Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween









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

SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO.

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.

video

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Green Products that save you Green



Yes, it's frugal Margaret again just back from Kroger. This week I saved $75.29 but I won't bore you with the details other than you should check out products that are buy 10, save $5. That makes Uncle Bens rice boxes more than half off. I was also able to get 2 bottles of Flinstone vitamins for much less (regularly $14.78, on sale for $4.50 each, take $.50 each off for the promotion, use $3 printable coupon; my total: $5).

I do want to point out one good deal that's good for the environment and for your pocket book: Windex Nature's Source glass cleaner. According to their label, it's 99.9% natural, uses plant-based, biodegradable cleaners, contains no ammonia, bleach, phosphorus, or dyes, and was not tested on animals.

Now at Kroger, if you buy two, you get $1 off your next shopping trip. You can also use the $1 coupons attached to the bottles. If you buy one more or have other SC Johnson products to buy (see list & get rebate form here), you can send in your receipt for a $5 rebate. That brings the cost of buying three glass cleaners from $11.37 down to just $2.37. Go green, save green.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why a Bad Economy is Good for the Planet

I learned an incredible and embarrassing fact recently: the average home in Tennessee consumes more energy than typical homes in any other state. And since most of our energy comes from coal burning plants, we are burning our natural resources faster than anyone else in the country. How sad! We can do better, we must do better, and I think the best people to change that statistic are moms.

Think about the unique opportunity mothers have: we are largely responsible for the items we buy, the energy we consume, and the influence on our children to make good choices. And a bad economy is really the best time to change our energy habits because we all could use more money in our pockets. Often the best ecological and economical choices are the same.

I challenge you—no, I dare you—to try some of the steps I’ve taken to lower our energy consumption—TODAY. Start with the biggest energy hogs in the home--appliances that add or take away heat: furnaces, air conditioners, hot water heaters, fridges & freezers, ovens & stoves, dishwashers, and washers & dryers.

  1. Stay cool without or at least less AC. I know it sounds crazy (Southern summers can be sweltering), but it’s possible. Most summer nights, we open the windows and let nature and fans cool our home and then close them by 9am. You’d be surprised how long you can go without turning on the AC—sometimes all day. If you have a basement, it’s likely cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than the rest of your house. We spend lots of time in our basement playroom and rarely have to heat or cool it. We also save by staying out of the bedrooms on the top floor for most of the day. A programmable thermostat makes modifying the temperature a no-brainer, and it’s easy to over-ride when desired. And if none of these work for you, at least turn your thermostat up 1 or 2 degrees. According to KUB, you save 1% on your cooling bill for each degree you raise your thermostat; they recommend a setting of 78 in the summer.
  2. Buy Energy Star appliances. If you have a fridge in your garage from the 70’s, get rid of it because it likely costs you more money to run than you think. We recently emptied our garage fridge and we’re doing fine without it. Thankfully the Energy Star ratings have taken the guesswork out of buying the best appliances for the environment by rating each appliance for electricity and water consumption (if applicable). I’d rather spend twice as much for an appliance that should last twice as long and uses half the energy; it’s better on your pocketbook and on landfills.
  3. Use your microwave instead of the oven when possible. I learned from an energy expert that it costs about 2 cents to cook a potato in a microwave but about 2 dollars in an oven. You can always start something in the microwave and crisp it up in the toaster oven; that’s what I do with chicken nuggets. I steam broccoli or peas in the microwave in about a minute. This from the FDA: “Microwave cooking can be more energy efficient than conventional cooking because foods cook faster and the energy heats only the food, not the whole oven compartment. Microwave cooking does not reduce the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. In fact, foods cooked in a microwave oven may keep more of their vitamins and minerals, because microwave ovens can cook more quickly and without adding water.”
  4. Select the no-heat dry option on your dishwasher: If your dishwasher has the option, select to dry your dishes without heat. I run the dishwasher at night and unload anything still wet onto a drying rack in the morning. By lunch, everything has dried naturally. KUB says air-drying saves 30% of a dishwasher’s energy use.
  5. Cut down on laundry. If you dread doing laundry like I do, then this one saves you time, money, water, energy, and hassle. Only run the washing machine when you have a full load. You can really pack front loader washers and dryers these days (leaving some room for tumbling of course). Shorter cycles with warm or cold water rather than hot save energy too. You have my permission to skip ironing and lose the wrinkles with a few minutes in the dryer instead. I draw the line at hanging clothes on a clothesline, but if your neighbors don’t mind, go for it.
  6. Turn it off and Change those bulbs. Be mindful of lights and electronics left on around the house. I’ve commissioned the boys to become “Light Police” so that they can have just as much fun turning off the lights as turning them on. We’ve replaced at least half our lights with compact fluorescents (a move I initially resisted because I was picturing stark bright lights from elementary school), but the “soft light” bulbs look great. Each one can save $40 or more in electricity costs over its lifetime. They use less energy, produce the same light, and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. If every American home replaced just one bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year!
  7. Unplug: Walk around your house to find anything that’s plugged in that really doesn’t need to be; they’re called phantom loads and draw energy 24/7. We’re guilty of plugging in cell phone chargers, battery chargers, baby monitors, and alarm clocks in rooms we rarely use. I’m making more of an effort to plug them in only when I need them and to shut down the computer at night. We’re looking into installing a GreenSwitch Master Switch, one electrical switch that shuts down whatever you choose when you leave the house.

