Thursday, April 19, 2012

15 Months Later...

Still plugging away, clipping coupons, budgeting, paying down debt and chasing after 3 kids.  Not much has changed in my household, just busy, but I decided that I finally have something relevant to say again!

The other day I was discussing coupons with a friend.  I am organizing a coupon class to be held at my church and asked someone at my son's school if she will be able to attend.  She is a mom of 3, like me, busybusybusy and no time to clip coupons.  She admitted that she does not use coupons but might like to learn how.  They just take up so much time!  I confessed that I clip more coupons than I ever use and my organization leaves something to be desired.  But it got me thinking about all the other "frugal" things that I do beyond clipping coupons and organizing my grocery list according to sale ads and coupon deals.  So I made a list...

This list includes some deals and freebies that I have scored in the last 3 weeks, there may be more that I cannot think of:

  • Free samples in the mail, including dog treats, Miracle Grow potting soil, Quaker Soft Baked Oatmeal Cookie, Meow Mix (coupon for a free cup) and Kraft Fresh Take (cheese and seasonings, this was another coupon for a free full sized product--it was yummy).  And probably more not listed; I get frequent detergent and shampoo and other beauty product samples.  I get them from liking items on Facebook, from, and from a daily list that I receive through my email from  (See earlier post for those.)
  • I needed some items from CVS last week and had earned $6 in ExtraCare bucks, so that made a nice dent in my total.  All you do is have them scan your card with every purchase, including prescriptions.
  • We received our free $25 gift card from our health insurance company.  We use Blue Cross Blue Shield and found out accidentally (noticed a "rewards" button when I was checking something out on their website) that they reward you points for every checkup, dental visit, CPR training, etc.  They also give you points for working out, dieting and other healthy activities.  This was actually the second card we have received since we figured this out.  If you have this insurance, the website is
  • I received my $10 Reward certificate from the World Market Explorer program after I finally reached $100 in gourmet food spending.  I was able to get 2 bags full of goodies since I also shopped the 50% off section.  This is another totally free rewards program. I also earn free coffee this way with double points on Wednesdays!
  • As panelist member of Pinecone Research, I received a package of cat treats to try (on my cat) and then got paid $3 to do the follow up (very brief) survey.  I have been doing this for several years, a few online surveys a month for $3 each and have tried several products out over the years.  I have them direct deposit it to my paypal account so I don't have to waste a trip to the bank depositing the little checks.  Not a lot of money but very easy.
  • I received my box of goodies for my upcoming Silk House Party.  I have done several of these parties, they send you a new product to try out and share with your friends.  This package included coupons for free product, a bunch of $1 off coupons to share, paper party goods, cool bendy straws and a neat glass and acrylic tumbler.  Go to to learn more (or see previous post).
  • As a regular Price Chopper shopper, I have my kids signed up for the Kid's Club, so they get a coupon for a free item every month.  This month it was 16oz bottles of Sunny D orange juice, in the past it has been full sized boxes of Dannon yogurt tubes, 2 Liters of Crush, fruit snacks, individual cookies or snack sized crackers.  Yes, that one is a coupon but for a totally free item--painless!
  • I received a bonus at one of my part time jobs, I won the monthly "contest" basically for just doing my job.  I got to pick out $100 in free jewelry (I work for a jewelry company).
  • And the MOST fun and best paying freebie was received last week when I got to do a taste test for a local market research company.  I am on the call list for Q & A Research and have done several focus groups, taste tests and surveys for them over the years, as has my husband and a couple of my kids.  (If you are in KC, their offices are off Metcalf but sometimes they have you go to a company, like the Hallmark headquarters in Crown Center.)  I qualified for a taste test for a national chain of casual full service restaurants (starts with an "A") and so I got to go to their offices where they had a mini restaurant inside.  We were served 2 full sized entrees with steak and shrimp and asked to fill out a questionnaire.  These were new entrees not yet on the menu, so we had to also evaluate portion size and cost/value in addition to how they tasted.  And yes, I ate most of both of them, no doggy bags allowed.  After all that I was paid $50 in cash, not bad for an hour's work.  
So, kind of a mixed bag of freebies, some of them took a few minutes here and there to sign up for but nothing too time consuming.  If you are on Facebook already or have a daily digest that you can read each day while you check email, you too may be able to score samples and coupons without much effort.  I do many other things but all of these bonuses just happened to arrive in the last couple weeks--great ways to stretch my budget a little and some nice surprises in my mailbox.  I consider my Frugality to be a part time job, so it is nice to get paid!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Little (Coupon) Knowledge Goes a Long Way

I'm Baaaaack!  I didn't mean to abandon my blog completely but I worked another job over the holidays and was very busy, no time to write!  I also did not score very many deals to share with you since I was too busy to clip coupons and shop around, so I am making up for it.

