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Rethinking Christmas Stockings

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Christmas Stocking 3 The Prudent Homemaker

A few years back, we were in need of new Christmas stockings. Our family had grown, and we didn't have enough matching stockings for the family.

At the same time, I had been seeing beautiful miniature stockings online made from vintage grain sacks. I loved the simple red stripes at the top and I especially loved the fact that the stockings were tiny. Small stockings (rather than ones that could fit an entire adult's arm) mean there is less to fill, and I can have a wrapped gift sticking out of the top, which is something I had always wanted to do. That didn't work with our previous stockings, which were so long I could fit all of our gifts for each person in with room to spare.

Chirstmas Stocking The Prudent Homemaker

I drew up a small stocking pattern and set to work. I didn't have vintage grain sacks, nor a budget for them, so I used my sewing machine to sew red stripes on some painter's drop cloth that I had previously bought at the hardware store. (Note: Our city got an Ikea store last year; they have dishtowels for $0.79 each that have red stripes at the top which would work beautifully to make these stockings).

Last year, with our new baby, I wasn't worried about hanging a stocking for him. Now that he's a year and a half, it's time for me to make a stocking for him too!

You can make your own small stockings out of your fabric of choice. Not a fan of red stripes? Try cutting up a velvet skirt or dress, or an old sweater that you find at the thrift store! Repurpose an old sheet to use as the lining.

Christmas Stockings The Prudent Homemaker

 

When it comes to filling the stockings, consider the simplest things.

In the toe, put a clementine or an orange. These are always on sale at Christmastime in the U.S.  (Readers in the Southern Hemisphere, please share your favorite summer fruits for stockings in the comments below!)

Include some candy and/or nuts. I like to buy some candy from the bulk section at Winco when it goes on sale right before Halloween and give that (this year I bought peppermint patties). Candy canes, purchased on sale, work well. I like to make homemade candies too, such as peppermint bark, which I put inside in plastic bags. For nuts, look at buying them in bulk from Sam's Club, Costco, Winco, or another place that sells bulk nuts. If you grow your own, whole nuts in the shell look pretty in stockings as well. If you prefer cookies to candy, a beautifully decorated Christmas cookie or two is a nice, edible gift.

For gifts, I like to keep the cost down. Most "inexpensive" stocking stuffer ideas that I see include several gifts that are $10-$20 each. Most years, that is my entire Christmas budget per person (candy and nuts come from my regular grocery budget, rather than my planned gift budget), which means I need to lower that amount considerably to keep within my budget for the year. I usually include two to three gifts per person in stockings. Here's some of what I like to include:

 

For my daughters:

Jewelry. I find pieces at garage sales for $1 an item. I'll make jewelry from repurposed or garage sale pieces. Broken or old costume jewelry is great for this purpose. I've also bought beads, elastic, and jewelry findings on sale to make pieces between $0.15 to $1 each.

Small toys. Garage sales are also a great place to find small toys. I found a number Legos for a total of $0.50 this year, and I'll divide these up between my four younger girls.

Art supplies. I purchase these for $0.25 to $1 at back to school sales.

Hair ribbons. I buy them on sale by the spool and cut them on the diagonal (to reduce fraying) in lengths for the girls.

Homemade barrettes.

Hair elastics. I buy these in packages of 100 from the dollar store.

Bobby Pins. I get these from the dollar store.

Hair brushes. I also get these from the dollar store.

 

For my sons:

Legos. Garage sales are again my source for the least expensive small Lego stocking stuffers.

More Candy and/or nuts. My boys like to have the same candy as their dad.

Ties. My boys wear a tie to church every Sunday. I find them at garage sales for $0.50 to $1 each.

 

For both boys and girls:

Toothbrushes. I buy them in packages of 4 or 5 for $1 from the dollar store (last Christmas I saw this same deal at Walmart too).

Chapstick. I often buy a bulk package and divide it up. I look for coupons and sales to get the price lower than $1 each.

Bouncy balls. You can buy a bag (usually of 6) in the party section of several stores.

Puzzles. The dollar store has small puzzles that fit in stockings. 

Earbuds. Again, I get these at the dollar store.

