Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to Save Over $100 on PG products through 12/31

Every once in awhile the stars align in the coupon world to create some great savings on select products. Right now I think the best deals on Proctor & Gamble products are to be had at Kroger through December 31. Here's why.

Kroger is currently having a promotion on P&G products: spend $25, save $5 instantly. Look for the special ticket all over the store--lots more products than are advertised. It includes items from shampoo to diapers, paper towels to pet food.

I encourage you to go in the next couple of days because of the additional e-savers that will no longer be valid after the end of the year. These are savings on products in addition to manufacturer's coupons. Most are about $1; the highest is $10 for teeth whitening. E-savers are loaded directly onto your Kroger card and cost you nothing. Note: You won't see the savings as the items are scanned but they will be on your receipt.

This is also a good time because if you collect coupons, you have two months to choose from (January came out 12/27). P&G sends out coupons monthly in the newspapers that are usually good through the end of that month. So lots of good ones are expiring 12/31. And if you use some of the January coupons, a portion of your sale goes to Special Olympics.

Since many of the items through the promotion are also on sale, you have a way to save money four ways. For example, Dawn dish soap was on sale for $2, e-saver took off $.50, I had a coupon for $.50 that Kroger doubles. Since it qualified for the promotion (approximately $.40), that meant I spent only 10 cents!

Here's another example. Pantene (regularly $5.29) was on sale for $3.39. Two e-savers took off $2, a coupon took off $1, the promotion saved another $1.36, bringing each bottle to $1.21. My best deal on diapers was a pack of Pampers Extra Protection: $3 coupon, $1 e-saver, and $1.95 from the promotion brought my total to $3.82 a pack. A six pack of Bounty paper towels was only $3.60 (regularly $9.79). I saved $17 off Crest whitestrips; they weren't on sale or valid for the promotion, but I couldn't pass up saving $17! There are also some good B1G1 coupons for Olay and Allways that saved me a total of $13.67.

All told, I saved $100.98 on P&G products yesterday: $30 through the promotion, $20 through e-savers, and $50 through coupons and sales. For the best deals get there today or tomorrow! Happy savings!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Greatest Gift

The presents are all opened, the turkey deboned, and the thrill of Christmas still barely lingers in the air. Today marks the longest wait until the next Christmas morning. That reality can be depressing, but I'm still smiling from receiving the greatest gift.

Yesterday was marked with the usual flurry over packages and who got what. That was shortly followed by scuffles like: "I want to play with his toy!" "No way, buster, mine!" and "Mom, he's got my toy; give it back--smack!" Ahh, yes, the joys of Christmas.

However, my greatest gift came before a single present was opened. It was even before any feet had hit the ground or the sun rose in the sky. At 6:15am Bob and I awoke to sweet voices in the next room where our sons Bobby (6) and Devin (3) had been sleeping. If I hadn't heard it with my own ears, I might have doubted it happened.

In his angelic Charlie Brown voice, Bobby began: "Hey, Devin, you know what today is?" D: "What?" B: "It's Christmas, the day we celebrate Jesus' birth." D: "Uh-huh." B: "Jesus is the King of Kings." Silence. "He's our Savior." Silence. "He came to save us from our sins." Silence. "And today is his birthday; that's what Christmas is all about." D: "Ok."

No mention of Santa or the packages awaiting them upstairs. My heart was bursting with pride. It was true unprompted sharing of knowledge, from big brother to little brother. It's the most I've ever heard Bobby say about religion. As a parent, we try to teach our kids what we think they should know but often times we're met with blank or disinterested looks. I often wonder what really sinks in. Every once in awhile we get those moments we want to freeze and replay again and again.

When I asked Bobby about this incident later in the day, he wouldn't respond and ran away. It was as if that was a private moment between siblings, and I had no right to poke my nose in it. I suppose that's how it goes as they get older. Bobby doesn't know it now, but that 30 second conversation was the greatest gift I received this Christmas. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Are You There, Santa? It's Me, Margaret

Dear Santa,

It's Christmas Eve and the house is all a flurry with excitement over your arrival. The kids have written you notes and hung them on the mantle. Don't forget to sign the box that you read them to prove that you are real. And in case you miss the note detailing where to leave the presents, we moved the tree upstairs to the living room this year. They'll be expecting your bounty there.

We've also started tracking your progress on the NORAD website. I think you're in Cambodia right now; so I'm relying on your super natural powers to read this post. I know you're not responsible for all the many technoligies that have enabled us to contact you, but I'd like to highlight a few here.

The best of course is in person visits. We've enjoyed meeting and taking pictures with you at the local library each year, but when my 6-year-old missed that last week, he insisted that was a fake Santa. Don't worry; you were still real to Devin and Brooke.

I've seen websites where you can have Santa call your house or send an email with a personalized message, but coordinating that seemed too much effort this year. Plus I'm afraid Bobby would still suspect that was one of your minions.

Our 3-year-old Devin surprised us yesterday by tapping madly at the computer keyboard. "What are you doing, Devin?" "I'm sending an email to Ho-Ho (his nickname for you, but you knew that). I'm telling him Bobby is on the naughty list and that he messes everything up. But I've been good." Since we didn't have your email address, you may not have received that message.

But this morning we discovered another way to contact you: Of course! Bobby and Devin answered a few short questions to get certified on the nice list. They received a B+ rating and "their halos were a little bit crooked," but that leaves an incentive for behaving well today. Thanks, Santa.

