Charlotte Edwards - The Penny Hoarder

As I prepared to have kids, I thought a lot about how to save money on diapers.

I clipped coupons, compared prices at different stores and considered using cloth diapers to save money. Then I learned a huge money-saving secret that parents in many countries don’t consider a secret at all.

They don’t use diapers.

Weeks before my son was born, my Chinese mother-in-law brought over a pile of “diapers” — old, cut-up shirts that would each maybe absorb a tablespoon of liquid!

She told me we’d use them for the baby as we worked on teaching him how to communicate his needs, and feeling the discomfort of a wet diaper would speed up the process. By the time he was six months old, she informed me, he’d be able to go without diapers at all.

I wasn’t sure how this would work, so I didn’t bother returning the package of disposable diapers I’d bought — or the Western-style cloth diapers a friend had given me.

Why Go Diaper Free?

While it’s controversial in the U.S., parents in at least 75 countries around the world go diaper free with young babies. The main way parents and caregivers accomplish this is by getting the baby familiar with their body.

In Western countries, this method is called “elimination communication,” “diaper free baby” or “natural infant hygiene.” In countries that regularly use this practice — including China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and India — no special name exists; it’s just what’s done.

Using this method, babies are taught to go to the bathroom on cue from birth.

We held our bare-bottomed baby over a small basin or the toilet and made a hissing sound.

Over a matter of weeks, he learned to respond to the noise and only go when he heard it. He also became more aware of his body. By seven weeks old, he’d use a specific cry to tell us when he had to use the toilet.

Lo and behold, it actually worked for us!

By the time he was five months old, our son never soiled another diaper — unless we were out and just couldn’t get to a bathroom in time.

While saving money isn’t the sole goal of elimination communication, it’s a welcome side effect.

Disposable diapers are quite rare — not to mention expensive — in developing countries, and the cloth “diapers” my mother-in-law made for my children were just cut-up squares of old T-shirts.

Is It a Growing Trend to Go Diaper Free?

Not a lot of people in the Western world are keen on letting their kids run around without diapers. Mom and diaper-free enthusiast Sarah Quinney, however, says she wishes she had started her daughter Isabelle from birth.

Sarah started Isabelle’s diaper-free journey when she was nine months old. By 18 months, Isabelle was able to regularly communicate to her parents when she needed to use her toilet.

Quinney estimates they’ve saved hundreds of dollars on diapers, though they did put Isabelle in diapers when leaving the house. Additionally, there was less mess and time wasted washing the cloth diapers they’d previously used.

No baby is perfect. On the occasion that Isabelle got too involved in her play and didn’t make it to the toilet in time, a mop and a new change of clothes made for a fairly simple clean up.

How Much Can You Save if You Go Diaper Free?

The average newborn goes through 10 diapers a day. Reduce that number to eight for baby’s second and third years, and you’ve gone through roughly 8,580 diapers by their third birthday!

At about 25 cents a diaper (which is on the cheap end if you’re buying in bulk), that’s a cool $2,145.

Add in all the wipes and diaper rash cream, and you’ve easily spent another $500. And that’s assuming the child is potty-trained at 36 months.

Even trying to go diaper free part time could save you hundreds of dollars a year!

What Supplies Do You Need to Go Diaper Free?

You probably won’t get by without spending some money on diapers. You’ll want to have them on hand for long car trips and other times when an accident would cause extra trouble.

Otherwise, you don’t need any extra supplies to practice elimination communication — just the desire to help your baby learn more about their body and how to communicate with you.

You’ll need toilet paper, but that’s something you already have on hand. When you’re out with a diapered baby, a small package of wet wipes is useful in case your child does use their diaper.

In Asia, babies wear split pants (pants or shorts with an open crotch seam) which allow them to go to the bathroom without undressing. Online stores like EC Wear and The EC Store offer practical and convenient clothing solutions for Western parents who don’t want their baby’s bottom exposed to everyone.

My Family’s Diaper-Free Experience

While I’m now totally on board with this method and recommend giving it a fair try, I wasn’t always so gung-ho.

Seeing my mother-in-law whistle at my son to get him to go in the toilet was quite odd. But when he caught on and stopped using diapers so early, I was sold on the process.

We did this again with his little sister, and had similar results. Plus, only buying 300 diapers has left us with more cash to sock away for their college educations.

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Hawaii Parent, The Simple Dollar, Money Under 30 and Incomes Abroad. After many years of penny pinching, she and her husband have just bought their first (of a dozen, hopefully!) rental property.

Do you love to shop and take advantage of great deals? Are you considering starting a side business to bring in extra money?

If so, this opportunity to earn money by shopping for items to resell might be right up your alley: Amazon’s Fulfillment by Amazon program (FBA).

Basically, you find the products you’d like to sell, and Amazon handles the storage, sales, shipping and customer support.

Ready to learn more? Here’s how to know whether FBA is a good option for you — and how to get started.

How Does Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) Work?

Kyle Taylor, founder of The Penny Hoarder, spent a year using FBA by obtaining products through retail arbitrage — buying cheaply and selling at a profit.

Kyle spent a few hours each week scouring online ads to find deeply discounted prices. He mainly sold toys, something he was familiar with from past experience selling on eBay.

He recommends selling a product that people buy regularly, and one that you can acquire for quite a bit less than people will pay for it.

While Kyle said he usually made a 10% to 20% profit, some full-time sellers, like The Selling Family, prefer to have a profit of close to 100%. You’ll also need to check whether your preferred product is in one of Amazon’s categories requiring approval.

One good way to learn some best practices and solid selling strategies is to consider taking a quick online course through a site like Udemy. This one's only $15 right now and goes through the basics of setting up your brand and selling products on Amazon.

Once you’ve acquired your products, you’ll upload them to Amazon, box them up and ship them to an Amazon distribution center.

Bear in mind that your inventory may not all go to one place; Amazon has lots of distribution centers, and this step can require little more time if your 100 Monopoly games must go to six different places.

However, the intuitive FBA platform allows you to pause shipments so that you can wait until you have several items ready to be shipped to the same location, saving you on overall shipping costs. Shipping is inexpensive when you take advantage of Amazon’s partnership with UPS.

Once the items arrive and are scanned in at the distribution center, they’re live on Amazon. Kyle said most of his products sold within a week, with some selling just hours after arrival.

If items don’t sell within set periods of time, you can either pay storage fees or have them returned to you at your expense.

Maximizing Profits by Stacking Deals and Rewards

While the process seems complicated at first, you’ll quickly have it down to a science. And that’s when you can add to your profits.

Here’s the strategy Kyle used to make the most of his FBA account — and earn more than a million airline miles in the process.

Kyle used his rewards credit card to buy discounted gift cards from sites like Gift Card Zen. Then he’d start his virtual shopping trip by logging into his Ebates account to get money back from his online purchase.

Next, he’d quickly check FatWallet and RetailMeNot for coupon codes for free shipping or an additional discount. He did a lot of his shopping at Kohl’s, which has a great rewards program of its own, so he’d use his Kohl’s charge card to earn Kohl’s Cash to use for future purchases.

Here’s a quick example: He’d buy a $100 gift card for roughly $95. Shopping through Ebates netted him another $3, and then he might save $30 with a coupon code and earn $10 in store rewards.

