Crystal Koenig - The Penny Hoarder

It’s tough being a frugal parent. But here’s my secret: Make it so fun, your kids don’t even know you’re being thrifty!

My toddler loves bargain-hunting at the store and “helping” in the kitchen, and my 8-year-old niece loves rolling up loose change while looking for “coin treasures.”

Want to get started teaching your kids about money? Try these suggestions:

1. Get Kids Involved in Cooking

Making homemade food is one of the easiest ways to save your family money.

Getting your kids in on it can be a bonding experience for everyone -- instead of just a chore for mom and dad! Not only will you have fun and save money in the kitchen, you’ll pass on an essential life skill to your kids.

To keep things engaging, make sure you give kids age-appropriate kitchen tasks.

Little kids are great at mixing and stirring, and older kids can get involved with chopping vegetables and actual cooking. Young kids can practice reading skills deciphering recipes, while older kids can work on math and fractions by measuring ingredients.

My toddler loves sitting in his highchair and listening to me host the Mommy Cooking Show.

2. Make Bargain-Hunting an Adventure

We have a running list at our house of things we’re hoping to find secondhand -- a toddler-sized winter coat, a reading light, sweaters for me for work, etc. But finding those things can take time, and little kids can be impatient!

Here’s a way to get kids to help in the quest for a good deal: The next time you go to garage sales or Goodwill, have a scavenger hunt.

Give your kids a list of things to find (a stuffed animal that’s not a bear, a book with the word “summer” in the title, an orange shirt, etc.). Tell them the first kid to find five of the items on the list gets a prize… which brings me to number three!

3. Reward Kids with Something Free

When you reward kids for winning a game or accomplishing something exciting, opt for something free.

Let the winner choose what you’ll cook for dinner, or the movie you’ll watch or game you’ll play at your next Family Night.

4. Find Free Family Events

Some zoos and museums offer free admission all the time, while others only do so on certain days.

In St. Louis, we have tons of awesome free resources, like free admission to the zoo and art museum. The public library offers a whole bunch of events for kids of all ages, including a story hour for babies.

To keep up with what’s available in your area, Google your city plus “events” and bookmark the best page (often maintained by the Chamber of Commerce or local tourism board).

Take advantage of opportunities to enjoy family time without worrying about breaking the bank!

5. Pack Exciting Lunches or Snacks

Make interesting, unusual lunches and snacks for road trips and family outings.

Pinterest is full of great ideas for cute and cheap packed lunches, like this DIY Lunchable or these homemade hot pockets.

If your kids have an exciting snack, they’re less likely to be bummed about passing all the McDonalds and Taco Bells along your route.

I estimate we save between $3 and $4 per person for every meal we pack -- and our meals are much healthier.

6. Set Up a Savings Account or College Fund for Your Child

When the kids are old enough, teach them some finance basics, like how interest works.

Login to the account you started and let your child see the balance growing over time. This will help instill some financial sense in them, and might encourage them to make their own contributions (like using some of their birthday or Christmas money from relatives).

7. Put an Older Child in Charge of Rewards Codes

There are lots of great rewards programs out there.

Put a child in charge with finding rewards codes from your groceries, and allow them to enter the codes online. You could even let them choose their own reward from the catalog.

This is a free way for kids to learn about willpower and saving up for something. The longer they wait and more they save, the better the prizes they can get.

8. Organize a Clothing, Book or Toy Swap

Plan one with other kids close to your child’s age (and their parents, of course). Have everyone bring things they no longer want, pile everything up in the middle of the floor and swap.

It’s a great excuse for kids and parents to get together and hang out, and a wonderful opportunity for your kids to get some “new” stuff.

It’s also nice for kids who might be having trouble parting with toys they no longer play with -- tell your child they might be able to “visit” their toy at their friend’s house.

9. Turn Money-Making Activities Into Fun Family Time

Try coin-roll hunting or one of these other activities with your spare change.

Encourage kids to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas – help them set up a lemonade stand or start a leaf-raking business with friends.

Younger kids may not be able to do anything quite so sophisticated, but they could have fun entering contests with exciting prizes. Look for coloring contests at the local library or check out bigger competitions like the Doodle4Google.

Before your kids earn any money, have a discussion with them about your expectations.

Do you plan to let them spend it however they want? Or do you expect them to put some of it away in their piggy bank or savings account?

This is a good opportunity to teach kids financial responsibility -- it’s also nice to make sure they won’t spend all their cash on a candy bar shopping spree!

Whatever you do, keep it fun and light! Your kids might resent your frugal nature if you’re always harping about the high cost of everything. But if you approach saving money as a fun adventure, they’ll probably do the same!

Your Turn: How do you make frugal living a family affair?

Crystal Koenig has learned lots of strategies for saving money while living on a graduate student income. She has previously blogged at Crystal and Bryan in Singapore.

