Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rebate Tracker

Today I signed up for Rebate Tracker. No idea why I didn't do it years ago.

They have most rebates already in their system so you don't have to keep track of all of the data before you send off your rebate. You enter the details about when and how you mailed it and voila, everything is stored for you. I made sure to enter the phone number for the offer since that was the only detail missing. I'm sure an Excel sheet would do the same job, but I kinda like gadgets - especially the free ones.

Fun at CVS

Two transactions this week added up to great CVS savings.

Cost before ECBs and coupons: $22.66
Cost after ECBs and coupons: 99 cents!

  • The Buddies were $1.39 each - I had 2 coupons worth $5 off, leaving a cost of 1.95
  • The Ambi soap was $2.19 minus a CVS coupon for $2 off any Ambi skincare item
  • The Mentos were $1.69 each, on sale BOGO. I had eight coupons for $1 off, which actually helped negate the extra cost of the Buddies and the Ambi.

Cost before ECBs and coupons: $47.83
Cost after ECBs and coupons: EARNED $3.16 (after sales tax, I earned $2.30)

  • The Gillette shampoo was $4.99 and generating 3 ECBs. I used 3 coupons for $2 off, making them FREE
  • The OneTouch meter was $19.99 and I had a coupon for $20 off (needed this for a family member)
  • The Almay soaps were $.99 each, and part of a "Buy $10 of Almay, get 5 ECBs deal." I bought 11 of them and had seven coupons for $1 off. So I spent about $4 and earned $5 ECBs.
  • The Glade warmers were each $.99 and generating $2 ECBs. I earned $2 just by buying them!
I'll have a post up tomorrow on this week's Simple CVS deals. Check back soon!

Fun at Safway

Hit Safeway last night to take advantage of some good deals. Everything worked out just fine; had a little fun with the cashier to boot. I like to put my club card and coupons in at the end, so I get to watch the price drop. The total before coupons and cards was $195.17. I handed him my card and he speculated that the total would drop to about $180. Pshaw. I told him "You're underestimating me."

After club card and coupons, the total dropped from $195.17 to $75.08. Plus I get to submit for about $10 worth of rebate. Seriously fun.

Here are the deals I took advantage of:
  • Four 12-packs of Pepsi for $7.99 (did this twice). I paired it with some $1/2 peelie coupons that I found right there on the packages! Saved 75% on these.
  • Red Baron frozen pizzas were BOGO at $6.69. I paired four of them with two $1/2 coupons from the circulars. Saved 57% on these.
  • Lucerne cheese was on sale from $3.49 to $1.49 (I had to do separate transactions - the limit was 2). The 6 sharp cheddars will go in the freezer and get pulled out one by one for my favorite Sweet Potato Burritos. They're the perfect size! Saved 57% on these.
  • Orville Redenbacher popcorn 3-packs were on sale BOGO at $3.49. I paired them with 3 $1/2 coupons from the circulars. Saved 64% on these.
  • Campbell's Chunky soup was on sale from $2.79 to $.99 - limit 10. Paired these with five $.50/2 coupons from the circulars (which doubled). Saved 82% on these!
  • The avocados were on sale from $1.50 to $.77 each and they were beautiful. I bought 6 to use for sushi rolls and summer rolls this week. Yum. Saved 48% on these.
  • I bought the three Tostitos dips to use for the Pepsi Frito-Lay rebate. It's not a money rebate, but they'll send $15 in coupons ($10 of which is for Pepsi which you can tell I drink a lot of). So the three dips will end up being totally free.
  • The strawberries were on sale from $3.99 to $1.88. Bought two pounds and chopped them up for snacks this week. The kids love me today! The grape tomatoes were for snacks as well.
Next up, a post about CVS savings last week. Wahoo!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

36K Challenge - January Wrap-up

As I reported a few days ago, we did make our monthly $3,000 savings goal for January. It's a tightrope walk figuring out how much information to share and how much to keep back, so forgive me as I feel my way through this.

Here's a basic breakdown of how we made our goal:

eBay sales from fixed inventory: netted around $500
eBay sales from consignment selling: netted around $300
eBay sales from selling a camera we decided we could do without: netted around $440
eBay sales from other items I finally got around to selling: netted around $130
Total eBay income: $1,370

Extra income from photography jobs: netted around $1,305

Additionally, Stewart got a bonus at work which brought us above our $3,000 savings goal for this month. As soon as I make our bank deposits, I'll send that check off towards our equity line debt and watch the balance fall even farther.

