.

The gist of Creative Deprivation is that we enjoy things and experiences more when there is some space between them.  Say what?  I mean that life is more enjoyable when events and activities are broken up by some down time.  New things are appreciated more when they are not too frequently received.

According to Amy Dacyczyn, creative deprivation is like a frame around a picture that sets it apart from the background of the wall.  When we have space around the events in our lives, we can anticipate coming events and enjoy memories of past events before rushing off to the next thing on our activity-packed planners.

We may think that the only way to satisfy our thirst for more stuff and more excitement is to buy bigger, better toys and to pack our schedules even fuller with fun activities, but actually the opposite is true.   

ID-10058484Amy Dacyczyn uses the example of buying ice cream cones for her six children.  Because ice cream cones are a special treat, they were satisfied with a junior size cone.

When they became dissatisfied with a small cone, did she begin buying them banana splits? Absolutely not!  She cut back on the frequency of ice cream treats until a junior ice cream cone was once again a special treat.

Personally, I know that junk food is one of those areas where Creative Deprivation is totally necessary.  A cookie always tastes better in February than it does in December because of the glut of Christmas cookies available then.

An lunch out with Grandpa is always more enjoyable after we’ve eaten our meals at home for a week or more.

Creative Deprivation helps me to enjoy life’s pleasures so much more!


How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed by over abundance in your life?  



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What’s So Bad About Debt?

During the month of February when I am trying to shake free a little extra cash by doing a pantry challenge, I thought it would be a good time to blog about some ideas for spending extra cash.

One of the best ways to use extra money is to pay off debt.  

A long time ago, I shared Grandpa’s Best Financial Advice here on My Grandma Knows.  That nugget of wisdom was life-changing for us, and it has to do with debt.  For the past thirty years, Grandpa and I worked hard to avoid debt.  We have avoided debt like a deer avoids a hunter.  Like a germaphobe avoids touching the door handle of a public restroom.  Like a seventh grader avoids homework.  You get the idea.


But why all of this avoidance of debt on our part?  What’s so bad about a little debt?

1.  Debt forces you to pay higher prices in the long run. 

When you use a credit card to pay for something, the only way to keep from incurring debt and paying interest on that purchase is to pay off the entire credit card balance when you get the bill each month.  If you carry a balance on a credit card for more than a month, you begin paying interest on the balance due.  A lot of interest.  The average interest rate for credit cards in January 2013 is just over 15%.

I’m not much of a math whiz, but even I can figure out that if I carry a $100 balance on my credit card for one month, I’m going to owe $115 to the credit card company.  Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but that interest adds up fast and never stops adding up until the balance is completely paid off.

Suppose you want to go on vacation for $5000, so you charge that amount on a credit card. If you pay off the vacation in one year (that’s a monthly payment of more than $400), then you will pay $421 interest.  So that $5000 vacation really cost you $5421.

Are you going to make monthly payments of more than $400?  Most people can’t do that.  If you stretch out the payments for that vacation over the next six years, that $5000 vacation will end up costing you $7633.

2.  Debt keeps you from taking advantage of today’s opportunities. 

So many times people have to pass up opportunities today because their money is all tied up paying for stuff that they bought months or years ago.

If you have a friend or family member in need, can you help, or is your money tied up in debt?  Could you go on a missions trip, relocate for a better job, donate to your favorite charity, sponsor a child in a third world country, start a new business, or replace your refrigerator?

Debt narrows our choices and holds us prisoner.

3.  Debt is depressing. 

Working all week for a paycheck that is already promised to creditors is enough to drag anyone down.  Where is the joy in working to pay for stuff that you’ve already used and perhaps can’t even remember?  Debt and the money problems associated with it are often a source of marital discord.

So there you go ….three reasons why Grandpa and I avoid going into debt by buying things we can’t pay for right away.  If you are in debt, don’t lose heart.  With diligent attention to finances, you can get out of debt and stay that way.  If you’d like advice on getting out of debt, I’d recommend Mary Hunt’s book Debt Proof Your Life.  Your library may have this book or others with easy to understand advice for paying off debt and being financially free.