Remember: every time you save energy, you save money. So whether you’re doing it for the environment or for your bottom line, now is your chance to do something positive for your family. Your small actions here and there may not seem like much, but if every mom in America made an effort to reduce her energy consumption, imagine the impact we could have! And when you not only teach but show your children that we all take responsibility for changing the world, then you truly earn the title of Super Mom!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cloth Diapers

A few weeks ago, I was very excited about saving $26 on four packs of diapers. But here's the big money saver of diapers (so new moms especially, listen up!): I primarily use cloth diapers. Yep, I'm one of those crazy types who love saving money and the environment so much that I'm a card carrying cloth diaper momma. Ok, we don't really carry cards, but if we did, I'd pass them out with pride. And I'm here to tell you: it's not that big a deal, it is worth it, and if you're at all intrigued, you should give it a try.

My cloth diaper adventure began when we lived in California (ok, get it over with--figures!). What was great about the San Francisco Bay Area is that they have a diaper service. You don't have do a thing but put a sack of dirty diapers once a week on your front porch and the diaper man magically brings you clean ones at 3am. Very little effort, no more exposure to "the yucky stuff" than regular diapers, and the cost was about the same as buying disposables. If you live in the area, check out Tiny Tots.

When we moved to Knoxville, TN, there was no such diaper service and I had to decide if I was going to carry on. We bought a great new front loader washer with a sanitary cycle and I invested in my favorite styles of diapers, FuzziBunz. Then I hit what I thought would be our quick potty training period. I decided to use disposables instead and a year later, I regretted my decision.

Then my second child came along and I was ready to cloth diaper again. He, however, threw me for a loop at 5 weeks and stopped nursing. Since I was determined to breastfeed (it doesn't surprise you, does it?), I pumped every ounce of milk for him til he was nearly a year. That was such a draining part of my life that I didn't have the energy to do cloth diapers too. So, I went back to disposables. Thankfully, he potty trained shortly after turning two.

Finally, our baby girl joined us in February '09, nursed like a champ, and gave me no reason not to return to my roots of cloth diapering. I invested in a few more diapers and I've been a faithful environmentalist so far. With a few exceptions: I use disposables at night, on trips, at the pediatrician, and under certain outfits. Designers do not have the bulkier diapers in mind when creating some of those ensembles! I've also just bought some larger diapers to try with the boys at night; we'll see. I do laundry about twice a week; if you want more details of "my system," email me.

If you're looking to get started, there are loads of resources online. One of my favorite suppliers, Zannadu, is unfortunately closing her doors at the end of the year. This could be a good time to pick up some great deals! If you live in the Knoxville area, I recommend checking out Cutie Tooties. I hear you can buy a trial pack of a variety of styles to see what works for you and you can meet with her in person to learn everything you need to know.

If you're still reading, you might actually give this a shot! Need more motivation? How about that it takes 20 trees to diaper one baby in disposables for 2 years. Or that single-use diapers represent the third largest consumer item in the waste stream. Or here's my favorite: each diaper needs 500 years to decompose! What do they put in those things?!