Bookmarks. Homemade bookmarks are a favorite gift at my house. My children are avid readers who always have a book going.

 

For my husband:

His favorite candy. At my house, this means a large bag of peanut M&Ms and/or a bag of Werther's. I can always find coupons and sales on these to get the price down considerably.

This is all I usually get my husband, but this year I'm thinking of adding a restaurant gift card using points I earn on Swagbucks. We don't usually exchange gifts between the two of us, so this would be a surprise. It also won't cost me anything at all!

Christmas Stockings detail The Prudent Homemaker

Reducing the size of your stockings makes it easier to fill a stocking and keep within a tiny budget. There's no need to feel obligated to spend money on stocking stuffers that will end up broken and unwanted before the New Year. Let your gifts be simple.

 

As I was writing this post, I asked my 12-year-old son what he loved getting in his stocking. He immediately mentioned the clementine, then candy, and then bouncy balls! And only then did he mention Legos. What my children have come to remember is the simple traditional items that we have included, and they look forward to them every year!

 

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Why I Don't Mind Being a One-Car Family

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One Car Family The Prudent Homemaker

 

Twelve years ago, after our third child was born, we sold both of our vehicles and bought a single vehicle for our family. We needed something that would fit three car seats and have rear air conditioning and tinted windows. In our heat, it can easily get to 140º in a car in the summer, so having these features in pretty essential in making sure that passengers in the back don't overheat; we run the air conditioning in our vehicle eleven months of the year.

After our seventh child was born, we needed a larger vehicle that would fit our larger family. We sold what we had and bought a used van for $500 over what we sold our previous vehicle.

 

Why I Love Being a One-Car Family:

 

1. We only have one car to register.

In our state, registration for a vehicle is pro-rated by the vehicle itself as well as the age of the vehicle.  It's several hundred dollars a year, even for older vehicles.

2. We only have one car to insure.

This easily saves us hundreds of dollars a year.

3. We don't have car payments.

Not making payments on multiple vehicles saves us a ton of money.

4. I have plenty to do at home.

Being home more often rather than running around gives me more time to do the things I want and need to do

5. I am happy at home.

I have been asked if I don't feel "stuck at home" with just one car. I have never thought of being in my own home as being stuck. Home is not a place I want or need to leave and get away from in order to feel complete each day. I try to make my home a beautiful place to be where I am surrounded by the people and things that I love.

 

The practicalities of living with one car: 

 

1. Most of the time, I don't go further than a two-mile radius.

Within that distance, I combine trips to save time and gas. We have a lot of stores within that distance. Once a month I'll go to Sam's Club (which is 5 miles) and a couple of times a year I run an errand a bit further out. 

2. I will make a trip to the store usually very early in the morning or late in the evening.

Stores are blissfully empty early in the morning, making it easy to check out quickly without a 20 minute time spent waiting in line. Late evenings are good for that as well, depending on the store. 

In our summer heat, running an errand during the day will literally wipe you out. Sure, it may only take 5 minutes to get to the store, but your vehicle is 140º inside and it doesn't cool down by the time you've gotten to the store. Then you get back in on the way home. This makes a person exhausted and in great need to cool down when they return home--and leaving you too tired to accomplish much for the rest of the day. In the summer, I try to go shopping less frequently. No matter the time of year (but especially important during the summer) I'll try to go super early (like 6 a.m. if the store is open then, or right at 8 if it opens later) or go after the children are in bed, so I can come home and go to sleep afterwards. Going shopping during those hours means I don't interrupt our day and my husband has our van to take to work.

3. I don't go shopping very often.

I try to limit my trips to the store. I keep a well-stocked pantry, which means I don't have to go to the store every week and can wait to find the best deals.  Staying out of the store also makes it easy to stick to my grocery budget.

4. I do my shopping research online ahead of time.

If I know what I need but I'm not sure where to get it, I'll look at several stores websites before venturing out to see if the stores have what I need. This saves a ton of time and gas. It's much faster to "go to" 10 stores online and figure out if they have what I need before I go. Another bonus of looking online ahead of time is that I can often find out if the store has what I need in stock.