Inspired by the blogs I follow where readers share their recent supermarket "scores," I thought I would show you what I recently purchased at World Market.  If you are not familiar with World Market, they sell gourmet food, wine, furniture, kitchen items, gifty things and basically things from all over the world.  They also have a rewards program called the "Explorer" program, which is like having a rewards card from your neighborhood grocery chain or drugstore where you earn points and get special pricing.  The only difference is that they don't have a card, you just enter your member number into the keypad with each purchase (your phone number) and that is how purchases are tracked.  Then you have to print off the coupons at home and bring them in.  This fall they had a promotion where you earn 10% of all of your purchases (starting at $100 minimum) in November and December and you get a "reward" certificate to use in January. 

So, I went into the store armed with my $18 reward, a coupon for $10 off of a $30 purchase and a coupon for free coffee.  You earn a bag of World Market coffee after you buy 6 bags, BUT if you buy them on Wednesday you get double points.  AND if you redeem your free coffee coupon on Wednesday you get double points for that one too (even though it is free).  Try it, you'll see.  The cashier first tried to tell me I couldn't use all my coupons in one transaction but it does work.  I asked her to try it and see and she learned something new, too.

I fully intended on picking out $30 worth of stuff and only paying $2, plus tax, but I miscalculated and I was overcharged for an item that was supposed to be 50% off.  I shopped the food area, since I thought food would be the most justifiable purchase (we like to eat).  I ended up paying just $8.84 for about $44 worth of food, some of which were specialty items that are hard to find elsewhere.
Here is what I got:
2 bags of Hawaiian Luau Kettle Chips, regularly 3.99 but on sale for 1.99---------- .46 each after coupons
2 bags of World Market Coffee, regularly 5.99 each--------------------1 Free with coupon and 1 for 1.38  (but they will count like I bought 4 bags of coffee towards my next free bag!)
1 Box of Market Classic Stuffing, reg 3.99 but on sale for $2------------------------.46 after coupons
1 Bag Market Classic Tortellini Soup mix, reg 3.99----------------------------------.92 after coupons
1 Lee Kum Kee Sauce for Orange Chicken, reg 2.99--------------------------------.69 after coupons
1 Bowl Shirakiku Udon Soup, reg 3.49----------------------------------------------.80 after coupons
1 Bag Utz Butter Pretzels, reg 2.99, should have been half off but rang up wrong-----.69 after coupons
1 Jar Tiger Tiger Chicken Tikka Simmer Sauce, reg 3.99----------------------------.92 after coupons
1 Jar Tiger Tiger Butter Chicken Simmer Sauce, reg 3.99----------------------------.92 after coupons
1 Box of Dari Couscous, reg 2.99---------------------------------------------------.70 after coupons

The way the coupon works is it pro-rates the discount off of each item.  I knew the pretzels rang up wrong but if I had gone back and returned the item I would have been credited only .69 plus tax and would have lost the value saved from the coupon, so since I didn't have it taken off right there at the register I was just out of luck.  (Another inside tidbit I know.)

Here are the reviews so far:  Love the chips, and 2 out of 3 kids liked them.  The pretzels were good (and are gone now).  I ate the Udon soup today for lunch and it was really good, it has packets of fish flakes and veggie flakes and the liquid soy sauce is separate, tastes as good as Udon in the restaurant!  The coffee we use regularly, I have tried several flavors but stick with breakfast blend because we get tired of the flavors.

The Tiger Tiger sauces are awesome!  I tried the Butter Chicken once and it was great, haven't tried the Chicken Tikka yet.  When we had the Butter Chicken my youngest (3 year old) son asked what we were having and I told him "Indian food" and he said, "But Indians eat corn!" and so I changed tactics and told him it was like Chinese food.  So for days he talked about how much he liked that "Chinese Meat!"  He will be happy to know we are having that "chinese meat" again.  (Hint:  Use lots of rice to make it less spicy for the little ones.)