So for $100 worth of goods, he’d spend $65 and earn $13 in rewards, making his overall cost for the goods just $51 — and that’s not counting the miles or rewards from the credit card you used to buy the gift card, which still has a $35 balance!

Repeat this scenario a few dozen times, and those rewards start adding up to some serious cash.

How Much Can You Earn With Fulfillment by Amazon?

Depending on how much inventory you start out with, your numbers will vary. Madison DuPaix at My Dollar Plan earned a base profit of $10,000 in her first five months and $42,000 in her second year of selling toys through FBA.

Ryan Grant at Online Selling Experiment earned nearly $400 in profit during his first month selling on FBA in October 2013, $1784 in his second month, and more than $9,000 in September 2014. Another seller, Jessica Larrew from The Selling Family, built up her earnings to replace her husband’s income so he could quit his job.

How to Make the Most of Fulfillment by Amazon

Ready to set up a FBA account and then head out to Target or Kohl’s to score some deals? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Put all your expenses on your rewards credit card

Besides your inventory, Madison at My Dollar Plan lists items you’ll need to buy, such as boxes and tape. All of these can go on your credit cards, netting you the best ROI as possible. (Note that her post is about selling on Amazon in general, not just through the FBA program.)

Choose a niche

Sticking to one niche will help you figure out which products do and don’t sell well. Asked if he had strict standards for choosing items, Kyle said that after a while he knew instinctively whether it was worth buying or not. My Dollar Plan reader Shuan, who made $10,000 profit plus another $2,000 in rewards, chose to sell electronics, which have lower selling fees.

This is another part where taking an online course can help set you up for success.

Price items to sell

Part of the reason Kyle was able to sell products in just a few days was that he was pricing them to sell. He found that most any item that was on the top 30,000 list would sell well, with items clocking in at 5,000 or higher selling much faster.

Plan for returned or damaged items

Once you ship your box off to Amazon, you’re no longer in control of what happens to your items, but you are responsible for them. Amazon’s 100% satisfaction guarantee extends to people who purchase your items as well. As you consider pricing, expect that 3-5% of items will come back and be unable to be resold.

Now that you know how to make money on Amazon, are you ready to try FBA?

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids' Adventures. She's the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.

From expanding your dating pool to helping you more money and increasing your job opportunities, learning a foreign language has numerous benefits. You can communicate better when you travel, make new friends locally, keep your brain active and better understand the world around you.

Some jobs will pay you to learn a foreign language, and in many professions you may earn more if you are bilingual, including working for the government, practicing law and teaching or tutoring. Regardless of your job, recent research shows that learning a second language could help you earn about 2% more each year -- which could add up to nearly $70,000 by retirement, thanks to compound interest.

Ready to start learning a new language? Enrolling in an intensive short-term program can be expensive and hard to fit into your schedule if you're already in the workforce. The intensive, eight-week summer courses offered at Beloit College cost just under $8,000. Immersion experiences are a great way to learn the language like a native speaker, but you might not have the time to spend a summer in another country. And if you're not sure which language you want to learn or aren’t sure you'll stick with it long term, you probably don't want to sink hundreds or thousands of dollars into home-study courses that will gather dust.

Fortunately, you can learn a new language without leaving your desk chair or sofa. Here are some of the best resources to help you learn a foreign language for free.

1. Live Mocha

With a free Live Mocha account, you get access to lessons in more than 35 languages. After you finish the lessons, submit your work for personalized feedback from other community members, including teachers, native speakers and language experts.

Besides encouragement to continue, this feedback may include information about the culture, extra exercises and mini lessons as well as speaking tips. When you master the content in the free section, you can choose to pay a small fee to access premium materials, or earn points by helping review other members’ work.

2. Learn a Language

Learn a Language offers more than 1,400 free interactive flashcards to help you explore 19 languages and learn the most important vocabulary. The flashcards include 350 verbs plus slang, greetings and survival expressions so that you can make a great first impression when you put your new skills to use.

3. MyLanguages

Want to learn a more obscure language? MyLanguages might be the place to start; the site offers free content for a whopping 95 languages. For each one, you’ll find pages dedicated to the language's alphabet, numbers, useful phrases, common topics, grammar, audio clips and a dictionary.

4. Podcasts

When I ventured overseas to work abroad, I wanted to learn the language at my own pace and convenience. I found a free podcast I listened to while working out, cooking, sitting in my office and cleaning the house.

While a lot of these podcasts are tied back to a paid subscription, beginners can get a lot of value from the free content alone. A quick search in iTunes will help you find language-learning podcasts and general content one, in your target language.

Benny Lewis, who's well known for his ability to become conversationally fluent in three months, recommends free language-learning podcasts from Innovative Language. For more options, check out this list of 10 podcasts, featuring both language-specific podcasts and those of interest to any language learner, from The Guardian.

5. Public Libraries

OK, you will have to go out of your house initially, but it's a small price to pay for getting to use pricey language-learning materials for free for two or three weeks at a time.

Your public library probably has shelves of tangible materials including print books, audio CDs and DVDs. Granted, a small-town library won't have as much to offer as one in a metropolitan area, but you're not out of luck just yet. You can usually access the catalog for the whole library district and request materials through interlibrary loan. In addition, more libraries are beginning to offer online access to audio books and materials, including language-learning programs like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur. Ask a librarian to help you register with the online catalog so you can download audio files to your computer or mobile device.

Language Apps

Study on the go with these language-learning apps for your smartphone or tablet.

6. Duolingo

Duolingo helps you learn one of 13 languages on your own or with friends. The team behind the app is working to add new languages as well, with seven currently in "hatching" mode.

This app is gamification at its best, since you’re working to complete levels and win competitions, making it very addictive. But that's not necessarily a bad thing; a study shows that just 34 hours of studying with Duolingo is equivalent to an 11-week university classroom course.

7. Memrise

Memrise has nine languages plus computer and engineering courses. It has a fun garden-like theme; words you're still learning are accompanied by a green stem, while those you've mastered have a fully blossomed flower.

Choose from a variety of courses in your target language, and then earn points as you work your way through the exercises. Accounts are free, though for a small monthly fee, you can get a premium account which analyzes your performance and provides extra exercises.

8. Busuu

Busuu says it has the world's largest social network for learning a language, with some 50 million users worldwide learning 12 languages through interactive exercises. As you'd expect, their premium account offers a few additional features for a modest monthly fee. For languages the app hasn’t yet covered, there's a forum for native speakers and learners to chat.

Your Turn: What are your favorite free or low-cost resources for learning a new language?

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, International Living, Hawaii Parent and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.

"Moooooooooom, I'm booooooorrrrrrrred. There's nothing to do!"

No matter how many toys or high-tech gadgets they have at their disposal, siblings and neighbors to play with or books to read, every child utters these words at least a few times a year. Usually in the summer.

You could try lecturing them on contentment or regaling them with stories of how kids in some places have daily homework all summer long. But, for less eye-rolling and grumbling, why not spice up their summer with activities that will keep their minds engaged and learning and their bodies active? You don't even have to spend much -- or any -- money besides the cost of getting to the activity.

Here are 16 free (or inexpensive) activities for your kids to enjoy this summer. These programs are available nationwide, though not in every city, so it's best to call your local store or outlet to ensure they’re being offered in your community.

