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.