Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March Budget: Totals are In

If you've stumbled upon this post thinking you'll find guidance on how to feed your family on $50 a week, you're in the wrong neighborhood. I commend the women like Frugalissa, Gabrielle, and Coupon Katie who routinely hit their budgets of $200 - $400 a month. I, however, have set some realistic and attainable goals that are right for MY family, and at the end of each month, here is where I hold myself accountable.

I've decided to group all the food, household needs, clothing, etc. into one category and set a monthly budget of $800. That includes a weekly trip to Kroger, one trip to Earthfare, weekly trips to Walgreens and CVS, one or two trips to Target, as well as all consignment sales, department stores, craft stores, dollar stores, and any other extras I might splurge on. It would cover fast food and dining out if we ever did either, but those cases are slim. Yes, I once tried to order a burger at Chick-fil-A. Fast food is not my forte.

So since we rarely eat out and my husband takes left-overs for most lunches, I put a lot of time and effort into making healthy, affordable meals. I shop the sales, use my coupons, load my card with e-savers, and work the deals at pharmacies. But I still can't come close to the mega-budgeters listed above. And you know what: that's ok. I'm careful about how I spend our money and I'm keeping track of what I spend where. For that, I've come a long way.

So how did I do for March? I actually went over ten bucks. I could have forfeited that last trip to Target and the good deals on the board games. Or I didn't have to buy the 1000 paperclips for five bucks, but I was thinking ahead. I needed about 200 paperclips for a MOMS Club project, and the larger bin was the better economical decision for the long haul. So yes, I now have paperclips to last me, well, forever, but I can live with that. And since I was $20 under budget last month, I can let this minor infraction slide.

This brings me to one final budgeting issue that was a mathematical certainty at some point. Generally, I've been budgeting by the week, four weeks in a month. In April, I will need to budget for five weeks (including all that I just spent on Sunday). I'm keeping my monthly budget the same; I'll just have to make one week light. Maybe I'll have a "perimeter only" week at Kroger where I only buy produce and dairy. I just made a lot of freezer meals, and I bought two large items that will go into several meals: a turkey and a ham. We'll see.

So the totals: I spent $810.65 ($556.68 primarily to groceries and $253.97 to household goods). Through sales, coupons, and e-savers, I saved $616.07 or 42%. I also earned $40 in rebates.

So how did you do?

FREE Coupon Exchange

Ever since reading Coupon Katie's post about sharing coupons, I've been thinking. How could I best share the coupons I don't plan to use? I settled on the Karns Library, and I'm happy to report the box is full and ready for the taking.

I figured small and contained was a good way to start. I reused a popsicle box and added my blog's information on the top. I figured if I was going to go to the effort to do this for my community that a little self promotion wasn't out of line. I also made three index cards: Expires Soon, You Have Time, and Expired. I decided to keep the expired ones in there for awhile to see if we have any military families that could use them. Each week I hope to add more coupons and move the older ones to the appropriate categories.

Here's my plan; we'll see how it works. Sunday is my day to scan the adds, plan menus, make lists, gather coupons I'll likely use, and clear out the coupons that will expire that week. On Tuesday morning, I usually make my Kroger run, and on Tuesday afternoon, I take Devin and Brooke to the library to kill 20 minutes before picking up Bobby. I can add new coupons weekly without making an extra trip.

I'm curious to see the response and how many coupons are taken. The librarians seemed eager to check it out once I left. I can feel good about the fact that coupons are not only allowing me to donate to charities but to my community as well.

What do you do with your extra coupons?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Couponing for Charity: 3/28 - 4/3 & Update #3--REVISED

I'm a little embarrassed to admit my confusion on this, but surely I'm not the only one. I just realized that the Walgreen's register rewards are an even better deal than I thought. I believed you had to use a $5RR for ONE item that cost at least $5--not so. You can buy as many things as you can adding up to $5 and use your RR like store credit. Boy, would this have saved me some bucks the past few months. At least I know it now that I have $11 in RR in my wallet. That said, I would have gone for the Dulcolax deal; so you might give that a try. Hip2Save has a good break-down of how to get a LOT for just $6 at Walgreens this week.

It's spring break this week--which means I'll have all three kids all the time. I'm not brave or insane enough to shop with all of them; so I snuck away today to Kroger, Walgreen's and CVS. Therefore, I decided to make just one post on my recommendations and my finds for charity.

If you're going to pick one place this week, choose Walgreen's. For all the Walgreen's match-ups go here and for Coupon Katie's picks, go here. The two best deals in my opinion are the Dove and Simply Saline products because both are money makers. Dove shampoos, conditioners, and styling products are $4, get $4RR. You can use a $2 printable to make each a $2 money maker, but you must buy them in separate transactions. For whatever reason, this deal is currently "rolling," which means you can use your $4RR from one transaction to buy the same product in another transaction and still earn the $4RR (not the case for most Walgreen's deals).