Reading Programs

Enrolling kids in summer reading programs is a great way to prevent the “summer slide” or “brain drain.” For just the cost of getting to the library -- which is free if you walk or bike! -- your kids can improve their reading skills, learn new information and get some neat rewards.

Your local library will probably have a reading program, with weekly storytimes and activities related to a theme. Community businesses often sponsor the programs, and kids get prizes like books, free kids’ meals and tickets to sports or cultural events as prizes for meeting their reading goals.

In addition, several national book retailers, as well as a few businesses, offer summer reading programs. While their programs are noble, they do hope that you'll buy a few books when you come in to sign up. You can avoid buying new books by using your library card or obtaining inexpensive books from thrift stores, garage sales and PaperBack Swap.

Here are details for eight summer reading programs:

  1. Barnes & Noble: Read eight books, record the titles in the printable journal and redeem it for a free book from the store's Reading Journal list.
  2. Books A Million: Read four books from the store's Summer Quest list, fill out the journal (print it at home or pick up one in the store) and receive a free tote bag while supplies last.
  3. Book It: Read five books to be eligible to win prizes in the Summer Reading Challenge, which runs from June 22 to August 15.
  4. Chuck E. Cheese's: Print out the Reading Rewards Calendar, check off each day as your child reads daily for two weeks, and he’ll get 10 free tokens on his next visit. This program runs year-round and also has other rewards calendars that encourage good habits such as good behavior, daily music practice and sportsmanship.
  5. Family Christian: Read six Christian books, complete a short book report on each one (printed from the website) and earn a $10 savings pass for your next purchase of $10 or more. This can even be completed online if you don't live near a store; just email the book reports to the address on the website.
  6. Half Price Books: Read daily for 15 minutes in June and July, record minutes in the Feed Your Brain Summer Reading Program calendar, and receive $5 in Bookworm Bucks once you've read for 300 minutes.
  7. TD Bank: Read 10 books, fill out the Summer Reading Form and take it to your nearest TD bank branch to get $10 deposited in a new or existing Young Saver account.
  8. Showcase Cinemas: Bring a completed book report to Bookworm Wednesdays from July 8 to July 29, and receive free admission to the children's film. Accompanying parents and siblings under six get in free as well.

Sports

  1. Kids Bowl Free is a great option for kids who love to bowl, or who live near a participating bowling alley. Children get two free games every day, all summer long. Shoe rental is not included, so you'll probably want to purchase a pair to save on rental fees. And to keep kids from spending all their money at the snack bar, use your free gift cards from Swagbucks to buy snacks to eat while they bowl.
  2. Kids Skate Free offers kids free admission to roller rinks across the nation. Each center that participates sets its own terms and conditions, so you need to contact your nearest location for details. If your local rink isn't participating, the site has a letter you can print and send to the rink owners to encourage them to join.

Movies

  1. Regal Entertainment Group’s Summer Movie Express program offers movies for just $1 at participating theaters for nine weeks. Each theater screens two movies every weekday morning, but be sure to check their website to find a theater in your area.
  2. Cinemark's Summer Movie Clubhouse offers movies for $1 each or sells a pass to 10 movies for $5. Check out the website to find which cinemas in your area are participating.

Microsoft Summer Camps

The tech giant offers two types of free camps to teach, entertain and challenge kids and teens.

  1. YouthSpark Summer Camp: Select Microsoft stores in 31 states teach kids ages eight and up about game coding or game design. Kids get to use the latest technology as they use their creativity and imagination to plan and code games. Both the Smart Game Coding and Smart Game Design camps offer beginner and intermediate options. Sessions are two hours long and run for four consecutive days.
  2. DigiGirlz High Tech Camps give young women a chance to learn more about technology and get them interested in careers in the tech industry. At these free camps, high school girls enjoy hands-on experience, listen to speakers, network and participate in demonstrations. As of this writing, three camps are still open for registration: July 30-31 (Reno, NV), August 4-5 (St. Louis, MO) and August 11-12 (Las Colinas, TX). Registration is done on a first-come, first served basis so sign up quickly if your daughter is interested in technology.

Building Workshops

  1. Home Depot offers free Kids Workshops on the first Saturday morning of the month for kids between five and 12 years old. Previous projects have been planters, picture frames and model airplanes, and the workshop includes all supplies. At the end, kids get a certificate of completion and pin in addition to their apron and project. The online registration process is easy: fill out the form (selecting your preferred location), print out your ticket and show up at the event. Adults may stay to help younger kids complete the building project.

Vacation Religious School

  1. Religious Programs: Most houses of worship offer some sort of kids’ program in the summer, be it a day-long event or a week-long morning program to teach kids about faith in fun and engaging ways with story time, arts and crafts, sports, singing and snacks. These programs are typically free of charge and are open to any child. Looking in local newspapers, speak with religious leaders or check church or temple websites to find out what programs are available.

Check Your Local Newspaper

You might find more summer programs available from local businesses and organizations. Minor league sports teams often have summer training camps for youth, universities need kids to participate in lessons taught by education students and school districts offer fun summer classes.

Your Turn: What cheap or free activities are your children participating in this summer?

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, International Living, Hawaii Parent and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.

Think back to when the internet was in its infancy. Do you remember those tacky "donate" buttons that were all the rage? They were only slightly less offensive than terrible music and flashy graphics, but they served a more important purpose: helping content creators keep their virtual lights on so they could continue their creative pursuits.

Today we have affiliate links and banner ads, but not everyone wants to clutter up their website with advertising. For bloggers, podcasters and other creatives who still want to give their community an opportunity to support them, there’s another, more appealing option: Patreon.

Patreon is a unique crowdfunding platform that helps creators collect financial support from their fans. It’s a virtual tip jar that makes it easy to support your favorite artist. But here’s the best part: unlike other crowdfunding sites that are set up to help supporters donate to a one-time campaign, Patreon allows you to collect money from your community on an ongoing basis.

That makes it the perfect fit for writers, musicians, podcasts and other artists who create consistently. Fans can pledge to give as little as $1 every other week or once a month. In return, those fans get access to more great content, and in some cases, cool Patreon-supporter-only paraphernalia, too.

Wondering whether Patreon might be a good way for you to fund your creative venture? We spoke with two artists who are killing it on Patreon, both earning more than $6,000 a month from their fans. Here’s what works for them.

Liz Marek: Offers Cake Tutorials for Professional and At-home Bakers

Liz Marek, an award-winning cake decorator and owner of Artisan Cake Company, learned about Patreon from another artist. She thought it would be worth trying to use the platform to bring in a little money for her cake-decorating tutorials. Now, just over a year after signing up with Patreon, she earns a total of $3,356 every two weeks from 405 patrons, money that supports her business.

“What started off as just an experiment has turned out really well,” she said. Prior to joining Patreon, Liz earned income online from direct sales, as well as YouTube traffic. She typically promotes her work on Facebook and Instagram, giving fans a glimpse of what she’s working on.

“My only complaint [about Patreon] is there is no real way to organize my content on the website so patrons can easily access it at any time without having to scroll through all my posts," Liz said.

To remedy this, she created an external site where her patrons can access updates and tutorials. As long as they continue their patronage, she sends them the monthly password so they can grab their bonus content. She still offers tutorial for free on YouTube and for sale on her website (patrons get a discount!) for fans who don't pledge ongoing support.