I admit I'm not a purist when it comes to cloth diapers, but every bit helps. Weigh in your opinion in the comment section below.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More coupon lessons learned



Today I made my weekly trek to Kroger and Walgreens in search of great deals. Since I only have an hour to shop for groceries with two kids in tow, I've learned a few tricks to be as efficient as possible.

Last night I wrote down my grocery list in order of the aisles I shop. I also flipped through the flyer online to see what extra items were worth adding. I then went through my coupons and pulled the ones I thought I would use and put those in a separate envelope (I brought all the coupons just in case).

My total Kroger savings this week was $42.96 and I spent under a hundred bucks. The best deal was on Fiber One bars and Nature Valley granola bars. Four boxes are usually $12. Each was on sale for $.50 off, there was an additional buy 4, get $4 off, I had two Shortcuts coupons for $.40 each, and I had 4 manufacturers coupons for $.40 each (which Kroger doubles). In the end, I got 4 boxes for just $2--that's right $2!! The Fiber One bars came out to $.10 each (normally $.60 at Kroger and $.36 at Sam's Club). I was practically giddy with excitement.

Then at Walgreens, I went in for the deal on Triaminic cold medicines. It's good to stock up before you need it. What normally sells for about $20 I got for free, but I learned an important coupon lesson. Thanks to Coupon Katie's guidance, I saw the big savings here. This week, Triaminic is on sale for $5 each (normally $6.50). If you buy 3, you get $8 RR, I gathered three Walgreens Health coupons for $2/1, and I printed two manufacturers coupons for $1.50/1 online (two was the limit).

In theory, this should have been a money maker, but I forgot one important Walgreens rule: the coupon to item ratio. In short, you can use a Walgreens coupon AND a manufacturer's coupon on one item but you can't use more coupons than items you purchase. The solution is to buy a few small items to fill out your cart. Since I was trying to use 5 coupons on 3 items, I needed to buy 2 more items. This should have been solved by the two extra candy bars I grabbed next to the register, but the cashier only rang up one and set the extra coupon aside (probably tired of dealing with coupon fanatics like me). I didn't realize this til I got home. Oh well.

With my $8 register rewards and a $5 coupon in the flyer, I was able to get a cool spider cape for Halloween (regularly $15, my total: $2.91). So that made me happy.

My question for all of you savvy savers out there: how do you typically handle the coupon to item ratio? What items do you buy to level the score? If you have better suggestions than candy bars, my hips will thank you. Let me know in the comment section and happy savings.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Eco Crafts

As I've noted before in my treasure hunt party craft, I believe in crafts that stress the importance of reusing and then recycling materials. Some of my favorite supplies are paper towel / toilet paper rolls, plastic bottles, egg cartons, and cardboard boxes. Out of these I've made binoculars, swords, discovery bottles, and a rocket ship with a full control panel.

Today we decided to decorate for Halloween by making spiders / one-eyed-monsters made of egg cartons, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes. It's not the most original idea, but it was quick, easy, and cost nothing extra I didn't already have in art supplies. Check out our video for more details.


video

I was feeling so inspired on the eco craft front that I made bird feeders with the boys as well. You can find all kinds of ideas here. In the past we've just covered pinecones in peanut butter and bird seed, but today we tried something different.

I had two thicker, more durable dowels from aluminum foil packages; in theory, they should last longer in the rain. I also chose to use up some Soy Butter that did not go over well in our family. (I was looking for a peanut-free alternative for school but this was aweful. I do recommend the fresh almond butter at Ingles).

For ease of clean-up, I recommend using wax paper and plastic knives. Tips: The seed will roll on more easily if there isn't much sticky material on the paper. You can also use honey or peanut butter but you should probably stick to something you don't mind the kids tasting.

Since I had bird seed from years past and some twine in the garage, this project also cost us $0. Check out all the fun in our video.



video

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Binky Fairy

Binky Fairy

This happened in our home a few weeks ago; I hope it will help other parents going through the same ordeal:


It’s a developmental milestone, a right of passage, a time in his life I’ve been eagerly anticipating and dreading at the same time. Tonight the Binky Fairy will visit Devin and take all his pacifiers (which he calls na-na’s) to the little babies who need them. In return she will leave him a very special toy he picked out for just this occasion. Now that he’s nearly three, he must say farewell to his beloved companions forever.