February is going to be hard. We don't have any more big-ticket items to sell on eBay, Stewart only has a few extra jobs lined up so far, and no surprise Holiday bonuses are likely to be headed our way. My plan is to work hard at selling those small items I have lying around that can be gotten rid of, to chase one account that never paid Stewart for a big job several months ago, and to work hard to keeping our spending in check. I don't know if we'll make our goal, but I'm darn sure going to do my best to make it happen. Either way, we're heading in the right direction.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Simple CVS - week of January 26

Most women I know just don't want to deal with coupons, but that's no reason to miss out on some of the great deals out there! I'll focus on the Simple deals you can do at CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid using only the weekly specials and internet coupons that anyone can print out. If it's a complicated week, I'll lay out a Simple Walkthrough scenario to help the first-timers get a sense of how to get the best deals.

As always, I recommend you check Money Saving Mom if you want the full-list of everything you can get at CVS each week.


There are no fantastic deals at CVS this week, but there are a few decent deals worth mentioning.

Buy $20 in Pepsi products, get $10 ECBs. The products are all on a good sale ($1.25 for a 2-liter and $3 for a 12-pack) to start out with. Getting them half off on top of the sales price is icing on the cake. If you buy Pepsi anyway (and goodness knows I do) then this is a great deal.

Goldfish crackers are BOGO at $2.19, making them $1.10 each (no limit)

Buy 1 Head and Shoulders, Gillette, Pantene Restoratives or Expressions Shampoo, Conditioner, Mask, or Balm at $4.99, Earn $3 ECBs (Limit 5)

Buy $20 in Huggies products (wipes 42-80 ct ($2.50 each), baby wash 15 oz ($2.50 each), or jumbo packs of diapers or pull-ups ($10 each)), get $5 ECBs. Not a fantastic deal, but 25% off of a sales price isn't bad if you're already going to buy them!

Buy 1 Gillette Fusion Gamer, Venus Breeze Spa or Embrace Sister Razor 1 ct. (available in stores January 30th) at $7.99, get $4 ECBs (50% off!)


Here are the Simple Monthly deals while you're there:

Soyjoy 6-packs are free - pay $6, get $6 ECBs. Limit is 5. This is a great donation item if you don't think your family would eat them.

Children’s Throat Cooler Ice Pops 6ct is an easy Moneymaker - pay $4.99, get $4.99 ECBs (limit 5) To make it a Moneymaker, buy 2 at $4.99, use this printable coupon for BOGO and you'll pay $4.99 and actually get $9.98 in ECBs! Do it twice and you've MADE 10 bucks on the deal!

NasoGel Drip Free gel spray 1.52 oz is free - pay $7.99, get $7.99 ECBs (limit 2) - pair it up with this printable coupon for $2 off and you'll have another money-maker.

I did jot down a few pointers for beginners which clarifies some questions about ECBs. Give it a gander before heading out for the first time, and please let me know if you have any questions!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Simple CVS - week of January 18

I've decided to launch a series called Simple CVS. So many of my friends are so busy, nearly-overloaded women. They'd take advantage of the free, or nearly free, items at CVS (and Walgreens and Rite Aid) but they're not going to be making multiple trips, doing multiple transactions, or walking in with multiple coupons.

This series is going to focus on trips to CVS that anybody can do, and do quickly. I may list a few items that need coupons, but only if they're internet printable ones that anybody can quickly access. I'll talk about what you can get weekly and monthly, and maybe put up a few scenarios to walk a newbie through a sample transaction.

As always, I recommend you check Money Saving Mom if you want the full-list of everything you can get at CVS each week.

This week is almost over, but here's what looks great:

  • Buy 3 Hallmark cards, get $3 ECBs (limit 5). There are plenty of 89 cent coupons along the bottom row; buy 3 for $2.67 and get $3 ECBs! You can do this 5 times for a total of 15 cards.

  • Buy $20 in Pepsi products, get $10 ECBs. The products are all on a good sale ($1.25 for a 2-liter and $3 for a 12-pack) to start out with. Getting them half off on top of the sales price is icing on the cake. If you buy Pepsi anyway (and goodness knows I do) then this is a great deal.

Here are the Simple monthly deals while you're there:

  • Soyjoy 6-packs are free - pay $6, get $6 ECBs. Limit is 5. This is a great donation item if you don't think your family would eat them.

  • Children’s Throat Cooler Ice Pops 6ct is an easy Moneymaker - pay $4.99, get $4.99 ECBs (limit 5) To make it a Moneymaker, buy 2 at $4.99, use this printable coupon for BOGO and you'll pay $4.99 and actually get $9.98 in ECBs! Do it twice and you've MADE 10 bucks on the deal!

  • NasoGel Drip Free gel spray 1.52 oz is free - pay $7.99, get $7.99 ECBs (limit 2) - pair it up with this printable coupon for $2 off and you'll have another money-maker.

I did jot down a few pointers for beginners which clarifies some questions about ECBs. Give it a gander before heading out for the first time, and please let me know if you have any questions!