Digital photo Salvatore Vuono/

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Noise Putty, a Dollar’s Worth of Fun

I’d never seen nor heard of Noise Putty until I went on a shopping trip with my sister, and we stopped in a Dollar Tree store.  She advised me to pick up a few containers of this marvelously disgusting substance that was sure to delight children of all ages.  My sister has rarely ever steered me wrong, and she wasn’t about to start now!

I bought three containers of Noise Putty with the idea of trying one out myself and then giving one container to each of my great-granddaughters on Thanksgiving Day.

If you’re wondering what Noise Putty is, it’s a kind of jelly-like substance that comes in a small plastic container.  When you push your fingers down into the putty, air bubbles occur, and when the air bubbles are forced out of the container, they make noises.  Weird noises.  Funny noises.  Noises not unlike the sound of breaking wind or passing gas.  I think you get the idea now.

On Thanksgiving Day, it did take the great-granddaughters a little while to get the noise putty warmed up.  Once they caught on to it, they perfected the art of noise-making and had a hilariously good time.

Makaila making “noises”.


Everyone in attendance pretended to be grossed out by the the noises emitted by the putty which only added to the girls’ enjoyment.

After just a little practice, both girls were able to make incredibly authentic sounds with their fingers and this slimy stuff.  I knew this only because the guys verified that  the sounds were just like the real thing.  We ladies, having no firsthand experience with such things,  just had to take their word for it.

Kyra makes music with her putty.


I was the coolest Grandma ever bringing Noise Putty to the Thanksgiving Day celebration, and I reveled in that coolness and it was all fun and games until someone left her Noise Putty lying on the couch.

If you’re contemplating buying some Noise Putty for yourself or someone else, my advice is to keep the putty in the container.  It is possible to remove it from furniture and clothing.  It’s not as bad as chewing gum, but my standing as coolest grandma ever dropped a few levels after that.

Noise Putty is not for everyone.  If you are grossed out by imitation toots and the accompanying jokes, then by all means, steer clear of this stuff.

For our family, it was about as much fun as we could have for a dollar.  I’d highly recommend it!

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How I Became a Tightwad

Every once in a while, you get hold of a book that makes a difference in the way you live from that time forward.  You remember where you were when you read it, and you know your life is better for having taken the time to let the author speak to you. 

That’s how I felt after readingThe Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy DacyczynI was visiting a friend of mine in Pittsburgh one summer, and she had borrowed this book from a friend of hers.  This particular friend of mine was already a tightwad, in fact, I might have considered her a bit extreme in her tightwaddery.  I may have even called her “cheap” on one or two occasions. I, however, was not a tightwad.  Having been raised by thrifty parents, I wasn’t a spendthrift, but I was heading in that direction. 

The Complete Tightwad Gazette or TWG, as it is know among frugalites, is actually a compilation of newsletters written by Amy Dacyzyn over the course of several years. 

Amy Dacyzyn is a wife and mother of six who set out to prove to herself and to the world that it is possible to buy a home and raise a large family without dual incomes. 

She and her readers offered suggestions in the newsletters for taking frugality to a whole new level.


She advocated homemade lunches, yard sale clothing, reusing and recycling before it was fashionable, buying your kids cones not sundaes, and learning to enjoy the simple things in life.  She made a challenge of getting by on less so that she had time to live life more fully. 

I liked what I read, and I began to put into practice many of her suggestions.  I learned to shop to fill my pantry with frequently used items when they were on sale rather than shopping for the things that were on my menu plan.  I learned to divide a large jar of applesauce into small containers for lunches instead of purchasing snack size containers of applesauce.  I learned to cut Grandpa’s hair, turn a cereal box into a magazine holder, and to figure out the unit price of packaged groceries.  I bought Christmas gifts at yard sales and made Justine a cookie cake every year for her birthday instead of buying one.

All the while, as a family we were learning to enjoy the challenge of living on less and reaping the rewards of spending wisely and saving without feeling deprived. 