So in one transaction, I bought a Dove shampoo, paid only $2 since I used a coupon and received a $4RR. In the next transaction, I bought a Dove conditioner and a newspaper, used another $2 coupon and the $4RR, paid only $.37 and got another $4RR. It's tempting to keep doing this as long as you have coupons (check today's inserts), but I didn't want to be greedy. So in the end, I got both for free and made four bucks. I was going to keep both for our stock, but my husband gave me the look: "More shampoo--seriously?!" So charity wins out.

I was hoping the Simply Saline would be the regular kind we use for the kids, but the deal is only good for the Allergy and Sinus variety: $7, get $7RR. Since I had a $5RR from last week and a $1 coupon, I only spent $1 on this and got $7RR to use another time. But for "accounting purposes," we'll just call this a $1MM.

For all the CVS match-ups, go here and for Coupon Katie's picks, go here. The Oral B toothbrush deal was already gone at the CVS I visited, and I'm not one to chase all over town for a toothbrush. If you need Huggies, CVS has a good deal, and Listerine is only $.99 with a $1 printable. I was also impressed that they carry a line of 100% recycled paper towels; 8 rolls for just $5 (which I got for free from my Huggies ECB). And if you still need Easter candy, you can use this $2/3 printable for 3 bags of Reese's cups and pay only $1.33 a bag (deal good through Tuesday). So no charity deals here but deals can be found. And since Kroger didn't have any freebies that I noticed, here are my totals:

Total products to donate this week: 1 shampoo, 1 conditioner, 1 nasal spray
Total value of products to donate: $15 ($4 each for Dove products & $7 for Simply Saline)
Total spent: -$5

Total products to donate to date: 3 tubes toothpaste, 1 deodorant, 2 bars of soap, 1 shampoo, 1 conditioner, 1 nasal spray
Total value of products to date: $31.20
Total spent to date: -$8

How did you do?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Earth Hour--TONIGHT

Have you signed on to join Earth Hour TONIGHT from 8:30pm - 9:30pm? It's as simple as turning off your electricity for just one hour of your life. Millions of people and thousands of communities from 120 countries have pledged to send a message about climate change. (Please don't say, "Global warming is a hoax; look at all that snow this winter!" Massive snow, earthquakes, tsunamis--It's all related, folks!)

Earth Hour is about sending the message that we must create a cleaner, safer, more secure future for the planet for generations to come. More than 1200 landmarks including the Sydney Opera House, Bird's Nest Stadium, Great Pyramids, Eiffel Tower, Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, and the Golden Gate Bridge will all be going dark.

My husband and I have decided to use this as a stay-in date night opportunity. The kids will be in bed and we'll spend at least one hour just reconnecting with one another. Maybe a fire, maybe a bubble bath by candle light--well you don't need any more details than that. What a great excuse to do something good for the planet and your marriage.

Pulling Weeds is Therapeutic

I'm no gardener but I love to garden: planting, harvesting, eating earth's bounty. Today's weather calls for "abundant sunshine" and a high of 66. Our entire family will be outside today planting our first round of vegetables. Our pea seedlings are already 8 inches high and wrestling each other; outside they go. We'll also be planting more seeds to thrive in our "guest room green house." My husband has it all planned out with staggered crops to maximize the small amount of space we have: four 4x4 beds. All I know is part of my job today will definitely consist of pulling weeds and that suits me just fine.

Do you know that feeling when you pull a weed and it emerges from the soft ground roots intact? It's just as good as popping air bubbles in packing plastic but way better for the environment. Yesterday I started pulling weeds that had been growing since the snow melted. They were competing with the bulbs we planted last fall, and I can't have weeds crowding and taking away from their beauty! One after another, I felt better and better. Since we've have rain lately, the ground is soft but not muddy--the perfect time to spruce up outside. And while you're at it, let the kids give it a try--what a great chore for them. Between the sunshine, an improved yard, and the endorphins from pulling weeds, it's like free therapy.

So if it's even for just 10 minutes, go pull some weeds today.

P.S. Mom, this is not your cue to pull out the Round-up. Give the organic way a shot! ;-)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Board Games for a Buck

Yesterday in my "free Easter candy" post, I mentioned a good deal on board games at Target good through tomorrow, 3/27. Thanks to Frugalissa, another great money-saving blogger, the deal is even better. Here's how I got 4 full-size board games for just $4.

Target has Connect 4 and Classic Monopoly on sale for $7. You can click here for a $4 coupon for Connect 4 and a $5 coupon for Monopoly--both from manufacturers. Print each twice so that you can buy 2 of each. Since Target allows you to "stack coupons"--using a manufacture's coupon and a Target only coupon for the same item--you can save $6 more with 2 $3/1 coupons found here. You should be able to print 2 at one time; I printed both of mine at different times.

If you prefer to buy Battleship instead, it's on sale for $9, you can find a $4 manufacturer's coupon at the same link above and you can use the $3 Target coupon too--bringing your total to just $2 a game. Since I opted for Connect 4 and Monopoly, I got 2 Connect 4 games for free and 2 Monopoly games for $2 each, bringing my total to $4 for 4 games, or a dollar a game.

