Mother’s Day Gift Idea: Make Up Tools

This morning, while putting on my eyeshadow I dropped the itty-bitty sponge brush that came with it, for the umpteenth time. So writing a quick “what to get Mom for Mother’s Day” post today on make up tools. (And hoping that one my lovely offspring will get the hint).

You can of course spend a lot of money on individual make up tools, depending on where you buy them, but I’m quite happy with the ones I’ve gotten through e.l.f. cosmetics. They’re durable and fit well into my frugal girl budget with prices as low as $1 per brush!

e.l.f. Kits. Not sure where to start? Buy a predesigned Makeup Kit at

The above links are affiliate links, which means I will earn a few cents if you purchase something from those links. I do indeed use e.l.f. cosmetics (and a couple of brushes) myself and the opinions expressed are my own. I was not paid to write this post.

Why Are You Frugal?

This morning one of my posts, Keep the Cold Out and the Warm In This Winter, is featured on the 301st Festival of Frugality hosted on Funny About Money and it got me thinking about why I’m living a frugal life and wondering why others are.

For me, frugality was part of my upbringing. My parents were born in 1930 and 1934 – right in the midst of the Great Depression. Their childhoods were defined by the Great Depression and the war years. By economic problems not just in their village, but in their province and their country. By food rationing. (My Mom still has her food ration booklet from when she was a child.) These were the years when you made do with what you had. If you broke something you fixed it. You knew the difference between a want and a need. You cherished family, friends, laughter, and simple things. Children had a few cherished toys, not “playrooms” filled with them. When you asked my parents about their childhoods they tell happy stories and talk about good memories. They never complained about not having a new outfit for every party or the newest toy or game.

By the time I came along in 1969 my parents had been married 18 years, the economy was doing well, and even with 3 older children nearing college age, my family was living a nice middle to upper-middle class life. But even in those days of consumerism and plenty a thread of frugality ran through my home. My mother loved yard sales, auctions, most of my clothes were from thrift shops. She would rinse out plastic bags, wash aluminum foil, save empty jars and even pieces of string to use for something. New towels, bedding or household items that were received as gifts often got put away for “good” or for “company”, while we continued to use the old shabby towels, the faded bedding, and the chipped dishes. “There’s still lots of good left in these”, she’d say when I’d complain about a pair of scuffed up shoes or a pair of jeans with a hole in the knee. Meals out at restaurant was a rare treat – maybe once per year – and fast food at the local “car hop” was maybe once every 2 or 3 months. An ice cream on a hot summer day from Dairy Queen was one of the ultimate treats. Because it happened so rarely it was cherished.

I was middle school age, my siblings were all adults and out on their own, when the recession of the 1980s hit us. We lost our family business. We lost our home. The local economy was so bad that my father went across the country to find work and months later Mom and I joined him. A van filled with a few pieces of furniture, books, and personal belongings. We spent my teen years living in a city in a rental. Quite a change after growing up in a big modern, custom built home in a rural area.

I married my high school sweetheart in 1989, at the age of 20, and our daughter was born shortly after that. My husband had a good income and we decided that we’d prefer that I be a stay at home mom rather than work and again the frugality had to kick in. We rented for the first 6 years while we saved up to buy a house. We had one car. We didn’t take vacations, go out to eat, buy much for ourselves, and although we did spoil our daughter with toys and clothes, we also “spoiled” her with time and attention. 5 years later our son was born and soon after we bought a lovely home in a nice, quiet family neighbourhood. It wasn’t a big house by the standards of many, but it was more than enough for our little family.

Home ownership was another exercise in frugality. We hadn’t thought beyond the mortgage payments. Taxes, utilities, insurance, maintenance, and even lawn and garden upkeep didn’t enter our figuring. Still, we decided to remain a single income family, and “do without” a new car, a second car, vacations, dining out, etc.

