Saturday, January 30, 2010

Taming the Coupon Chaos

When I got serious about using coupons, I had to find a good way to organize them. My envelope system became tattered and confusing after a few months. So which method is best?

Consulting friends who have more experience in this than I, I heard from FOUR trustworthy sources, including Coupon Katie, to go with a binder. Clear baseball card sheets were a popular method for storing them by category. They'd put the older ones toward the back of each pocket and periodically check through them for those close to expiration. This method certainly has its pluses for versatility and expansion as your interests and ways to categorize coupons can change.

But since I usually shop with a 3 year old who can't sit still, even in the race car carts, and a nearly 1 year old who's becoming increasingly squirmy and inquisitive, I have to consider what system works with them as my co-pilots. If Brooke sits in the seat, where's my binder going to go? And do I really want to lug around a binder to every store? It just didn't give me the warm and fuzzies.

When I searched online for the typical alternative--accordion style organizers--I wasn't that impressed, and some of the customer feedback slammed them. Either they were too small, there were too few dividers or the dividers didn't make sense to many customers. Many complained that they were cheap and fell apart quickly. No thanks.

Then I ran across a one woman company called Glowgirl who sews an eco-friendly solution for $12 - $16.50. And had I waited just a few more weeks, I would have found her latest addition, the "mega coupon organizer" (room for 1,000+ coupons!). Here are the pluses of her product and company I like:
1. She's a female owned business who seems committed to excellent customer service.
2. Each organizer comes with 30 divider tabs and 80 peel and stick labels so that you can choose the labels that work best for you.
3. It closes with a button / elastic closure that secures to the grocery cart. It also sits up on its own.
4. The fabric is durable and attractive; it will hold up for years of weekly grocery trips.
5. She scours yard sales, estate sales, on-line sources, friends, family, remnant shops looking for great fabrics to use or "upcycle" from a previous use.
6. The peel and stick labels are 100% recycled paper and the index card stock is 15% recycled paper.
As much as I've enjoyed the organizer I got from her, I bought the smaller one that was the only one offered at the time. I've found it to be just a little too small in width and depth and have wished for something just a touch bigger. The mega organizer would be perfect for me.

I also learned a valuable lesson the hard way about where to hang my organizer on the shopping cart. Since Brooke was grabbing at it next to her, I moved it to the outside bar closest to me. That was just enough of an angle for Devin to swing it and send every coupon flying to the floor. Yes, I was practically in tears as I scrambled to gather hundreds of coupons. Thankfully I had most of the ones for that trip in my hand at the time and was able to reorganize the rest in a few minutes at home. I now attach it to the inside of the cart. Live and learn.

Now that I've had nearly a month to work with my organizer, I'd have to say overall I'm happy with my choice. It looks attractive, it fits well in one hand, and it keeps me organized. Mission accomplished.

So what's your vote: binder or purse style?

Setting up for Savings-Free Pillsbury Grands til 2/13

After writing the blog below, I've been watching the Pillsbury deals at Kroger. This week you can actually make money with Pillsbury Grands biscuits. Here's how.

Make sure you've loaded savings for this item from Shortcuts and Cellfire. If you did so a few weeks ago, you should have at least 3 $.30/2 esavings. Through papers and online sources, you can easily find a few $.30/2 coupons which Kroger doubles. This item qualifies for the $.30 savings if you buy 10 items; remember to buy exactly 10. I suggest you get 4 Breyers ice creams to round out the savings, but Campbells Chunky soups also qualify.

So here's the breakdown. Buy 6 Pillsbury Grands biscuits for $1.29 each. Esavers should save you $.90, coupons $1.80, the mega event another $1.80. For buying 6, you'll receive $4 off your next shopping trip at check-out. You've only spent $3.24 and you get $4 back. Not bad. I'm hoping the next few weeks will present savings for other Pillsbury items like the pizza dough. I'll be watching...

I'm no Kroger insider or coupon guru, but I'm going to make an educated guess that February will be a good time to stock up on Pillsbury products and that Sunday, February 21 may be the ideal day for savings. Hmmmm, how does she know this, you ask?

