Monday, December 3, 2012

American Girl Doll Alternatives for the Cash Strapped this Christmas

A few years ago my family and I traveled to Chicago and we took my grand daughter to the American Girl store while we were there. The dolls were gorgeous and at the time cost $95. They are now $105. This year at the age of 5 she pointed to one in the American Girl catalog that we get in the mail and told me she would like to have it for Christmas. I just about peed my pants!

She's only 5 and doesn't understand that the doll is expensive. So I took a deep breath and started my research as any Broke Single Mom worth her salt would do. :)

I came across a few articles and posts listing less expensive American Girl alternatives. Some are out of date and others, while still available are at higher price points now since most of these articles were written for christmases past. I decided to write my own to give parents and grand parents a look at what other options are available to them if $105 for a doll is simply out of reach.

Before I go on, I want to state clearly that this post IS NOT about the quality of the different dolls. There were some not so nice comments left on some of the articles I read which basically boiled down to people who are American Girl devotees trying to make parents that just can not afford those dolls, feel as if they should be ashamed for looking at more pocket friendly choices. Though AG dolls may in fact be made of a higher quality, that doesn't mean that if a family is barely getting the light bill paid and food on the table that $105 plus tax will suddenly appear to buy said doll.

I will list them starting with the most expensive down through the least expensive as I have found them today December 3, 2012. I almost didn't add the very last entry because it looks a bit like the plastic dolls of my own youth :) ahh memories, however in this economy I know that even $30-$50 can be enough to stretch a family thin, especially if you have more than one child. These are all 18 inch dolls just like the American Girl Dolls.

Almost all come in different ethnicities and hair/eye color. And most clothes are interchangable, I mention this especially for the Fibre Craft Doll that comes in the plainest outfit. You can find outfits on sale or even on craigslist starting at $5.

Best of luck to you all and I hope you and all of your little ones have a fabulous Christmas and remember to keep the CHRIST in Christmas :)

Click on Dolls photo to go to that specific website.

American Girl - $105

Madame Alexander - Favorite Friends $49.95 - I found one for my grandbaby on Amazon for $38

Gali Girls - Jewish Dolls - $20, $30 and $45 (look under Gali Girls and Historical Gali Girls)

Toys R Us - Journey Dolls - $32.99

Walmart - My Life Dolls - $27.97

Kmart - What A Doll - $24.99 - For some reason if you visit in store as I did today they are $19.53 - Don't know how long this will last but that is a nice savings when you consider you will also save on shipping charges. Picked one up for my neice for Christmas.

Target - Our Generation Dolls - $22.99

Kohl's - Dollie & Me - $22.99 on sale (reg 49.99)

Joann Fabrics - Fibrecraft Springfield - $14.24 on sale (Reg $18.99)

You can also try ebay and Craigslist for gently used dolls. Perhaps you will have better luck, when I searched I found a lot of "retired" dolls going for double or triple the $105 a new American Girl Doll costs. But you may want to start there if your daughter is older and more name brand aware.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Can I Be Rich? Inspiration for Single Moms (and others) Everywhere

Photo Credit: My Growth Plan

A few years ago I wrote a post on my Business Blog about a novel that told the magnificent story of Madam C.J. Walker aka Sarah Breedlove and her inspiring story of being born to slaves, becoming a widowed single mother and washer woman to America's First Female Millionaire. It is based on her real life rise from the ashes of poverty during the 1900's.

Her story is so amazing, a woman orphaned before age 10 and married as a young teen, she struggled a lot more than not. She was a single mother who was widowed by 20. Her tale has always inspired me so much because she didn't make her mark and go from washing other people’s clothes to business woman until she was in her late 30's.

If you want to "be rich" and need or want a little inspiration, check out Madam's story, you won’t be disappointed. 

Read Original Post

If you want to learn a little more about this inspiring woman

And drop me a line when you reach your first Million! Heyyyyy :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Estimate Your 2012 Tax Refund in less than 5 Minutes...Broke Single Mom Alert!

Photo Credit The Vintage War Bride

Wouldn't it be nice to know how much your Federal income tax refund check might be, right now, or at least very, very soon? If you're anything like me, you count on your income tax refund every year to help pay off some bills, fix your car, upgrade the house or take a vacation. Or maybe you just like seeing your savings account multiply.

If you knew beforehand you could even create a budget and allocate the funds to be spent wisely as opposed to having no real plan and giving into the shopping bug when the money comes in? Hey I've been there, When you have that money and no set plan, pretty shoes and dresses and taking the kids away for a spur of the moment trip, seem like
great ideas.