5. I shop online when possible.

This saves time and money. I look for free shipping deals whenever possible.

6. My children use bicycles.

My older children get to where they need to go on their bicycles. Last week when my husband was at Scout camp with one son, my daughter attended a swim party and my son attended Boy Scouts. They took their bikes where they needed to go. They learn independence.

We bought used bicycles and solid tires for their bicycles to keep costs down and keep them from getting frequent flats.

7. We carpool when possible.

When my eldest has a church dance she wants to attend, she'll go with a group of friends all together and one of them will drive or one parent will drive. They have more fun being together in the car. We'll likewise do the same for church activities for our younger girls.

8. We have piano lessons at home.

We have a piano teacher who comes to our home every other week. I don't need to drive my children to lessons. (Bonus: I get to accomplish more things at home while they have lessons!)

9. I homeschool my children.

Driving them to school and picking them up isn't something on my to-do list. This alone gives me a ton of time in my day which I can use to do other things.

 

We generally put between 8000 - 10,000 miles a year on our only vehicle. We save not only gas, but wear and tear on our vehicle.

 

I know being a one-car family isn't practical for everyone, but if you can make it work for you, it's a great money-saver!

 

Are you a one-car family? How do you make it work for your family? Do you have great public transportation where you live and go without a vehicle?

 

Tagged in: Frugal Living
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The $1 Dress

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The 1 Dress The Prudent Homemaker

Winter just attended her first formal dance, a Winter Ball put on by the local LDS Seminary, which she attends. They have 375 students who attend a religion class early every morning an hour before school starts. 

Because of our dating standards, only those who are 16 and older could bring dates to the dance. Everyone was welcome to bring friends to the dance.  Winter invited a cousin to come with her, which worked out well as Winter's closest friends are 16 and had dates.

Our plan was to scout thrift stores for a dress, but then a dress came along. Winter told my mom about the dance and my mom mentioned a dress she had bought at a garage sale for $1 several years ago. She had never worn it and she said Winter could have it if she was interested.

Dollar Dress The Prudent Homemaker

Winter really liked the dress, but it was several sizes too large. She removed the sleeves, took it up in the shoulders, and took in the sides. 

The sleeves were unlined. I spent $1.50 for some fabric to line them. She cut the sleeves smaller and sewed them back on.

Adjusting the shoulder seams meant the back was a bit too high. She cut the neckline down in back, and then removed the zipper and put in back in a bit lower for the new neckline.

 Dollar Dress Detail The Prudent Homemaker

Her accessories were simple.  She took a warm scarf that I bought at a garage sale last year for $1, wore a pair of earrings that were a birthday gift from her grandmother a year ago and a necklace that I had given her for that same birthday (I paid $1 for the necklace at a garage sale).

Dollar Dress Necklace Detail The Prudent Homemaker

She had a pair of vintage gloves that were given to her when she was a child. One of the buttons was broken and the buttons were white plastic that looked to have once been pearl covered. She removed them and replaced them with some pearlized shank buttons from my button jar. 

Dollar Dress Gloves Detail The Prudent Homemaker

She decorated a hair comb with a piece of a broken cubic zirconia bracelet that she received at a Church activity a couple of years ago and part of a broken plastic pearl necklace. I gave her a set of plain hair combs for Christmas, and she used one of them as the base. She glued the jewels on with some E-6000 glue.

Dollar Dress Hair Comb The Prudent Homemaker

 

Dollar Dress shoes The Prudent Homemaker

Her shoes were a recent gift. Her friend's mom had bought a pair of pearlized pale pink shoes for her daughter online. The shoes and the box were both marked "Child size 7"--but the shoes were too large for her daughter. I wondered if they were possibly an adult-sized 7, and I tried them on, but they were still too big. I asked Winter, who wears a women's size 10, if she wanted to try them on. They fit her perfectly!

Dollar Dress Black and White The Prudent Homemaker

She did her own hair and makeup. She and a few friends got together ahead of time and Winter did hair for a couple of the girls and another girl's makeup.

Several friends had dinner ahead of the dance at a friend's house near the dance, and then they all went together to the dance.