In May of 2003 I came home from grocery shopping with the kids late one afternoon to see one of my worst nightmares happening. My house was engulfed in flames, surrounded by firetrucks and spectators. Flames were shooting out of the roof, the bedroom windows, everything we had was gone. Destroyed by fire, smoke and water. My family was safe though. And as my kids, 13 and 8 at the time, quickly learned. Stuff is just stuff. THINGS can be replaced.

We had insurance but it took 6 months before we had our home rebuilt and another 8 months after that before we had our final payout from the insurance company. My family lived in a very small furnished rental for 6 months during the rebuild process. We had some clothing and a few personal items when we moved back into the newly rebuilt house. It was so empty. No furniture. No knick-knacks. No stuff. By the time we sold the house 5 years later when my husband and I decided to part ways, the house was full of stuff again. It’s amazing how “stuff” will expand to fill space.

After selling the house my kids and I moved into a rental apartment. We have about 1/3 the space for “stuff” and we’ve all had to scale down our personal belongings and furnishings in order for it to work. I’m now working full time as an internet marketer, freelance writer and blog consultant from home and living on significantly less income than we once were. And yet my family survives.

So after a long-winded tale… I’ve come to the conclusion that frugality has always been part of my life. During the lean times it’s by necessity but in the good years it’s still bred in the bone somehow. Yes, I’ve had times when I’ve shopped and I’ve splurged but those days are few and far between. I can always see the difference between the needs and the wants. And having seen my family lose everything when I was barely a teen, having lost everything I own to a fire, and later having to downsize my life to fit into a rental apartment and a reduced income – I can safely say that my needs have always been met. The rest is just gravy.

So tell me. Why are YOU frugal? Are you frugal as a result of a lifetime of frugality? As the result of recent economic problems? A feeling that there’s more to life than mindless consumerism? A desire to set an example for your kids? Are you concerned about the environmental impact of “stuff”?

Image “Great Depression” by buckle1535 used under Creative Commons.

Lunchbox Builder (+ Contest!)

A few days ago I announced a Back-to-School Giveaway and – I played around with the Lunchbox Builder this morning and thought I’d share my results.

Once I created my Lunchbox I printed it out.

Print out the Lunchbox

Print out the Lunchbox

I carefully cut it out …

Carefully cut out the Lunchbox

Carefully cut out the Lunchbox

… and glued the edges to make the lunchbox.

Tada! The Lunchbox!

Tada! The Lunchbox!

How cute is this?

There are several different Lunchbox styles, even a pirate’s treasure chest, and you and your kids can have fun customizing it with stickers, etc. then print out, cut out and put it together. While you’re on make sure you add your lunchbox creation to their gallery – you’ll have a chance to win a great Back-to-School gift package there (just like the one I’m giving away here) and after that make sure you print out your free coupons from Mott’s, Pepperidge Farms Goldfish and Smuckers.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Frugal Family Life Newsletter for your chance to win …


…and head over to my first post about the contest for more chances to win.

gm65swz7yk and Back-to-School Contest!

Lunchbox Builder

Back-to-School time has always been a big yearly milestone around my house. When I was kid I couldn’t wait to go get my school supplies. Coloured pencils, cute erasers, crayons. Crisp new notebooks and colourful binders. A new lunchbox. My favourite lunchbox ever was my Wonder Woman lunchbox with matching thermos.

Over the years even when I wasn’t in school myself and I didn’t have school aged kids I still saw September as a new start to my year. Summer was over and it was time to set new goals for the year.

I was so excited when I learned that Motts, Smuckers, and Pepperidge Farms Gold Fish have launched the Lunchbox Builder, a fun tool, where users can design their own lunchbox, add it to the gallery of lunchboxes, and view and rate other people’s lunchboxes. You can even print out and make your “lunchbox” to decorate your room!
Users who design a lunchbox are entered to win a lunch-inspired prize pack worth $150!

Walmart, Smucker’s, Motts and Pepridgefarm Gold Fish, have given me the opportunity to give away the same $150 lunch-inspired prize pack to one lucky Frugal Family Life Blog reader!