8:02pm Devin comes downstairs with a binky in his mouth and four others in his hands. Dad encourages him to leave them on the fireplace and to “pitouey” the last one. He hesitates but spits it out and carefully lines them up. Dad non-chalantly leads him upstairs.

8:28pm Dad tries to leave the boys’ room as usual, but Devin asks in the voice of an angel for his na-na’s; he sounds pitiful.

8:44pm Devin is now screaming, “I want my na-na’s!” Dad reassures him he’s a big boy, that he doesn’t need them, and how great the Toy Story Moving Day Adventure Pack will be. He refuses to be consoled.

9:10pm I go into his room. Surprised to see me, he politely asks me for his na-na’s. I tell him I know it’s hard but he’s a big boy and he can do this. I’ll stay next to him to help him settle down.

9:22pm No longer tight like a ball, his body is all stretched out and his breathing is more relaxed. I’m doing a victory dance in my head when I start to slink out of the room. That’s when he pops up and starts flashing his flashlight. He begins pleading for his na-na’s and Daddy again. I leave him crying and screaming.

9:34pm Dad goes up to his room to lie next to him. Devin finally settles down again.

9:50pm Dad comes downstairs--triumphant that Devin is asleep.

10:10pm The Binky Fairy gets busy working on a special note with stickers and glitter, thanking Devin for his bravery and contribution for the babies of the world. The special toy is left on the fireplace and the binkies are tossed into the trash. I couldn’t cave and give Devin a binky now if I wanted to. It’s a little hard knowing one day these are essential to our existence, our sanity, our peace. Now they’re nothing more than garbage.

11:33pm Just as I nestle under the covers, Devin begins crying. Dad is able to settle him down.

11:41pm Devin cries again; Dad pops up.

11:49pm Repeat above scenario for another HOUR. My presence only makes it worse. I lose count of how many different techniques Dad uses to break the cycle of unhappiness. Oh, this really sucks!

1:05am Devin finally asks if the Binky Fairy had come yet. He and Dad go downstairs to discover she has indeed taken the binkies and left the much-anticipated toy. Exhausted but elated, he settles into his bed clutching Buzz, Woody, and the rocket.


The Day After BF

6:05am After such a stressful night, I’m hoping the boys will sleep in. Nope. Devin is already pressing the button non-stop that repeats, “This isn’t flying; it’s falling with style.” Devin asks if he can keep the toy and get the na-na’s back. “Sorry, pal.”

6:50am His older and wiser brother Bobby knows what Devin is going through. The Binky Fairy visited him 3 ½ years ago. “You know she will never, never, never, never bring your binkies back,” he confides. I’m waiting for a trail of tears to begin, but Devin responds, “I know.” Maybe we’re over the hump.

All morning: I do my best to keep him busy and hide all of his little sister’s pacifiers. Since they’re a different style, I doubt he’ll confiscate them for his own, but I don’t put it past him.

1:45pm It’s nap time and Dad takes him upstairs. Normally he would have a na-na in his mouth before he climbs into bed. Devin sheepishly asks him for a na-na, to which Dad responds, “Do we have any na-na’s?” He answers sadly, “No” and lets it go.

Night time seems to go easily; he slips into our bed during the night but no crying.


Two Days After BF

Devin has school for 5 hours and seems exhausted when I pick him up. A small misunderstanding puts him into a tailspin of anger and frustration. In the old days he would have settled down quickly with a binky, but those days are gone. Now I have to just listen to the crying until he passes out. Thankfully he takes a long nap, not once waking to ask for a na-na.

At Bobby’s baseball game, Devin is pushing the envelope of obedience. When Dad says, “One more time and you’ll lose your bedtime stories,” I cringe. Please don’t do it, please don’t do it. He does it. Dad has no choice now but to take away the last soothing aspect of going to bed.

7:45pm When he remembers his punishment, Devin pleads for his books but Dad stands strong. Consistency, consistency, consistency. Devin becomes hysterical. A na-na would have shut this behavior down, but we march forward.

9:15pm Devin finally settles down and sleeps in his own bed all night without a peep.