Dollar Dress 2 The Prudent Homemaker

 She'll have other occasions to wear this dress again, so it will get plenty of use in the future, too!

Flourish 2

Linking to: Moonlight and Mason Jars

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Ten Things You Can Do To Save Money This Week

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Feeling a pinch in your finances this week?

If you're feeling the need to save even more this week, but wondering what else you can do, here are some ideas to keep money in your pocket. (I'm planning to do all of them!)

Tuscan Tomato Soup 

1. Eat all meals at home

Don't go out to eat or order takeout. If you've got a busy week ahead, put together some crockpot meals in the morning, make a large pot of soup every few nights (enough for leftovers for another day or several lunches during the week), and plan some quick and easy meals to save you time this week.

 

2. Don't buy any groceries this week

Use up whatever you have in the fridge, freezers, and pantry. 

 

3. Turn the heat down

Set your thermostat a couple of degrees lower this week (for those in the Northern hemisphere). If you have a programmable thermostat, set it to be even lower during the day if you won't be home during the day. Add another blanket to your bed (a throw blanket works fine if you don't have another bed-sized blanket).

During the day, dress in layers.

 

4. Block drafts in your house with old towels

Roll up some old towels (or your summer swimming towels) and use them as instant draft blockers to block cold drafts from doors and windows.

 

5. Mend something 

Rather than buying something new, mend what you have. Sew up the hole in a shirt, patch a sheet, glue your shoes, or fix that thing that's been broken for a bit in your home.

 December Arrangement The Prudent Homemaker

6. Decorate for the season using what you have (and can get for free)

Gather pinecones and put them in bowls. Decorate with cookie cutters. Cut greens from your yard. Visit a place selling Christmas trees and ask if you can have the trimmings; many places will give them to you for free!

 

7. Make a gift using items you have on hand

Repurpose old clothing to make a hat, scarf, or gloves. Refashion a broken piece of jewelry into a new combination to give.

 

8. Be diligent about turning off lights when you're not using them

When you sit down to eat, turn off any lights that aren't right above your table. Studies have shown that you'll save more money turning them off if you leave a room for 20 seconds (incandescent) or 2 minutes (fluorescent).

 

9. Take a family photo (or individual family pictures) yourself

Set the timer and take a new family photo.  Email it rather than sending Christmas cards or post it on Facebook instead.

 

10. Have a date night at home

Play a board game or card game, watch a movie you already own (or borrow one from the library), work on a project together, clean something together, or just enjoy talking together while you have a homemade treat.

 

Do you have any other plans to save money this week that won't cost you anything this week?

 

 

Tagged in: Frugal Living
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Make Your Own Chocolate Easter Rabbits

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 Easter Rabbits 2 The Prudent Homemaker

These simple rabbits are quick and easy to make. I use chocolate wafers, which don't need to be tempered.

Easter Rabbit Molds The Prudent Homemaker

Supplies:

Rabbit molds. This mold is my favorite,  but I also like this one for a large rabbit,  this this floppy-eared large rabbit,  and this one for small bunnies

Melting chocolate wafers. I like these white chocolate ones and these dark chocolate ones.

Easter Rabbit Molds 3 The Prudent Homemaker

Directions:

In a glass bowl, melt a small amount of wafers for 1 minute in the microwave, stopping to stir after 45 seconds, and then stirring them after 1 minute to finish melting all of the chocolate. (No micrcowave? You can melt them in a double boiler, or in a metal bowl set over a pot of boiling water on the stove).

Use a spoon to fill each rabbit cavity, and then gently tap the mold on the counter or table to remove air bubbles. Put the mold in the refrigerator to help speed up the cooling process. When the chocolate has cooled to a solid, turn the molds over and gently push or shake the rabbits out.

If making a two-sided rabbit, cut the mold in half with scissors, and cut off the edges of the mold. Fill one side of the mold and put in in the refrigerator to harden.

Easter Rabbit Molds 2 The Prudent Homemaker

After one side has cooled, melt and fill the remaining side. Tap the mold on the counter to remove air bubbles, and then add a little extra chocolate to the top of the rabbit, to act as the glue. Remove the cold rabbits from the fridge and line them up on top of the warm rabbits. Use clips to keep the mold closed and lined up while the rabbits cool. Return this to the fridge for it to finish cooling.