Perhaps my favorite means of contacting you is only possible in small town USA. In the town of 350 folks where I grew up, the volunteer fire department threw a fundraiser each December for a chance to radio Santa on the fire truck. All the kids piled in; no one bothered with seatbelts or car seats. The reception was lousy at first (that is a long way to the North Pole), but then your voice came in crystal clear. You patiently listened to all our requests one by one while we drove around town and hoped there wouldn't be a fire.

Santa, I haven't noticed that you're following my blog yet, but anything is possible. So I figured this would be one more place to contact you. I've been a pretty good girl this year and my list of requests is short. All I want for Christmas is a little extra patience for crowds and traffic, an open heart to soak up my family's love surrounding me, and the wisdom to appreciate the magic you bring when the kids are young and everyone believes.


P.S. If you can clear up Brooke's cold so that she doesn't develop another ear infection during the worst possible time of the year, that would be great too!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Christmas Tree Story

I wrote the following for the December issue of Knoxmoms magazine and thought you might enjoy it. If you'd like to read the entire magazine online, click here through the end of December.

Our oldest son Bobby had just turned two when we decided to cut our family’s first Christmas tree. Little did we know that this outing would not only start a family tradition but be the source of a developmental break-through for our son.

By age two, many kids are chatter boxes. Not Bobby. At his two-year check-up, the doctor was shocked he hadn’t even said Momma yet and ordered him to be tested by a speech therapist. I knew he was comprehending; he just wasn’t verbalizing.

That all changed the day we went to cut our own Christmas tree at White Pine Acres, a backyard tree farm in Karns. He loved running up and down the rows of trees and delighted in choosing “the best tree on the lot.” He watched Dad intently as he sawed, hauled, wrapped, and tied the tree to the roof of our car. On the way home Bobby cried out, “Tree…roof…Daddy’s car.” For weeks later, he eagerly recounted this experience with those same words. A light bulb had gone off and he was now on his way to becoming the loquacious child he is today.

The next three years we carried on this tradition at the Bluebird Christmas Tree Farm, since lack of rainfall had impacted White Pine Acres significantly.(Tip: This year White Pine Acres does have a few trees). Bluebird is located in Heiskell, TN, just 20 minutes from downtown Knoxville. Most trees cost $40 with a few exceptions. We like that there’s a good variety of trees including spruce, cypress, pine, and Fraser firs and that they provide free hot chocolate and cider. For other local tree farm locations, click here.

If you’re one of the 45 million American families who bring a real Christmas tree into your home each year, here are a few tips from the pros. As soon as you get the tree home, cut one-quarter inch off the base of the trunk. Keep the tree outdoors, standing in a container of water, protected from the wind and sun until you’re ready to decorate. This will help the tree retain its moisture. Before bringing the tree into your home and placing it in a stand, make another fresh cut and immediately fill the stand with water. Trees are VERY thirsty. They may drink between two pints to a gallon of water a day. Check the stand daily and supply fresh water as needed, never allowing water levels to drop below the bottom of the trunk. A healthy tree will last longer and drop fewer needles.

For our family, hunting for the perfect tree on a farm is as much fun as decorating it and a close second to opening the gifts underneath it. It’s also a tradition that reminds me how quickly the kids are growing up. Last year I couldn’t help but smile listening to Bobby, our tree connoisseur, exclaim, “Look at this one! It’s gorgeous! This one is perfect!”

Enjoy the video. By the way, we went back to Bluebird this year and got "the best tree on the lot!" Sorry, folks! ;-)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Life's a Parade

This morning Bob and I continued a family tradition by taking the kids to the Karns Christmas Parade. Karns (a suburb of sorts of Knoxville) hosts two parades a year, and so far they've brought a smile to my face every time. I wrote this a few years ago about the parade and thought you might enjoy it:

My favorite tradition to commemorate Americana at its finest is small town parades. I like everything about parades: the fanfare, the free stuff, the celebration of what people hold dear. Parades are like a microcosm of a community set to bright lights and cheers. Quite simply, parades represent who we are.

As a life-long fan of these celebrations, I was delighted to join in the Karns parade last July. Several friends and I represented MOMS Club, a non-profit support group for stay-at-home and part-time working mothers. Minimal costs and preparation appealed to our group. “There are no fees or sign-ups to be in the parade. Just show up by 8:30am in the Ingles parking lot,” informed Roger Kane, parade organizer and the president of the Karns Business Association. “We never know if we’re going to have one or a thousand floats. As long as it moves, you can have it in the parade,” added Kane.

On the day of the big event, a drizzle threatened to turn into a downpour at any moment, but spirits weren’t dampened. The parking lot was a-buzz as groups rallied for position. There was a fleet of purple tow trucks from Clinton, the Karns High School football team flexing some muscle, and a few riding horseback without a pooper scooper. No one wanted behind them. There were a few politicians and business owners, but most groups were here for the sheer fun of it. My son particularly liked the fleet of John Deere tractors. Roger Kane said they were not an organized group—just guys who like to ride tractors. Fantastic! Every fire truck from here to Oak Ridge was ready to blast lights and sirens. Little league teams gathered in uniform and a baton twirler practiced with flair. Even Barney Fyfe and his Mayberry look-a-like crew were in their small-town element.