Two more tips: If they're out of stock at the store, ask for a raincheck for the number of games you want. You can bring that in within 45 days to get the advertised price. If you forget a coupon like I did, you can bring your receipt and the coupon back to a store within 7 days, and they'll give you the full value of the coupon in cash. Finally, these coupons expire between 4/11 and 4/15; so get your deals now.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Couponing for Charity: Update #2

If you're following along with my new mission to "Coupon for Charity" along with the Northwest Knoxville MOMS Club, here's how I did this week.

According to my plan, I was going to buy 1 tube of toothpaste, 1 bottle of mouthwash, and perhaps some hand soap. I didn't find the Dial soap, and the mouthwash was not the right size to use my coupon. However, I did "make $1" on the Colgate deal at CVS and I finally found the Buddies soap at Target. Since I had 4 $1/1 Johnson & Johnson coupons, I bought 4 Buddies priced at $.97 each. Since the register won't acknowledge a coupon for more than the value paid, the clerk had to manually type in $.97 each time; fine with me. I decided to keep two for the boys and add two to the charity fund.

Total products to donate this week: 1 tube toothpaste, 2 bars of Buddies soap
Total value of products to donate: $5.93 ($3.99 for toothpaste and $1.94 for soap)
Total spent: -$1 (it's like having an extra buck in the bank to spend another time)

Total products to donate to date: 3 tubes toothpaste, 1 deodorant, 2 bars of soap
Total value of products to date: $16.20
Total spent to date: -$3

How did you do?

How to Score FREE Easter Candy

A few weeks ago, I was "On the Hunt for the Hunts"--affordable items to stuff Easter eggs for several egg hunts. I settled on stickers as the most economical and environmental choice, but now that I'm preparing the Easter baskets for the kids, I realized CVS's candy sale this week is really a good deal.

I wanted three chocolate bunnies--one for each of the kids. Since yes, I am a chocolate snob, I prefer Dove or Lindt to the cheaper brands. CVS has both brands this week for $3 each, but Dove's is 6oz of solid chocolate and Lindt is 3.5oz. I'll take Dove. Better yet, if you spend more than $10 on candy, you get $3ECB. Here's how to stock up on items you probably need and score "free" chocolate at the same time (deals good through 3/27 as far as I know).

Transaction #1:
Buy 1 tube of Colgate Total for $3.99. Use $1/1 coupon, pay only $3 and get $4ECB.
Buy 1 pack of Pampers for $8.97 (all sizes should apply, even if the tag doesn't specify--do a price scan before you buy). Use $2/1 coupon or $1.50/1 (they're everywhere), and get $3ECB.
Total I spent: $10 plus tax
Bonus: I also received a $2ECB if I spend $10 on my next transaction; not sure if that's printed for everyone. Regardless, you should have at least $7ECB.

Transaction #2:
Spend at least $10 in candy a number of ways. You can buy any 4 types of bagged candy marked 2/$6. Or you could buy 3 bags of candy and two packs of generic jelly beans to spend a little less, but nobody likes jelly beans in my house. Another idea is to buy 3 bags Hershey chocolates and 1 other item and use a $2/3 printable found here. Note: The coupon will not work with the $.99 advertised Hershey chocolates because of the size.

I chose 3 Dove bunnies and 1 pack of Dove eggs.
My total spent: $3 plus tax (after $9ECB), and I walked away with $3ECB for next time. Sweet!

Make sure you have your green tag attached to a reusable bag; for every four visits to CVS, you get $1ECB. Money for something I'm already doing--awesome! And if you bought Pampers, don't forget to set aside your receipt for the P&G deal to receive $100 of coupons. You just have to spend $50 on any P&G products from 2/1/10 to 4/15/10; separate receipts are fine. One per household. I just mailed mine yesterday.

As long as we're on the subject of Easter baskets, I wanted this year's baskets to be personal, economical, and environmental. Buying new pre-made baskets fails all three criteria. So I'll reuse baskets from previous years (along with the plastic grass from year's past), fill them with the bunnies I just bought along with our stash of plastic eggs with various chocolates and stickers, and have one special gift per child (all $8 each) that I know they'll love and use.

At Target today I picked up one Bakugan combat set for Bobby (saved $3.99), 5 puzzles in 1 box for Devin, and a bubble machine for Brooke (saved $2.09). Connect 4 and Monopoly are also a steal right now: $7 each. With a $4 coupon for Connect 4 and a $5 coupon for Monopoly, these only cost $2 or $3 each. If they're out, ask for a raincheck (good for 45 days but the coupons expire April 15.)

How did you save money on Easter this year?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coupon Mania: The Bad Kind

Today I was checking out Gabe's blog and saw at the top this video from Earthfare. You know how much I love Earthfare and organic in general, you know how much I've loved saving money there. So it was with great sadness to learn they are having issues, especially the last few weeks, with people committing COUPON FRAUD.

They have multiple cases of people trying to take advantage of the weekly freebies 4, 6, even 8 times! Some have even purchased the item, changed clothes in the parking lot, and returned "in disguise." Really?! Who does that? I'll admit the free pizza and cheese deal was so tempting, I dragged a sick child into the store to get it. It's actually kindof a funny story if you need a laugh. But try to redeem more than one free offer? Never!