That's your "Simple CVS" for this week. I will make sure to get next week's up earlier in the week so you'll have longer to take advantage of it.

Now get out there and get your freebies!

A nice (frugal) day!

A very hectic morning yesterday ended successfully; Nate is officially signed up as a Little Explorer camper for this summer, and his best friend Sophia will be going to the same rec center. Typical of anything related to the DC government, it was an enormous hassle filled with wrong turns. But, all ended well and we moved onto our noon play-date with a few of Nate's friends and their Moms.

Jack took an early nap and our playdate ended at 2 so I had an unanticipated opportunity to hit the mall. I had a few return to do and I needed a birthday present for little Ben.

I had such a nice time there with the boys. I let Jack out of the stroller and he toddled along behind us. I remembered to bring my stash of "local coupons" and was able to use the coupon for a free pretzel from the pretzel place (from the Entertainment Book) to get them a nice treat. We sat on a bench in an out-of-the-way area and the boys munched and ran around. Nate has a Mommy-sense for Jack's safety; if Jack started to walk too far away from us, Nate would run over, take his hand, turn him around, and guide him right back towards me.

Nate had originally been turning Jack around by bumping him with his body; one of the times he did that Jack fell down and cried for a while. I immediately told Nate "it was an accident, don't worry" and comforted Jack. Nate thought for a few minutes and said "I won't bump him hard again." He is already such a great helper, a good brother, and an empathetic kid. I could not be more proud of him.

It was a great day together, and the cherry on top was knowing that it cost us almost nothing. Heck, I made $175 with the returns I made! Go us.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My great big enormous Burpee order

This is the year of the expanding garden, and I'm trying a bunch of new items that I've never grown. Last year I added in cucumbers and carrots, but other than that it was the standard tomatoes, red peppers, hot peppers (for friend Dave), and herbs.

This year I'm adding in lettuce (looseleaf), Romaine, spinach, broccoli, sugar snap peas, bush beans, pole beans, and eggplant. I may have overshot a bit but I'm choosing to be optomistic and hoping I'm graced with an extra-green thumb this summer.

Here's the plan:

Romaine lettuce: Little Caesar
"Perfect for small gardens and easy to grow."

Lettuce, looseleaf: Heatwave
"Thrives in the heat, and remains productive and tasty longer than all others."

Spinach: Baby's Leaf Hybrid
"The flat green leaves are sweet tender and very easy to clean."

Carrots: Little Finger
"Tiny gourmet great for salads."

Broccoli: Green Goliath
"Large headed, tight budded, blue-green variety."

Bush beans: Tenderpick

"Great flavor, similar to Tenderpod, with improved germination."

Pole beans: Purple King
"Beans that yield steadily all summer until frost." <-- That's a catchy one, huh?

Cherry Tomatoes: Sun Gold Hybrid
"Rapidly becoming the most popular cherry tomato of all time."

Tomatoes: Big Beef Hybrid
"Extra large, 10-12 oz., red fruits are firm, juicy and highly flavored."

Sugar snap peas: Super Sugar Snap V.P.
"This incredible pea is even better than the famous Sugar Snap."

Cucumber: Slicing, Straight Eight
"A cucumber superstar, this classic has excellent flavor and is widely adapted."

Eggplant: Burpee Hybrid
"Continuously produces many oval, medium-sized, glossy, purple fruits."

Sweet pepper: California Wonder
"HEIRLOOM. The Standard Bell Pepper"

Hot pepper: Hot Lemon (Heirloom)
"From Ecuador, as hot as any Cayenne, but with a truly unique flavor."

Basil: Sweet
"Classic herb, used in tomato sauce, pesto and salads."

"Fragrant leaves flavor meats, poultry and potatoes."



Friday, January 16, 2009

January goal - reached!

I'm thrilled to announce that, barring some major expense coming up this month, we've already met our $3,000 savings goal for January. My husband got a surprise review a few days ago and a small bonus tacked onto it. Given the economy and the turbulent times, we're ecstatic.

I still haven't figured out how much is reasonable and safe and still open to disclose on this blog, so I'm not going to talk numbers right now. But I'll do a month-end wrap-up and talk turkey then.

In the meantime, props to my hard-working husband!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cheap produce treats this week!

I'm not going to do a full grocery store analysis, since there are so many great women out there doing it. Just want to point out a few great finds this week:

  • Safeway has the small containers of blueberries on sale 10 for 10! I seriously might buy 10 at that price. We love them on cereal, for snacks, for smoothies...
  • Safeway also has grape tomatoes on sale BOGO. Their prices are inflated in the first place, so I'll wait to see them before I decide whether or not to buy. We love them for snacking, so I hope to find that the sale price is fairly reasonable.
  • While you're already at Safeway, the Goldfish are on the 10 for 10 sale, and Cheerios are 99 cents with the super-coupon from the weekly insert. There's also a coupon on the back for a free Tall Tea at Starbucks - I wish I liked tea!
  • Giant has red seedless grapes on sale for 99 cents a pound! They're not organic, and I hate that, but it's an amazing price and I'll be buying plenty. Jack is like a vacuum cleaner when grapes are around.
That concludes your weekly produce wrap-up. Tune in next week, same time, same place.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The power of coupon codes!