Within five minutes, we’d reached the library and our first small but enthusiastic crowd. Familiar faces cheered us on. Kids clamored for candy. Neighbors came out of their homes to stand next to neighbors they likely didn’t know. It occurred to me parades have a way of breaking down barriers between strangers. Smiles were contagious.

Even my three-year-old who was crying minutes before was starting to have a ball. He and his friend chatted about the construction vehicles not far behind us. “There’s a bulldozer!” Cole shouted. Bobby piped up, “Actually, it’s a bobcat.” Dads laughed. And then six-year-old Ella, looking back at a sea of lights from the fire and tow trucks, exclaimed in a sweet genuine voice, “It’s so beautiful!”

Aren’t parades great? Kids get loads of candy and fun doo-dads, organizations and companies get free exposure, young people get to feel important for a few minutes, adults get to remember what it feels like to be a kid, and our heroes like volunteer firemen get to show off a bit. For just a few minutes, this time-honored tradition allows a town to come together and celebrate what makes this place home.

The next parade will likely be the last Saturday of July. Check back here for details.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Lure of Deals I Don't Need

When I was a child, eagerly clipping coupons from the Sunday paper, my mother taught me a very valuable lesson about "deals" that's easy to forget: "It's not really a deal if you don't need it." I found myself wrestling with the issue of "it's a deal" but "I don't need it" today in Walgreens.

Reading Coupon Katie's post yesterday about her plan to "make $11," I was compelled to investigate. Through a series of coupons and register rewards which she outlines, she figured out how to get two bottles of eye solution, men's skin care, feminine pads, and two boxes of Theraflu by spending $13.97 and walking away with register rewards worth $24.97. Sounds great, right?! But for me, it's just never that easy.

First of all, I wrestled with whether or not to buy the "multi-purpose eye solution" which I've always thought was just for those with contacts. No one in my family has contacts, but I tried to justify it as a solution we might use if we get something in our eyes. What's wrong with water? That's what I've used in the past. I walked away.

Then there were the coupons I didn't have: the one for Neutrogena in a magazine I don't subscribe to and the online Theraflu coupons that wouldn't print. Plus, Bob doesn't use special skin care lotion and do I really need to buy Theraflu if none of us have the flu? (That might come back to bite me!) I did buy two of the feminine pads in separate transactions but made the mistake of using one of the $2 rewards with the second transaction. Guess what: you don't get another RR when you do that. Too late.

In my pursuit of the $5 RR for spending $25, I decided it was time to buy the ear thermometer I've been wanting. It's $10 off this week and I had an additional $5 coupon (making it $35). When I asked my pediatrician today what he thought of ear thermometers, he responded, "They're highly inaccurate. Depending on where you point it in the ear canal, you could get very different readings. Just get the $10 version that goes under the arm." But those take two minutes and I got such a good deal! Begrudgingly I returned it.

Finally, there's always the issue of how I'll spend my register rewards. What do I need that costs $10 or $5 within the next 10 - 14 days? If they're items I wouldn't have bought otherwise, then it's not really a deal for me. Today was a disappointing day for me in the savings endeavors, but it was a good reminder of an important lesson.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

First Snow

This morning we awoke to a winter wonderland outside. Snow had blanketed the yard in maybe an inch, and snowflakes were still floating from heaven. All three kids were of course excited. Brooke, our nine month old, was mostly curious and was eager to investigate it closer than the windowsill.

We started with a big family breakfast of pancakes, french toast, and bacon with Harry Connick's Christmas special playing in the background. Does it get any better than this, I thought? That's when Devin asked, "What's that sound? Where's the picture?" Have I failed in educating them about music and CDs? Are moving images on a screen all they know? Sigh.

By 9:15am we had dug out all our ski gear and boots (that I'd bought on consignment since we only see snow a few hours a year in TN), and we were ready. The kids looked like they were prepared for an Arctic trek across a glacier. And Brooke looked like a blue marshmellow, wearing a puzzled expression most of the time. Adorable. Bob, who grew up in the North, taught the boys the fine art of snowman building. We sledded on what little snow had accumulated on the empty lots in our subdivision. Within an hour, they were cold and asking for hot chocolate.

Snow always makes for a frenzied experience in the South because you know by noon, it will probably all be gone. It forces us to Carpe Diem: Seize the Day and that to me is a great way to live every day. Enjoy the video!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Super Savings Sleuth or Crazy Coupon Lady?

This morning at Kroger I ran into a good friend. When I asked, "Are you here for the big one-day sale?" she gave me a blank look. I continued a bit too eagerly, "You know: Kashi, Kellogg's, and Keebler have lots of half off items today." "Oh, that's nice," she replied. Later when I noticed she was buying only one box of cereal and my cart was loaded with 12, I thought to myself: Have I gone over the edge? Have I advanced to a Super Savings Sleuth or have I transformed into Crazy Coupon Lady?

Last night I spent nearly an hour printing and sorting an arsenal of potential coupons to use today. Since I take 2 kids with me and allow myself one hour grocery shopping, I have to be organized. Thanks to Coupon Katie's tip on one coupon that rewards $5 for buying 4 boxes of Kellogg's cereal, this trip wasn't just about saving money. Today was a test to see if I could finally save more money than I spend.