The Two Weeks After BF

From this point on, the days blend together: some good, some bad. Just when we think we’re in the clear, Devin cries inconsolably from 2-3am. But there have been no more requests for his beloveds and he even proudly fetches a binky for his little sister when needed. There are moments when I literally ache from the growing pains Devin has endured recently. But then he blows me away with his newfound confidence and independence. He no longer hides his radiant smile behind a piece of plastic. It’s there for everyone to see that he has earned his new standing of a BIG BOY.


Ok, I know I said I was done with the savings rant. If you can bear one more, here are three of the best deals I found at Kroger today (my total savings: $45.88).

There are several items that can earn you discounts on future trips (within two weeks)--like Walgreens register rewards. I bought 4 Pillsbury pizza dough tubes, got $1 off from Cellfire.com and $1 off from Shortcuts.com, and earned a $2 reward. I could have saved another $.40 from a coupon I printed online, but my printer was running low on ink and it wouldn't scan.

Another good deal I thought was Ziploc bags: buy 3 boxes and get a $2 reward. I'm now going to send in for a rebate from SC Johnson and will get $5 back. Since you can get 50 sandwich bags for $2.29, it's like getting three boxes for free. And if you have manufacturer's coupons, you can even make some money. May I suggest the Ziploc Evolve version (same price as the regular) but it's better for the environment because it uses 25% less plastic and is made with wind energy. With this deal, you get to be a Super Mom on several levels!

Finally, I stocked up on sodas because of the free Cheezits promotion: buy 3 12 packs or Cokes / Sprites on sale for $12 and get 2 free boxes of Cheezits (worth $5.58). Even though I've seen Cokes cheaper at Target, if your kids like Cheezits, this is the better deal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Super Savings

For those of you wondering if I'll ever get off this penny pinching spree, I will give it a rest on the blog after this entry. I just couldn't resist sharing my latest triumphant savings spree at Walgreens. I got two bottles of lotion, two rolls of dental floss, and one box of band aids for FREE and I saved $26 on diapers. Here's how I did it.

First I bought a bottle of Vaseline Sheer Infusion Lotion ($7) and a Walgreen's children's activity book ($1) that has lots of coupons in the front of it--Devin got a new book and I got additional savings good through March. With a $1.50 coupon for the lotion that I printed online, my total with tax was $7.22. I was also given a $7 register rewards for the lotion.

I then scanned two bags of GoodNite diapers (regularly $11.50 each, on sale for $9 each), used my $7 RR, and scanned two $2 manufacturers coupons I printed online. I also purchased a box of bandaids for $4 but used the in store flyer coupon for $2 and a $2 coupon from the children's activity book. Therefore, this item was free. My total with tax this time: $8.65 and I got a $4 RR for buying two packs of diapers.

Now that the cashier is getting into my savings scheme, I used my $4 RR to buy another bottle of lotion and I purchased a roll of dental floss (spend $2, get $2 RR). My total with tax: $5.82 and I'm given another $7 RR and a $2 RR.

Now I scan two bags of night time pull-ups (also on sale for $18/2) and another dental floss. After my $7 RR and two more manufacturer's coupons worth $4, my total is $10.85. I'm given another $4 RR and $2 RR that I can use on future purchases.

I could have saved even more if I had bought four activity books, but I don't need four of the same. I was also in such a flurry that I forgot to use one of the activity book's coupons, and I could have used one of my $2 RR on the other pack of diapers. However, as I've said before, I'm still getting the hang of this.

So in summary, I spent $32.54 for goods that regularly would have cost $82.40. And I have $8 RR to spend next time. It feels good to be a saver.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bargain Hunting 101

I am a rookie bargain hunter. I thought I was clever at finding sales, but I now realize I have much to learn. So after some guidance from Coupon Katie (www.couponkatie.com), Knoxville’s savings queen, I’m on a quest for big savings and what I can get for free. On her website, Katie usually details the best deals each week at three of my new favorite stores: Kroger, Target, and Walgreens. She’s done the work of finding the deals and even links to where to print additional coupons; how hard should this be?