Alex Woolfson: Creates Web Comics for a Worldwide Audience

Alex Woolfson has always loved comics, but mainstream ones didn't feature the heros he wanted to see: guys who just happen to be interested in other guys. So he decided to write the comics himself, hiring artists for the graphics.

For three years, he funded those artist fees with proceeds from his website’s “donate” button, as well as sales from his first book, graphic sci-fi thriller Artifice, on Amazon. This usually kept him in the black, helping him cover artist fees of $3,000 a month, but the income unpredictable.

Alex was hesitant to try Patreon until just a few months ago, when he had no choice: he realized he would have to drastically cut back on his weekly web comic, The Young Protectors, because he was low on funds. “One of the most attractive things about Patreon was the possibility of making a consistent income every month,” he said. “The thought that I could actually plan a monthly budget was one of the most compelling lures of Patreon for me.”

Now, with 1,022 patrons who give a total of $7,570 each month, he’s planning to quit his day job to focus on writing full time. His comics are still free each week, but patrons get special bonuses, including badges added to their avatars, behind-the-scenes access to in-progress art and free items from his online store.

“I really am living my dream now,” he said. “And it's the chance to connect with a worldwide audience through the Internet and new crowdfunding services like Patreon that are making that possible.”

How Patreon Works

Anyone who's doing ongoing creative work such as creating comics, blogging, recording songs, podcasting, teaching craft techniques or writing can sign up for a Patreon account. Categories on the Patreon website include: Video & Film, Music, Writing, Comics, Drawing & Painting, Animation, Podcasts, Games, Photos, Comedy, Science, Education, Crafts & DIY, Dance & Theatre.

Once you create your account, you can add reward levels and milestones. Patrons who pledge a certain amount each month, week or per episode (depending on how you set up your account) will be charged once a month.

Some podcasters, for example, charge on a per-episode basis. If they create one episode this month, their patrons at the $5 level will be charged $5, but in a month where four episodes go live, patrons are charged $20.

If you're not sure how much content you'll create, your patrons can set a limit of how much they want to give in a month. Fiction writer and marketer Joanna Penn, for example, allows patrons to give as little as $1 per podcast episode, and typically releases two episodes each month. Occasionally she releases additional episodes in a month, but patrons are never charged for more than two. She earns a total of $158 per show from 67 patrons -- not a huge figure, but enough to add up over time, especially since it’s just a small slice of her overall income.

Patreon takes a 5% cut of whatever your community donates, and payment processing fees eat up another 2-4%. You’ll also face some fees for transferring money from Patreon to your bank account, as explained on the Patreon website.

Most creators offer rewards for patrons who contribute at various levels. Patrons who pledge $5 a month to Alex, for example, receive different rewards than those who pledge $100 a month -- and yes, there are four people who value his work so much that they give that much! Not all creators offer rewards, these incentives go a long way toward enticing fans to pledge.

Patreon also offers so-called “milestone goals,” which allow artists to offer extra swag to their patrons when a new financial goal is met. Alex set his first milestone at $2,500 a month, and he’s now approaching his 14th milestone. As he’s hit each milestone, he's created bonus content such as digital downloads or extra stories.

Liz created, and met, all three of her milestones, and she celebrated by sending patrons a custom T-shirt and hosting a cake-decorating contest for her community. Setting these goals is optional, but they’re helpful for creators to stay focused and gain more support. They can be added at any time, so once you exceed your highest goals, you can add more!

Tips for Getting Started on Patreon

Whether you're thinking of starting an account to share your knitting techniques, training tips or music, use these ideas to get started.

Take time to create a great profile. Creating an account takes less than 10 minutes, but you'll want to add copy, graphics, video and reward levels to increase engagement from those who find your page. These extras take time; Alex estimates that he spent more than two weeks working on his video, a few days on the copy and months before deciding on the rewards. The video in particular is effective, he said, because it creates trust and connection between him and his community.

Grow and lean on your email list. Alex credits much of his success in getting patrons from having built up an email list over the years. “As long as you're building your list honestly and providing valuable content at least once a month, email is still one of the most effective ways to reach out to your audience,” he said.

Most of Alex’s support comes from his mailing list, as well as backers from his previous Kickstarter campaign. He also keeps a link on each new comic page so readers notice the opportunity to support his work.

Promote your work on social media -- but don’t stop there. Share updates and pictures of what you create on the social networks that best suit you. Make sure to include a link in your bio so supporters can easily get to your page.

But while social media is the obvious method of promotion, Alex says you shouldn’t lean too heavily on those channels. It’s simply not as powerful as an email list, he said.

Offer awesome bonuses to patrons. Both Liz and Alex offer impressive patron-only bonuses depending on each patron’s level of support. “There is a temptation to think of Patreon support as ‘donations’ and thus not feel like you have to give back that much,” said Alex, “[but] that’s not how I see it. I do everything I can to add extra value and rewards for people who choose to become my patrons.”

What types of rewards work best? Try offering Google Hangouts, sneak previews of new creations, or physical products like T-shirts and books. Some creators offer a shout-out in an upcoming podcast or link on a website, but those rewards typically aren’t as effective.

Your Turn: Have you used Patreon to support your creative work? Tell us about it in the comments!

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, Money Under 30 and Hawaii Parent. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy and mom to two young kids who are learning about earning, spending and saving by taking on paid household chores to fund their Lego addictions!

From their early teens to their mid-40s, women have to budget for an additional expense men don’t have to worry about: stocking up on their preferred combination of pads, panty liners and tampons.

While we might marvel at how easy we have it compared to our predecessors, who in the olden days just used old rags, our dozens of options come at a price.

But what if you could drastically reduce the expense your period adds to your monthly budget?

Switching to reusable products like cloth pads, menstrual cups and sea sponge tampons can help you save more than $100 a year, depending on your current expenses for similar products.

Plus, by choosing reusable products, you’ll reduce the amount of waste you produce -- so these options are seriously Earth-friendly as well.

Would you consider making the switch to a reusable menstrual product? Let’s take a look at several common options, as well as their potential effects on your budget.

How Much Does Your Period Cost?

On average, a woman will use more than 11,000 pads or tampons during her lifetime, according to Alive.

Another estimate puts the number at around 9,600 tampons, or 240 each year.

And all those period supplies cost money; Jezebel estimates the average woman spends about $120 on pads and tampons each year.

Of course, serious Penny Hoarders who play the drug store game will point out that, if you're diligent about watching for sales and coupons, you can get boxes of menstrual products for $1 or even free.

But -- and this is a biggie for a lot of women -- many of us are loyal to a particular brand, and this makes finding those deals a bit more challenging. In college, I would stretch my my meager paycheck with off-brands for $1 a box, but the quality didn't compare to my preferred brand.

Reusable menstrual products aren’t cheap; your initial investment will definitely cost you more than than a box of Tampax. But if you compare the cost to that of the gigantic box of tampons from your local warehouse club, you’ll feel less of a financial pinch.

Here are the most common reusable menstrual products, as well as where to find them.

Reusable Cloth Pads

I first heard about these pads years ago from my mother’s eco-friendly co-op.

Cloth pads are similar in style to conventional maxi pads, but they stay attached to your underwear with a snap rather than adhesive. You can use a cloth pad for about five years or 60 uses, whichever comes first.