 Easter Rabbits The Prudent Homemaker

Cost breakdown:

 

Is making your own Easter rabbits worth it? That depends on several things, including  your chocolate preferences.

Yes, you can buy the small rabbits with the blue eyes that are $1 each from the dollar store. 

My personal favorite is the kind that comes wrapped in goil foil with a red ribbon around the neck. Those run $2.50 to $3 each on sale for the medium-sized rabbits (they come in severa sizes) that are 4.3 ounces each. On sale, these run $0.58 to $.70 an ounce, and would have me out $17.50 to $21 for my 7 children. That's more than I want to spend on what is only part of our Easter candy.

Amazon's price for the 12 ounce bag is $3.98 (with free prime shipping or free shipping on orders over $35). This makes the chocolate $0.33 an ounce. For a sweeter deal, you could use a Swagbucks gift card to order chocolate this way, as well as the molds, making for no cost out of pocket.

Sam's Club carries two 2-pound bags (4 pounds total)  for $15.76. This puts your cost at $0.25 an ounce for the chocolate.

The mold price is going to be highest your first year, of course, but isn't an issue each year after that. If I was just going to buy one mold, I would buy this one, which is currently $4.51, with free shipping. Each side of the mold holds 1.4 ounces. You can make a flat rabbit, or put the two sides together for a solid rabbit of 2.8 ounces. You could also fill the inside with a filling of your choice--peppermint patty rabbits, or caramel rabbits, for instance. A solid 2.4 ounce rabbit would be $0.60 for the chocolate. Your cost per rabbit for the mold will depend on how many rabbits you make--and how many years you use the mold. This is a smaller rabbit than many at the store, but unlike many of those, yours will most likely be solid, so it will be a decent amount of chocolate for a child. If making a larger rabbit, such as with the other molds,  you may want to keep it one-sided.

I like to put these in a container at the back of the refrigerator prior to Easter, to keep them ready for Easter.

This is my third year making my own Easter rabbits. 

I combine these with candy I get for very little, by combining coupons and sales. We fill the same plastic eggs each year with the little candy for an egg hunt, and I give the children their Easter rabbits at breakfast. If you start in the next day or so, you can grow your own Easter grass in time for Easter, and put these rabbits in them on your table. I've done this before for our Easter centerpiece, and I plan to do it again this year, too. Here is a beautifully photographed tutorial on how to grow your own wheat grass.

If you're looking for more frugal Easter ideas, check out my Easter Pinterest board!

 

Tagged in: Frugal Living
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Writing a Garage Sale List

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Twice a year, a master-planned community near my house has a neighborhood garage sale.

I like being able to go to several sales in a short period of time.

I make it a plan to take a list with me. I go to this semi-annual sale with my mom, so I take 3 copies of my list: one for me, one for her, and one to hand to the person having the sale. I don't always use the third one, but if someone asks if I'm looking for something in particular and they have several things for sale, I'll hand them that copy of the list. This has helped me several times. Once, a woman said, "Oh, I had one of those out at my last garage sale and forgot to put it out this time! I'll go get it!" which resulted in this:

 


A beautiful metal embroidery hoop, with a date on it of 1917. This is definitely my oldest embroidery hoop. I paid $1.50, and it was in a bag with several other vintage items for that price. It's my favorite hoop now (it's actually much smaller than you see here; I love the small size as it prevents my hand my cramping).

Another time a woman noticed I was looking for sidewalk chalk. She had a large coffee can full of it, which I most likely would not have seen has I not given her the list. When I asked how much, she said I could have it for free!

My list does a lot more for me than that, however. I use my list to specifically shop for clothes and gifts for my family.

I write down each person's name in the family, along with what clothing items they need, and the number of items that they need. For the children, I write down anything they need next year and the following year (the next two sizes up). If they still need anything for this year I will include that as well, but in general, I am shopping ahead for them. By shopping for the next two sizes, I am better prepared for sudden growth spurts. It also is important because sometimes it is difficult to find anything in the sizes I need; having two years to find something helps a lot.