The coupons clearly state one coupon per person. Get your deal, say thank-you, and go home! Hopefully you'll value the freshness or quality enough that you'll return another time to purchase it again. But don't abuse the system. When you do, we all suffer.

According to this recent Wall Street Journal article, fraudulent coupons are not a big portion of coupons redeemed but they have increased 14% in the past year. Additionally 198 faulty coupons have been identified since late December--more than the previous decade combined! And if you're ever tempted to use bogus coupons, beware of these guys: the CIC, a non-profit fighting coupon fraud. They haven't lost a single case. You go!

Now I don't think Earthfare is battling fraudulent coupons. The coupons they email weekly CAN be printed multiple times and are often shared on lots of local coupon blogger sites. But just because you CAN print them multiple times doesn't mean you SHOULD. What Earthfare is dealing with is people abusing the system. And the more people who do that, the less likely they will share wonderful deals in the future. It's not worth a couple of extra pizzas--really!

While we're on the subject of coupon ethics, Katie had some great suggestions for making sure we all remain ethical when the dollar signs of savings are in our eyes. I'll admit I've been greedy with taking a few extra peelies off products in the past, but I've vowed to change my ways. Thanks for reading and being one of the good guys.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Couponing for Charity: 3/21 - 3/27

Update: The mouthwash deal at CVS won't work because the coupon is for a larger size.

For those wanting to find freebies (especially hygiene products) that can be donated to charity, here are my suggestions after checking several other blogger's match-ups.

I think CVS has the best deal this week if you want to pick just one place. Go here or here for more match-ups. Colgate Total is on sale for $3.99, but you get $3.99ECB. Use a $1/1 coupon and you "make a buck." Limit one. You can also buy 1 Crest mouthwash for $3.99, use a $2 coupon, and get $2ECB. That makes it free. Limit one. If you need diapers, this is a great week to use your ECBs to get Pampers.

For Walgreens match-ups go here or here. Walgreens has some Colgate MaxFresh toothpaste and toothbrushes on sale, but I didn't have the coupons to make them free. And after all these toothpaste moneymakers, who wants to spend anything on toothpaste?! Gabe recommends you go to Walgreens for the free Olay Quench Body Wash with mail-in rebate, but I'll pass on that one--too much work.

Southern Savers has a list of freebies at Target including bandaids, Buddie's soap, and kids Crest toothpaste as well as several travel freebies towards the bottom of the list.

I'm hoping Kroger will have the $1 Dial soap this week that they've advertised. I still have 2 $.35 coupons, which would make them only $.30 each. I might be willing to pay that.

So what deals did I miss?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mac 'n Cheese Dominoes

If you recall with last week's super deal on Annie's mac 'n cheese, I bought a few boxes--26 actually. Not only was my 6 year old Bobby thrilled that we had lots of his favorite on hand now; he decided to get creative. Enjoy this video: Mac 'n Cheese Dominoes! And for those not aware of my other profession, I am a video producer who works with companies, non-profits, and individuals. Check out my website.

Diaper Deals

As I've been watching sales and clipping coupons the past six months, I've learned a thing or two about getting good diaper deals. There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to ever pay full price.

First of all, there's no denying the cheapest diaper route is using cloth. We've used a service when out in California and now wash our own in Knoxville. They are an initial investment, but it pays for itself several times over.

That said, I'm not a purist. I prefer the disposables for night time and upon occasion when I can't change diapers often. My older boys are also still in pull-ups at night. Though I've tried cloth versions, they haven't been effective. That means I'm still buying three different sizes and using one pack per child every 3-4 weeks. So a deal finding I will go.

If you shop at Sam's Club, you might consider trying their generic brand, Huggies, or Pampers. If you don't want to fuss with coupons or sales, buying in bulk is the way to go. Devin wore Member Marks diapers for years, and they were just fine. I have not been impressed with the generic brands at Kroger, however--waste of money, in my opinion. Luvs are generally cheaper and are good, but finding high value coupons is harder for them and the sales are never impressive.

One store not to forget is Babies R Us. If you sign up for their free reward card, they will email coupons. A few months ago when they advertised Earth's Best diapers for just $3, I had to go. By the time I arrived, the shelves had been cleared by women waiting in line when they opened. However, there was a great deal on the next shelf that most missed. A box of Seventh Generation diapers (equivalent to 2-3 jumbo packs) was on sale for just $10, and I had a $2 coupon. That was a great deal and I felt good about buying less harmful diapers for the environment. Seventh Generation has diaper coupons on their site most of the time, but I rarely find them on sale.

So that leaves me with Huggies and Pampers. I generally never pay more than $5 for a jumbo pack of either. Kroger was a good place to get them for awhile because you could pair a coupon with an e-saver and save $3-$4 a pack, but I haven't seen too many diaper e-savers lately. Target is also a place to consider since you can stack a Target coupon with a manufacturer's coupon. I recently saved $3.50 a pack this way.

