Steph Weber - The Penny Hoarder

While gardening can save you massive amounts of money on your grocery bill, it can seem expensive to get started. Don’t you need planters, pots, started plants and special gadgets?

When I started my garden a few years ago, I went bananas and bought everything: fancy planters, hundreds (yes, hundreds) of canning jars and all sorts of gardening paraphernalia. Before I knew it, I had spent over $200 on “stuff” — and that didn’t include any plants or seeds.

Don’t be tempted to follow in my footsteps. You don’t actually need anything fancy or expensive. With a little extra effort, anyone with a bit of outdoor space and a willingness to get their hands dirty can start a garden for little to no money. Here’s how to get your grow on for less.

Upcycle What You Already Have

What’s upcycling? It’s the trendier (and cheaper!) version of recycling. You use what you have available, transforming it for a new purpose and turning it into all kinds of Pinterest-worthiness.

Before you can upcycle, though, you need to know what you’re working with. Start by searching your house for potential garden containers and tools, especially in these places:

The Kitchen

The kitchen is the motherlode of upcycled gardening. All sorts of bowls, pots and other random things often wind up gathering dust in a cupboard — like that “black hole” cupboard that sits over the fridge or stove.

Look for any containerlike items, such as:

  • Teapots 
  • Colanders 
  • Bowls 
  • Pots 
  • Cups 
  • Coffee cans and soda bottles from the recycling bin

Here’s a list of ways you could upcycle some of those items, but don’t let it limit you.

Also keep an eye out for old wooden spoons, which make cute garden markers, and long-tined meat forks, which are great for digging out stubborn weeds.

The Closets

Dig through your closet — and the kids’ as well. Look for anything that’s a bit too worn out to wear but can still hold soil. It’s not the most natural thought process when searching through a closet, but here’s what to look for:

And if you need more inspiration, here are 35 ways to use shoes as planters.

The Garage or Shed

If you’re like me, your garage and shed are bursting at the seams with goodies. Have an extra sink, toilet or tub lying around after a recent renovation? Turn ‘em into a sink planter, a toilet bowl herb garden or a bathtub vegetable garden. Just think of the interesting conversation piece you’ll create!

Scrap wood or pallets can become raised beds; if you don’t have enough in your shed, ask a local store if they’d be willing to part with one.

Pull out that rusty old shovel and hoe and finally put them to good use. If you happen to have an old bicycle or wheelbarrow lying around, you’ve just hit the jackpot for a kitschy backyard planter.

Share With Friends and Neighbors

Ok, so you have your containers ready — it’s time to add plants.

Seeds can be a costly expense: at $2 to $5 a packet, they’re pricey enough to make you reconsider how many different vegetables you really need. Seed packets typically contain many more seeds than the average gardener will use, and the seeds may be less likely to grow if you keep the same packet for years. Solve all of these problems at once by splitting each packet with a friend or two.

No need for a fancy seed-starting tray or kit; try this simple do-it-yourself technique to make your own seed starters from toilet-paper rolls.

If you’re looking for an established plant or cutting, ask around for friends, neighbors or local farmers who may be willing to give or sell you a few extra starts.

Thumbs Up for Upcycling

Behold: an affordable, even free, way to start your garden. With plenty of everyday household items available, you’re bound to find something to upcycle into a useful — and surprisingly trendy — garden essential.

Enjoy your new Pinterest-ready garden — and all the money you’re saving on groceries, thanks to your upcycled, garden-fresh produce.

Your Turn: Have you upcycled household items into garden containers or tools? What are your favorite cheap garden ideas?

Steph Weber is a mom and freelance writer hailing from the Midwest. She writes mostly about healthcare, finance, and small business — that is, when she’s not finding her happy place after chasing around a sticker-crazed toddler.


While many people look at Facebook as a great way to stay in touch with friends or a time-sucking vortex of funny videos and listicles, savvy Penny Hoarders know it’s also a fantastic platform for earning extra cash.

From helping your friends sell unwanted stuff to earning money by posting updates, you can find a bunch of different ways to make money on Facebook. Add one more to this list: Facebook “garage sale” groups.

While the size and focus of the groups will depend on your area, the big advantage of Facebook groups over a site like Craigslist is the lack of anonymity. Since all members join from their existing Facebook profiles, you can see exactly who’s interested in your items. If you’ve been delaying posting items on Craigslist, selling through one of these groups might be the perfect option for you.

