While making a run to the drugstore, my husband was pulled over for driving with an expired car registration. Apparently, the renewal had been due around the time our 5-month-old was born, and it slipped through the cracks. After paying $120 for the ticket and impound fee (yep, they towed the car!), it hit me: Our shrinking bank balance wasn't just the result of expenses like diapers. Short on time and organization, we were letting serious money wasters eat away at our wallets.
I vowed to plan ahead a bit -- and we've actually saved hundreds of dollars. So can you, with some inspiration from real moms, including two professional organizers:
Money drainer: Oops -- your son's dentist appointment was actually last Wednesday. Now you have to pony up a fine for not canceling 24 hours in advance.
? Become one with your planner. If you're religious about recording all commitments in a planner (paper or electronic) you won't have to rely on your already overtaxed memory. Or use your cell phone's calendar -- most of the newer ones can be programmed to alert you a day or two before an appointment, enough time to cancel.
? Create a message center. Dede King, a mom of four in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, labeled the inside of a kitchen cabinet with the days of the week, then glued two clothespins by each day: one for her "To Do" list and the other for her "To Buy" list. At the start of each week, she writes her lists and clips them to the corresponding day. On her way out, she grabs that day's list and knows just what's on the agenda.
? Request a reminder. "Ask service providers to call you in advance to confirm your appointment," says Anne Blumer, a professional organizer in Portland, Oregon. "Any service that has a cancellation penalty should give a reminder."
Kristen Finello, a mom of two, also writes for Bridal Guide.
Your kids' clothes; saving on social events
Money drainer: You come across new outfits your child's outgrown while you're cleaning out her closet. Too bad you forgot about them before she (or her sister!) got a chance to wear them.
? Rotate clothes regularly. To make sure her 2-year-old wears all the clothes in her closet, Tonya Hawkins of Dunmor, Kentucky, hangs just-washed items on the right side and takes her daughter's clothes for that day from the left. "This way, we cycle through everything, and nothing goes unworn."
? Turn the closet into a mini-boutique. Arrange your children's clothes by size and separate them with the type of size dividers (labeled "12 months," "18 months," and so on) retailers use on their clothing racks, suggests Blumer, who did this with her two kids. You can order a set of dividers from OneStepAhead.com or ABCtarget.com, or you can make your own.
? Sort and store. Elizabeth Donovan of Fairfax, Virginia, marks big plastic bins by clothing size and season, and stacks them in the garage. "Every time Kathleen, my two-year-old, outgrows something, I throw it in the appropriate bin for my eleven-month-old to use when the time comes," she says.
? Shrink 'em. If you're too short on room to store bins, put clothes in vacuum storage bags (available at spacebag.com or the Container Store), which allow you to remove extra air. "Once they're deflated, you can stack the bags on a shelf or suspend them from a skirt hanger in the closet," Blumer says.
Money drainer: There's a birthday party tomorrow, so you dash out and grab the first gift you see -- despite its hefty price tag.
? Stock up and save. "When I see a great toy on sale, I buy several to keep on hand," says Lori Verni, a mom of two in Holly Springs, North Carolina. "I also stockpile wrapping paper in a balloon print -- it's gender neutral and can be used anytime."
? Think outside the toy box. Allison Carter, a mom of two and a professional organizer in Marietta, Georgia, likes to give gift certificates for places like Gymboree, Chuck E. Cheese's, or Build-A-Bear. Other options: a pass for the movies or a bookstore gift card. You can buy most of these cards online (or at the drugstore) and skip the shopping spree.
Dining on take-out; avoiding late fees
Money drainer: It's dinnertime and you're dialing the local pizza place again even though you just dropped $100 at the grocery store.
? Get on a meal schedule. Create a rotation of two weeks' worth of meals. Since you'll always know what's on the menu, you can stock your kitchen accordingly.
? Keep basics on hand. "I buy a few ready-to-serve rotisserie chickens when they're on sale, strip the meat from the bones, and freeze it in one-cup containers," says Courtenay Wells, a mom of two in Lafayette, Indiana. "I also fry up a few pounds of ground beef at a time and freeze it the same way."
? Join the meal-prep trend. Stores like Let's Dish and My Girlfriend's Kitchen, where customers assemble dishes to freeze and cook later, are springing up nationwide. "At the Dinner Station, I prepare a month's worth of meals in under two hours," says Kristy Hill, a mom of two, of Keller, Texas. "I freeze everything and pull out a meal when I need it." The cost -- about $200 for 12 meals that serve four to six-breaks down to about $3 to $5 a serving. That's cheaper than many takeout options.
Money drainer: You rent movies for the kids and then forget to return them on time. And those late fees are a horror show.
? Sign up for a movie-by-mail service. Online DVD rental sites, such as Netflix and Blockbuster, offer several different monthly plans, starting at about $6. The biggest plus: no late fees.
? Be choosy about where you rent. If you decide not to do it online, select a shop that allows leeway on returns. Or try your local library -- many have at least one-week lending periods, and the late fees may not be so onerous.
? Put returns in an "outgoing" basket when you finish with them. Grab what's in the basket as you leave each day.
Saving on appliances
Money drainer: If you knew what you did with the receipt for the new DVD player that just went on the fritz, you could return it -- or at least take advantage of the warranty.
? Put a shoebox to good use. Heather Allard, a mom of three in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, dumps her receipts into one. "It's saved me tons of money," she says. (Don't bother with things like gas and groceries, though -- those receipts you can toss.)
? Use an accordion file. Label the sections of an accordion file with the names of the stores you frequent and put receipts into the appropriate sections, suggests Carter. Create generic labels like "appliances" for infrequent purchases.