For example, one person on my list might look like this:

Cyrus (age 10 1/2)

4 short-sleeved shirts size 14
6 long-sleeved shirts size 14
3 pairs shorts size 14
1 pair dress pants size 14
2 pairs jeans size 14
3 pairs long pants/corduroys size 14
1 tie

7 short-sleeved shirts size 16
6 long-sleeved shirts size 16


By having a specific number of items, I can be certain not to overbuy. I purchase enough for a week's worth of clothing (including church clothes) for both hot weather and cold weather.

I aim to pay 50 cents to a dollar for clothing items. I will occasionally pay more ($4 for a coat, for example), or $2 for a new items with tags on it, but in general, most items I buy are in the $0.50 to $1 range. This means that, in the example above, for a year's worth of clothing in one size, I am out the same price as one brand-new shirt at Target.

(This does not not count socks, underwear, pajamas, or shoes--just other items of clothing. I purchase socks and underwear on back to school sales. I make pajamas, usually repurposing sheets for these. I look for sales on shoes).

Most of my boys' clothing is used, from garage sales as well as hand-me-downs from friends. I like preppy, vintage clothes, and for the boys, it is usually quite possible to find button-down shirts and polo shirts in like-new condition, as these items are worn less often than t-shirts.  I find it harder to buy my girls clothing that I like, but I do find things for them on occasion (especially cardigans and jeans). I love vintage-style dresses, so I tend to make those, but I have found several jumpers and occasionally a few dresses.

Besides clothing, I have other items on the list.
 

 

I have listed both types of books as well as certain books that we are wanting. I have often found specific books that we wanted. I use these for the whole family or for individual children. If I plan on keeping it for a birthday gift or a Christmas gift, I put it up until that time. I pay .25 to $1 for most books. (I did buy a few last year for $2 each, that were hardcover books in like-new condition--and they were books on my list).  I will also pick up books in like-new condition for us to give as gifts to friends; these are often books that we already own and my children love, so I know their friends will like them as well. I put those in my gift box.

My list includes items that I know the children would like for birthdays and Christmas. Sometimes I find those items and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I find items that I know they will love that aren't on my list; that's okay, too, of course! (A couple of weeks ago a neighbor on my street was having a garage sale that included several like-new games, all marked $1 each. One was Harry Potter Uno. I've seen that on Amazon--for $53! I bought it and put it aside for Cyrus' 11th birthday later this year).

 

This vintage Ball jar was a garage sale purchase.

If there is anything I need in the kitchen, I'll put that on my list. Right now, for example, I'm looking for a metal pie server. I have one, but I would like another one for when we have several kinds of pie at once. I have an idea of the style I would like. I'm not in a hurry, but it's an item I would like to have, so I'll look for it.

Any other needs I have are also on there. This year, I am looking for a few bicycle helmets.

I have a few items on my list that I would like for sewing; I am looking for some specific shades of velvet and wool. Often these two items can be repurposed clothing items, so I look for pieces in good enough shape to cut up for those projects (a velvet skirt can offer plenty of fabric to make a girl's dress bodice). I aim to pay $1 for these. Garage sales are also a great place to look for sheets (to use for sewing) and blankets (to use as-is).



The white quilt on my bed was a garage sale find for $15. I have purchased blankets for the children at garage sales, too.

I usually take $35 to $45 with me. Most times, this is money that I've made from my own garage sale. I plan to go to this neighborhood sale in April and October; I might go to one other sale a year (this year I went to three already, as two were on my street and one was two streets over).

My list has also served another purpose for me for the past several years. A friend of my mother's (a woman whose children are long-grown) goes to Oregon and Washington each summer. She loves garage sale shopping while she is there, and she offered to look for things for me before if I would give her a list. She brings back several bags of clothing (usually including a few costumes), along with a list of what she paid for each item. She looks for items in the same price range as I do (most items she picks up for 50 cents each). I email my list to her.

I'll be going garage sale shopping at the community garage sale this Saturday. I'm looking forward to it!


Have you ever written a garage sale list? Do you use garage sales to buy the bulk of your family's clothing?





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