Just two months ago, I began selling miscellaneous items from around my house in local garage sale groups on Facebook. The extra cash -- more than $600 so far -- has been a budget lifesaver, and I’ve also enjoyed the added bonus of decluttering my home.

Ready to learn how you can do the same?

How to Find Local Facebook Groups

Finding garage sale or buy-and-sell groups near you is quite simple. If you’re on a laptop or desktop, look for “Find New Groups” on the sidebar. If you’re on a mobile device, hit the “More” button and you should see this same option. A new screen will pop up and list four options:

  1.       Suggested Groups
  2.       Friends’ Groups
  3.       Local Groups
  4.       Your Groups

Luckily, Facebook has already done most of the work for you by sorting the groups geographically. Just click on “Local Groups” to see a list of options nearby. Even in my somewhat sparsely populated neck of the woods, Facebook was able to suggest five local groups.

If your pickings are slim, you can usually track down more groups by expanding your search to neighboring cities and counties. Conversely, if the opposite is true -- you live in a city or region with tons of options -- just pick one or two groups to get started. Some regions offer groups focused only on particular items, such as furniture or baby clothing, so choose your group based on what you have to sell.

And remember that after you join a few groups, Facebook will automatically suggest others for you as well -- those that you might have otherwise overlooked. Worst case scenario: if there’s no group near you, don’t be afraid to start your own!

What Should You Sell?

How about anything and everything?!

Baby clothes, electronics, and furniture are the hottest-selling items in my area. But here’s my motto: if I haven’t used it within the past six months, I’m going to try and sell it.

For example, here are some of the items I’ve sold so far:

  • Bumper pool table: $250
  • Laminate flooring (from a ditched renovation project): $125
  • Infant bassinet: $40
  • Carpet cleaner (with a broken handle no less!): $35
  • Outgrown baby clothes: $30
  • Decorative “Bless Our Home” plaque: $5
  • Infant headbands: $3

And believe me, that’s just the tip of the oh-so-profitable iceberg. My sales list is as long and varied as my price points. Every time I sell something, my husband is incredulous. “What?” he says. “Someone actually paid money for that?”

Yes! And it all adds up quite nicely, thankyouverymuch.

Buying and Selling on Facebook: A Guide to Etiquette

Whether you’re buying or selling, following basic rules helps make the process positive for everyone. Many of these rules are common on any selling platform, but some are specific to Facebook groups. Make sure you stay on the right side of the groups’ administrators!

Read (and Follow!) Each Group’s Rules

Each garage sale group will have specific rules. Some allow you to post anything and everything, while others limit the types of items that are sold or how often you can post. For example, one local group I follow has a rule against posting any lululemon clothing -- due to the many listings with these items, there’s now a separate group.

Following the rules is crucial. In many groups, after a certain number of infractions, rule-breakers can be banned!

Mind Your Manners

Now is the perfect time to showcase those manners and make your parents proud. “Please” and “thank you” can go a long way here, especially when you’re dealing with lots of interest in one of your items.

Remember that tone is nearly impossible for random internet strangers to pick up on, so you might need to sideline the sarcasm.

Price to Sell

Choosing a selling price can be tricky. Are my items priced too high or too low? My personal sweet spot has been to price an item at approximately 40-50% of retail price, but experiment and see what works for your items.

You may also find that interested buyers contact you with offers lower than your asking price, so decide in advance if you’re willing to negotiate, or if you’d prefer to hold out for your stated price.

Communicate

If you’re lucky, you’ll have several people respond with interest to your posting, often within minutes or seconds of each other. Once you snag a firm offer, make sure you update the posting to mark the item as pending, then delete the post altogether after the sale is finalized. If a sale falls through though, let the next interested party have a go at it.

Follow Through

When you commit to a sale and arrange a meet-up location, please, please, please follow through. If for any reason you can’t move forward with the transaction, contact the other party right away.

There’s nothing more frustrating than being stood up or having someone go MIA. And some groups have a zero tolerance policy for no shows, meaning you’ll be permanently banned. Tread carefully.

Your Turn: Have you used Facebook’s local garage sale groups to earn extra cash?

Steph Weber is a mom and freelance writer hailing from the Midwest. She writes about healthcare, finance, and small business -- that is, when she’s not chasing around a sticker-crazed toddler.