On the way in, I passed one guy exiting with 20 boxes of cereal. Am I already too late? Have all the best deals been snatched up? It's only 7:45am! I bee lined it to the cereal aisle. I relaxed when I saw the aisles weren't empty yet. Panic's over, folks. Methodically, I selected all our favorites and put corresponding coupons into my envelope. Lately my standards for cereal bargains have gone up: only coupons worth $1 or more per box are good enough. And in general, If I can't find an item on sale AND use a coupon, no deal! My, how I've changed in just a few months!

When I checked my savings at home, I was practically giddy with pride. Through Kroger sales, E-savings, and manufacturer's coupons, I saved $92.77 and spent only $67.56! I saved 84% off the Kellogg cereals ($.44 - $.59 per box) and 60% off Kashi cereals. I got 2 small Pillsbury crescent rolls for free (buy 2 at $1 each, Cellfire discounts $1, and $.50/2 is doubled). I got Kellogg Cereal Bars for $.74 a box and Keebler cookies for $.62 a package. And though it was expensive, I bought one beef tenderloin since it was more than half off (spent $27.05 and saved $15.48). Hey, I can splurge on occasion!

I'm sure to my friend, there was no doubt I had become a little obsessed with this new bargain hunting game of mine. While she was sipping her Starbucks latte, I was flipping through a sea of coupons. Call me crazy if you will, but this game has only just begun.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This Week's Deals for a Buck or Less

This week I've been able to pick up some good deals for a buck or less at Walgreen's and Kroger. Prices are good through Saturday. Here are my suggestions. Kroger has some good 10 for $10 deals on produce including Bartlett pears, Gala apples, and avocadoes. Organic bananas are $.79 / lb.

There are several good deals on pasta. All Barilla pasta is $1 each (my kids love the miniature kinds). Annie's Organic Mac 'n Cheese is also a dollar. You can print up to two $.50 coupons here, giving you two free boxes since Kroger doubles coupons. Ronzoni Healthy Harvest pasta is on sale for $1.50 box; with a $1/2 coupon, that's $1 a box.

Turkey Hill iced tea is also a dollar; with my $1/2, mine were $.50 each. Green Giant boxed vegetables are $1.25 each. Buy two and you can get a Cellfire discount of $.50 and use a $.50 coupon that Kroger doubles. That makes each box $.50. Kroger pretzyls are also a dollar each.

Here are two more great deals. Quaker granola bars are on sale for $1.50 / box. With this $1/2 coupon, that's $1 a box. Progresso soups (select ones like Ministrone and Garden Vegetable) are on sale for $1 each. Buy 4, use 2 $.50 / 2 coupons (which Kroger doubles), and sign up for the Cellfire and Shortcuts e-savings ($.50 / 2 each) and that brings your total down to $.25 a can!

Finally Walgreens has Nivea lip balm on sale for $.99 each (normally $4). With a B1G1 manufacturer's coupon, I got two for $.50 each. These make great stocking stuffers or charitable contributions.

And Thursday (12/3) looks like a good day to pick up more deals on cereal, cookies, chocolates, and beef tenderloin. Kroger One day only sale. Happy savings.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Couponing for Charity

The holiday season should be a time we celebrate giving to each other--especially those less fortunate. Some of the local charities on my list include Second Harvest, KARM, Salvation Army, Angel Tree, and Ronald McDonald House. I don't want to use the poor economy as an excuse not to give, but this year I'm having to get a bit more creative to stretch my dollars.

This week I scanned the sales at three stores to find the best deals on canned and non-perishable food. Target has Del Monte vegetables for $.45 a can, Campbell's cooking soups for $.49, Swanson chicken broth for $.49, and Betty Crocker Au Gratin potatoes for $.79. After using manufacturer's coupons, my final costs were: $.28 / can for vegetables, $.15 / can for soup, and $.39 / box for potatoes. You can get a $1/6 Del Monte vegetables here, you can find links to lots of Campbell's coupons here and a variety of others here.

Walgreens this week has the best deal on Ocean Spray Cranberry Jelly ($.79 with in store coupon). They also have smaller containers of French's fried onions ($.99 with in store coupons) which are perfect for one casserole. Lastly small boxes of Cheezits, Keebler cookies and crackers are on sale for $.50 each. They're too small to use manufacturer's coupons as well but they're still a good 0deal and an ideal size for stuffing gift baskets.

I found some great deals on toys at Kroger and Target. Disney Princess gift sets (Belle and Sleeping Beauty) were half off ($5 each) and a full-size Belle doll was also $5 at Kroger. Target is a great source for board games right now. I got Connect 4, Pictureka!, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Clue, and Guesstures for $10 (normally $15-$25). Over 2 weeks, various games were on sale, I used a $5 Target coupon in their November toy catalogue (they should have some near the toys or you can print from here), and I used coupons found online from from $2 -$10 each.

My best deal was the Hasbro Giraffalaff Limbo game (normally $20). I'd never price matched an item before because I haven't had the guts but I figured this was the day. At the customer service desk, I showed the Toys R Us toy catalogue selling the toy for $14.99. I then used the $5 off Target coupon and the $4 online coupon. My total before tax: $5.99.

And to prove that once again you can Go Green and Save Green, I fulfilled one more item on my list: light bulbs. The Ronald McDonald House specifically requested 60W light bulbs, and because I like the gifts that keep on giving, I opted for the GE Energy Smart Instant-On Mini soft white compact flourescents. They cost $5 each, but with $2/2 Target coupons and 3 $1/1 manufacturer's coupons, I got 4 light bulbs for $13. They should last 4 years and save the house a total of $112 off their electric bills long-term. Ah, it feels good to give.

