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.