The irony of trying to save money this year by growing plants from seed, instead of buying "starts" at the nursery, is that I have to spend money to buy gear to grow those seedlings.

A few days ago, I sat down at the computer to order a few things from I picked out a few items that I thought could last for several years - two self-watering containers in which to grow seedlings and some seed-starting mix (in place of soil). Each of the containers was $19.95 and the seed-starting mix was $6.95. The shipping and handling was going to be $10.50, for a total charge of $57.35.

It was expensive, but necessary, and I thought it would save me quite a bit in the long run (seedling "starts" are around $4 each at the nursery, and this year I'll be using the new gear to grow about 60 starts).

Before I checked out, I put " coupon code" into Google and found a promising code that said it had given 15% off to previous users. I figured it was worth a shot and entered it into my order under "catalog code." It did not, as promised, give 15% off; for some shocking reason, it took off quite a bit more.

Suddenly, each of the planters that was previously priced at $19.95 showed up as costing $9.95, a savings of $20. The germinating mix went from $6.95 to $5.50, a savings of $1.45. Processing and delivery went from $10.50 to $9.95, a savings of $.55. And a mysterious "discount" of $3.81 popped up at the bottom, for a total bill of $30.84 - a total savings of $26.51 (46% off!)

I spent 10 minutes, at most, finding and using the coupon code. I used that code on items that I would certainly have purchased anyway, so the $26.51 represents true savings. It amounts to earning about $160/hour, which I think would be a pretty nice salary. Not bad for a few minute's work!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Getting started on the garden!

I've been working on my garden plans for a few weeks, figuring out what to plant this year. I'm trying to add something new each year as I learn more and more about container gardening.

I'm trying to expand this year, and thinking about mounting window-boxes along the fence all the way around our tiny yard. We have great sunlight but no more room on the brick-patio, so I decided that if I can't grow OUT I'm going to try growing UP! I'm keeping an eye on Freecycle for people giving away window boxes and mounting equipment, and a few weeks ago I saw a post of someone giving away compost.

Trying to keep costs down this year, I know that if I want to expand I need to find a way to stretch the organic potting soil that I purchased last year. At almost $20/bag, it's very pricey and each container uses quite a bit of it. I knew that mixing in some compost would help improve the soil that was used last year, and stretch it at the same time.

When I went to pick up the compost, it really wasn't compost at all - it was a big pile of leaves. Certainly compost in the making, but not compost yet. I scooped out as much as I could from the base of the pile where it was wetter and darker, and then took about 6 trash bags of the dry leaves on the top.

I've never tried composting before because I thought that you needed to use food scraps to make it work, and putting food in your backyard in DC is a great way to attract DC's mascot: the RAT. But I did some research, and you can do a decent compost with just yard waste so I decided to give it a shot this year!

Step 1 - Set up the compost bin (cost: free thanks to a City of Rockville program my Mom took advantage of):

Step 2 - Fill with a layer of dry leaves and yard debris (cost: free from Freecycle):

Step 3 - Sprinkle a layer of soil to provide some stuff that the internet says I should provide to make the compost do whatever it is that compost does (cost: free; extra bag from last year):

Step 4 - Add some of the wet leaves that are slightly more compost-ey:

Step 5 - Add a shredded-up newspaper to provide some stuff that the internet says I should provide to make the compost do whatever it is that compost does:

Voila! Compost bin.

If I can find more leaves I'll fill it to the top, and then start on the second one I've got ready to go. With proper care and turning, I should hopefully have some beautiful compost come April!

Tonight I'm curling up with the Burpee catalog and picking out all of my seeds. To keep costs low I'll only be growing one or two types of each vegetable so I have to pick carefully. It's so nice to think about summer while it's so cold outside!

Sushi love

Yesterday my sister called to see if we wanted to go for lunch at our favorite all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, and I paused for a second thinking about this frugal challenge. I ran the math in my head, looked at the boys, and told her "Absolutely! Let's go!"

(photo from a trip last year)

Even without the math, I probably still would have gone. Eating out is an important ritual for my family, and it's our only real luxury. We just don't buy fancy clothes, new books, music, or gadgets; the only thing we could really cut back on is eating out. Everything else we spend money on is pretty necessary; health insurance, bills, and groceries.