The other items I haven't tried yet but I am sure they are worth at least what little I paid. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spooky Mutant Root Vegetables!

Happy Halloween from my spooooky garden!  The garden was mostly a bust this year, we can just call it a learning experience, I guess.

This is what happens when you dump a bunch of carrot seeds in a small patch and don't thin them properly.  I swear I did thin them, but apparently not enough.

I wonder if this thing let out a blood curdling scream when it was pulled from the ground?  (My husband pulled this out when he was cleaning up the old dead plants and weeds that grew up.)


And the other side.  It is hard enough to get kids to eat their vegetables, now they are scarred for life.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What's in Your Mailbox?

Thought I would share with you some of my freebies that have been landing in my mailbox lately.  Most of these are free samples that I sent off for, but there were also some surprises in there, too.  The best was the package of name brand diapers that I got to try out on my twins, sent to me by Pinecone Research, who I do surveys for about once a week.  They paypal me $3 for each short survey.  Then, I did the exact same survey for MyPoints, and they sent me another package of the same diapers!  Bonus!  (Sorry I could not include them in my photos, I am not supposed to talk about my top-secret market research studies!)

This first picture has Crest, Dove, All-Bran and Quaker samples, plus a full sized bottle of Gain dish washing detergent (I believe I "liked" them on Facebook, then acted fast when they posted a giveaway).  I was surprised to see the Toy Story coloring set, it came without any explanation.  But I believe it is from Sara Lee, who had a giveaway this summer for divided plates with the Toy Story theme, I saved bread wrappers and sent away for 2 of them but got a postcard saying that they had run out.  Nice surprise and something to hide away in the gift stash.

In this picture are samples of Nivea lotion, Gax-X (hey, it was free), Teecino tea and Johnsonville Deli-Bites, which came in an envelope with 6 packs of mini summer sausages.  Kinda tasty and the kids like them.

Here is my check for $7 from for doing an online survey, a sample of Wisk detergent (I have actually gotten this one a couple of times), a coupon for a bottle of free Advil and 2 coupons for free tubs of Cottonelle wipes (I had one sent to my mom's address and she gave it back to me).  Not too shabby, I would say!

So, when I am spending too much time on Facebook at least I have a little something to show for it!

Another freebie not shown is my scrapbooking kit of Elmer's and X-Acto products, sent to me by BzzAgent.  The kit included 2 pairs of decorative edge scissors, a corner rounder punch, a glue pen, glue stick, glue spots and something called a tape runner.  Can't wait to use it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More Budget-Busters I Really Don't Miss (Well, Usually)

My last post was about some household items that I either stopped buying or drastically cut back on to save money and (in some cases) do my little part to save the environment.  This week I have a few more items that I have cut back on or eliminated from our budget.  In some cases it has been a few years since I bought these items, so I have gotten used to life without these luxuries, others I splurge on occasionally and would certainly add back into my life if I wasn't being so cost-conscious (aka "poor").

I challenge you to find the things in your life that you can live without and try to wean yourself from them.  You will notice that I did not put "chocolate" or "coffee" on my list, those are essentials!

1.  Soft Drinks  I drink water now most of the time, except for my morning coffee, which I must have for the caffeine.  I just stopped buying any soft drinks except for an occasional 2-Liter (on sale, of course) to have on hand if people come over (we rarely entertain) or I will drink it if I am at someone else's house and they offer it.  On the rare occasion that we are at a restaurant I usually order water.   The positive aspect for my kids is that they also drink a lot of water and are not addicted to pop, they actually think it is too fizzy or "spicy" as they say.  I used to drink Diet Coke like it was going out of style, then I switched to Sprite during my pregnancy/nursing days, so the gradual weaning wasn't so hard for me.  If I drink a real Coke now it is so sweet (and wonderful, ha ha) it is almost too sweet.