Look for sellers online, and check Etsy and Amazon. And you’re not doomed to wearing full-coverage underwear, either: Party In My Pants even offers a thong liner ($9.99) for light days!

Mother Moon Pads start at around $6.50 each, CozyFolk offers “starter sets” of three pads for around $30, and Sckoon Organics offers pads for around $14 each.

Menstrual Cups

My introduction to menstrual cups came when I won a Keeper Cup in a blog giveaway six years ago.

It's a small rubber cup you fold and place in your body to collect fluid. You can wear a menstrual cup all day and it’s easy to clean, especially if you have a sink within reach.

Best of all, you only need one, and since they last up to 10 years, there's really no need to get another unless you find it uncomfortable. Mine still looks as new as it did the day I got it, and while I'd like one in a cuter color, my frugal nature won't let me toss out a perfectly good product that retails at $35.

Besides the Keeper Cup and its silicone counterpart, the Moon Cup, you’ll find similarly designed menstrual cups such as the Diva Cup, Lunette or Eva Cup, as well as many other options. Most cups come in two sizes: one for women who've had a vaginal delivery and one for those who haven't been pregnant or have only had C-sections.

If you’re curious about menstrual cups, you can learn more from this active LiveJournal community. Members discuss how to use them, the proper size to choose, the intricacies of how the brands differ from one another, and various folding techniques, and are generally happy to respond to questions.

You're looking at a $25 to $40 investment every time you buy a menstrual cup.

Although some manufacturers suggest replacing your cup annually for sanitary reasons, others note that with proper care, a cup can last 10 years, and many users agree. I wash mine daily and clean it in boiling water each month.

Sea Sponge Tampons

Say what? That was my first reaction when I read about sea sponge tampons.

These sponges are harvested from the ocean in a sustainable manner and are carefully inspected before being sold for personal care use.

They're not uniform in size or color, so you’ll need to trim them to your desired size. Many women, like bloggers Stacie from Motherhood on a Dime and Katie at WellnessMama, rave about them.

One benefit to using sea sponges over other reusable options is that you can be intimate while wearing them. However, you do need to change the sponges more frequently than you do a menstrual cup, and it's a tad messier, which might be off-putting to some.

You’ll want to clean your sea sponges in water mixed with a little baking soda, apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil.

A typical sea sponge will last for three to six months. A starter package of two sea sponges from Glad Rags costs $21, and options on Etsy start as low as $13.

How Much Money Can You Save With Reusable Menstrual Products?

Using Jezebel’s estimate of $120 a year, the average woman spends about $10 a month on pads and tampons. Here’s what you’d spend if you switched to one of these reusable products:

  • A menstrual cup could cost you between 20 and 33 cents per month, averaged over its 10-year life. Even if you replace your cup every year, the cost would work out to between $2 and $3.30 a month. Total savings: $80 to $116
  • A three-pack of sea sponges from Etsy breaks down to between $0.72 and $1.44 a month, depending on how often you replace them. Total savings: $102 to $111 
  • A set of five cloth pads, at about $10 per pad, will cost you just $0.83 a month if you use them for five years. Total savings: $110

What could you do with an extra $100? It’s not a huge sum, but I’d definitely rather have it in my pocket than in the trash.

Your Turn: Have you tried reusable menstrual products? How much have they helped you save?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.


Whether you love or loathe shopping, it's always a treat to arrive at a store and realize it's free sample day!

There's something about a piping-hot mini slice of pizza, or a tiny sample of a new ice cream flavor, that brightens your day. If the food is really tasty or the product demonstrator is particularly good at his job, you might even leave with your wallet a bit lighter than you intended.

What you may not know is that product demonstrators, who politely remain silent when people come back for seconds (and thirds), are not store employees. They're usually independent contractors hired by outside agencies -- which means they can earn more than they would working for the store where they’re demonstrating.

Curious about the job? If you’re considering working as a product demonstrator, here’s what you need to know.

How to Get Started as a Product Demonstrator

You'll need to be ready to represent both the brand and the store to customers. Think of yourself as a one-person sales team: your goal is to get shoppers to buy the product as you explain its various virtues.

These jobs generally have few requirements which, once you establish a relationship with a company, makes it an easy way to earn some extra money when you have a free weekend. Employers look for people who:

  • have excellent communication skills
  • dress professionally
  • are friendly and outgoing
  • can stand for up to eight hours
  • pay attention to details
  • are reliable
  • are able to work independently

Ready to learn more? Check out these tips for a successful product demonstration if you haven't had much sales experience.

Where to Find Project Demonstration Jobs

At Your Service Marketing, PromoWorks, and Action Link are a few of the agencies that line up work for project demonstrators for national brands. For more options and local jobs, check a job search website or Craigslist. If you don’t get many results searching “product demonstrator,” try some of the job’s other names, such as “engagement specialist,” “product specialist,” “assisted sales person” or “professional demonstrator”.

Besides having a vehicle to get to the demonstration location, you won’t need much in the way of equipment to get started. If you’ll be demonstrating food, you’ll typically need:

  • a card table
  • a white tablecloth
  • an electric skillet, cutting board and serving utensils (as appropriate)
  • promotional materials from the company

You may be given money to buy supplies, or asked to purchase them yourself and invoice the company. If you don't have the funds to buy a card table upfront, you can always borrow one.

How Much Do Professional Demonstrators Earn?

How much you can make varies by product and company, with payment typically being on a per-demonstration basis. One commenter on Budgets Are Sexy says she’s earned as much as $40 an hour demonstrating wine, and her lowest rate is $18 an hour. However, the average product demonstrator earns closer to $14 an hour, according to 2013 data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Product demonstrations usually take place during the weekend, so this could be a great side opportunity for college students looking for extra cash, stay-at-home parents who want to get out on the weekends, or retirees who want to remain productive and active. Even employees who work a 9-5 job could supplement their income, earning money to invest or pay off debt by taking on weekend shifts.

The shifts vary in length and there's no guarantee to how much work you'll get in a given month, though, so you may not want to rely on product demonstration as your only source of income.

A Typical Shift as a Professional Demonstrator

Once you accept an assignment, you'll either be given materials or be told what to buy for the demonstration. You may also have to verify the time with the store and remind them to have plenty of the item in stock -- check with your company whether this is your responsibility or not.

On the day of your shift, you should arrive early to set up the area and your supplies. This includes setting up your food preparation area, organizing leaflets and coupons, and starting to prepare the first batch. You should also be neatly dressed and ready to start on time.

During your shift, remain attentive to customers and engage them by asking questions that draw them in so they'll sample the product -- and hopefully put it in their shopping cart. Answer their questions honestly and share your experience with the product. Of course, only sing its praises if you've actually tried or used the product and genuinely feel that way; don't be deceptive.

If there's a lull in customers, don't succumb to the urge to sit down or pull out your phone; tidy up your area if necessary and strike up conversations with people passing by. Future work may be dependent on the number of products that people buy during your shift, which might be the motivation you need to chat with strangers instead of checking Facebook!

After you shut down your demo area, you'll need to pack up your supplies, clean up your work area and take care of any paperwork from the company or store that you're working for.

While serving up samples might not be a full-time job, it might be a great way to earn extra cash on the weekends. Will you give it a try?