(Jack taking full advantage of all-you-can-eat)

With the math, it was even more appealing. Stewart could take the opportunity to work out and do a few things at home that he wanted to do, and Deborah and I would take the boys alone. With tax and a nice tip, my share of the bill would be $20, and they don't mind if the boys eat as much as they want. For three of us, that's a great deal and would fill us up for most of the day.

(Nate and Deborah on our last sushi trip)

We went, we ate, we had a great time.

Being frugal isn't the only goal in our lives. Somtimes we'll spend money that others would choose to save; for us, these are experiences we don't want to miss out on together. Walking that balance beam is hard, but necessary, and so far I think we're doing a pretty good job.

I'm curious to hear about other people's "non-frugal" choices. What are your luxuries? How do you walk that line between keeping the larger goal of a happy, healthy family in mind, while still working to be smart with your money?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cooking school

A few years ago I was lucky enough to take a weekend cooking course at L'Academie de Cuisine (the Recreational School, of course!). The information I learned was so helpful that I thought I'd pass it along!

The course was a Primary Skills Weekend; here's the description:

"Join Susan Watterson for an overview of a wide variety of cooking skills, techniques, and products. This intensive, hands-on weekend class will cover proper techniques for handling and preparing stocks, sauces, meats, poultry, fish and shellfish. Knife skills, various cooking techniques, and classic & contemporary food preparations will be addressed."

I can't fully express how wonderful this course turned out to be. The instructor was top-notch, funny, and incredibly helpful. At least 10 times a day, I learned something that was worth the cost of the course by itself. I'll try to make a list of those things here, so as to share the "wealth" of the course (I'm sure some of this is already known to most of you, but it was news to me!):

1) When sauteeing, use a high heat, no olive oil (the smoke point is too low for the necessary high heat), and DON'T MESS WITH THE FOOD. Put it in the pan, and let it be. When you can move it without leaving any meat behind, it has formed a nice seal and you can turn it over.

2) Tongs are really great for sauteeing, and other kitchen stuff.

3) Marinades aren't one-size-fits-all: for a tender meat, use a low acid marinade. For a tough meat, use a high-acid marinade. Sounds obvious, but it never occured to me before!

4) Chicken fat doesn't give chicken stock flavor - chicken fat gives it fat. Collagen from the bones gives it flavor.

5) You can't carmelize food with a non-stick pan.

6) Mushrooms are sponges. Don't wash them to clean them - they'll absorb the water. Just brush them with a cloth (unless they're really filthy).

7) When cooking meat to temperature (aiming for a specifc done-ness), the meat has to rest for at least 1/3 of the cooking time. So if you cook a steak for 12 minutes to get it to 145 degrees (medium), let it rest at least 4 minutes before cutting into it.

8) Don't forget that foods keep cooking even after you take them off of the heat. So if you want the steak to end up at 145 degrees, take it off the heat a little before it reaches 145.

9) Trichinosis dies at 137 degrees. Stop overcooking pork.

10) Don't try to tenderize a tough cut by pounding it. Use a good marinade, cut across the grain, and make sure not to overcook.

Not bad, eh?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A super-easy way to earn a ton of money!

Ready? Follow along:

1) Get engaged

2) Buy a nice ring when you're both single with great incomes

3) Have a random person ask if you'd remember to insure your ring

4) Insure your ring (Cost: something like $100/year)

5) Get married

6) Have children

Now for the important step:

7) lose your ring. Really lose it.

8) Turn the house upside down

9) Twice

10) Faint

11) Have bad dreams

12) Remember about the insurance policy

13) Find the rare opportunity when both children are sleeping at the same time

14) Call the insurance company and explain your stupidity.

15) Fifteen seconds later, learn that a check for an absolutely enormous amount of money is on its way to you. I can't believe how amazing my company was and how great they were to me. I was totally honest about losing the ring and evidently "Stupidity" is covered on our policy. They reimbursed even more than what we'd paid for the ring since they reimburse for what it would cost today.

The thing is, the amount of money we spent for a ring when we were childless and had two incomes is way more than I could ever justify spending now. So we're going to easily make our January savings goal. February's, too.

My plan is to put the whole check ($8,700.00) towards our equity line debt. I'm giving myself $3,700 to use for a ring whenever I feel like shopping for one. I plan to look at some of the great estate sales to find a "pre-owned" set - thusly avoiding the "blood diamond" issue and also increasing my buying power.

But for now I'm just sinking it all towards our debt and plowing forward as if it hadn't happened. We'll still aim to make January and February the old fashioned, non-stupid way. And when people think I'm an unwed mother, well then I'll just fit in with my neighborhood all the better. :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cheap diapers and other adventures!