For the past few years I have been using three different websites to calculate my income tax refunds. And they have given me a very close estimate, I'd say within a few hundred dollars, of what my Federal return actually ends up being. I have used it for family members as well and it has basically been the same across the board. 

When I get my estimate I sit down and make my plan. I make a budget and decide what I will be putting into my Emergency Fund, my vacation fund, what bills I will be paying and what I will have to spend on things we need around the house. Since I'm a budget Diva anyway :) This is never a lot of money.

Last year I earmarked $500 for a New to Me living room set  - and compared to brand new living room sets I was about $2,000 short - yet between the 4 piece leather set I scored and the delivery guy I used, I spent $340. Not too shabby eh? Anyway....

So where do you go to get started? (If they are still on 2011 this will change soon, but feel free to use it anyway, unless there are drastic Federal Tax law changes, the amount should be close to the same.)

The First one is the Turbo Tax Calculator.
It's the most user friendly in my opinion. Though I have never had a problem with any of these sites slowing down or freezing my laptop and honestly they are all very similar,

The two other calculators that you can use for your estimation can be found at TaxSlayer, and at Tax Brain

If you only have one job, and therefore one income, you can simply go to the website to enter your estimated annual wage and fill in the other information needed like your dependents ages and your household status to get your estimated refund.

If you have more than one income, have a child in college, have made donations in the last year, own stocks or a house then I suggest that you have certain information in front of you before you get started to be able to get the best approximation of your refund.

Last paystub(s) - or annual estimation
Amount of cash and non-cash donations
Child care expenses
College tuition payments
College Loan interest payments
Business income
Rental income
IRA contributions
Medical Expenses
Alimony payments
Mortgage and Real Estate interest payments

Also, there is no mandated sign up before you are able to use any of the sites above.

Just remember that the refund amounts given through the above mentioned websites are not a guarantee of your federal income tax refund amount, they are an estimate. There are always variables that may increase or reduce your actual final refund amount.

Here's to a hefty refund check!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Vacation on Lay-a-way

Photo Credit
I ran across an article on Yahoo Finance about Sears offering vacations, from cruises to Hawaii that can be paid on lay-a-way! Lay-a-way was a huge part of my childhood and young adult hood in New York City. It was how my mom got us Christmas gifts. She would go and pick out a few toys for each of us in October with a small down payment then pay it off little by little and bring them home right before Christmas, well most years.

On the years she was unable to get the gifts out prior to Christmas we would get them for Three Kings day, is that just a Puerto Rican thing?

Anywho, when I had my first child I was young and living paycheck to paycheck and her father had passed away so I had to do it all alone. In September I would "make a lay-a-way" as we said back in the day, lol. I would pick out winter clothes, socks and a coat and pay it off every payday until I could bring it home. Same thing I did in the Spring for the summer. It helped me and a lot of other people clothe their children during time when Plato's Closet didn't exist and the only offerings to be had at the Salvation Army and Good Will were polyester suits from the 70's.

When stores started to eliminate lay-a-way in favor of store credit cards I was pissed. Instead of paying it off slowly and owning it once you were done, now if you qualified and got a store card you were at their mercy. You got to take the stuff home before you paid for it and as we all know that was the beginning of a lot of peoples shopping addiction and snowballing credit card debt.

Enough ranting, here is part of the article and a link to the full story on Yahoo.

Sears launched last week, a full-service travel web site that allows customers to put everything from cruises to the Bahamas to golf trips in Hawaii on layaway.

Through the SearsVacations' layaway plan, customers put down at least 10% for a cruise or a vacation package and pay off the rest in self-determined increments that must be paid in full before the trip.

Click here to read the full article. 

Happy Travels

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vacation Meal Budget and the Broke Single Mom

Photo Credit Retroama

When you are on vacation, eating out can be a large chunk of your budget. If you figure 4 people eating out 3 meals a day for 5-7 days, you can easily spend upwards of $400.

But when you are on a shoestring budget of $500 for your entire trip you may feel as if there is no way to make this work.

Don't fret, it just takes a little research and planning.

What I like to do is deduct all of my fixed expenses from my budget. Those include, transportation, hotel and baggage fees. Then I take the remainder and guesstimate how much I will need for things like souvenirs and outings.

After all of these deductions I can see how much I have to work with for food. Don't panic if your numbers is low. You can do your best to work with it and if it's just not possible you can adjust another area to put more money into the food budget.