My first stop is Kroger. Before I leave for the store, I load a $3 Huggies coupon from www.cellfire.com onto my Kroger card. Since Huggies are on sale for an additional $.78 savings, my total for a pack of diapers should be $5.21. However, at check-out I realize the cellfire coupon had not loaded yet and I don’t get the big savings I was expecting. I suppose I need to give the system more than two hours next time; ugh. However, I do score one free item here. In the 10 for $10 clearance bin, they have lots of small tubes of Colgate toothpaste and I have a $1 off any size Colgate manufacturer’s coupon. After digging in the bin to find the kind I like, I’m triumphant.

Next stop: Target. The promotion that has caught my eye in this week’s flyer is “buy two bags of M&M’s for $2.50 each and get a free cloth shopping bag” (worth $1.99). With an additional coupon for $1/2 that I printed from Target.com, my total will be $4. Since I’m all about avoiding plastic bags and my kids will do anything for M&Ms, I’m on the hunt.

I start in the candy section; sounds reasonable, right? But they don’t have the specific bags of M&Ms advertised here. An associate directs me to the Halloween section, all the way across the store of this Super Target. When I scour those shelves, I can’t find it there either. Another associate gets on the walkie talkie and finds the candy is on the end of aisle 16 (how would I have known to look there?) and the free bags (if they have any left) are back in the candy section. Determined, I hoof back across the store, pick up the chocolates, and grab the LAST free bag. I suppose next time I should plan my trip earlier in the week.

As for a freebie at Target, I had printed an online Target coupon for $1 off any size Chex Mix, hearing that they usually stock small bags (that sell for a dollar) at check-out. I scurry past all 20 something aisles and don’t see a single bag of Chex Mix. Are you kidding me? When I bug yet another associate, she goes to one aisle, gets down on her hands and knees and reaches back for what must have been the last small bag of Chex Mix left in the store. Was this really worth it?! At least it was free.

The next morning I resume my quest for bargains at Walgreens, hoping to squeeze this errand in between school drop offs. Only after I have two of my kids out of the car do I realize this store doesn’t open til 8am; it’s 7:39am. Back in the car we go to the 24-hour Walgreens 8 minutes away. Since I’m not familiar with the store, it takes me 30 minutes to try to locate all the fabulous register rewards items Coupon Katie had highlighted. Someone else nearby must follow her tips too because they’re all out of the toothbrushes, lotion, soup, chapstick, and cough medicine that I’m looking for. I leave the store discouraged and empty handed.

After the second school drop-off, I decide to try my luck one more time at another Walgreens in the name of research. My main goal is to test out this Register Rewards program. In the weekly flyer, you can find which items are marked register rewards and what those rewards are. For example this week, if you buy Vaseline Sheer Infusion Lotion for $7, you get a $7 reward that you can use like cash on a future purchase. The key is that what you buy with that reward must be at least $7; you can’t gather 10 items that equal $7.

At this store, I notice they don’t label the products that earn register rewards. You would only know if you had searched the weekly flyer. Maybe that’s why I do find the soup, toothbrush, and lotion that I’m seeking. I’m hoping these goods will still ring up the register rewards, but I’ll only know if I buy them. Sigh.

With a coupon in the flyer and a coupon I printed online, I get two cans of chicken noodle soup for free. I get two toothbrushes for free as well (spend $3, get $3RR). With $1.50 online coupon and the register rewards (spend $7, get $7 RR), I actually make $1.50 on the lotion. I use my register rewards to get Halloween candy and paper towels (also on sale). In summary, I spend $19.48 on goods that regularly would have cost $42.53. It was a bit of a hassle, but I’ll definitely do this again.

My final two places where I’ve recently scored free stuff are Brewster’s Ice Cream Shop and Premiere Athletics. In the library coupon books they earned from summer reading, there is a free kid ice cream sundae at Brewster’s. Since one of the boys is still less than 40 inches tall, he gets a free cone there any time. And because I have three coupon books, I can get free ice cream for the boys two more times. My biggest freebie this month can be found in the school coupon book: Premiere Athletics is offering a month of free classes for new students til the end of 2009 (value: $56). I’ve signed my youngest boy up for this to see if he likes it and so far, so good.