Walgreens is usually a good place to get Huggies, and this week they have a pretty good special: Buy 3, get $5RR. They're on sale for $9 each, and you should have been able to print 3 $3/1 coupons (maybe at different times). After coupons and the RR, that works out to $4.33 a pack. But it gets even better using previously earned register rewards.

Since I have 2 $4RR and 1 $1RR from last week's Couponing for Charity run, I can use these as well. I buy 3 cans of Hunts sauce and get them for $.99 total with a Walgreens flyer coupon and buy a Paas kit for $.99 (half what they cost at Kroger). Now that my coupon to product ratio is correct (7 items, 7 coupons), the costs break down like this:
3 Huggies ($27)
3 cans sauce ($3)
1 Paas kit ($1)
-3 $3 Huggies coupons = $9
-2 $4RR = $8
-1 $1RR
-$2 with Walgreens flyer coupon

Total spent: $11 and I get $5RR to use next time.

Another good diaper deal this week is at CVS. Pampers are on sale for $8.97 and you get $3ECB with each purchase (limit 2). With a $2 MC, that's like getting each pack for $4. I kept it simple since I was a first timer.
Transaction #1:
1 Colgate Total: $3.99
Used 1 $1 MC
Total spent: $3 and received $4ECB

Transaction #2:
1 Pampers: $8.97
Used $2 MC & $4ECB (there is no issue with item to coupon ration here)
Total spent: $2.97 and received $3ECB for next time.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Women Today Expo

This afternoon I decided to check out the Women Today Expo at the Knoxville Convention Center, and I'm glad I did. It's continuing one more day and it might rain part of tomorrow; so grab a girlfriend and go.

The Belleza Salon & Spa booth is just to your right as you enter. If you'd like one of their highly discounted services, I'd reserve your spot first and then check out the other booths. When I arrived, the next haircut slots available were two hours out, but a 10 minute chair massage for $10 was available within 20 minutes. Sign me up!

In the meantime, I roamed the floor. Make sure you grab a sample of Milo's iced tea. I was pleasantly surprised that the sweet tea was not overly sweet. As a GRITS (girl raised in the South), I know my tea and learning that it has no preservatives and is high in antioxidants makes it a product I'll consider.

A few booths down, I saw my friend Allison, a teacher and mother of three with one on the way. She was serving samples of chicken with various spice rubs for BKW Seasonings. I didn't get the connection until she introduced me to her brother, mother, and father who run this Knoxville based company. I love to support local (especially friends and family-owned businesses) and the rubs were delicious.

Food City had yummy chicken salad samples. Papa Johns was giving away pizza but I didn't want to stand in line. The Knoxmoms booth was cute, but this trip was about ME; the kids were left behind with Dad. I must have signed up for 10 different raffles for everything from Tim McGraw tickets to gift baskets. As for freebies, I scored a few pens, jar openers, chapstick, tape measures, and frisbees.

My favorite booths were ones with a wheel to spin. I liked spinning even more than what I'd win. At the Covenant Health booth, I got so excited to see "mystery prize." I chose their cloth bag which is a good size and quality. I also spun a wheel at the East Tennessee Clean Fuels booth, which promotes things like biofuels and electric cars. Clean energy is a cause near and dear to our hearts (my husband works in solar power technology), but I was bummed that I only answered 2 out of 3 questions correctly. "How much of our country's coal is imported?" Among 4 choices, I chose 65-75%, but it's 60%. I think she should have given that one to me.

The funniest product was a wire head and back massager. It looked like a whisk that had broken free. I'm sure some find it soothing, but it just tickled me. Only when I got home to blog did I realize that XTRM Services is a green company. For my massage, I needed deep tissue, and for that, Beth at Belleza came through. Maybe it's because she's also a mom or maybe she knew it had been ages since my last massage, but she really worked my knots and gave me a couple extra minutes. She confessed I was the tightest customer she'd had all day. Yeah, I'm not surprised. The massage came with a $10 discount off future services.

When she asked if I did yoga, I had to respond, "I did when I was pregnant" but not since then. Why did I make my health a priority then and not now? It took coming to an event focused on women to remind me that there are certain areas of my life that need some more focus. Yes, I think I'll make starting a yoga class a priority.

Unfortunately, I missed the headliners on stage or fashion shows, but if you check the schedule, you could plan around those. Tickets are $10 for adults, but you could save $2 a ticket buying them at Food City.

I ended my adventure with free Italian ice at Rita's in Market Square. It was just a one-day promotion (first day of spring), but if you want free Ben & Jerry's, it's free cone day on Tuesday.

What did you like best at the expo?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Couponing for Charity: Update #1

Here is the first reality check for my new mission: couponing for charity (click here for more details on how all these deals work). I'll start with the good news: I now have two tubes of toothpaste and one deodorant for my cause and they were not only free; I "made" $2. The bad news is that if you're not careful, trying to work the deals can be confusing, disheartening, frustrating, and exhausting. Even though my experiences this week have been up and down, I encourage you not to give up. I'm certainly not.