Let's use my friend's upcoming 5 night/6 day trip to Williamsburg.

$500 Budget
$192 Hotel
$95 gas

She can easily get a nice souvenir for each person for $10 each.

She has $173 left for food. Her hotel has free breakfast, which is one of the best things to do when you are on a tight budget. So that eliminates having to pay for one meal a day for 6 days. That means she has to figure out how to feed all 4 of them for lunch and dinner for 6 days. If you do a quick breakdown, that comes out to $43.25 per person for the entire vacation.

It doesn't seem like near enough but she will be fine if she does the following.

  • Bring snacks from home (since she is driving)
  • Buy gift certificates on
  • Grab a few extra pieces of fruit from breakfast
  • Use the power of Walmart
If she brings snacks from home not only for her ride but also for the week then she doesn't have to buy them once she arrives.

You can easily get low cost gift certificates on, just be sure to read the fine print and do not purchase unless you have a coupon code. I just popped over and today you can get a $25 gift certificate for only $6, which is $4 less than the usual $10 they charge. Always keep an eye out since they've been known to discount up to 90% meaning you get a $25 GC for only $1.

I always grab a couple of apples or an extra yogurt from breakfast, no need to only eat fatty foods when you're away, even if they are super yummy.

When you are on a super tight budget you can grab a rotisserie chicken with a couple of sides at Walmart, usually for half the price of KFC, about $12. You should also buy some cold cuts and bread (if your room has a fridge) or cans of soup and chef boyaredee. These are inexpensive and quick lunches and usually cost $1 a can.

With breakfast taken care of if she spends $40  on cold cuts, bread and soups/pastas, drinks and the like she will have lunches covered as well leaving her with $133 for dinners. If they eat 3 walmart dinners for a total of $36, she will have $97 left and with a discounted coupon she can take them all to a nice sit down dinner on their last  night on vacation and even with tip she will only be spending another $40 or so (if she chooses the right eatery). And she will have $57 left over in her food budget.

She can use that money to either eat out for lunch a couple of times or to take the kids to a movie or to play mini golf.

Now that you see how easily you can get all of your meals covered, you see that what seemed like a sad and ridiculous amount of money is actually more than enough and you don't have to do one fast food join if you don't want.

Not too shabby.

Happy Travels.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Day and the Broke Single Mom

-Just saw that this was never published and was simply in draft mode :) I decided it's my blog so I did try to back date it but wanted to publish whether the back dating takes or not :)-

With Mother's Day upon us I wanted to write a post about inexpensive things to get and give for Mother's Day.

When you are a single mom on a tight budget it can stress you out thinking of your own mother's gift as well as sisters, cousins or best friends.

On the other side of that coin, you may not be able to give each of your kids $20 to go get you a gift. Or is my mom the only one that did that? Nah, she can't possibly be. I mean I did when I was flush with Cash.

Anywho, Mother's Day isn't, or shouldn't be about material gifts. It is about loving and honoring the mothers in our lives that mean so much to us.

If your kids want to gift you something besides what they've made in school you can give them a low cost suggestion list. This way they get to pick and choose and it will be a surprise since you won't know which to expect.

You can find plenty of things online but here are a few:

Coupons, This Coupon entitles you to a: Clean kitchen, foot rub, clean car etc.

Breakfast in bed: Self explanatory

Photo Puzzle: They'll need a large photo, glue and scissors

Movie Night: They can pull out your favorite movie, make some popcorn and curl up on the couch with you. ( I think this is my favorite sicne my teenagers haven;t watched a movie on thecouch with me for a couple of years)

As for gifts that you can give to the other moms in your life without breaking the bank or whipping out that credit card, how about?

 Baked Goods

The tried and true will work here, a plate of chocolate chip cookies or a cake. But you can try something a little different like a Cupcake Bouquet.

So be creative and Happy Momma's Day.

Mother's Day/Free Gift and the Broke Single Mom

Photo Credit Babble

As my Mother's Day present to you, I will gift one of my eBooks (your choice) if you email me at brokesinglemombooks (@) through midnight tomorrow May 13th,2012. Just put Mother's Day in the subject line.

Hello every one! I just wanted to wish you all a fabulous and wondrous Mother's Day tomorrow.

May your children shower you with love and attention and may your man do the same, with diamonds!

And if you don't have a man, then I wish for you to meet Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome :)

(But it is 2012 so make sure to vet him online before that first date)

Image from