Giveaways: Budget Stretcher or Waste of Time?

Giveaways are nothing new.  Just read a handful of blogs and you’ll likely find plenty of giveaways.  But are they worth the time and effort?  Can you ever win something good?

I’ll be honest, my husband and I are digging out of a hole of debt.  The good news is that we’ve paid off over half of our debt.  Yeah!

However, we’ve reached a point where we firmly refuse to acquire any new debt.  Meanwhile, our car is 10 years old and has 150,000 miles on it, our 10 year old needs braces, and we’ve just had nearly $2,000 in medical and dental work. . .

Our money is stretched to the max.

GiveawaysSo, I decided to try my hand at giveaways.

Right now, we just don’t have a lot of extra money to pay for presents and fun items for the kids, so I thought giveaways could be a good way to get some of the luxuries we can’t afford.

So far, in three months (December through February), I’ve won 5 prizes:

  • A $50 Visa gift card
  • A board game for my 10 year old ($29.95 RV)
  • A $10 bookstore gift card
  • A movie
  • A book

During these past three months, I entered 47 giveaways, meaning I won 10% of the giveaways I entered.  Not bad.

How Much Time Do I Spend Entering Giveaways

I know there are some people that spend A LOT of time entering giveaways, but I don’t have time for that.  Instead, I enter giveaways once or twice a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time.  I often enter the giveaways when my kids are watching television in the afternoon (they get an hour a day of tv time), or in the evening when I’m too tired to do anymore work.  (Unlike just vegging and watching Netflix, entering giveaways has the prospect of giving me something back.)

I don’t enter giveaways just to enter giveaways.  Instead, I focus on ones that offer cash or gift cards (though these are the most competitive and difficult to win), ones that have products my kids would like or that would make nice gifts, and ones that offer homeschool curriculum.

If you want to start entering giveaways, deciding what you would like to focus on winning is a good way to limit the amount of time you spend entering giveaways.

Where I Find Giveaways to Enter

To maximize my time entering giveaways, I try to enter ones that have low entries.

I have found some Facebook groups to join where people advertise their giveaways.

Another site I love is Tightwad in Utah.  She lists low entry giveaways that are ending in the next week.

If you’d like to enter giveaways and don’t really care if they’re low entry or not, you can use this link or this link to find linkies for giveaways from a wide array of bloggers.

Finally, if there is a blogger who routinely offers the types of giveaways you’d like to win, make sure to come back and visit the site regularly.  Chances are that entry requirements for the giveaway are to like the site’s Facebook or Twitter pages.  Just do this once, and for every subsequent giveaway on that blog, you’ve already met those requirements.

I don’t expect to get rich from entering giveaways or even to be able to supply all of my kids’ presents.  However, it is nice to get free stuff in the mail, especially if some of it can be used to offset the expense of Christmas and birthday presents.

Do you enter giveaways?  Why or why not?  If you do, how much success have you had?  How much time do you spend entering giveaways?

Would You Consider Moving to Improve Your Standard of Living?

Last July, our family moved from the near suburbs of Chicago to the suburbs of Tucson, Arizona.  We knew that there would be some significant changes to get used to, like the change in weather, but honestly, we weren’t sure how our lives would change.

Had my husband not been offered a job in Tucson, we never would have considered moving so far away from family and friends.  However, making this move turned out to be a wonderful decision.

Even though my husband is only making $2,000 more than he was making in Chicago, our quality of life has improved tremendously.

Benefits of Moving to Tucson

Moving improve Standard of Living

Original img credit: pbarry on Flickr

We can own a house.  In the near suburbs of Chicago where we lived, a house, even a fixer-upper, cost at least $300,000.  Then, there were the property taxes to consider, which ran $10,000 to $25,000 a YEAR depending on the neighborhood you live in.  In Tucson, we got a very nice house for less than $200,000, and our taxes are only $2,000 a year.

Our kids have room to play.  Even though we lived in the suburbs of Chicago, the population is so dense that the houses all have very small yards.  Plus, the house that we rented backed up to an alley, so I never dared leave the kids outside alone.  Now, we have a large backyard with a cement fence around it.  I can see the kids outside playing while I’m in the kitchen preparing food.  We love this feature of our new home.