Your Turn: Have you worked as a product demonstrator? Share your experiences with us in the comments!

It's hard to beat your local library for an endless supply of free reading material. However, it's nice to have a personal library, too -- keeping your perennial favorites and books that you want to reference often close at hand.

On one hand, having your own books means you don’t have to worry about limited library hours or using gas to drive to the local library. On the other, books can be expensive. With new books often costing $10 or more each, it's not easy to justify buying very many. What’s a penny-hoarding voracious reader to do?

Fortunately, there are several ways to build your own personal library for free or with a very small cost. Here are my favorite places to find free and low-cost books.

Where to Find Free Books

Books from these sources won't cost you a cent, but will require some of your time. You’ll need to request books, write short reviews or earn points to convert to gift cards.

1. Review Copies From Publishers

Bloggers in any niche can get free copies of soon-to-be-released books from major publishers in exchange for reviews on your blog or social media.

For example, Book Look Bloggers requests a 200-word review posted to a book retailer’s website before you can request your next book. Library Thing, First Reads, Bethany House, and Tyndale House Publishers also have programs that offer free books in exchange for honest reviews.

2. Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

Lucky kids in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia can get a free book every month from the Dolly Parton Foundation.

You must live in an area that offers the program; click the "register my child" link to see if your child is eligible. If you don’t qualify -- or you don’t have kids -- why not share this opportunity with friends or family members who might?

3. Swagbucks

This isn't exclusively a way to get books, but as a member of Swagbucks, you can earn virtual cash doing simple everyday things like searching the web, checking your credit report and shopping online.

Redeem your Swagbucks for genuine $5 gift card codes on Amazon. Once you’ve built up a few of these cards, you’ll be able to pre-order your favorite author’s latest release, instead of joining a waiting list with 29 other library patrons.

Where to Get Nearly Free Books

For just the cost of postage or fuel, trade an unwanted book -- or one you’ve finished reading -- for one that you'd really like.

4. Little Free Libraries

The premise is simple: take a book and leave a book in one of the small boxes in various locations around the world.

If you haven’t seen Little Free Libraries’ book houses around your town, check out their website to see if there's one in your community -- or even start one. Last summer, I found one outside a McDonald's near my home. I made sure to always keep a few books in the car so that I always had one to leave in case I found one that I wanted.

5. Paperback Swap

This online community boasts an ever-changing inventory of more than 4 million books with more being added every minute. When you join and list 10 books you’re willing to give away, you get two credits to request books from other members. Each time you send a book and the recipient marks it as received, you get a credit.

I've used Paperback Swap to send and receive several dozen books since 2009. The site estimates that I've saved over $400 as a result of swapping! I've only had one problem when a recipient's mail carrier was in an accident and the book was ruined in the snow.

Finding Cheap Books

To maximize your ability to participate in the Little Free Library and Paperback Swap programs, invest a few dollars in bargain-priced books by popular authors or bestsellers so that you can trade them for books you do want to read and keep long-term. These are my favorite places to find cheap books:

6. Scholastic Reading Clubs

In college, I built up a 200+ book elementary classroom library on my dish-room employee salary with the 99-cent specials and low-priced paperbacks through a classmate who ran a Scholastic Reading Club.

Check with your child's teacher to see if they'll make the book orders available, or sign up if you're a teacher in a public, private or home school. As a bonus, teachers who organize reading clubs earn points to redeem for free books.

7. Thrift Stores

The kind and quality of books you'll find in local thrift stores vary by the store and region. I find that the best books are at thrift stores in more affluent neighborhoods or towns. A friend of mine once found a set of hardcover Harry Potter books in excellent condition for a dollar each and resold the books on Ebay for a nice profit.

8. Garage Sales

Again, you're not guaranteed to find anything you like, but if you're looking for children's books, keep your eyes open for garage sales held by retiring teachers. They usually have immense classroom libraries and often just want to pass on their books to eager readers as they downsize and enter retirement.

9. Library Sales

To make room for all their new books and generate money to pay for guest lectures and programs, most libraries have book sales once or twice a year. I've bought hardcovers for $1 to $2 and paperbacks for $0.50 to $1.

For the best selection, be there when the doors open on the first day. On the last day of the sale, prices are usually slashed even further, allowing you to get a bag full of books for just a few dollars.

Your Turn: How do you fill your home library on the cheap? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.

As a preteen, I discovered knitting and devoted hours each day to improving my hobby. My babysitting money was quickly spent issues of Interweave Knits and Family Circle Easy Knitting, where I drooled over the latest patterns. I became a frequent customer at the yarn shop in a neighboring town where I bought materials to create my 4-H fair projects.

As my skills improved and my passion for my hobby increased, I was thrilled when the owner of a yarn shop asked me if I'd test knit a men's sweater. Besides knitting a sweater that would be used for photographs or on display, I had to check for errors in the pattern and clarify the instructions. I spent about a month working on it each evening, and my time and effort as a test knitter earned me a $75 check.

That was 15 years ago, and test knitting is still a decent way to earn extra money. It's certainly not going to put food on your table (I made less than minimum wage), but getting paid for doing something you’d do anyway is generally a win in anyone's book. And, for me, it certainly beat babysitting!

Test Knitting in the 21st Century

The knitting scene has changed since the late 90s. It's no longer a hobby dominated by grandmothers churning out Christmas sweaters for the whole family; knitting is cool again and many young people are picking up the needles.

Knitting designers have taken their businesses online, where they can connect with thousands of customers around the country and the world, including aspiring test knitters. These knitters gladly test patterns in exchange for some swag -- often a finished copy of the pattern, additional patterns from the designer, credit as a test knitter in the finished pattern or free yarn to complete the project.

Lee Meredith of Leethalknits says that she finds most of her test knitters in her group on Ravelry, a site for connecting with fellow knitters and crocheters. Knitters can sign up for her master list of testers and be contacted when she has a new project. She gives her knitters the exact project requirements: the pattern, the size of knitting needles, yarn weight and amount, and any embellishments. As the testers knit, they leave her feedback in a shared Google document.

Knitters who complete the project by the deadline and provide feedback and corrections on the pattern instructions get a finished copy of the pattern plus around $20 credit to her virtual store. Large or complex projects, or those with unusually tight deadlines, earn the knitter additional credit. Other designers give their testers high-value kits that include the pattern and enough yarn to complete the project. Lee says that her test knitters are happy with the arrangement, since they get credit and free craft supplies while knitting something that they like.

Not all designers go the gifts-or-credit route. Writer and knitter Stephanie Pearl-McPhee of the Yarn Harlot feels strongly that knitters be compensated for their work with cold hard cash. She explains that test knitters provide a valuable service which enables designers to maintain a good reputation and sell high-quality, easy-to-understand patterns.

Knitwear designer Holly Priestley says that she pays between $75 and $200 for knitters who create samples of her designs. The Stitch Diva Studios website accepts applications for paid test knitters and crocheters.

How to Find Test Knitting Jobs

The easiest way to find test knitting jobs is to get a free membership to Ravelry and head to the Testing Pool forum. That's where the designers post projects they need tested, though not all will be paid.