Back-to-School Giveaway!The prize pack includes an iPod Shuffle, an insulated lunchbox, an assorted pack of Sharpie pens, Crayola colored Pencils, a Smuckers Uncrustables sandwich container, a Logitech Optical Mouse, a Smuckers belt pack, combination lock, a Motts Reusable Shopping Bag, a squeezable Smuckers strawberry, scented pencils, a Walmart Gift Card, and a pedometer.

How to Enter:

You must be a Frugal Family Life/Frugalous Newsletter subscriber (enter your Name and Email below) and you must comment on this post telling me what you or your kids look forward to most about Back-to-School shopping.

Extra Entry (worth 1 entry): Tweet about this giveaway and leave an additional comment linking to your tweet (how to link directly to a tweet).

Extra Entry (worth 1 entry): Write a blog post on your own blog about this giveaway and leave an additional comment linking to your post.

Extra Entry (worth 1 entry): Link to this giveaway on Facebook and leave an additional comment linking to your Facebook post.

Contest ends August 28, 2009 at 11:59pm est.

Contest is open to residents of Canada and the USA.

Subscribe to the Frugal Family Life Monthly Newsletter.
Fresh content emailed monthly.
Advance notice of giveways and contests.

Announcing Fridge Foragers Blog

Fridge Foragers This has been in the works for a while now but we finally have it up – Fridge Foragers.

Over on Fridge Foragers we’ll be talking about quick, easy, healthy family meals including breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks that the whole family will love.

We’re all busy and often meal time gets pushed aside while we try to bounce from work and school to hockey practice, swim lessons, book club and gym and back home again.
Fridge Foragers will have lots of recipes, ideas, how to’s and more as we try to rescue meal times from the drive thru. Come check it out.

Frugal Living: Merlene’s Life a Year Later

For the last few months there’s been one item on my “To Do” list that keeps getting ignored: Update the Bio. I have to say, I absolutely hate writing bios, profiles for networking sites, etc. It’s definitely overdue and things have changed a lot over the last 12 months since I wrote this bio and started this blog. (Actually – it wasn’t even this blog – it started as and later I moved it all here to Frugal Family Life.)

I sold my house last August with the plan that my teenage son and I would move into a 2 bedroom apartment. My teen daughter was planning to rent a house with 3 other girls as she headed into her second year of college in a city about 90 minutes away. They say even the best laid plans go astray. The week I was moving into the 2 bedroom apartment my lovely Girlchild informed me that she’d decided to change schools and change direction and would now be living at home with me after all. Oops! Now I have myself and 2 teens in a 2 bedroom apartment. A small 2 bedroom apartment. With a year’s lease signed. I could have cried. Truly.

I happened to mention the situation to my landlord who told me that a 3 bedroom was coming up available in 2 months time and I could move to that if I wanted to. We took a quick tour of it and it was nearly double the size of the 2 bedroom I was living in and it even had a walk-in closet and a 2 piece ensuite bathroom in the master bedroom. And it was less than $100 more than what I was now paying. Joy! Even more so when I learned that it was one of only four 3 bedroom apartments in the entire building and they pretty much never came available. Phew. That problem was solved.

Right around the time I was moving out of the house I learned that John Chow was running a contest to win a free ticket to Blog World Expo in September, 2008. I’d been thinking that I really should attend Blog World but I didn’t really know anyone going and I’m a huge introvert (no really!) and I’d pretty much convinced myself that I shouldn’t go. Then I entered John’s contest figuring if I won the ticket I’d commit to going and if I didn’t then I’d maybe consider it the following year. I won! I never win anything but I won the ticket. Even better, one of my best friends, Chaz French, who’d been my biggest supporter through all of my changes decided to attend Blog World with me. I think he figured even with a free ticket I’d either talk myself out of going or go so deep into wallflower-mode once I was there that I’d never go to any of the parties.