Money stretches so much further in Tucson.  Although it’s a challenge, in Tucson, I have a grocery limit of $125 a week.  There is absolutely no way I could have such a low grocery bill in Chicago.  It simply was not possible.  Gas here is much cheaper, too.

The environment is so much quieter and friendlier.  In Chicago, many people were just, well, grouchy.  (Not all of them, but certainly enough of them.)  We lived in a middle class suburb, and we had some sketchy characters in our neighborhood like a woman who lived down the alley and routinely dug through everyone’s trash.  (I’m not making that up!)  There was also so much noise from the nearby fire station, trains, and constant traffic.  In Tucson, our neighbors are very friendly, there is no one sketchy (that we’ve met so far), and it’s much, much quieter here.

Drawbacks to Our Move

We’re far away from family and friends.  Most of them live in the Midwest, so we are far, far from family and friends.  That is a challenge.  If we move back to the Midwest, it will be because we want to be closer to family and friends.

Everything is so far away.  In Chicago, I was very spoiled.  I had three grocery stores within a two mile drive.  Our dentist and doctor were each less than 4 miles away.  In Tucson, everything is 10 or more miles away.  We have to drive a half an hour to get to our dentist.  Driving so much can take up a large part of our time.

I never would have considered moving to improve our standard of living, but now that we’ve done so, I can see what a great move it was for our family.  Our quality of life has improved dramatically, and this move is giving us a chance to improve our financial situation.

Would you, or have you, moved far away to improve your standard of living and financial situation?  Or is this something you would not consider?

3 Easy Ways to Get a Home Cooked Meal on the Table: Save Time and Money

Do you cook at home?  If so, how many times a week?

Chances are, your answer will vary depending on whether or not you work outside the home, your age, and your income.

Sure, cooking at home can save you plenty of money, but not a lot of us do it.  According to Harris Interactive, “Two in five (41%) say they prepare meals at home five or more times a week and three in ten (29%) do so three to four times a week.  One in five (19%) of U.S. adults prepare meals at home one to two times a week, and 11% say they rarely or never prepare meals at home.” There aren’t always easy ways to get a home cooked meal on the table.

In the last several years, my husband and I have made the switch to exclusively eating at home.  We go out to eat less than 10 times a year, usually only when we’re traveling.  What I’ve discovered is that cooking at home can actually be A LOT of work.  Making healthy, low-cost food requires time and energy, and then there is all of the clean up to do afterwards.  If I were still working full-time outside the home, I doubt that I would have time to cook as much as I do now.

Home Cooked Meal

Original IMG credit: DSC_0719 on Flickr

However, there are a number of strategies that can help make preparing foods at home easier.

Have a go to meal.  Everyone should have a few easy meals that they can make from staples in the pantry when they’re short on time.  Choices might include spaghetti, cheese quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc.  These meals may not be ideal nutritionally, but they’re still better than grabbing fast food, and they’ll save your wallet.

Use your slow cooker.  Start the slow cooker in the morning, and when you come home, you’ll have a hot meal waiting for you.  To save even more time, prep all of the ingredients the night before so in the busy morning, you can just dump in the ingredients and go.

Utilize freezer cooking.  Take one day a month and cook up several meals for your family for the month.  This might take you three to four hours, but then you will eliminate much of the cooking you’ll need to do for the rest of the month.  Simply take a meal out of your freezer the night before you need it and then reheat it when you get home from work.

There are short cuts to freezer meals, too.  Search Pinterest, and you’ll find crockpot freezer meals.  Simply dump the ingredients in a freezer bag and freeze.  This type of freezer cooking doesn’t require any cooking before putting it in the slow cooker, so you can make a month’s worth of meals in about an hour.

Another idea is to double any recipe you are already cooking and put the second one in the freezer for a busy night.

Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t yet mastered how to eat at home without spending all of your time cooking.  As Marion Nestle, professor of food studies at New York University and author of What to Eat says, “Anything that you do that’s not fast food is terrific; cooking once a week is far better than not cooking at all.  It’s the same argument as exercise: more is better than less and some is better than none” (The New York Times).

What is your favorite strategy to get a healthy meal on the table quickly?