As with any freelancing job, you'll need to market yourself well and make connections in the niche. To set yourself up as a good candidate for test knitting jobs, especially paid ones, here’s what to do:

Get to Know the Owner of Your Local Yarn Shop

I got my test knitting gig through my relationship with the owner of my favorite yarn shop. Being loyal to local stores and building relationships with the staff is always a win-win.

Doreen Marquart, owner of Needles 'n Pins Yarn Shoppe, sometimes asks her regular customers to knit a sweater, hat, socks or afghan that will be on display in the store to showcase a new pattern or yarn.

Create an Online Portfolio of Your Work

Just as freelance writers, designers and artists showcase their work on their websites, you should do the same with your knitting. Not only will you have your own digital brag book to share your projects with others, you can link to it when contacting designers about test knitting opportunities.

Set up a simple Pinterest profile with different boards for different types of projects (sweaters, hats, socks, etc.) or add a portfolio page to your website.

Connect with Knitting Companies

Mary Kay McDermott test knit an intricate Japanese shawl for Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls book. She got to know the designer through a knitting camp and their working relationship evolved from there. Mary Kay says that networking and befriending other designers and test knitters may lead to test knitting gigs.

Follow knitting designers as well as yarn and pattern companies on social media and get to know owners and designers at local events, craft fairs and other meetups. These personal connections may help you find opportunities.

The Bottom Line

While there isn't an industry-wide agreement on the standard for payment, the opportunities to earn money for your time and efforts are out there if you're willing to do a bit of searching and self promotion. Test knitting would be a great opportunity for stay-at-home parents who need a creative outlet, busy professionals who want to relax or retired people who want to keep busy.

Your Turn: Do you knit? Would you work as a test knitter?

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.

For most people, a college education is a worthwhile investment, even after they spend years making payments on their student loans.

To minimize the costs of college, many students work part-time jobs or apply for scholarships.  Here’s another strategy to add to the list: Why not reduce your (or your child's) time in a college program -- and therefore the costs -- by taking self-study exams?

It’s a less-common way to reduce the costs of a college degree, but it can save you a significant amount of money. Here’s how the process works.

Take Exams to Earn College Credit

The College Level Examination Program, often referred to as CLEP, is run by the College Board. Students of any age can study for a specific college-level subject test and if they pass, receive college credit for that course.

The CLEP exams are similar to high-school AP exams, except that students study by themselves and at their own paces. A student can also take an exam whenever he’s ready, not just at the end of the term. Tests for 33 subjects are offered at more than 1,800 testing centers worldwide and they cost just $80 each, plus any fees charged by the testing centers.

The low cost and flexible timing make CLEP exams ideal for high school students, since they can study a subject at school and earn both high school and college credit, as well as home-schooling students. Non-traditional students already who are already in the workforce can study and take exams around their work schedules to earn many of the prerequisites for their college degrees.

How Much Money Can You Save?

To illustrate the savings of taking CLEP exams as part of your college preparation, let's look at in-state tuition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In-state tuition costs $5205.12 per semester for course loads between 12 and 18 credits. A passing CLEP score, 65 or above, earns you three credits. If you take six tests, at $80 each, you'll earn 18 credits for just $460. That's a savings of $4745.12! Even if you have to retake a few exams, you'd still be ahead financially.

Additionally, you'll save on textbooks, room and board and transportation for a whole semester which is estimated at $7,028 for in-state on-campus students at UW-Madison. Altogether that's a savings of $11,773.12!

Real Life Success Stories

Lee Binz of The HomeScholar encouraged her two sons to take CLEP exams. One of them earned enough credits to replace a semester of college, and the other earned a year's worth of credits. She shares advice on how to strategically use exams to replace certain college courses.

Shannen of Middle Way Mom is using the CLEP exams as part of her daughter's high school curriculum so that she doesn't have to retake basic courses in college and to help them avoid debt. She offers practical tips about earning credit by exam, including important mistakes to avoid like taking too many tests at once or not varying study materials.

How to Save the Most Money With CLEP Exams

Ready to shave thousands off the cost of your or your child’s college degree? Before you sign up for a ton of exams and buy a bunch of study materials, take a moment to consider your options.

Make Sure Your College Accepts the Exams

This strategy won't be a money saver if you find out that your college doesn’t accept CLEP exam scores in exchange for credit. High school students who want to go the CLEP route should check their prospective schools' policies and talk to the admissions office about their plans to apply exam credit toward their degrees.

Each school will have its own policy on how many credits can be earned through CLEP tests or when the exams must be completed. For example, UW-Madison only accepts CLEP exam scores of 65 and above for exams that were passed before a student earns earn 16 semester hours of college credit.

Borrow Test-Prep Books From the Library

Unless you’re very familiar with a subject and do well on the free practice tests, you should obtain a copy of The College Board’s test-prep book for the exam you plan to take. You can get the books from their site or on Amazon, but why bother buying them if you'll only be using them a short while?

That's what my former colleague, Apiphany Riggin, did to study for the CLEP exam that she took. Since she studied for just two weeks before passing the exam, not buying the book added to her savings. The class at her college would have cost over $2000. If your library doesn't have a copy, request one through their library loan program.

Borrow Books From Friends and Family Members

If you can’t find the books at the library, share a request on Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone has old books you can buy or borrow from them. Home-schooling families can probably find someone in their network that has the books and will lend them out if none of the children are using them.

Use Free Online Prep Materials

Increase your chances of success with practice questions and exams at Free Clep PrepEducation Portal offers a free trial of their online video and quizzing services.

Buy and Resell the Books

If worse comes to worst and you can’t find a copy of the book you need, buy a copy yourself (even used on Amazon). When you’re finished with it, sell it online or to someone else in your network.

Your Turn: Have you taken exams for college credit? Tell us about it in the comments.

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.

When it comes to saving money, there’s a whole spectrum of strategies.

Some people love money-saving challenges, and others embrace unusual options like reusing dental floss or budgeting just $4 a day for food. But those of us who have lived frugally for years -- though in less-extreme ways -- may feel like we know all the tips and tricks.

But do we really?

From my experience living and working abroad, many people outside of North America live frugal lives to stretch their resources further. Many strategies are familiar, like taking lunches to work, drinking water instead of soft drinks at restaurants, reusing plastic bags and recycling cans for extra cash.

But some ways they stretch their rupees, quetzals and yuan might just give you an "aha" moment. Could you add some of these money-saving tips to your frugal repertoire?

1. Forage for Food

Nature provides all sorts of edible plants, and too often they go unnoticed and unused. When American educator Melanie Sosinski taught in Poland, she discovered that many of her students and their families would go into the forests to find wild mushrooms and berries. These wild treasures added delicious flavors to their cooking. After the corn is picked near my home in China, retirees rush out with sacks hoping to find a few extra ears to turn into porridge. An apple tree in my local park is popular with kids and adults; we’ve already picked 10 pounds from it this year.

Do your neighbors have trees or berry bushes whose fruit goes to waste? Ask if you can pick from their trees if you split the results. Look along country roadsides and you might find apple, pear and plum trees, raspberry or blackberry bushes, or other fruits native to your area.

Outside my home are some plants I used to call weeds. It turns out that one is an edible plant called purslane! We've enjoyed it in salads, stir-fry recipes and green smoothies since it can be used like spinach and is rich in Omega-3s and vitamin E. We’ve even -- at my mother-in-law’s suggestion -- dried some for future medicinal uses such as reducing fevers and treating diarrhea.