When I worked as a waitress, I would come home after work every night and toss my spare coins into a big jar.

I didn’t think much about the jar until my friends suggested we go away for the weekend. I was kind of broke, but I didn’t want to say no, so I decided to dig into my change jar.

It turned out I had more than $300 squirreled away -- enough for my share of a weekend road trip!

I still have a change jar, but I try not to let it build up so much before doing something with the money. After all, leaving hundreds of dollars sitting around your house is not a good investment strategy!

If you’re anything like me, you also toss your loose coins into a container every few days. Your cash isn’t worth much to you sitting in the corner! Instead, here’s what to do with that spare change.

1. Cash It In at a Coinstar Machine

Coinstar machines allow you to exchange your change for cash, gift cards or charitable donations.

Changing coins into bills at a Coinstar machine is not a great option, because they charge a 10.9% service fee. However, if you redeem for a charitable donation or gift card, the fee is waived.

Redeeming your change for a gift card to a store you frequent is basically like getting cash, and you can choose from companies like Amazon, Starbucks, iTunes, Toys R Us, Forever 21, and lots more.

Your charity options depend on the kiosk you use, but some of my favorite ones are the World Wildlife Fund and the Humane Society of the United States.

2. Use It

Stock a change purse and carry it with you. When you pay cash at a store, use exact change.

Having change on you can also come in handy if you need to pay a parking meter or get an emergency snack out of a vending machine.

If you didn’t have change on you, you might end up having to ask someone to break a dollar or two for you. Why do that when you have a jar full of change just sitting in your house?

3. Roll It Up and Cash It In at the Bank

This is the most traditional solution for dealing with your change.

It’s a great activity for kids, who can practice coin identification, counting, math and sorting. If you have older kids, you could even promise them 10% of the money you get from cashing in your coins. They’ll have a great time calculating their earnings!

Many banks still give away the papers you need for rolling coins -- just ask the teller. If your local bank won’t give you coin-rolling papers, you can buy them cheaply online.

4. Deposit It at the Bank

Some banks will allow you to deposit unrolled coins into your account, even if you haven’t gone to the trouble of rolling them first. This can be a big timesaver!

To avoid the annoyance of getting turned away after hauling in all your coins, call ahead to make sure your bank offers this service.

Whether you roll your coins or simply deposit them, getting them into your bank account helps your money to earn interest. Your coins weren’t doing you any good sitting in your house, so at least they’re earning a small amount of interest in your savings account.

5. Designate It All for One Purpose

Instead of just depositing your change into your savings or checking account, deposit all of your change into your retirement fund or your child’s college savings account.

It may not seem like much, but these little contributions can add up over time. Plus, your college or retirement fund may have higher interest rates than your savings or checking account, and this helps you maximize your return on your coins.

6. Turn It Into a Game

For example, you and your spouse could designate one day a year as Coin Day. On that day, you count up all the change that you’ve accumulated over the year and use the total to treat yourselves to a date.

The catch: You have to agree not to spend anything except what you’ve accumulated in the change jar.

If you’ve had a year with lots of change, you might be in for a nice dinner and a movie. But if it’s been a year with only a little change, you might be treating yourselves to dinner off the dollar menu!

7. Get creative!

Pinterest has some amazing suggestions for upcycling coins. My favorite examples were using pennies to create a shiny copper table top or this fancy tray, and creating this pretty necklace or a simple bracelet.

8. Look for Collectible Coins

Also known as “coin roll hunting,” this can also be a great activity to share with kids, especially if you call it “treasure hunting!”

Try combining coin roll hunting with most of these other ideas. Whether you’re taking your coins to the bank, repurposing them to finish a table or spending them, sort through them first to make sure you’re not getting rid of a coin worth more than its face value. For example, half dollars minted before 1965 can sell for more than $7 each!

Whatever you do with your coins, don’t let them sit in the corner of your house collecting dust. Put them to work, whether it’s earning interest, buying back-to-school supplies or simply decorating your house.

Your Turn: What do you do with the coins in your change jar? Share your strategies in the comments!

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

Crystal Koenig has learned lots of strategies for saving money while living on a graduate student income. She has previously blogged at Crystal and Bryan in Singapore.

If you’ve found your way to The Penny Hoarder, you’re probably interested in creative ways to make money. And if that’s true, you have probably figured out by now that participating in rewards programs for brands that you already use is a great way to earn a few dollars.

But here’s the thing: Some rewards programs are better than others, depending on your shopping habits and needs. Joining every program you can find is tempting, but it could wind up being a waste of your time if you never redeem any of your rewards.

Here’s how to decide which rewards programs to join, plus how to maximize your rewards.

Which Rewards Programs Should You Join?

You have to decide which rewards programs are worthwhile -- and this answer will be different for everyone.