In December and January, Kroger hosted "mega events" the last week of the month starting on a Sunday. These give you savings of usually $5 instantly if you buy a designated amount of chosen products. And last month Kraft had a special: buy 5 designated Kraft products and get $5 off your next trip. These two events overlapped for one day only and made it possible to not only get free products but "make money." See how here.

Pillsbury has a similar promotion now through February 21. Buy 4, get $2, buy 5, get $3, or buy 6, get $4 off your next trip to Kroger. The nice thing is you can mix and match products including crescents, cookies, sweet rolls, biscuits, pie crusts, dinner rolls, loaves, breadsticks and pizza crust. All items must be purchased in one shopping trip, and I think you can only get one per day or at least per transaction, but you could earn savings every time you shop. These are Catalina coupons that will only print after your transaction is complete but are usually good for 2 or 3 weeks.

Since Pillsbury coupons seem to be in every Sunday newspaper and among most internet printable sites like here or here or here, you shouldn't have a problem finding a coupon for every item you buy. Just make sure you don't use more than two IP (internet printable) coupons per product, per transaction--new Kroger rule. But you can use as many from the paper as you can gather. And since most of these are $.50 or below, Kroger will double them.

The other way to save on Pillsbury is with Shortcuts and Cellfire (electronic coupons saved directly to your Kroger Plus card). I would advise you to load as many as you can now and then check back every couple of weeks to add more. Cellfire should be adding more Feb. 9. I currently have $6.80 from Cellfire and $4.90 from Shortcuts of potential Pillsbury savings. Make sure you print out lists from both sites so that you can match up coupons and e-savers, being careful to buy 2 as many of the coupons or e-savers require. Also check the expiration dates for both; some of mine expire Feb. 8, others Feb. 22.

Here's an example of how you could save (not sure of specific prices). Say I find crescents are on sale for $1.80, pizza crust for $2, and cinnamon rolls for $1.50. If I buy 2 of each, I can use a $.50/2 coupon for crescents, a $.40/2 for pizza crust, and $.40/2 for cinnamon rolls (those doubled = $2.60 savings). Shortcuts gives me an additional $3 savings. Since I'm buying 6, I'll get a $4 coupon at check-out. That's like getting all 6 products for just one dollar or $.16 each! I could be way off on the sale prices but you never know!

So if I'm correct in my prediction, Kroger will be hosting a mega event that includes Pillsbury products Feb. 21 - 27. If you go Feb. 21, you can still get in on the Pillsbury promotion. If you can pare a sale, a coupon that's doubled, an e-saver, a mega-event and a discount on future trips, you could save big. You just have to be patient and wait for the sale (hint: it's not this week!). But just in case I'm wrong about the Feb. 21 prediction, you might want to jump on any sales between now and then and buy at least 6 at a time. Hey, I've got no crystal ball! ;-)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who Says Budgeting Can't be Fun?

I have a confession. I've never really set a budget and stuck to it before. I've always been "mindful" of my spending but never disciplined. I decided to change that in 2010 when I set a budget for groceries and household goods. Based on previous spending, I allowed myself $150 a week at Kroger and Earthfare and $50 a week anywhere else (Target, Wal-Mart, Michaels, Walgreens, etc.). That's $800 a month, which many may consider high, but hey, this is my budget.

I saved all my receipts and tallied the savings they calculate on the bottom. I'm happy to report that I came in $152.52 UNDER budget for January and I saved an average of 41% through sales and coupons. That's a whopping $443.32 I did NOT pay! That number is somewhat inflated because I'll never pay full-price at Walgreens but that's still pretty good I think. And I've bought a number of organic or green products, which are typically pricier. But one of the reasons I'm budgeting and clipping coupons is so that I can afford healthier foods for my family and greener products for the environment.

If I come in under budget again in February, I'll adjust my groceries to $125 a week. The truth is I get kind-of giddy at saving money and calculating my savings. This budget thing may be fun after all.