2.  Combo Meals at Fast Food Restaurants  When I worked full time I ate out every single day, at least 5 days a week, and believe me I ate well--not just fast food but sit-down restaurants.  I justified never packing a lunch because I worked such long hours and needed that break at lunchtime.  I wish I had that $50 a week times all those years I worked plus interest now!  We do not eat fast food often but I do get my kids Happy Meals sometimes and get myself a little something from the Value Menus.  You can actually get a lot of food and spend a lot less getting those 99 cent items, especially from Wendy's and Sonic (although I think their chicken strip sandwich is $1.19, still a bargain!) and Taco Bell is better in small doses anyway. :-) Since I am drinking my bottled water anyway and don't want the drink, a hamburger (Wendy's Junior Bacon Cheeseburger = yummy) or chicken sandwich or 99 cent burrito does the trick for me, satisfies my fast food fix and is a nice little treat while I am on the run.  If you pay in change then you really feel like you got a deal.  And there are occasional coupons floating around out there for free items (with or without purchase) so I have gotten additional items that way, like when Taco Bell launched their Fruitista drinks, so that helps justify the splurge.  If you stop eating large combo-type meals and then finally order one again after a while you will be surprised at how much food is actually involved.  And I quickly got over my embarrassment of going through the drive-in and only spending $1.08 total on my lunch and paying in change, who cares anyway?

3.  Newspapers and Magazines  Our newspaper subscription expired this summer and we didn't renew.  I probably would have if they offered us a good deal, but that didn't happen so we just let it stop.  We still get the Sunday paper (husband buys it on his way to work Sundays) because I must have the ads and coupons, but that's it.  My husband used to take it to work with him and so he probably misses it and I do miss the Wednesday grocery ads (that I now read online or sometimes get in the mail) but I don't miss the stacks and stacks of unread papers that we have to take to the recycling bin.  And all my magazines I get for FREE!  I recently started getting "Everyday with Rachael Ray" and "Taste of Home" free after responding to a free deal online (follow Penny Pinchin' Mom on Facebook, she posts these sorts of deals) and I already get "Family Fun" (great ideas for use with kids) and "Natural Health" for free, not that I have time to read any of these magazines, but I do like an occasional new recipe.  "Family Fun" is the only one of these that I would ever actually pay for if I didn't already get it for free.  I do sometimes order the kids books from the Scholastic flyers they bring home, they have cute books for as little as $1 or $3 and they LOVE books.  I feel like I am contributing to their preschool/grade school that way since they earn free books for the class that way too.

4.  DVDs and Books  I love movies and I love books and I do love owning my favorites, BUT I already have quite a collection from my days as a spend-thrift, many of which I have not read or watched.  My kids just want to watch the same old Disney films over and over and we get some as gifts sometimes.  Also, we have cable and so they have a lot of options.  We use the library a lot, and I have recently started going online and getting books that I want to read held, so all I have to do is go and pick them up when they are ready.  Someday I would like to be able to actually sit down with the husband and watch a movie (I haven't seen ANYTHING in the last few years) but right now we just don't have the time.  We are so behind that it won't matter if we are checking movies from the library or watching them on cable, they will still be new to us!

Next Post:  Some of my latest freebies!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

5 Things You Can Stop Buying and Not Miss

I recently read an article on a similar idea and so I got to thinking about what I no longer buy, or rarely buy anymore, both to save money and to try to be a little more "green."  I encourage you to come up with your own list, you may be surprised at how much money you can save over time by cutting out certain items.

1.  Bottled water.  Not that I don't drink water in a bottle, I just don't buy it at the store.  In the past I have bought a case (on sale) to keep on hand (I have some in the garage for "emergencies") but we save the bottles, wash them and refill them with, yes, tap water.  I also have some nicer reusable bottles that we use regularly but I always have about a half dozen of the disposable kind in the fridge, ready to grab as we run out the door.  If you can't stand the taste of your local water, invest in a filtered pitcher to keep in your refrigerator; we have a Pur one that we refill several times a day.  (My family drinks a lot of water, which saves on money...more on that later.)

2.  Paper Towels/Paper Napkins.  This is not something that I don't buy, I have just drastically reduced my use of paper products.  I still buy paper towels but maybe go through a roll a month, and with kids I need paper napkins, especially since I have to pack one in their school lunches each day.  But what I use instead when I can are cheap washcloths from the Dollar store, and since they come in all colors you can even color code them for various uses.  For example, I use the pastel ones to wipe faces, highchairs, counters and dinner messes, the dark purple ones have become cleaning cloths to wipe the floor.  Then I soak them all in a tub before doing laundry, so that they do not get sour and stinky between washes.  If you have a big stack of them you can use them just once before getting out a new one, so that helps to keep things sanitary.  They don't take up much room in the wash.  Now, if the dog makes a mess or something like that you better believe I get out the paper towels!  Another great item is microfiber cloths, they are great for dusting, work with a Swiffer instead of the store-bought pads, and usually last a long time.