Merlene Paynter and Chaz French at Blog World Expo 2008

Merlene Paynter and Chaz French at Blog World Expo 2008

Blog World Expo 2008 changed everything. My first night there at a party thrown by TechSet I got to meet in person literally dozens of my blogger and social media heroes. I’d been on Twitter for about 18 months at that point and had been active in other online communities so quite a few of my heroes actually knew who I was as well and the ones who didn’t were still gracious and friendly and made me feel like I was part of things. The rest of my time at Blog World Expo was amazing and I met so many wonderful people. I came home with stars in my eyes and fire in my belly. I knew I’d made the right decision. I was sure that focusing on making money online was the right path for me.

Chris Brogan, Merlene Paynter and Jason Falls at Blog World Expo 2008

Chris Brogan, Merlene Paynter and Jason Falls at Blog World Expo 2008

A few days later I was contacted by one of the bloggers I’d met at a party who suggested I’d be a good fit to be part of the Walmart Elevenmoms. We’d had a great conversation at Blog World about social media, technology, and well life, the universe and everything. I hadn’t heard of the Elevenmoms at that point at all. My circle of contacts tended to be more in the “social media” circle not in the “mommyblogger” circle but a few weeks later I was officially one of the Walmart Elevenmoms (and their only Canadian member).

Right around the same time yet another person I’d met at Blog World contacted me and invited me to attend Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas. I’d had a hunch that blogging was not going to be a full time income earner and I was really interested in affiliate marketing. I was thrilled by the offer to attend Affiliate Summit West and so off I went. I met some amazing people there. Most of them weren’t bloggers. Most of them weren’t active in twitter and other social media communities as I was. I really didn’t know or know of a soul there but the people I met were friendly, helpful and I learned a lot while I was there. The same week I was in Vegas for Affiliate Summit West both CES and Wordcamp Las Vegas were on so I had brief stops at each of those events too and again, met some great people and learned a lot. I celebrated my 40th birthday while in Vegas in January, surrounded by new friends and happiness. It was the best birthday I’ve ever had.

Merlenes 40th birthday in Las Vegas.

Merlene's 40th birthday in Las Vegas.

Right around this time a couple of things dawned on me. First of all, no matter how shy or introverted I feel on the inside, if I pretend I’m comfortable and outgoing and try to talk to people it works. I actually forget that I’m shy, wallflower girl and become this entirely other Merlene. Each conference, event or party I go to it just gets easier and easier to socialize. Second, I learned that while meeting people online in social networks and communities is great (and it really does make meeting those people in person easier) it really is the face to face contact and socializing that makes things happen. I’ve truly been overwhelmed by opportunities both professionally and personally since I started attending the events and conferences.

It’s been an amazing year. I’ve been long-winded in the telling of it but it’s only scratching the surface of what this year has been like. There have been a lot of changes and even last year when I set this all in motion I really had no idea that my life would be like this today. My list of people to thank for their support, friendship, advice, encouragement and humour over the last year is long. I try to say thank you to each of them every so often. Sometimes even the smallest gestures on one person’s part can make a huge difference on another’s.

Oh and the Frugal Living stuff? I’m still hanging in there without a “day job” a year later. I definitely made some foolish money mistakes over the past year (more on that in another post) and I’ve splurged a few times on unnecessary things (and more on that too) but all in all my daily living expenses are low and after a year of complete change in lifestyle and routine the kids and I are finally settling into a sensible (well sensible to us at any rate) pattern of money management.

At the end of the day, or rather the year, I’m still debt-free and I’m making all of my income from online projects or at least projects that started with people I met online and in person over the past year. If I were Mary Tyler Moore I’d be throwing my beret toward the sky right now.