My quest began at Kroger on Tuesday. Specifically for charity, I was looking for Speed Stick, Irish Spring, and Dial soap. I had to be careful to pick the Speed Stick variety on sale, but that was free after coupons($1.50 on sale, -$.50MD, -$.50 MC doubled). The Irish Spring was also a good deal, but since that's my hubby's favorite, we're keeping that soap. I couldn't find the Dial soap for the sale price advertised; so I put that coupon away for another day.

Thursday is typically my Walgreens day, but I needed a few items at Target. The best deal was 4 Mini Wheats (Bobby's favorite) for $.56 each (4/$10 gets you a $5 gift card with no expiration date; I had 2 $1/2 manufacturer's coupons and 1 $.75 Target coupon from the recent mailer). I also got a bag of Almond Joy Pieces for $.29 ($2.29, $1 MC, and $1 TC). I searched for the free Buddies soap Coupon Katie describes with the $1/1 Johnson and Johnson coupon but couldn't find them anywhere.

I was also tempted to get the Dial soap for charity for just $.02, but I really needed soap to refill our hand dispensers in each bathroom. Though it may sound great to just get new bottles every time one runs out, that's a poor environmental choice. I usually try to find the refills in the containers that use far less plastic, but this Target didn't have those. So I did save $1.35 off my Dial purchase ($1 TC, $.35 MC), and now I'm set for weeks.

When I went into CVS for the deodorant deals, I was met with empty shelves and no sign that they even sell one item I had coupons for. I just walked out.

I then went to the Walgreens nearby on my next deal seeking adventure. Tip: There are several cases where they are within eye-sight of each other: Western Ave. & 275, Clinton Highway & Merchant's Drive, Middlebrook Pike, Oak Ridge Turnpike in Oak Ridge, etc. Brooke was amazingly patient.

This is where I got the "money maker" for toothpaste: buy 1 Colgate for $3.99, get $4RR. Using a $1/1 coupon made each tube a $1 money maker. I bought one tube each in separate transactions to get multiple register rewards (only one per transaction). The trick is finding something of value for at least $4 within the next 2 weeks. I'm hoping there will be a diaper deal, especially with the new $3 Huggies coupons just released. I decided to forego the toothbrush deal; I think I can do better.

This has nothing to do with my charity finds but it's a good lesson to learn: it's not always easy finding the right deal for your register rewards. I needed to use a $5RR that was expiring today (couldn't let that happen!). Originally I was going to buy 2 bottles of Purex laundry detergent for $5.99. With my RR, that would be just $.99 for 2 bottles--score! Not so fast. None of that Purex detergent was rated for the HE washers. I don't know what happens if you run non-HE detergent in an HE machine, but I'm not willing to risk MY washer. So, plan B. Walgreens also had the larger bottle of Tide the same price as K-mart and Target, and I had a $1/1 MC. Wouldn't you know none of these sale bottles were HE rated either?! So, plan C. I purchased the smaller HE Tide (not on sale--crazy, I know), but it still only cost me $3.

I hemmed and hawed over the Kleenex deal as well, because the $.89 price is only good for 3 boxes, and I needed 6 boxes to get the $3RR. I should've just bought them, but Brooke was squirming, the phone was ringing, and I wanted to be done with it. To get my coupon / item ratio correct, I also made an impulse buy. Remember my post about trying to find items for stuffing Easter eggs? Well, they had Dove eggs on sale 2/$7 with a $1 RR. It's not a great price, but I wanted them for their Easter baskets.

After all this shopping, I rewarded Brooke with Mother Goose at the Oak Ridge Civic Center. It's a free class for babies to age three the first and third Thursdays of the month. Lori, who leads it, is great. Babies meet at 10am, toddlers at 10:45am, and 2s/3s at 11:30am. It's important to mix in play with the errands or you'll hate yourself within a month.

To summarize, I did more running around this week than normal in the name of research. In the future I will limit myself to either Target, CVS, or Walgreens in one week. If you really want specific deals at CVS, I'd recommend shopping earlier in the week, as I've missed out twice now.

Total products to donate this week: 2 tubes toothpaste, 1 stick of deodorant
Total value of products to donate: $10.27 ($3.99 each for 2 toothpastes and $2.29 for deodorant).
Total spent: -$2 (it's like having two bucks in the bank to spend another time).

How did you do?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Recycling: Everybody's Doing It, Right?

I had a close encounter today with a mom from another planet. Not really, but now I have your attention. I was volunteering at my son's school to sell baked goods as a fundraiser for the music program. That's when I noticed the incredible amount of waste and lack of recycling going on every day in this lunchroom. The janitor emptied three huge trash cans twice during the hour I was there. Kids were throwing away lunches that looked like they'd hardly been touched, served to them on styrofoam trays--ugh!!! Into the trash also went plastic milk jugs and aluminum soda cans. Is there no recycling, I wondered?!

What floored me even more was the reaction of the other mom present with me. When I expressed disdain for such waste and lack of environmental responsibility, she showed equal disdain for the very thought of recycling. She commented, "The whole idea is just so gross--seeing all that piled up or having to rinse out soda cans or milk jugs sends shivers down my spine!" In her mind, I suppose, as long as it's contained in a plastic bag and she doesn't have to see it, it's OK to throw away whatever you like.