In the future, I'll be stock-piling items I've found for free through Walgreens register rewards: toothbrushes, dental floss, hand sanitizer, chapstick, gum, etc. And if all this is too overwhelming, I urge you to give in one of the simplest ways: at check-out. Most stores ask if you'd like to donate an additional buck or two to charity. It's quick and easy and with all these savings from coupons, you can spare some change!

Comment below your great finds for charity.

Monday, November 16, 2009

H1N1 Vaccine Free & Easy

I'm not here to push getting the H1N1 vaccine, but if it's something you would like for your family, we can be thankful in Knoxville it's quick, easy, and free. Currently there is only one Knox County Health Department facility administering the H1N1 vaccine (140 Dameron Ave near Central and Baxter), but they have a separate area for administering the vaccine to make it as stream-lined as possible.

Bobby was able to get the flu mist at school, but the rest of us went to the health department today. We were in and out as fast as we could fill out a one page form (about 15 minutes). Bob, Devin, and I got the mist and Brooke got a shot. The kids will need another one in 3-4 weeks. It was free, as it is to everyone in America (not just U.S. citizens).

I admit I've cringed at the thought of visiting THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT for any service in the past, but they were organized, professional, and courteous. If you have any questions about the H1N1 vaccine, here's more information.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saving the Big Bucks

I have to admit that although I'm enjoying the money savings with my new coupon tactics, there are times I feel I'm doing nothing more than nickeling and diming. That's why it feels really good when I save some serious cash with little to no effort. Here are four ways we saved over $400 this week.

First of all, we had to call the plumber about a water pressure issue. Had we not caught the problem in time, we could have seen damage in the thousands of dollars! Bob picked a name out of the Yellow Pages (a resource we rarely use anymore) but we were delighted Hiller Plumbing had a coupon in the back for $50. Tip: You can also get a $25 coupon on their website. Afterwards they sent us an additional $20 off any future service and offered a $25 referral fee. So if you're looking for a local plumber, tell 'em Margaret Slattery sent you! ;-)

Next, an office chair I've been eyeing at OfficeMax for awhile went on sale and they sent me a $25 coupon for being a MaxPerks member. Tip: Their furniture sale is going on through Nov. 21. I saved a total of $85. I'm not a big shopper and don't usually get excited about STUFF, but this chair makes me feel like a queen! I got what I really wanted and I saved money.

Though I've knocked Sam's Club in the past on some of their goods, I think it's a great place for some big ticket items. We've been pleased with furniture, a canoe, and even our playhouse from Sam's. So when my husband said it was time for new tires for the van, Sam's Club was definitely on the list. He hit Consumer Reports and shopped around the various local tire sources for the best price and product. He's more about quality than price, but he managed both this time. Since this month Goodyear is giving an instant $50 off 4 tires and he found a set that was comparable (but not an exact match) to a model at Sears for considerably less, Bob saved about $200.

Finally, since Bob has never been to the Knoxville Zoo in the four years we've lived here, we decided to take advantage of their annual free day today. The weather was gorgeous and the crowds were tolerable. According to an employee as we left, there were probably more than 20,000 people there today, but it was worth it for a totally free family adventure. Normally, it would cost our family $65 in tickets and parking for the zoo. And lunch would easily be another $20 - $30. Tickets and parking were free, I packed a lunch and water bottles, and I even had one carousel token in my purse. Ok, I did donate some toys and food as requested, but even those were deals I got on sale and with coupons.

We've yet to invest in a zoo membership since I've never paid full price between coupons in the paper, school coupon books, and library coupon books. However, I think we'll make that investment the next time we go. You can now buy discounted zoo tickets at Kroger with your Plus card. You can either save $2 off individual tickets or $5 off an annual family membership (making it $90). I have friends who love the membership and pop into the zoo for a couple of hours all the time. And it certainly lets you avoid crowds of 20,000!

So where do you save the big bucks? Comment below.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Save 88% at Walgreens

If your kids ever ask you, "Mom, when am I ever going to use math?" just take them to Walgreens to figure out the best deals. I almost majored in math but piecing the puzzle of how to get the best deals can be exhausting. This week I did manage to score some deals but only when I got home did I figure out how I could have spent the least amount of money for the most stuff. So here's your chance to learn from my mistakes.

How would you like to get 3 bottles of Lubriderm lotion, 3 packs of tissue wrapping paper (20 sheets each), 4 different spices, and 1 pack of Huggies for $3.53? These particular deals are only good through Saturday, but I'm sure next week will have its own deals. Here's how.

Thanks to Coupon Katie, I learned of the November deal with Lubriderm: buy 3, get $8 RR. You may not see this in any flyer or in the stores. Make sure you find the 6 oz bottles for the best deal (I could only find the 16 oz bottles). Through the paper or online, you should be able to get 3 manufacturer's coupons of $2 each. In the diabetic magazine near the pharmacy, you can get an additional Walgreens coupon that will take another $3 off when you buy 3. Since your coupon to item ratio is now off, pick up 2 packs of tissue wrapping paper and use the $.39 coupon in this week's ad. Since this coupon will save you on two items but only count as one coupon, you now have 5 items and 5 coupons. Your total before tax is $3.15, and at the end of the transaction, you'll have an $8 RR.