Merlene Paynter and Randy Matheson at SpinTO Party

Merlene Paynter and Randy Matheson at SpinTO Party

6 Non-Toxic Metal Cleaners You Can Make From Everyday Items

Clean Brass and Tarnished Brass

With a little time and/or elbow grease and a few items found in your kitchen you can clean most metals without using harsh, toxic and pricey metal polishes:

  1. For Brass – soak brass in equal parts warm water and milk.
  2. For Copper – cut a lemon in half, sprinkle with salt and rub over copper.
  3. For Pewter – rub with wet cabbage leaves.
  4. For Silver – soak silver pieces in an aluminum foil pan filled with water with 2-3 tablespoons cream of tartar sprinkled into it. Let soak for an hour or until pieces are tarnish free.
  5. For Gold – gently rub a paste made of 1 teaspoon liquid castile soap and 1 tablespoon of baking soda over the pieces to be cleaned. Rinse well.
  6. For Aluminum – place 1 cup of canned or fresh tomato slices and 2 cups of water into a pot making sure to cover aluminum pieces.  Simmer for 30 minutes, rinse with cool water and dry.

Win $100 Wal-Mart Gift Card!

Great news!
You have a chance to win a $100 Wal-Mart gift card courtesy of Wal-Mart and ElevenMoms!

All you need to do is sign up for the Frugalous monthly newsletter below and post a comment telling me about your favourite Holiday tradition.

You have until 11:59pm EST on December 20th, 2008 to enter.
Winner will be notified by email and will have 24 hours to reply.
Good luck!

Frugal Holiday: 8 Frugal Yet Fun Holiday Entertaining Ideas

The holiday season is in full swing, money’s tight but you want to get together with your friends and family. After all that’s what the holidays are all about – good times with the people you love. I’ve come up with a list of ideas for parties and get togethers that won’t break the bank.

  1. Tree trimming party – gather your friends and family around to help you decorate your tree. Serve hot apple cider and cookies and make sure you load up a bunch of great Christmas Carols on your stereo.
  2. Sledding or skating party – invite the gang to meet you at your favourite sledding hill or ice skating pond for a couple of hours of fun. Have a snowball fight, make snow angels, remember how much fun snow can be.
  3. Tree-cutting party – instead of buying your tree from a tree lot this year head out to the country to a Christmas tree farm and cut your own. Pack thermoses of hot chocolate and sandwiches and have a winter picnic while you’re out. This is especially fun if you have several families rounded up to go.
  4. Board game night – invite a group of friends over to play some of those old favourites like Monopoly, Scattergories or Rumoli. A tray of cookies or sandwiches within easy reach and you’re all set.
  5. Have a neighbourhood potluck – assign each household a course: appetizer, salad, soup, side dish, main dish, dessert.
  6. Craft night – for those of you who love to craft and are trying to make last minute holiday gifts, get together with your like-minded friends to share few hours of crafting while you catch up with your friends.
  7. Cookie exchange – gather up a bunch of friends, assign each a type of cookie (you don’t want everyone to make Snickerdoodles do you…. hmmm… or do you?), everyone makes enough of one type of cookie to swap with the others. This is a great frugal practise. Instead of buying ingredients for several types of cookies you only buy ingredients for lots of one.
  8. Food exchange party- Why limit yourself to just cookies? Why not gather with friends and batch cook cabbage rolls, lasagana, stew, chili and other freezable make-aheads.

Feel free to add any of your own frugal yet fabulous holiday entertaining ideas in the comments below!

Frugal Kids – Host a Used Skate Exchange

Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, Canada I learned to skate almost as early as I learned to walk. Skating was a daily activity on local ponds, lakes and the arena in town.

Each year the parents at our school would organize a “used skate exchange” day. Everyone brought in last year’s skates, which were now too small, and found skates just the right size.

Volunteers coordinated tables by size so it was easy to find where to drop off your old skates and find your “new” skates.

At the same time there would usually be a bake sale, hot chocolate or cider to buy and at times even a craft sale.

Not only was it a great way to get new skates without having to buy new it was a great way to raise funds for school projects.

These days we’re often too quick to throw out the old and buy new. This year why not organize a skate exchange instead? This could work great for schools, community centers, churches, etc.

What are you waiting for?