2. Bargain for Everything

In Asia, negotiating is a daily practice for things as ordinary as vegetables. No matter whether it's a computer, cell phone, bed or house, there's always a chance that you'll pay less if you just ask for a lower price and are willing to haggle a bit.

Need to brush up on your negotiating skills? Steve Gillman wrote a great post on bargaining strategies.

3. Empty the Entire Container

Whether it's mayonnaise, mustard, toothpaste or laundry soap, there's usually a way to use up every last bit of a product. Cutting the container with scissors and using a rubber spatula can net you a week’s worth of conditioner!

Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich often jokes about how his immigrant parents still use every last bit of shampoo before tossing out the bottle, and his post on why immigrants are able to save so much money has comments with money-saving tips from around the world.

4. Hand-Wash Clothing

It’s not the best time-saving technique, but hand-washing clothes keeps them in top condition longer than conventional washing. My husband has jeans from the mid-90s that are in great condition, albeit out of fashion. I've also noticed that my undergarments last a whole lot longer now that I've adopted this practice.

5. Use Cloth Instead of Paper

Several Asian cultures are known for raising diaper-free babies, but in the early weeks of the baby's life, they often use homemade cloth diapers -- usually old T-shirts or long underwear cut into large pieces.

This same strategy works to create cleaning rags, and you can make a homemade mop by cutting the cloth into strips, tying them together and attaching them to a long wooden handle.

6. Ask for Family Input

Before making purchases, whether small ones like a toaster oven or a larger one like a television, in many cultures it’s common ask for input and advice from family members: parents, aunts, uncles -- the whole gang!

Amy Dunn Moscoco says that her Guatemalan in-laws do this all the time. You never know who has a great connection, a friends-and-family discount, a coupon, or even an extra of the item you need.

7. Charge Your Electronics at Work

When I taught at a high school in China, I watched several colleagues lug their electric bicycle batteries into our office each day to charge them while they worked -- and escape the hefty electric charges that they'd pay at home. After plugging in their bike batteries, they’d charge phones, laptops and any other electronic devices that were low on power.

When I asked about their power use at home, they recommended unplugging everything as soon as they were done using it or a device was fully charged. Consider bringing your phone charger to work with you, and using a powerstrip to easily turn off power to lamps, TVs and other power-hungry electronics while you’re not using them.

8. Use Other People’s Water and Conserve Your Own

In China, “shower centers” offer guests a hot shower and buffet dinner for about $5, hoping people will opt for additional paid services like shoe-shining and massages. Savvy locals sometimes use this deal to enjoy a nice dinner and a long shower on someone else’s dime. Another option is to time your daily workout around the time you’d like to shower and take advantage of your gym’s facilities, as Laura Alvarez Mendivil has seen local people do in her travels around Spain, Finland, France and China.

If showering outside your home isn’t practical, try to make the most of the water you use. My family keeps a five-gallon pail in our bathroom for extra water from washing vegetables, hand-washing clothes or cooking. We then use this water to “flush” the toilet, which helps us save money and avoid wasting water. Odd as it sounds, it’s not difficult to get used to. While we don’t notice the savings (because my husband has been using this trick since long before we got married), it does feel good to know that I’m not wasting environmental resources.

This strategy could easily be implemented in any household as a way to reuse bath water or leftover water from the kitchen. Or, if you prefer, use this “gray water” for indoor plants or your garden.

Your Turn: What frugal tips and tricks have you picked up from other countries and cultures?

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.

Since your alarm went off at 6 a.m., you've roused and fed your kids, sent them off to school, put in an eight-hour day at the office... and now it's time to feed the family.

You know you've got the makings for a hearty and healthy stir-fry in the fridge, but that requires at least 20 minutes of washing and chopping veggies.

As you drive through town, listening to your kids fussing about being hungry, a burger joint lures you in. You know the kids will soon be happy, and you'll be able to get through the evening without further raising your stress levels.

Sound familiar?

Even the most well-intentioned Penny Hoarders and savvy shoppers have found themselves in a similar predicament.

While there's no need to beat yourself up over an occasional deviation from the norm, it's worthwhile to consider making some changes to keep the last-minute drive-through dinner rush from becoming a regular occurrence.

Besides any health concerns you may have, eating out can do a number on your pocketbook. The average American family spends just over $600 a month on food, according to 2014 Gallup poll data.

Imagine investing that money into good-for-you ingredients that can be cooked at home while you're working.

One Day + $300 = A Month's Worth of Healthy Dinners

One way that busy parents combat the dinner rush -- and save their budgets -- is to spend a day, or even just a few hours, whipping up the fixings for multiple meals.

Stored in the freezer, they last for up to six months. And they’re easy to thaw and cook in a slow cooker or oven when it’s time to eat, hence the term “freezer cooking.”

Another bonus: One big shopping trip means no more daily runs to the store -- plus, it's a great way to meet your credit card spending requirements without buying things you don't need.  

While the numbers will certainly vary depending on your location, where you shop and what meals you make, hundreds of blogs show that it is entirely possible to create 30 dinners (sometimes more) for less than $300.

Tackle the process methodically, or follow a prepared menu plan and shopping list.

Success Stories of Freezer Cooking

If you watch for sales leading up to your cooking session, you can keep many cuts of meat in the freezer until you're ready for them, explains Natalie at A Turtle's Life for Me. She makes over 40 meals for her family of four in just four hours -- and for less than $100!

My friend Abbey Goodnite did her first freezer cooking session right before returning to work after maternity leave, which made it easier for her husband to start dinner as soon as he got home from work.

All they had to do was thaw a meal in the refrigerator the night before and either put it in the slow cooker in the morning, or her husband would put it in the oven when he arrived home.

Meals last longer for their small family, and Abbey plans to continue doing this every few months.

If you want to use your own tried-and-true recipes, check out the free printable planning sheets from Money Saving Mom.

5 Tips for a Successful Meal-Prep Session

To make the most of your time and money -- and make the process a little easier! -- follow these guidelines.

1. Don't DIY on Your First Try

For her first attempt at freezer cooking, Abbey used a ready-made meal plan with recipes.

Even though she wasn't sure that they'd like all the recipes, having a grocery list and step-by-step instructions was a lifesaver.

2. Partner With a Pal

A full day in the kitchen might sound overwhelming to even the most enthusiastic cook, so why not partner with a like-minded friend or family member?

To keep spirits up, consider playing music or taking a break at lunchtime for a short walk.

3. Shop and Prepare on Different Days

Shopping for all the ingredients you need to whip up 30 freezer-ready meals requires more than 20 minutes.

Get your groceries at least a day in advance, and try to avoid peak shopping times to save both your sanity and that of fellow shoppers.

4. Read the Directions the Night Before

You'll likely need to do minimal prep work the night before your session, like putting meat or other items in the refrigerator to defrost.

Make sure you check your recipes and directions so you’re ready to go in the morning.

5. Evaluate the Meals as You Go Along

Make a master list of meals, cross them out as your family tries them and make notes as to whether or not they enjoyed each meal.

While you might not end up with the same results as others, your day of work in the kitchen is sure to be a money-saving endeavor that keeps your family fed and your budget on track.

Your Turn: Are you a freezer-cooking veteran? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below!

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.