I rarely hit the Shoppers Food Warehouse, but this week's deal was too good to pass up:

Spend $30 on a list of products, get $15 off your next order. Pampers diapers and Bounty paper towels were both on the list so I whipped out the coupons and hauled Jack over this morning.

The Bounty was $10.99 per pack, and I had coupons for $1 off. I paired those with one pack of diapers at $10.99 and out came a coupon for $15 off my next order. Voila!

I did the rest of the transactions with 3 packs of diapers each, and used as many Pampers coupons I had on-hand. Since I'm not often there, I used up the final $15 coupon to buy Cheerios, a few cheap bagged salads, and some cans of beans (always cheap, always needed around here).

But! This was fun: after 4 of my transactions, I got a coupon that said "Save $5 on any baby care purchase." Sweet, right? I tried using them on the diaper purchases but it didn't work. I checked with a manager and he said it was for things like wipes and creams. Okay, tried it on some wipes and again it didn't work. A manager worked for about 15 minutes and managed to push two of the coupons through and I got 4 packs of Huggies wipes (I love Huggies wipes and they're a rare treat around here) for just $2.52!

I got a little frustrated at the hassles and took my complaint to another manager. Told him it was fairly unclear what the coupons could actually be used for, and that the floor staff was trying their best but having a lot of trouble with the coupons. He took my last two $5 coupons and handed me $10 in cash. Now that was truly sweet.

Sales price for diapers, wipes, and paper towels (including sales tax): $219
Final cost for diapers, wipes, and paper towels: $96

Savings of 56% on my favorite diapers, wipes, and paper towels! Good day.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Harris Teeter triples

I promised to update with a post about what I bought during Harris Teeter triples days. I ended up just going the first day; I'm pretty stocked up on zip-lock bags and such from their last triples fest.

  • 9 big cans of organic diced and crushed tomatoes - retail: $2.50, after $.75 coupon: $.25 each!
  • 3 jars Prego pasta sauce - retail: $6, after $.75/3 coupon: $3.75 ($1.25 each)
  • 4 2-packs of kids toothbrushes - retail: $2.99, after $.75 coupon: $2.96 ($.74 each)
  • ziploc bags - retail: $2.00, after $.55 coupon: $.35
  • Arnold bread - retail: $1.99, after $.75 coupon: free!
  • Pounce cat treats - retail: $1.50, after $.75 coupon: free!
Total for everything shown: $9.31!

Challenge notes

So far so good on our big 36K challenge. Stewart reports at least three times he would have bought himself a little something and passed, and we're both feeling proud of that. We're not going to be able to keep a super-strict view on how each month went; with the way our extra income works, he might work an extra job this month and not get the check for another 6 weeks. So we'll have to play it a little loose and just go by what we actually have in-hand each month.

But we know that keeping an eye on our spending, and working to get extra income, will pay off. This week I've already listed four big eBay items that I've been putting off, and have spread the word that I'm willing to babysit a bit for friend's kids. Stewart's working on some big photography jobs, and doing his part by keeping spending in-check and supporting me when I go out "hunting" at CVS or the grocery store.

How are you guys doing on your New Year's Resolutions?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Cheap Pampers at Shoppers Food Warehouse

I rarely make the trek out to Shoppers Food Warehouse in Arlington, but this deal's calling my name:

Spend $30 (on a list of products) and get $15 towards your next order. That's half price, and with the $1 coupons from previous inserts, that's pretty darn cheap diapers. The other items on the list that sounded promising were Progresso Soup and Bounty paper towels. You can check the insert here target=blank for all the details.

I planned to run out tonight but have run out of steam. I'll haul Jack out tomorrow while Nate's in preschool, and return some items to Old Navy while I'm there (that counts as income, right?)

I'll update with photos after the kiddos are in bed tomorrow. Tonight I'm going to sit on the couch, watch some West Wing reruns, and do a little planning on the garden for this summer. I love that Burpee catalog!

HUGE fun with CVS this week

This is a great week for beginners to get started at CVS. There are quite a few true freebies (even without coupons).

It all came together for me this week: the coupon for $3 off a $15 purchase, the great coupons on January's freebies, and a Sunday paper with 5 sets of inserts this week!

There are a few situations at CVS when you can "earn" ECBs - usually when you have a coupon to use with a true freebie (ie: buy something for 3 bucks and get 3 ECBs back) - if you have a $1 off coupon, you'll pay just $2 and still get 3 ECBs. Usually when I have an opportunity to earn more ECBs than I've spent, I resist the temptation to buy extra (free) items. I'd rather just walk out with more ECBs than I had when I came in, and save them for trips like the one we did on Sunday where Stewart was sent to buy 2 big tubes of Balmex (stat!) for our delicate little flower whose bottom was on fire. Since I buy organic milk and (most) food, there's not too much I can stock up on even when I get the chance.