As a kid, that first day of summer break was like winning the lottery, wasn’t it? For those of us who are now parents, the arrival of summer break might evoke the thought that we might actually need to win the lottery to survive the months ahead.

When you’re trying to limit your spending, simply signing the kids up for camps and other activities isn’t an option. And we all know keeping kids with boundless energy quarantined in a house all day is no good.

What’s a parent on a budget to do? Here’s one way to entertain your kids for free this summer: introduce them to geocaching.

Geocaching: Treasure Hunting Gone Wild

Never heard of it? Neither had I until a few years ago when I was introduced to it by, of all people, my 5-year-old niece.

After tagging along on an excursion with her and her parents, I was hooked. Often referred to as a “real-world treasure hunt,” this activity actually lives up to its name.

Participants use GPS coordinates to find hidden containers -- anything from a tiny film canister to a large metal box, though plastic Tupperware containers seem to be most popular -- known as geocaches, or simply caches. These caches, which were concealed by other geocachers, often have clever names and additional clues that help you find the treasure.

What Do You Need to Geocache?

The beauty of geocaching is you probably already have everything you need to get started. You could be out the door in a matter of minutes -- which is handy if you’re like me and your kids are performing Cirque du Soleil acrobatics on your sofa as you read this post.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A GPS-enabled device
  2. Internet access
  3. Your sense of adventure
  4. A small trinket or toy for each child (optional; read on to learn why)

Years ago, when I first tried geocaching with my niece, I had a “dumbphone.” It was an old-school flip phone that certainly wasn’t GPS-enabled. At that time, most geocaching folks -- including us -- used a bulky handheld GPS unit to hunt down our treasures. If you’d still like to go this route, you can often find these units on eBay for under $50.

However, if you have a smartphone, you’ve got numbers one and two covered. As long as you’re in an area with coverage from your wireless provider, you’ll be able to access the GPS coordinates right from your phone. Log onto Geocaching.com through your phone’s browser, or download the site’s free app for iPhone or Android. Android users can also try a comparable free app called C:geo.

As long as you remember to pack your sense of adventure -- and perhaps even a picnic lunch -- you’re good to go.

Geocaching in Action

So you’ve fully charged your phone, packed a picnic and promised your ornery offspring an adventure. Now what do you do?

Get the party started by logging into the app or site of your choice. Plug in your zip code -- and voila! Up pops a list of nearby geocaches. The size of the list will vary depending on your location.

For example, when I plugged in my zip code, it came back with nearly 15,000 listings within a 100-mile radius -- and I live in a pretty small Midwestern town. At least 200 of those were within a 10-mile radius, which is much more doable with small children. And if you keep the searches even closer to home, you can save on gas by walking.

Look at the list and pick your first geocache. The site or app will rank each one based on its level of difficulty and terrain, so if your kids are younger, you should probably stick with the easier ones.

Select your cache and let the hunt begin! Your phone will update you on your progress as you approach or veer away from the cache, with updates on your direction and distance from the destination.

“Caching” In

The anticipation of opening your first cache is going to be huge. After all, you’ve just found a treasure! Each time, right before my kids open a container, I think, “This is it. This is the cache holding some billionaire’s big fat check.”

But, alas, that hasn’t happened yet.

Inside a cache, anything goes: you might find small toy cars, a hand-drawn picture or other interesting trinkets. Now’s the time to use those toys your kids grabbed before leaving the house. Have each child trade their toy for one in the container -- and then be sure to brainstorm about the people who will find them next. Use those imaginations!

Depending on what you find, this activity could actually be a money-maker too: you might find an old coin or a used golf ball you can cash in. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

Nearly every cache also holds a logbook. Your family can sign it and check out the other signatures. Some caches have been in the same place for years! If you’re using Geocaching.com’s site or app, encourage your kids to sign the online logbook as well, where they can leave tips or encouragement for other geocachers.

Finally, put everything back in the cache and hide it back in its place, exactly how you found it, so it’s ready for the next group of geocachers.

The hunt for the “treasure” and the randomness of the cache contents are what makes this activity so much fun. It’s a free activity that gets the kids running around outside -- what more could a parent ask?

Your Turn: Have you ever geocached? Have you tried it with kids, or would you?

Steph Weber is a mom and freelance writer hailing from the Midwest. She writes mostly about healthcare, finance, and small business -- that is, when she’s not finding her happy place after chasing around a sticker-crazed toddler.