Expert Interview with Amee Cantagallo on Money-Saving Tips for Mint

If you ask Amee Cantagallo, founder of Madame Deals, what the biggest killer of any budget is, she won't say expensive lattes or going out for lunch or even credit card interest.

No, she blames her kids.

"I never realized how expensive they are," she told us recently. "I have learned the word 'No.'"

And while her beloved progeny bear the weight of the blame, Amee admits that another way we overspend is by not planning for things that we know we will need like tires, household repairs, college and auto repairs.

We recently checked in with the blogging bargain hunter to get her advice on saving money at home. Here's what she had to say:

Tell us about Madame Deals...when and why did you start your site?

Madame Deals was started in April 2009. It was started because I needed to be held accountable for my out of control grocery store spending. I began to shop with discounts, coupons and using the store cycle, and it made such a huge difference my friends asked me how I saved so much.

Who should be reading Madame Deals?

I would say our reader is intelligent, compassionate, educated and has a sense of humor.

How has living on less helped strengthen your family?

I believe that living on less helps us live life more fully. We do not have to be afraid of an unexpected expense or a sudden job loss.

Why are you so passionate about paying it forward when it comes to tips for saving money or finding deals?

I was a teacher, and I believe in helping others live life to the fullest, and that means being honest and direct about the changes that need to occur to get where they want to go. It is difficult at times to tell someone the truth, but I am sure glad someone told me, "If you keep doing what you are doing, you aren't going to get where you want to be."

What are some of your go-to methods for pinching pennies... the grocery store: I do a freezer cooking co-op to save money and time. I offer several crockpot-to-freezer meals, and my friends offer several meals and then we exchange them. I pick meals with overlapping ingredients so I can buy in bulk. I try to limit my grocery store visit to once a week, and I usually only buy fruits and veggies. I believe in meal planning and having inexpensive but healthy food on hand - air-popped popcorn is a favorite.

...on household items: When we need something for the house, we usually look on Craigslist first. If it is a big purchase, I will look for sales. If you know the sales cycles of stores, you can wait to buy things when they are on sale. We have bought grills at the end of summer to save. You just have to look for the time when the item really isn't as useful and buy it then.

...on clothing: I love to shop, and finding deals on clothing is something I am known for in my personal circle of friends. I share my dress collection. I swear - my friends see something I am wearing, they email me, and I ship it to them, and they dry clean it and ship it back when they are done. I have always loved dressing people, and this way my husband can't keep a record of the number of dresses I have. I do buy them for at least 10 percent of their retail cost. I find them on eBay, thrift stores, outlets, T.J. Maxx, and in my friends' closets when we just trade for "keeps."

What have been some of the most surprising or unique ways you've found to save money in your home over the years?

I would have to say making my own laundry soap, which saves me $50 a month. If you know my husband, who blogs, he has a laundry problem, and we were going through $10 bottles non stop. I can make a five-gallon bucket for $3 and it lasts over a month.

I would also say that making slow-cooker meals saves us money because we do not have the need to go out. We can make dinner and it is there when we are done working.

What are some of your favorite sites/tools/resources for saving money?

The best one is a calculator. If you train yourself to see what that item costs over time using your credit card's interest rate, you may not buy it. If the item is $100 and the interest is 5 percent, it is already costing you $105 to own it right then.

I also pay off my credit cards every Wednesday night. I like earning the rewards, and I use them for trips and gift cards, but I do not want to pay interest on the money I am "borrowing," so I pay them off to avoid any interest.

I also use sites like Ebates to earn money back on my purchases and RetailMeNot to see if there is a coupon. If you want to save money, you just need to Google what you want to buy and see if there is a deal.

There are a lot of stores that match prices. You need to know the store policies where you shop and put your smartphone to work.

When I had credit card debt, I wrote the amount I owed on each card. It really kept my spending in line. I would pay off the card each time I got paid, which helped my debt diminish quickly.

What's one of your biggest financial goals currently, and how are you working toward it?

We are working on paying off our primary residence, which we bought 10 years ago, because the amount of money you pay towards the principle is so disproportionate to the interest. We are putting away every dime we have left at the end of each month. We are paying extra payments toward the principle, and I am not buying as many pairs of shoes. That helps, right?

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