But! This trip was a winner:

I did 6 transactions to maximize the $3/15 coupon, and used these to save on January's freebies:

  • $4.99 ECB wyb Children’s Throat Cooler Ice Pops 6ct (Limit 2) - this is actually a limit of 5. Buy 2 at $4.99, use this printable coupon for BOGO and you'll pay $4.99 and actually get $9.98 in ECBs! Do it twice and you've MADE 10 bucks on the deal. Pair it up with the $3/15 and you've made at least $13.
  • The Garnier Fructis is on sale for $2.99 and is generating $2 ECBs. Pair it with a coupon for $1 off from the 11/9 RP and it's free! (limit 1)
  • The Soyjoy bars (6-pack) is a weekly, unadvertised, freebie - buy one pack for 6 bucks, get 6 ECBs. Limit is 5! I think they're god-awful, but I keep trying them on Nate and the shelter gets the excess.
I'm not going to lay out scenarios, since you can never be sure which items your CVS will have in stock. If it was me, I'd be doing separate transactions that get you just above $15 so you can use the $3/15 coupon.

One idea: One transaction with 2 Throat Coolers and one NasoGel. Your total will be around $18 before coupons. Give them the $3/15, then the BOGO, and then the $2 off the Nasogel. Your net total will be around $8 and you'll get $18 in ECBs! Do it twice and earn $20 just walking in the door.

Like I said, I'm usually just happy to walk out the door with my items and with more ECBs in my hand, but this time I let myself buy a few extra newspapers. Actually, I bought 19 extra newspapers, and still came out 11 bucks ahead.

Here's what I ended up using (on two accounts):

After turning around and buying the 19 (!) newspapers, I still ended up $11 ECBs ahead.

If you're just getting started with CVS, you can find an excellent tutorial here: Money Saving Mom.

Get out there and get your free stuff!

A couponers happy news

I live three walking blocks from a grocery store and I'm fairly happy with it. It's a simple store with plain-old aisles (instead of these islands of produce all over the place that seem so trendy at Whole Foods and our new Safeway). I can walk up and down and see what I need to bring home. Did I mention it's three blocks away? With a parking lot for the days I need to bring home heavy stuff?

And they know us there, the women stocking the shelves and working the pharmacy call out to Jack when we stroll by. Everyone stops to say hello to him and coo over him and I ask about their grand-babies and it's pretty nice.

So imagine my delight when I picked up their circular for this week and learned that they're now doubling coupons up to $.99 every day! I will stop by this week to test it out and make sure it's really working. Thanks, Giant!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

CVS bought my holiday gifts!

In addition to giving me most of the supplies for my Oreo Truffles, CVS also gave me 10 wonderful holiday gifts to give away:

I donate most of the freebies I get to Bread for the City, but I don't donate makeup or housewares since most clients are homeless. I also keep back some very expensive things, like $10 razors and such. I paid $1 for each red reusable bag from Target - I thought it gave it a holiday feel. Then I took a lot of the goodies I've collected this year and divvied them out.

I gave these out to people I thought might appreciate some "luxury" stuff - our favorite cashiers at the grocery store, two of the women who work at Bread for the City, a few homeless friends we see each day, and the mailman (for his wife). Love spreading the CVS joy!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Harris Teeter January 1 - 7 - Triple Coupons!

It's triple coupon time at Harris Teeter again, and this time it's running for 4 days - the first through the fourth. I went last night to scope out the deals. There aren't a lot of opportunities to combine a good coupon with a good sale, but there are a few things worth mentioning:

Great / free deals:

* Pounce cat treats look to be $1.50 always, so you can use the $.75 coupon (12/7 RP) anytime. Last time I was at HT they didn't give overage, so there's no reason to waste the coupon during triples week. Just use it anytime for it to double.

* Arnold soft breads are on sale for $1.99. Combine with the $.55 coupon (10/12 SS) to get it for $.34! We don't use too much bread, but it's nice to have a few cheap loaves in the freezer to use when the need arises.

* Daisy sour cream (the large 16 oz ones) are on sale for $1.67. Combine with the $.60 coupon (11/16 SS) to get them for free!

* Muir Glen products - my favorite reason to hit the triples sales. I found the large 28 oz cans of organic diced tomatoes on sale for $2.50 (down from $2.69). Combine with the $.75 coupon (12/7 SS) to get each large can for $.25!! I bought nine. :)

* French's French Fried Onions are regularly priced $2.49 for the 2.8 oz size. Use the $.75 coupon (11/9 RP) to get it for $.24!

Good deals:

* Muir Glen soups. Gotta say that I'm not a big fan. They're organic and good for you but I don't like the few flavor choices and I think they're pretty bland. But if you like them, you can get them regularly priced at $2.99 - combined with the $.75 coupon (12/7 SS) to get each can of soup for $.74. That's a very cheap can of organic soup!