How do you compare budgeting?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Best and Worst in Childhood Entertainment

To the veteran moms, this is no headliner. To the new moms on the block, listen up. And to grandparents everywhere, take notes. We all want our children to have toys that will stimulate their minds, develop hand eye coordination, and well, let's face it, entertain them for more than two minutes. So I'm here to take all the guess work out of knowing what is THE BEST and THE WORST in childhood entertainment.

Let's start with what you DO NOT want. Many signing toys have a high pitch or really loud volume that can not be muted. Make sure you play it before you buy and ask yourself: "Would I want to listen to that 25 times in a row?" If not, put it back. And if you've received one of those god-forsaken toys from a well-intentioned loved one, try to mask the volume with scotch tape over the speaker; it helps.

In the NO pile, I'd also include games that don't fit back into the box once assembled. I love Hungry Hungry Hippos but seriously, who's going to take that apart to put it away? Retailers, modify the box already! And Legos are great, but those itsy bitsy, teeny tiny pieces that the older kids tend to get drive me crazy! All I see is choking hazards or frustration as they try to match the picture, especially after that critical piece just dropped down the air vent.

But by far the worst form of entertainment for us right now is a video we rented from the library last week: Wheels on the Bus. Thankfully I can return that today, but I'm considering paying the library to take it out of circulation--sparing other parents from losing their minds! I can appreciate that the song Wheels on the Bus is good for developing young minds: the simplicity of the melody, the repetition yet variation of the lyrics. But this video, which we've played going to and from school daily, sings the song five different times, as the characters are seeking their home by driving on the bus. YOU try listening to that song 10 times a day and not have it ramble through your brain at the dinner table, exercising, and going to sleep. And what kills me is how much my 3 and even 6 year old have enjoyed this video. I wouldn't have thought Bobby, who's addicted to Bakugan and Dinosaur King, would have any interest in Wheels on the Bus, but it's been the number one request this week. It's not worth my sanity. Deliver me!

As for the BEST, I'll give honorable mentions to wooden blocks, balls of all sizes, paints and crayons, stickers, and any toy with wheels that fits in their hands. But the winner in my mind is easy: the cardboard box. We all know young kids often favor the boxes or wrapping paper to the toys inside them, but it's really true that the best toy in the world is a box.
A. It's free.
B. It comes in all shapes and sizes.
C. It's versatile.
D. It appeals to both genders and all ages.
E. It's easy to decorate and no big deal to recycle.
F. It's the perfect springboard for imagination.

We've used a variety of boxes throughout the years and I'm always looking for new ideas. We turned the giant box the refrigerator came in into an art box--where all painting, play doh, and other messy activities happen. When the fire truck that Santa brought needed a fire station, Bob turned to our stash of boxes and made a custom one to fit; that lasted over a year. The one a blueberry bush arrived in was transformed into a space ship. Egg cartons made the perfect control panels, and the boys painted it every color they could find. And when it finally deteriorated, we just recycled it.

Last year I wrapped our sturdiest boxes of all sizes in brightly colored contact paper. They have been superb building blocks that make great towers to knock down or the coupling bolts between couch cushions for a train. Our favorite box right now first shipped my office chair. It's decorated with lizard stickers now and has a hand-made, paper towel roll handle. It became even more fun when Devin decided to turn it upright, making it more suitable for a hide-out. I think we'll use it as a time machine tomorrow. The possibilities are endless really.

I doubt you'll arrive at any birthday party toting cardboard boxes as the gift, but never underestimate the power of a gift's packaging. Every box deserves another life. Reuse and then recycle.

Share your favorite uses for cardboard boxes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to Save 91% at Kroger-TODAY ONLY

Once again the stars have aligned with the special deals at Kroger. Here's how I just saved 91% on 10 items at Kroger, but that level of savings is only good TODAY, January 24.

Kroger has a mega event this week: buy 10 (specified products), get $5 off instantly. Today is the last day of a Kraft promotion that specifies you buy 5 Kraft products and get a $5 Catalina savings off your total of your next shopping trip. Combine that with sales, coupons, and e-savers, and you can save you serious bucks.