I try very hard not to use my blog as a soapbox, but does anyone else see a problem with this rationale? I thought our society had progressed to at least the level that most people saw the value and importance of recycling, even if they didn't participate. Maybe it's all those years in California, a state that has mandated that HALF of all waste be diverted from landfill (either by recycling or composting). Yes, some city municipalities like San Francisco do have great composting programs that are providing amazing results in Napa vineyards. It's the cycle of life, people!

Anyway, now I'm compelled to at least research whether recycling programs have been explored at our school and why they have not yet been implemented. Surely I'm not alone in my desire to preserve the earth for future generations. What better place to instill these values than our schools?

In our home, we've whittled down our trash to half a can a week. We take a car load of recycling twice a month to the recycling center and compost most of our food waste. As a New Year's resolution, I wanted our entire neighborhood to participate in recycling on some level. I even volunteered to take any neighbor's aluminum, steel, newspapers, cardboard, and mixed paper (the most valuable recyclable commodities). One neighbor is now on board. If you have questions about what can be recycled or where to drop items off in Knox County, go here.

I suppose that's how the green movement has to evolve--one person, one act at a time. When you realize it's not so tough or that it even feels good to do something positive for Mother Earth, you explore what else you can do. What steps have you taken recently to "go green"?

Dollar Deals at Kroger til 3/27

It looks like Kroger is continuing their mega sale the week of 3/21 - 3/27, which should mean that most of these deals are still good. However, I don't know about the Annie's and now the chicken breasts without bone is on sale for $1.99/lb.

I finally returned to Kroger after my week's sabbatical, and I'm happy to report I saved 55% ($140.33) today. Look for the mega deals that take $4 off 8 selected items. Remember you have to buy exactly 8 or increments of them to get the full savings; so mark them on your list as you add them to the cart. Prices below are assuming you qualify for the Mega Sale. And since the Cart Buster sale is still going on, you can still take advantage of most of the sales I noted in this post (like free Chex Mix and granola bars). A lot of the deals cost me less than a dollar after sales and coupons; here are my best finds.

Tyson bone-in chicken breasts are $.99/lb, which works out to about $3 for 3 breasts--a great deal. For tips on preparing and stretching 6 breasts over 4 meals, click here. Today I bought 6 packages, froze 4, and am roasting 2 with lemon pepper as I type. It smells wonderful.

Two of my favorite pastas are about as cheap as you can find them. Annie's organic mac n cheese is only $.50 a box. This is a staple in my house and I bought 26 boxes, but I promise I left LOTS of boxes for the rest of you! And if you're looking for a few items to total 8, this is a good item to add at the end of your trip.

Ronzoni pastas are also $.75 each. I like the Smart Taste penne and rotini and saved an additional $1/2 with coupons found here; now they have a $.75/1 coupon--which would make them free. I paid only $.25 though. But remember you can only use 2 internet printable coupons per product, per trip. I'm not sure if you can use multiple Ronzoni coupons for different types of pasta. Comment below if you've tried.

Sargento cheese was $.99 for 8 oz of shredded varieties. I had 2 $.40 coupons that doubled, making those $.19 each (can't seem to find them on the internet now).

Kens salad dressing is $1.49 each; use a $1/2 from the paper to make them $.99 each.

Classico sauces are $1.49 each and with this $1/2 coupon, they're only $.99 each.

Motts apple juice is $.99 each. Kroger had sent me a $1/2 coupon, making mine only $.49 each.

Certain types of Speed Stick deodorant were $1; with a $.50 coupon, I got that free. Irish Spring 3 bar packs were also $1; with a $.50/2, those were $.50 each.

You can also get Nature Valley Nut Clusters for $.29 (on sale for $2.29, use $1 coupon, and $1 e-saver from Cellfire or Shortcuts).

And though this doesn't qualify for my "dollar deals," I am most excited about a random find: laminated Knoxville and TN maps for just $3 (70% off). They were in a bin near the books and greeting cards. It's great to keep these in your car, and they last forever.

My total spent was $121.69 (just under budget for the week). What finds did I miss?

Saving $ at the Pump-BUYER BEWARE UPDATE

I've written a couple of posts now about Kroger and Shell's promotion for saving gas. Although I still think it's a good deal, they have yet to work out the kinks. I went again today for my bi-weekly fill-up--I even tried a different Shell station--and the machines would not read my Kroger card (which I had just used at a store an hour before). Even when I typed in my number, it didn't register. So I began pumping without swiping my credit card, and the clerk inside managed to make it work. It was a hassle but it was nice to save $.40 a gallon ($7.60 for the van).

Since I'm watching ever nickel these days, it also occurred to me to check prices at the closest Shell stations. I was a little surprised to learn there was a seven cent difference per gallon in the three closest to our house, and unfortunately I stopped at the priciest station today. I could have saved another $1.33 just by going the other direction. Good info for next time. The most important tip is not to drive out of your way to save a few cents (thus burning gas, money, and time). I just try to make sure a gas fill-up is paired with another nearby errand.