For example, I don’t participate in every single program I encounter, because it can be a lot to keep straight. But I do participate in programs for the brands I regularly purchase. For me, that includes My Coke Rewards, Kellogg’s Family RewardsPampers Rewards, Starbucks Rewards and MyCatPerks from Purina.

When deciding whether to participate in a program, I ask myself these questions:

Do I Purchase These Products Regularly?

To save money, I often buy store brands, generics or whatever is on sale. But for some things, like classic Coca-Cola, I am simply not satisfied with the quality or taste of a cheaper brand. To me, it’s worth paying a little more for those brands, and I always choose to participate in their rewards programs.

Is the Program Convenient?

If the program requires a lot of work to earn a few points, it may not be worth it. Some programs want you to write product reviews or clip proofs of purchase and physically mail them in.

Other programs (like My Coke Rewards and Pampers Rewards) just require entering product codes you find on their products, and I like the ease and simplicity of these requirements. With Starbucks Rewards, you get points automatically if you pay with a registered gift card. Easy peasy!

Are There Hidden Costs?

Most rewards programs have free sign-ups and many cover the cost of mailing your rewards once you’ve earned them. But some don’t! If you earn enough points to redeem them for a reward that would have cost $5 if you bought it at the store, and you have to pay $5 in shipping, you’ve just wasted your time.

Also, consider the cost of postage if the program requires you to physically mail in proofs of purchase.

What’s the Payoff?

I try to peruse a sampling of the rewards offered by a program before I enroll. If you’re not interested in anything in their reward catalog, the program may not be a great fit for you.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

Once you’ve decided to enroll in a program, use these strategies to make the most of your participation.

Stay Organized

I keep a Word document with the websites, usernames and passwords associated with each rewards account, so checking my balances or adding new points is easy.

Don’t Increase Your Spending Just to Get Rewards Points

Points are great, but they are not worth enough for you to spend extra money in order to get them! Just purchase as you regularly would and let the points add up slowly.

Search Online for Bonus Codes

Product codes are a great way to earn points, but some companies, like Kellogg’s and Pampers, also post bonus codes online. These are different from the single-use codes you’ll find on products, because many people can redeem each one.

Following your brands on Facebook and Twitter is one way to make sure you don’t miss any codes. You can also find updated lists of bonus codes on websites like Hip2Save and freebies4mom.

Keep Your Account Active

In some programs, your points will expire after a certain amount of time if you don’t enter new ones. My Coke points expire when you don’t enter a new code for 90 days. Be familiar with the policies so you don’t lose your hard-earned points!

Check Out Special Bonus Offers

In addition to redeeming your points for rewards, most companies offer bonus offers that change over time. Here are some examples:

  • My Coke Rewards lets you choose from several bonus offers when you level up from Bronze to Silver status, and again when you move from Silver to Gold. I chose a $10 gift card to restaurant.com, which I used to eat at my favorite Indian restaurant!
  • Kellogg’s Family Rewards is always changing their special offers. For a while, if you entered codes from three specially marked packages, you could choose a free Scholastic book. For another offer, if you entered enough codes from certain cereals, they would send you a $5 check. Right now, if you enter codes from specially marked Pop Tarts boxes, you can get an Avengers bobblehead doll.
  • Pampers has a great program called Grow On where, if you enter a code every month for the first year, you get a reward every three months. You can’t miss a month, but the rewards get better every quarter. At three months, I ordered super-cute address labels with my baby’s picture on them (they even paid for shipping!). For six and nine months, I chose bonus points, and for 12 months, I will get this adorable wooden instrument set from Melissa & Doug.

Choose Wisely When Cashing In Your Points

You should always consider which rewards will get you the most value for your points. For example, in the Kellogg’s rewards catalog, a $5 gift card to American Eagle costs 7,500 points, and $1-off coupons for Cheez-Its are 850 points. So, for the coupon, a dollar costs 850 points, but for the gift card, a dollar costs 1500 points. So clearly the coupon is a better deal if you regularly buy Cheez-Its. Plus you’ll get the bonus code from that product!

Combine Your Rewards Programs for More Points

I regularly redeem Kellogg’s points for $5 gift cards to Starbucks. I’m enrolled in the Starbucks loyalty program, and I’ve achieved gold status in that program just by using the gift cards that I get from Kellogg’s.

So now I also get rewards from Starbucks for being a gold member -- including a free drink on my birthday, free refills on brewed coffee and tea, and a free drink or food item every 12th visit -- all without spending any money out of my pocket at Starbucks!

I really enjoy participating in these programs. I love getting rewards in the mail or having gift cards credited to my account. It makes me so sad that people throw away reward codes all the time without using them. They’re like free money! Don’t throw that money in the trash -- make it work for you!

Your Turn: Do you collect points in rewards programs? Which programs are your favorites?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

Crystal Koenig has learned lots of strategies for saving money while living on a graduate student income. She has previously blogged at Crystal and Bryan in Singapore.