3.  Plastic Baggies/Trashbags.  This is another item I still buy, but use much less often.  For school lunches I use plastic reusable containers with lids when I can, but I still keep some cheap baggies for some small items, or when I cannot fit all the containers in the lunchbox.  I reuse all of my big ziploc bags unless they had raw meat in them.  (The only exception is that I have larger ziploc bags that hold the smaller, individual meal sized chunks of raw meat that I freeze in freezer bags, those I label and reuse.)  I hardly ever buy the ziploc bags in the first place because my mother in law is wonderful about sending us home with a lot of leftovers whenever we come over for dinner, so sometimes the bags have only held dinner rolls.  We do also have to buy trashbags, but we make sure they are stuffed full before we put them out.  We save all of our grocery store bags, use them to line the bathroom/bedroom trashcans, but we also save the bigger shopping bags, some of which are large enough to hold the weekly trash and save a trashbag.  We are limited to 2 big bags a week and usually only put out one, otherwise I would love to be able to put out 10 little grocery store sacks (but I bet that's against the rules and we would get fined!).  Ziploc bags also really come in handy for organizing other things around the house (toys!) and trashbags are great for safely storing bigger things (like an unused car seat), so they are things that I always keep on hand, I just try not to waste them.

4.  Fabric Softener Sheets.   This is the kind of thing that I just ran out of and didn't buy for a while, then discovered I didn't miss them.   I do like them for reducing static in the winter, but otherwise I don't really see a difference.  If you insist on using fabric softener, I saw this tip online somewhere:  Empty a bottle of fabric softener in a tub and mix with twice as much water, cut in half cheap sponges and soak in solution.  When you put clothes in the dryer, wring out a sponge and throw it in.  This is supposed to double the number of uses per bottle.  Sounds like too much trouble to me...

5.  Cleaning Products  Of course, I do not mean ALL cleaning products, but you really don't need to buy that many.  I regularly purchase dishwashing soap, dw detergent, laundry detergent and toilet bowl cleaner, but I have tried my hand at using things like vinegar and baking soda for cleaning purposes.  Those "recipes" and tips are easy to find so I won't repeat them all here, but I have found them good for some uses, not so effective for others.  For example, I gave up on trying to clean a really dirty shower without busting out the Tilex.  And I get a lot of free samples in the mail for cleaning products, especially laundry detergent, so those help stretch the budget (see previous post for freebies).  Another thing  really like are Clorox or Lysol wipes, they come in handy for quickie bathroom cleaning, especially when company is coming, or for wiping down the house after sickness has been present (like wiping doorknobs and keyboards and the like).  Sometimes it pays to pay for convenience!

Coming soon:  Some other things you could probably cut out of your budget that you probably won't miss.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Am Afraid to Look in My Compost Bin!

I had good intentions.  I recycle everything I can and try to reduce my use of plastics and excess packaging.  Composting seemed like a good idea.  Then I forgot all about it...

I got the idea for my compost bin from this link:

Mine didn't look exactly like that, but I did use a plastic tote with a lid and I had my husband drill air holes on the side.  I had visions of an earthworm farm, and I did add a few.  I am sure they are quite dead now.  This picture is from June.

This is a blurry picture, but you get the idea.  I put down a layer of potting soil (since it was handy in my garage) and then layered kitchen scraps and strips of torn newspaper.  I did wait a week or so and put the results on my garden as "fertilizer".  I discovered that kitchen scraps, especially bigger peelings, really need to be small in order to compost well.  Also, bigger pieces of bread did not do well, they just turned blue and looked like rocks.  Guess that means that there was not enough moisture and I definitely did not stir it often.  Later I added more scraps, a bit more soil and a little bit of newspaper.  I think the last time I opened the lid was in July?  It is August now and the bin is buried under the rubble in the garage somewhere...

My kitchen scraps since then have gone in the garbage or down the disposal and edible scraps, like bread crusts, were once again given to the dog.  The garage seemed too away to walk with my coffee can of scraps.  And I was too lazy to cut all the bits up into manageable, compostable pieces.  And I got discouraged when the fruit flies and gnats would come out, so those are my excuses.

Hubby doesn't know it yet but I think I will have him dump the bin on my garden when I am sure I am done harvesting it and then we can start over.  Or maybe the bin gets hosed out and put away until Spring?  Yeah, that's it.  I am sure I will do better next year.