If no one is behind you, go for transaction #2. The best deal for me to spend an $8 RR is on diapers but you might consider another higher priced item like Crest Whitestrips (see $10 coupon in this week's ad). Since Huggies are $8.99 this week, I have a $2 manufacturer's coupon, and there's a $1 coupon in the Walgreens Health Coupon book, using my RR would mean Walgreens pays me money. Since they don't do that, I need to buy a few items to make up the difference. There's a coupon in this week's ad for spices, 2/$1 (normally $1.19 each). Pick up 4 of these and 1 more pack of tissue paper. You should have 6 items and 4 coupons. Using your $8 RR brings your total to $.38.

All these goods not on sale and without coupons would cost $30.58, but you've only spent $3.53 before tax. That's an incredible 88% savings! I bought a few other things and saved 60% total, but I'm learning.

And though this doesn't qualify for super savings, it is a way to save on a green product. I picked up a 3 roll pack of Nature's Choice paper towels. There's a $1 coupon in the November Walgreens coupon book, bringing my total to $2. They're 100% recycled and a great way to support the green revolution.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spending $0 at the Grocery Store

Last week I spent $0 at the grocery store. That's right--nada, zip, the big fat goose egg! How did I do it? Easy--I didn't go. I'll admit I did visit Target to stock up on cereal (as noted in my previous post) and I stopped by Weigels for 2 gallons of milk, but I didn't do any regular food shopping for 13 days. Why would I do such a thing? The main reason was to force me to deplete some of my freezer stash to make room for--are you ready for this--a cow!

If you're thinking, "Who is this crazy woman?!" hang with me 'til I explain. We're actually buying half a cow and splitting that with a neighbor. Each family will get about 150 pounds of meat, which will probably take up a third of our chest freezer. I'll write more about the cow in a later post, but the point is--I need freezer real estate.

So 2 weeks ago, I looked at our inventory and planned meals that would not require an extra trip to the store. We had some fresh vegetables and fruit from the previous week; that with some frozen peas and corn gave us enough veggies. I had plenty of pasta, rice, and potatoes in the pantry. But our "main food" came from the freezer.

If you recall that $700 trip to Sam's Club, I froze a variety of chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Looking at what meats we had, I found freezer meals that would use those ingredients. What are freezer meals or "once a month cooking"? It's a method that should save you time, effort, and money.

There are a slew of websites and books to guide you, but the basic idea is that you spend several hours one day prepping and bagging recipes. Throughout the month, you defrost and prepare these meals with minimal work (put it in a crockpot, throw on the grill, bake for 30 minutes, etc.).

I was skeptical at first because I value fresh vegetables. I didn't want to eat casseroles every night. But most of these recipes are not casseroles. They are usually an entree that you pair with freshly cooked pasta or steamed veggies. That way, you don't feel like you're eating from a freezer.

Personally, I like the recipes that don't require I defrost the meat until you're ready to eat it. I worked from this cookbook. Some that I tried were beef stew, Indonesian pork, pork roast with apples and mushrooms, pot roast, sweet mustard salmon, cranberries & porkchops, tilapia & tomatoes, peppered flank steak, and barbque chicken thighs. There are lots of recipes with cubed chicken breasts and browned ground beef, but they take more time initially.

What I like best is that it takes the guess work out of: "What's for dinner?" With three kids to chase and working part-time, I needed a short-cut. And I have a big enough variety that we're not always eating chicken. I'm happy to say that I have made some room but will probably have more meals that could take me into December.

But perhaps the most fun for me last week was knowing I saved about $150 by not going shopping. I can't do that every week, but it sure feels good on the pocket book every once in awhile.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cereal for a Steal

Money Saving Margaret is back, and over the past week, the best grocery deals I've been able to find are on cereal. My friend Tina had told me that she never pays more than $1.50 a box...ever! Since most cereals usually cost $3 - 4, I was stunned at how she did that. Well, I'm proud to say that I have now paid as little as $.47 for a box of cereal and here's how I did it.

Thanks to a tip from Coupon Katie, I went to Target last week for Kellogg's cereals. They had a deal: buy 3, get 1 free. They also had Target coupons for $1 off each box; I printed 4. Lastly, I found 4 manufacturer's coupons for various cereals for $1 off each box. Raison Bran was the cheapest, but I only had one coupon that matched with RB. Therefore, I got 1 Frosted Mini Wheats, 2 Special K, and 1 Raison Bran for a total of $1.87 or $.47 a box. If I'd had more coupons for Raison Bran, I could have gotten them all for free.

Though Kroger does not have many deals this week, they are having a similar sale on General Mills cereals: buy 4, save $4. Armed with 4 $.75 coupons and one Cellfire discount of $.55, I purchased 2 Multigrain Cheerios and 2 boxes of Kix for $4.23, or $1.06 a box. My husband thinks I've gotten some of my mother's "drawbridge mentality" (a drawbridge between me and the store could go up at any moment and we'd be ready to survive), but that's ok. I won't have to buy cereal for months. One thing's for sure: I'm never paying full-price again.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Planting bulbs

Today marked one of our annual traditions: planting bulbs. This family ritual stems from the time my mother (8 months pregnant with me) planted a ring of tiny daffodils around a dogwood and thereafter called it "Margaret's circle." Call me nostalgic but that started a fire in me to start my own colorful tradition.