When I recently decided to cut my long hair, a friend suggested I sell it online. I was kind of weirded out, since I usually donate my hair, and it seemed wrong to turn my charitable donation into a profit.

But when I heard that Locks of Love was being investigated by a nonprofit watchdog, I decided to try selling my own hair and donate some of my profits to a cause that’s important to me.

I sold my hair for more than $80 -- pretty great for something that usually winds up in a salon’s trash can! If you’re ready to try selling your own hair online, here’s how to make the most money.

How Much Can You Make Selling Hair Online?

While The Penny Hoarder has posted before about selling your hair through other companies, I found selling my hair on eBay was the best option. Rather than having to set up another account on a hair-specific website and remember yet another password), I could use my existing eBay account. Plus, the fees and policies are pretty easy to understand, so I didn’t have to worry about combing through any fine print.

I listed 15 inches of my hair with a starting bid of $69.99. It got eleven bids and sold for $82 (plus another $4.12 for shipping). After shipping costs and eBay and PayPal fees, I earned about $75. I also paid to get my hair cut, but you might be able to bypass that cost if you cut your own hair or have a friend do it for you.

Other people have sold their hair on eBay for over $150, so you could earn even more than I did. Your earnings will depend on a few factors: your hair’s condition, the quality of your listing and a little bit of luck.

How to Make the Most Money

It takes a long time to grow your hair long enough to sell, so you want to make the most of it. Here are my best tips for making more money from your hair.

List your hair on eBay before you cut it. Once you cut your hair, it will start to dry out. Buyers prefer freshly cut hair -- and they’ll usually pay a premium for it. Note that you may need extra handling time to cut your hair after confirming the sale, especially if it’s going to be tough to get an appointment.

Cut and sell at least 10 inches. Longer hair will generate higher bids, since buyers can do more with it. This girl sold 11 inches of her hair for $166.50, and this woman sold about 12 inches of her hair for $101.99. When you list the length, keep in mind that your stylist may want an inch or two to work with when cutting your hair. Also, be sure to mention if your hair is uneven or layered; these different lengths may reduce its value.

Give an honest history of your hair. If you haven’t dyed or treated your hair, it will fetch more money. If you take great care of your hair and don’t color it, chemically perm or straighten it or damage it with heat, say so! Buyers will be interested and will likely be willing to pay a higher price. Also include information about your hair’s characteristics: Is it naturally straight, curly or wavy? Do you have natural highlights or split ends? What color is it? Are you a non-smoker?

Include good pictures. Wash and brush your hair and then take several photos of it, both in a ponytail and hanging loose. It’s helpful to include a photo with a tape measure so people can see your hair length for themselves. If you would like to keep your Internet hair-selling a secret, have someone photograph only the back of your head.

Specify how you’re willing to cut it. Some buyers may prefer that you cut your hair in several ponytails, as it can make the hair easier to work with and maximize the length they’ll get. State in your description if you’re willing to cut it into more than one ponytail, and it could help you attract more bids.

Include keywords in your title and description. When people search eBay, they use certain keywords to find exactly what they’re looking for. Using these keywords will help them find your listing -- and make more money. Here are the ones you’ll want to know:

  • Virgin: Hair that has never been bleached or dyed.
  • Uncut: When you’re listing your hair before you cut it.
  • Colors: Include synonyms (e.g. “brown” and “chestnut”) and extra descriptors (e.g. instead of just “blonde,” write “light blonde”) in case buyers are looking for something specific.

Tightly secure the elastic before you cut your hair. The ponytail (or ponytails) will need to stay intact during cutting, packaging and shipping. Once you’ve cut your hair, I recommend wrapping it tightly in bubble wrap and placing it in a large envelope.

Why Do People Buy Hair?

Beauty supply companies use human hair to make wigs, hairpieces and extensions. Some high-end businesses will even custom-make a wig or hairpiece for a client’s unique specifications.

But human hair isn’t just used for making wigs -- some dollmakers also prefer human hair for their dolls. For example, the artist behind My Salon Doll specifically advertises that the dolls’ human hair allows children to style the hair just like they would their own. In addition to wigs and dolls, there are a few other surprising uses for human hair.

Will You Sell Your Hair?

I wholeheartedly recommend selling your hair on eBay. Initially, I had some qualms about it, but it turned out to be kind of fun. I thought I would feel guilty about not donating my hair, but I actually enjoyed choosing a charity to support with some of the profits, and it was nice to earn a little money to keep for myself. I’m excited for my hair to grow out so I can do it again!

Your Turn: Have you ever sold your hair? If not, will you give it a try?

Crystal Koenig has learned lots of strategies for saving money while living on a graduate student income. She has previously blogged at Crystal and Bryan in Singapore.