I bought 5 8oz packs of Kraft shredded cheese (normally $3.29, on sale for $1.49 each). The mega event knocks $.50 off each package and I used 2 $1/2 printables found here. Once you take into consideration the $5 coupon you earn at the end, that's like making $2. I think you can only earn one per transaction.

I also bought 2 boxes of Nature Valley granola bars and 3 boxes of Fiber One bars (both on sale). I had 2 $.40 printables for Nature Valley, 2 $.40 printables for Fiber One, and 1 $.40 paper coupon for Fiber One. These are all over the internet; try here or here. Since Kroger doubles these, that's a $4 savings. Note: Kroger now limits you to 2 internet printable coupons per product, per transaction. Since I had loaded several e-savers for both products from Cellfire and Shortcuts over the past couple of weeks, that saved me an additional $2. And since I bought 10 qualifying products, that knocked another $2.50 off my total today. All told, the cost of each box was $.99.

My total before tax was $7.90 and I walked away with $5 in savings next time. So it was like getting products that normally cost $32.90 for $2.90. There are lots of products that qualify for the mega event going on all week, but the Kraft promotion will no longer apply. Happy savings.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to Get $25 of goods for almost FREE

Thanks to some tips from Coupon Katie, I've just returned from Walgreens having scored some good deals. With sales, coupons, and register rewards, I got $25 of products for $6.72 and left with $6 in RR for next time. Here's how.

Neosporin Lip Health is on sale for $8/2. When you use 2 $3 printables found here, you get a $3RR at check-out. That's like a $1 money maker.

Wet Ones are on sale for $4/2. When you use 2 $1.50 printables found here, you get a $1RR at check-out. Now you've gotten those for FREE.

Scope Mouthwash is on sale for $7/2. From the paper, I had one $1 and one $.75 coupon. After the $2RR you earn, that was like getting them for $1.62 each.

Since Valentine's Day is coming up and the Walgreens weekly flyer has a coupon for $.99 a box, I bought 3 packs for half price. Since I now have more items than coupons, I can use two register rewards I earned last week for $2.50 and $2: 9 items, 9 coupons.

The total before coupons is about $25; after coupons, it's $6.72 and I'm leaving with $6 in register rewards for next week. Not bad.

And here's a good tip if you plan to do the weekly Walgreens specials. Make friends with the clerks; know their names and address them with a smile when you enter the store. And whenever possible, help them out. I noticed my friendly clerk Rusty (who's been working at Walgreens for 50 years) was buying some Campbell's soups. I gave her the Walgreen's coupon and a $1.50/3 printable, making them $1 a can for her. She was thrilled. A little goes a long way. ;-)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Organic Deals 1/17-1/23

I'm always looking for deals, especially organic deals. Yes, organic is usually pricier, but if you're patient and willing to wait for sales and gather coupons, you CAN get some good deals. Here's what I've found this week.

I visited Earthfare yesterday to get my free bag of frozen blueberries (coupon expires 1/19). While there I noticed Muir Glenn canned tomatoes were on sale for $1.50 each. If you snagged a $1/2 printable that was out there awhile ago, that's $1 a can--much cheaper than Kroger sells them right now.

But Kroger does have a few organic deals this week. Kashi frozen meals are on sale for $2.99 each. Target had some $1/1 printables awhile back that you can use at Kroger or you can pull $3 of savings off Kashi cereals nearby; one is a $1/1 frozen item. That brings your total to $1.99 each (normally $4.69).

Wolfgang Puck organic soups are also on sale for $2.50. You can load $1/1 savings onto your Kroger card from Shortcuts and pay only $1.50 a can (normally $3.09). If you can find a printed coupon, even better.

I also got a FREE half gallon of Private Selection organic chocolate milk: Value: $2.38. Right now the first 125,000 people to enter the free milk for a year sweepstakes here will be able to print a coupon for a free half-gallon of chocolate milk when you purchase two gallons of milk. Private Selection organic half & half is also $.20 off.

Kroger is worth visiting today and tomorrow for some good deals on Tyson chicken breasts and tilapia (both half price) and pork loin ($1.69 /lb). If the shelves are empty, ask them if there's more in the back. They're not organic but good deals.