* Neither Spray 'n Wash nor Shout were on sale, but if you need them you can use the .75 SNW coupon (9/7 SS) or the $.75 Shout coupon (10/5 SS) to get them for less than a dollar each.

* Wholly Guacamole - got any of those $.50 coupons (9/14 SS) left? The one-packet size is regularly priced at $1.99, making them just $.49 after the coupon triples. I buy as many as I can and throw them in the freezer. Then when company (or a craving) makes a visit, we've got tasty munchies.

* Prego pasta sauce is on sale - 3 jars for $6. Use the $.75 off three coupon (10/5 SS) to get each jar for $1.25.

* Sure deodorant is regularly priced $2.50. Use the $.75 coupon (10/19 SS) to get it for $.25! I prefer to wait for them to be free at CVS, but that's a really great price for deodrant.

What else do you guys see out there?

Frugal report: January 2

Today was great for taking advantage of our city and neighborhood.

First we walked down to the National Building Museum to meet an old friend of mine and her 3 year-old. The boys hit it off wonderfully and really clicked. My friend and I haven't seen each other in 10 years but it was really like no time had passed at all. Jack charmed everyone he came in contact with.

I packed lunches to bring, but I did buy some special groceries for the event so it wasn't totally cost-free.

Transportation costs: none (walked both ways)
Food costs: $8 (for 3 toddlers and 2 adults)
Entertainment costs: none (museum is free)

In other news...

My good friend on the street works part-time as a yoga instructor and occasionally needs babysitters in the afternoons and evenings for her daughter Sophia, who happens to be Nate's best friend. In in the spirit of our challenge, I mentioned that my doors are officially open for babysitting jobs.

She called today and I babysat Sophia for just over an hour this afternoon. She and Nate played and had a great time, and I added $15 to our income.

So much for city life being so expensive, huh?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Challenge notes

For January 1st-

We're willing to: work harder and longer to earn extra money

We're not willing to: compromise mental or physical health chasing a dollar. If we need to cut back our hours, we will.

Today's frugality included two trips to pick up items I got for free on Freecycle - the first was for some soft lunchbags for Nate and Stewart, and the second was for some compost for the garden. It wasn't quite compost, but it was well on it's way; I'll do some more work on it and by this spring it should be ready to help enhance my container garden.

One of my frugal plans is to expand the garden this year to provide early and late season veggies, and my goal is to do it by having to purchase as little as possible. I'll try to grow my own seedling this year instead of buying them, and condition the soil I've already purchased with free compost. I'm also hoping to use Freecyle and yard sales to find a bunch of plastic window boxes; I have a scheme in mind for expanding the footprint of the garden this year! More to come on that.

Today I also took a trip to Harris Teeter to take advantage of Day 1 of their Triple Coupon days, and to pick up gallons of organic milk for Jack. I used to spend $4.39 for a half gallon of organic milk at Giant; I finally found Harris Teeters gallons for $5.60! That's a savings of $3.18 a gallon. I buy 6 at a time, take them home, pour a few cups out of each gallon (so they don't expand and crack), and throw them in our basement freezer. They defrost perfectly and save us a fortune.

So that's my frugal work for today: Freecycle and Harris Teeter gallons of organic milk. How was your day?

Our big 2009 challenge

In 2005, we spent a small fortune to repair some structural problems in our house and finish our basement, installing a full bathroom while we were at it. That same year, we ended up with no maternity coverage while I was pregnant with Nate and had to spend another small fortune to get COBRA coverage.

We put all of that money on our home equity line, and we're doing fine slowly paying it down. We've gone from about 70K in debt to about 58K. It's our only debt, but we'd sure like to see it gone.

Our big challenge for 2009 is to try to increase the rate we're paying it down dramatically to a tune of $3,000 per month. This will mean reducing what we spend (duh) and chasing extra income.

Right now, Stewart works full-time in IT, and works as a professional photographer at night. He'll start marketing his photography more intensely, and also try to pick up some extra computer work for people who need some help with their home computers.

I'll have to start back with eBay, something I've been avoiding for a few months. Oh well, I can do anything for a year, right?

We'll be using to track every dollar we spend, and we'll do our darndest to put every single dollar on our credit card (which puts 2% of purchases into the kids college funds). Since we pay it off each month, we get the benefit of the contribution to the college fund, and we get an easy way to track and catagorize our purchases.

I hope to blog every day or two about our progress, about the little things we're doing each day to keep us on track. I'll also talk about what's going on in our minds; why we're making some compromises and not others. And I'll be showing off the great deals I'm getting at CVS, Harris Teeter, Target, and Giant Food!

Is anyone else having a big yearly challenge? What are your goals for this year?