Thus far my experience as a rookie bargain hunter has been tiring and sometimes disappointing, but with a few lessons learned, I’m getting the hang of it. So if you have any tips for other ways I can get free stuff or discounted goods I haven’t thought about, please comment below. Save on!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

It all started with my latest trip to Sam’s Club to stock up on some basics. Lately I’ve been going about every three months for those essentials I buy in bulk. I was feeling great about all the money I must be saving when the cashier said: $722.97. What?! Something must be wrong. Have prices sky rocketed when I wasn’t looking? Is my strategy of buying in bulk not all that it’s cracked up to be?

That’s when I decided to get out my calculator, scour several stores for prices, and figure out how to get the best bang for my buck on everything I buy. I broke down each item by price per pound, price per ounce, or price per unit. I chose to compare prices for select items at Sam’s Club, Kroger’s, Ingles, Target, and Walgreen’s. What I discovered is that there is no one store that’s the golden ticket to savings, but with a little work I could save a lot of money. I now have a new mantra: how low can you go?

I had always thought the grocery chains Kroger’s and Ingles were comparable in prices; not anymore. When I compared nearly 50 regular grocery items, Kroger’s almost always came out cheaper. Ingles won out on a few sale items, but those could easily go on sale at Kroger’s the next week. So even though Ingles is the most convenient grocery store for me, it’s off my regular errand list for now.

When I compared the regular prices for items at Sam’s against the other stores, Sam’s was the clear winner on most goods. So for people who aren’t interested in waiting for sales or clipping coupons, this is probably the best store for them. However, I’m up for the challenge of saving the most money--however I have to do it. I’m convinced if I’m crafty, I can get lots of groceries for less elsewhere.

Here’s an example. The “big rolls” of Bounty paper towels at Sam’s work out to $1.42 a roll. I found the same product at Target on sale for $1.25 a roll. If I found a Target coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon (usually $.25 each), I could bring it down to $1.20 a roll.

Since the regular Kroger’s price is $1.84 a roll, I have my work cut out for me to save money here. For Kroger’s to win out on the price wars, I’m going to have to find $4.69 savings through sales and coupons on a pack of 8. The advantage of Kroger’s though is that thanks to websites like www.cellfire.com, www.shortcuts.com, and www.PGEsaver.com, I can load specific coupons electronically onto my Kroger’s card for free. There is no paper waste, the savings appear automatically at check-out, and they can be used with manufacturer’s coupons for additional savings (a process called “stacking”).

After all my comparisons, I discovered the surprising winner on this particular product is Walgreen’s. Flipping through this week’s flyer (available in the newspaper and online), I found they are selling 12 big rolls for $12; that’s $1 a roll. Armed with my coupon in the weekly flyer and a $7 register rewards I got for buying a $7 item, the total for all those paper towels is $5 before tax (regularly $18.49). If I’d had a manufacturer’s coupon or if they’d had extra savings in their monthly coupon book, I could have saved even more. The young check-out girl is stunned by what I just accomplished and says, “How did you do that?!” I direct her to the real savings expert, Knoxville’s own Coupon Katie (www.couponkatie.com). I’ll write more about register rewards and how to get free stuff in a future blog.

In summary, there were some clear winners at Sam’s that I will continue buying: cheese, fresh salsa, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, frozen blueberries, chocolates, olive oil, potato chips, pure maple syrup, and their yummy cookies. I had been buying all my meat and fish at Sam’s but discovered I could get most of that for less on sale at Kroger’s. At Kroger’s, I’ll be buying most of my fresh food: produce, breads, dairy, and meats. I’ll also see where I can stack coupons and wait until those items go on sale. I’ll be checking the Walgreen’s flyers for sales and register rewards items; I hear they’re great for cleaning supplies and hygiene goods. At Target, I’ll be looking for what’s on sale or in the clearance bins and checking their coupon books as well. Their sale price for canned cokes was the lowest I found from all the stores.

The key is that I’m now armed with prices, which I plan to put on a cheat sheet where I store my coupons. I’ll know what’s a good deal and not impulsively buy something because “it’s on sale.” It all seems so obvious; I’m embarrassed that I’m only now figuring this out. Better late than never, I suppose. I’ll check back in to report on my savings after a few weeks. So let the games begin—how low can you go?

Treasure Chest Cake


I can't believe I forgot to post a picture of the fabulous treasure chest cake. Thank you, Bert Slattery, for your creativity.