Finally, Coupon Katie just alerted to some good organic coupons that only come out three times a year from Mambo Sprouts by going here. I've also been impressed with all the good coupons distributed by Organic Valley. Some of these items do go on sale at Kroger and Earthfare, making for some great deals.

So what organic deals did I miss?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Great Toy Organization of 2010

It happens every January. I get the itch to reevaluate, reshuffle, and reorganize several areas of my life: pictures from Christmas cards, spices, freezer, pantry, kids' clothes, you name it. This year, however, I'm most excited about how we've recently organized the toys. For less than $100, the playroom now feels like a new and exciting place and our living room looks like a grown-up space again.

CURRENT PROBLEM: I'll admit we have too much stuff and between three kids, all that stuff migrates to every inch of the house. It's not that we buy a lot. Between Christmas, birthday gifts, holiday parties, and birthday party gift bags, it's easy for a home to get over-run with chachkies quickly. And when you have toys for both genders spanning from baby to elementary age, it's hard to maintain simplicity.

PREVIOUS SOLUTIONS: 2007 was the first "great toy organization" in our home. A professional organizer had suggested two tips that worked well for awhile:
1. Divide your space into specific play zones.
2. Group smaller toys by category that store well in clear shoebox size containers.
Our playroom had the art box, train table, kitchen, ride-ons, puppet house, and fire station. We also had a collection of those bins holding everything from small cars to action figures to train tracks.

PROBLEM WITH PREVIOUS SOLUTIONS: Though the designated areas worked pretty well, after several years of having them in the same spot, we were all bored with them. Then there was the issue with how to store the rest of the toys. There was the table we shoved a bunch of miscellaneous toys under and two huge bins where we piled the larger random toys. Not surprisingly, toys in those areas saw much less play or when kids did pull them out, the mess that followed was harder to clean up. I also found with several of the categories that those shoebox size bins were just too small. If I only had something a little bigger...


1. RESHUFFLE: My first mode of action was to do a big switch-a-roo. The art box moved to that corner, the playhouse to the other corner and the train table in the middle. Every zone found a new home. Now that Brooke is cruising, I turned the coffee table into the room, covered it with a bumper and put all her toys above or below it. I'd spent no money and I already felt better.

2. SORT & PARE DOWN: I put all the other toys in the middle of the room (once the kids were in bed) and began sorting: keep, needs batteries or repair, consignment, or trash. Getting rid of four boxes of toys and one bag of trash felt great.

3. NEW BINS: Looking at all the smaller toys, I decided on categories and the sizes of bin I needed for each. The shoebox worked for some, the five quart for others. I recommend the sturdy Sterilite containers because they last longer and kids can open the tops better than those made by Rubbermaid. I also made labels for each bin with a word and a picture of what belongs in that bin. This helps Bobby to read new words and Devin to independently find what he needs.

4. NEW SHELF: Once I had all the toys in their new homes, Hubby and I decided we really needed a new shelf. Since he's handy with tools, he designed one perfect for the space we have. The bottom was open so that ride-ons could easily slide underneath. The next shelf was just high enough to fit the larger bins and since it was 8 feet long, we could fit every bin there. The top shelf was open for all those taller, bulkier toys (like Imaginext toys, puzzles, and board games). The best part is that it's still short enough for our three-year-old to reach any toy on there.

5. NEW LIVING ROOM: Our living room had become an extension of the playroom, with the corner becoming a graveyard for many of the toys at the end of the day. Now that all the toys have a designated space in the playroom, we're hoping to minimize the number of toys upstairs. And at the end of the day, any toys in the living room will be piled into empty bins that are stored in a trunk. Those will periodically be taken back downstairs to find their rightful homes. We'll see how it works.