A month after our son Bobby was born, my father helped me plant daffodils in his honor. In subsequent years, we've planted tulips in a variety of colors and all sizes of daffodils in honor of several pregnancies--some viable, some lost. I could take comfort in the fact that no matter what was happening with my cycles, I could always count on something beautiful emerging from the soil in March. These flowers have been so significant to me that they were the inspiration of my first published essay.

So since my father (who I only see a few times a years) was in town, I asked him to help me plant more daffodils. Though the soil was a bit hard and we didn't have many options for where to plant, we jumped into our project.

Each year I have visions of my children eagerly partaking in this tradition. In my rose colored imagery, they wait patiently for instructions and follow them without a struggle. But so far, the reality has been largely frustration. Dad digs a hole, they throw a bulb in upside down, I clamor to fish it out and position it properly, they try to fill in the dirt before I'm ready, they start lining all the bulbs up like soldiers, and then they get bored with the whole ordeal by the fifth bulb. Only 45 more to go; sure, go play.

Over the years I have learned a few tips for including kids in gardening. Hopefully these can make your experience a fun family event.
1. Know what you're doing before you get the kids involved: have all tools ready, know where you're going to plant, and test for soil quality and roots beforehand. Try to pick a pleasant day before it's too cold and the ground is hard. You can go here for the basics.
2. Only buy a manageable number of flowers. Remember you have to dig one hole per bulb. Don't plan on saving any for next year. Daffodils come back and even multiply year after year but you can get only 2 or 3 good years for tulips before their splendor diminishes.
3. Invest in a bulb planting tool. I recommend the one where you can use your feet. This makes a perfectly deep whole and pulls out the soil well.
4. The instructions always say to plant them 6-8 inches apart but I think they look better slightly closer than that, especially if you have a small area you're planting. But then, I'm no expert! Do plant them in clumps of odd numbers to look more natural (five is recommended).
5. Lay out the bulbs before you begin digging and try to convince your kids not to move them until it's time to dig each hole. Good luck with that!
6. Give kids specific tasks and keep the process orderly. Move from left to right, dig hole, place bulb, fill hole, move on. Most kids like to fill in the dirt. Some places suggest adding bone meal to each hole; I've never done this and they've looked great.
7. Take this opportunity to teach them how flowers bloom and what they can expect in a few months. This is also a good lesson in delayed gratification.
8. Don't force them to finish with you; let them move onto another activity nearby if they're bored. Take a deep breath and just enjoy digging in the dirt.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fall Leaves: Shred ‘em & Spread ‘em

Fall is a favorite time of year for me: the smell of crisp air, the sights of crimson and gold, and the sound of crunching leaves in a great big pile. We have one maple in the front that provides enough leaves for everyone to have some fun but the leaf piles can’t last forever. Here’s another chance for you to Go Green, Save Green, and the best part is this one’s truly FREE.

According to the Knox County Recycling Coordinator, about HALF of all our local waste is green waste that could be turned into a valuable resource. This includes biodegradable products like paper & cardboard, food leftovers, and landscape waste. This time of year they are hauling off tons of leaves that would be better off if they never left your yard. Bagging leaves uses valuable landfill space, removes nutrients from the environment, and costs tax payers more money in service fees. Leaves are such a burden on landfills that some states like Minnesota have banned disposing of leaves with garbage.

There is a better solution: shred ‘em and spread ‘em! This past weekend Bob put both boys to work: Bobby fed the shredder and Devin spread the piles in the garden beds. They felt proud to be helpers and had a blast. Most of the year Bob runs over leaves with the lawn mower, which helps mix their nutrients into the soil. During fall, there’s too much volume and if left alone, matted leaves will create fungus and kill the grass sheltered from the sun.

With a leaf blower / vacuum, Bob sucks up the leaves. This shreds and shrinks them down to take up 10 times less space. Shredding leaves is essential to breaking them down efficiently. He could spread the contents around trees like mulch, but we choose to put some in our compost bin and some in the garden beds. All he has to do is periodically mix it with a shovel and they will become nutrient rich soil by spring.

According to this great website, leaves are an essential source of carbon to make compost. A good equation is 4 parts leaves to 1 part kitchen waste. I’ll be writing more about composting another time, but if you’re looking for a good place to start, check out this link. Shredded leaves also make better mulch than wood chips or shredded bark because you’ll get fewer weeds and no fungus underneath. Plus it’s FREE and you didn’t have to haul it to your house in a flatbed.

If you don’t have a shredder and you have no place to put an excess of leaves, consider dropping them off at one of Knoxville’s Natural Resources Recovery locations. They do charge a $25 / ton or $5 minimum fee, but you’ll know your waste will be turned into a valuable resource.

So go have some fun and then do something good for your yard.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

$20 of FREE Organic Groceries

I have to admit when I saw the Good Morning America feature on the mom who scored $267 of groceries for $.01, I was skeptical and a little bitter. Does she not buy produce or fresh meat? This could not have been a “typical shopping trip”! You have to pay SOMETHING! Nothing in life is truly free!

That’s before I heard about the new Earthfare pantry makeover deal. You can bring in practically empty containers of items containing high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils and they will give you a healthier and often organic alternative for FREE. The items in their promotion include cereal, salad dressing, peanut butter, jelly, and soft drinks. Sad to say I had items in all those categories in my fridge or pantry; so I couldn’t resist my chance to taste the alternatives. Tip: If you choose to bring unopened items, they will be donated to Second Harvest.