Sometimes I get out my copy of TWG and thumb through the pages.  I can still remember when I first read some of her ideas that sounded so strange to me at the time.  Some of the book is undoubtedly outdated, but if you want to learn about living a frugal lifestyle with joy, this book is still worthwhile reading.   I highly recommend it! 


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BYOB: Be Your Own Barista!

Okay, so I just looked up the definition of ‘barrista’ and it is someone who makes espresso based coffee drinks, but I’m using it today to mean someone who makes coffee. 

Do you like to go out for coffee?  Sometimes I go out for coffee with friends, but it’s more for the friend time than the coffee for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee, but I’m not about to pay over $5 for an extra-special cup of coffee, at least not on a regular basis.

If fancy coffee is a splurge of yours, that’s fine.  There’s no harm in treating ourselves occasionally.  The problem some of us have is making these treats occasional.  Let’s say you stop for coffee every day on your way to work.  At a conservative $2 a cup, 5X a week, 50 weeks a year, you would be spending a whopping $500 on daily coffee!!!! 

With a little experimentation and an initial investment for a quality coffeemaker and a good brand of Certified Fair Trade coffee, you could be making yourself a very satisfying cup of coffee at home each morning saving yourself both time and money.


Specialty coffees, flavored creamers, sugar free and regular flavored syrups make it possible to recreate many of the varieties of coffee available at coffee shops and convenience stores. 

We love our Bunn coffeemaker that brews a pot of coffee in three minutes. We like to add some sugar free liquid coffee creamer and some half and half for a rich cup of delicious coffee each morning.  We have decided that we will now be purchasing Fair Trade coffee, but even at that, our monthly coffee bill will be under $30.   At that price, I’ll happily serve as our barrista each morning!


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Grandma’s Top 5 Gazingus Pins

A number of years ago, I read the book Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominquez.  The book is a real eye-opener about how much of our time we spend “earning a living”.  I’d recommend your reading the book if you haven’t already done so.

One of my favorite terms from the book is Gazingus Pin.  You’re probably wondering what a gazingus pin is. It’s not a new jewelry item or a sewing notion.  I’d be willing to bet that every one of you who is reading this HAS a Gazingus Pin or two.  No way, you say?

According to the authors, a gazingus pin is “any item that you just can’t pass without buying.”

Think about it for a minute …. maybe you do have a few gazingus pins lying around your house.  Maybe you’re already thinking of some things that fall into that category of unpassable items for you.   If you are, that’s wonderful because knowledge is power.  If we can expose the lure and promise of the gazingus pins in our lives, then we can be armed to stand against the temptation to buy more than we can use and afford.

Grandma’s Top Five Gazingus Pins

1.  Plastic Containers –I know, it’s crazy to be crazy for plastic containers, but I just love   ’em! I have so many of them, that I sort them by shape and size in my cupboards.

2.  Dinnerware–I do love dishes!  At one time, I had a set of dishes for every season of the year.  Finally, when the bottom of my hutch was bowing under the weight of them, I had to pare down my collection of sets of dinnerware.  When I’m shopping, sometimes I still wander through the housewares department in some stores to admire the different patterns. But I don’t buy.

3.  Office supplies–Mechanical pencils, pens, paper clips, Post-It notes, notepads, notebooks, etc.





4.  Fabric–Sewing is my business and my hobby, and like so many of us, it’s difficult to pass up more hobby supplies, even when our cupboards, shelves, and boxes are overflowing.




5.  Sewing Patterns–While fabric is a real weakness of mine when I’m shopping, patterns are even more dangerous for me.  Patterns = Possibilities, and I love to have an endless supply of possibilites!

That’s my list of Gazingus Pins.  Once I recognized my tendency to overspend on these items, I was able to curb that spending.  Sometimes I still pick up a gazingus pin here or there, especially if the price is right, but now I’m aware of what I’m doing.

Please leave a comment with your top Gazingus Pins.  Recognizing them here may help you to say no to them at the store.