Finally, I thought about new paint but haven't found the energy for that yet. By spending $75 on the materials for the shelf and another $25 on bins, we have not only achieved organization but have breathed new life into old spaces. What tips for toy organization do you have?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Five Free Meals & Other Good Deals--REVISED

If you haven't heard already through the couponing grapevine, Kroger is changing their policy on internet printable coupons: none over $1, no "free" coupons, and only 2 IPs per transaction. I'm hoping they will revise the last one to be only 2 of the same coupon per transaction, but we'll see. That means you may not be able to use the $5 Healthy Choice coupon to get the free meals, but some stores have not confirmed the new policy and are allowing them. So if you want the deal, go tomorrow.

Whoever said, "There's no such thing as a free lunch," hasn't shopped at Kroger or Walgreens this week. Here are six good deals at Kroger, including an organic one, that will cost you less than $13 (about 1/3 the normal cost).

Luna Bars are on sale for $1 each and with a B2G1 coupon, that makes each one $.66 (normally $1.49). Cascadian Farms (an organic company) has its cereals on sale for $2.99 each (normally $4.99). You can find $1.50/2 sticky coupons attached to several boxes, bringing the cost to $2.24 each. Though that is higher than I usually pay for cereal, I'm willing to support the organic movement.

Huggies are on sale for $8.99 this week. After a $2 printable coupon and $2 savings from Shortcuts, my cost was $4.99. I've decided I will pay no more than $5 for a pack of diapers.

BirdsEye frozen vegetables are also on sale for $1 and Danimals yogurt for $1.88. With coupons from this past Sunday's paper ($.35 which Kroger doubles for BirdsEye and $1 for Danimals), I got a bag of peas for $.30 and 6 yogurt drinks for $.88.

Finally the best deal I see right now is on Healthy Choice dinners: 5 for FREE! I don't normally buy frozen dinners; I've never even eaten Healthy Choice but for free, I'll given them a try. They'll be good for Hubby's lunches and the occasional dinner for me when he's out of town. Here's how the deal works. Go here for a $5/5 printable coupon and load a $5/5 e-coupon from the new Kroger e-savings. It's that simple. I haven't figured if I can load another e-saver onto my card. If so, I'll head back for another deal. But hurry, the coupons expire 1/15.

Walgreens also has some good deals this week:
  • Since Thermacare heat wraps are a "money maker," I decided to try one. The trial size is $2.49 (you'll get a RR worth $2.50 and you can save an additional $1 here).
  • Colgate MaxWhite toothpaste costs $.25 after you get a $2 RR and use a $.75 coupon here. You can get this deal twice if you do two transactions.
  • Three Campbells Select Harvest soups (also ideal for Hubby's lunches) cost $1 each with the in-ad coupon and $1.50/3 printable.
  • Quaker Oats are only $.50 with an in-ad coupon and a $1/1 printable here.
  • Two Bic Soleil razor packs (6 to a pack) cost $1 each (on sale for 2/$10, using a B1G1 coupon from the paper knocks off $5, and a coupon from the Walgreens January coupon book knocks off another $3).
  • Two Lysol wipes were only $.24 each for me (they're on sale B1G1 for $3.49, I used a $1/2 printable coupon and a $2 RR from a previous trip).
All and all I got some good savings this week. Any tips on what I missed?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year's Resolution

It's that time of year again and I can't resist contemplating what resolutions might make my life better. The typical ones jump to mind: lose a few pounds, drink more water, get back on a regular exercise routine, eat more fruit, go to bed earlier, bla bla bla. Yeah, those are all on my to do list but there's one idea that's really gotten me excited.

I've started a journal for each of my three children where I can jot down memories, milestones, or funny things they say more regularly. For years I've been saying, "I need to write that down!" The day gets away from me and I never do it. As a writer, I like to have my words more polished than I envisioned I had time to do for a project like this, but I've decided even basic comments are better than nothing at all.

I decided on three separate journals so that I could give each their own book one day; I'm trying to avoid the second and third child syndrome where they don't even have a baby book. Yeah, put that on the list too. I bought the same style in three colors so that I could easily distinguish them. I'm going to keep them by the phone in the kitchen for easier access.

So hopefully if I have only ONE set-in-stone resolution this year, I might just succeed in accomplishing it. What are your resolutions? What types of things would you want saved for posterity in a journal?