Thanks to tips from Knoxmoms and Coupon Katie, I learned Earthfare was not only having a special Halloween event for the kids; they were giving away 3 pound bags of organic apples through October 31. Armed with my coupons, I brought my oldest son Bobby for a fun outing and chance to save some serious bucks.

We first grabbed the apples (worth $6). I’m going to turn those into baby food; so check back in for details in a future blog. Bobby then decorated one of the cloth bags I use for grocery shopping and gathered a few goodies through a scavenger hunt around the store. We then went on another “scavenger hunt” for the free pantry makeover items (cereal: $2.49, peanut butter: $3.79, jelly: $4.99, salad dressing: $2.19, and vitamin water: $1.25). The total for all these goods would have been $20.70 before tax. Total cost to me: $ZIPPO. And the fact that most items are organic is a huge plus in my book.

While there, I also picked up two six packs of Annie’s organic mac n’ cheese--a staple in our house. On sale, it worked out to $1 / box—a price you can’t find cheaper anywhere. I also used two in store coupons on items already on sale and saved a total of $7. The holiday savings books have over $42 in coupons, can be found on most aisles, and have coupons that are usually good through January. Tip: make sure the coupons scan ok; some registers are having trouble reading them.

All told, I spent $18.81 for goods that retail for nearly $50. Once again, this proves you can Go Green and Save Green.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


It's October 31, the house is quiet, and I can finally drink in the conclusion of Halloween. To me, it's almost as sad as saying good-bye to Christmas. What's not to love about Halloween?! You get to don a costume, slither your fingers in pumpkin goop, and gather as much candy as you can!

And Halloween isn't just about the evening of Oct. 31. That's just the finale of a host of activities leading up to it. My husband doesn't understand all the hoopla but I''m hoping we're creating wonderful memories and traditions for our children. There's the visit to the Fruit & Berry Patch in Halls. You get to ride a tractor, feed sheep and goats, pick out a pumpkin, run through the corn maze, drink apple cider, and get a coloring book.

Then there are the parties: this year we made it to six events! We celebrated with our playgroup, MOMS Club, the neighborhood, our church, their school, and Earthfare. (I'll write more about Earthfare in a future post).

All these festivities may seem like a lot, but they were our way of connecting and celebrating with the people who make up our community. And when your family lives hundreds of miles away, community is so important. Enjoy a few snapshots from our Halloween fun.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All Star


He’s the last batter of the final inning in the last game of the Karns little league T-ball season. The bases are loaded, and my 6-year-old son Bobby steps up to the plate. This is his moment—his chance to be the hero.

Bobby eyes the ball, winds up, and does a complete 360--clearly missing the ball. He regains his concentration, fixes his stance, and whacks the T--again missing the ball. Undeterred he gets back in position, takes a deep breath, and…smacks the ball past the pitcher, past the second baseman, and into the outfield where not a single player is ready to retrieve it. Bobby sprints to first, doesn’t stop at second, rounds third at full speed, and slides triumphantly into home on his belly. He hardly notices that the other team is in the dugout by now. The only cheers are the ones from his parents, but his smile proves that’s enough.

This was Bobby’s first year for organized sports: soccer in the spring, baseball in the fall. We were surprised that he was already “behind” many of the other players who began as young as four. We wanted him to start in the non-competitive league where there are no outs, every player rounds the bases, and everyone gets a trophy. Bobby didn’t seem to mind that he was literally head and shoulders above some of his teammates. Skillfully he blended right in. I was thrilled to see that Bobby was given the #7 jersey (my number from softball). Bob got nostalgic as well, pulling out his first baseball hat from second grade.

Not wanting to be over-scheduling parents, we’re choosy about our children’s extra activities. But we didn’t hesitate to sign him up for little league baseball. Sports teach so many valuable skills: coordination, teamwork, taking turns, paying attention, and one day, learning how to be a gracious loser. And there’s something magical about this All American sport; it’s practically a childhood rite of passage.

There were times when I dreaded the mad dash of getting the boys fed, the baby nursed, the dog her dinner, and Bobby dressed in time to be on the field by 5:45pm. More often than not Devin’s face was smeared with dinner remnants and Brooke needed a diaper change just as the game started. It was a good day if I remembered toys and extra layers for the younger two. The crowd consisted of four dozen faithful family members who generally remained quiet. But we all secretly beamed with pride when our little one stood poised at home plate.

Today all the extra chaos sports add to a family’s life melts away because it’s the All Star game. The four teams of the league combine to battle it out as representatives of the American and National Leagues. It’s a beautiful, crisp sunny day when these pint size peanuts have the privilege of ascending the hill to the big ball field. Their faces are giddy with anticipation.

Adding authenticity to the spectacle is the announcer who calls their names over the loud speaker. One by one, each player tips his hat and bows. When it’s Bobby’s turn, he bows with the flair of an Elizabethan prince. He knows this is a big deal since I’m shooting video with my professional camera. This is an occasion to be recorded for posterity.

The game only has two innings—perfect for their short attention spans. The players show off their improved skills. A few times they even come close to making a real out. Bobby proves he’s no baseball prodigy and I doubt scouts, scholarships, or the major league are in his future. And no, he couldn’t really claim to be the hero in today’s game, but that wasn’t the point. Today was about making every kid feel like a hero—to let the youngest players of the game taste glory. Thank you to everyone who helped our happy, normal, well-adjusted son feel like an All Star. This is the good stuff of life.