I've emailed a Kroger customer service rep about the card reading errors, but they have not responded yet (two weeks now). I applaud them for a creative way to save customers money and to entice new customers to Shell, but they should have really figured out the kinks before they rolled out the promotion. Hopefully they'll fix it before implementing in other markets.

Have you had problems using your Kroger card at Shell stations?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shopping in my Garage

Now that it's Saturday, I can proudly declare that I have succeeded in NOT going to Kroger this week. I know what you're thinking: so what?! But to this deal-addicted maven, it's been a struggle to stay away. A few times I almost talked myself into going by trying to focus on what I could get for free or with the $6.50 in catalina coupons that expire next week. I've been kicking myself for not picking up more Barilla mini pastas when they were 10 for $10. Will the stockpile I have last until the next sale?

I know it sounds crazy, but this is what happens when you start paying attention to prices and a budget. You agonize over the deals you're missing and the coupons that will expire while you stayed away. So why put myself through the torture?

A. I'm committed to staying within a monthly budget. Last week, I went over by $85 and the only way to get back on track is to cut somewhere. With all the consignment sales going on now, it wasn't going to be there.
B. Kroger continued the same sale this week as last, meaning there were no extra deals to entice me. But if you're reading this 3/13, you can still pick up nearly free granola bars today.
C. It was time to examine and deplete some of my stockpile in my garage--from both the chest freezer and pantry rack.

Before I began this experiment, I sketched out a weekly menu to make sure we had enough food. Running out for a fast food dinner was not an option. It became a game of "What can I finish and clear out?" No food source was safe from my rampage: the remaining 3 tablespoons of hummus spread, the last sliver of organic cheddar cheese, the final swig of half n half for my coffee. My goal was to have a mostly empty fridge so that I could clean it thoroughly on Sunday.

Then it was time to take stock of my pantry and reorganize shelves. Bob had commented a few times that we had chips on the verge of expiring and did we really need all this cereal? I checked all the expiration dates, and the closest was May. A few pretzels were slightly past date; so into the lunch boxes they went. I have a lot of cream of mushroom soup, canned beans, and fried onions; looks likes it's time for green bean casserole. Who says you have to wait for Thanksgiving?

We do have enough granola bars to take us through September (when most expire). I also learned that I have way more soup than I'd expected. I had been storing them in two places and then found some extra I'd bought at Sams last fall. I hate to admit we have 23 cans of soup, but they're all good til the fall of 2010. I won't stress about them yet but will not buy any more. I've also vowed not to buy more storage bags until we deplete some of the stock. I have multiple boxes of every size from snack to freezer gallon.

My next focus was on the freezer. I did the same clearing out odds and ends (the last butternut squash soup, three frozen hotdogs, etc.) I also finished off my last freezer meals to make room for the next round. Then I decided it was time to make some duck gumbo, given the stash of duck breasts. My father and brother are hunters and graciously give them to me if I carry on the family recipe for duck gumbo. It's a lot of work (takes two days), but it is so delicious. I made enough for one meal now and 13 servings to freeze. I can't disclose the recipe because it's a family secret, but seriously, who reading this other than my mother has wild ducks to cook?!

So with some fresh veggies and fruit from last week, a few leftover meals, and odds and ends pulled from the pantry or freezer, we were just fine. I'm happy to report I only spent $104.21 this week. Most went for three consignment sales, but I have all the clothes the kids will need for the year. I spent about $15 for food at Earthfare and Weigels. Hey, we needed milk and I couldn't pass up the free organic potatoes good through 3/16; plus, I saved nearly 50% at Earthfare this week! Check here for match-ups good through the end of March. And of course a bit extra for my stickers to stuff Easter eggs. That puts me $10.79 in the black for March so far. Mission accomplished.

Couponing for Charity: A Mission Begun

Over the past six months that I've been eagerly couponing, I've sometimes picked up deals that we don't typically use or more of a product than we really need. If I buy one more box of toothpaste or can of soup, my husband may insist I seek counseling for my addiction.

However, rather than give up my thrill of the deal, I've decided to channel my money saving super powers to help those less fortunate. The idea is to gather some of the freebies or super deals out there and donate them to a good cause. I'm calling it "Couponing for Charity" and will begin writing posts regularly with specific deals if you'd like to join along.

First of all, I'm not talking about all the free samples you can sign up for. I find most of those a waste of the manufacturer's resources (packaging, shipping, etc.) and would rather they channel their energies into coupons. I'm talking about the freebies that bloggers highlight all the time, if you're willing to do a little homework.

To help me on my journey, I've enlisted other savvy shoppers, members of our MOMS Club chapter that supports SAHMs and part-time working mothers, to do the same. By the way, if you live in the 37931, 37921, 37909, or 37923 north of I-40 zip codes, we'd love to have you check us out! I've learned that many of these fabulous ladies are already experts at finding deals, clipping coupons, and working the specials at places like Walgreens and CVS. So now it's just a matter of hunting and gathering.

For simplicity sake, we're going to have a trial run for six months and see what we get. We're aiming for hygiene products mostly (things that qualify for register rewards / ECBs or items we can get for free with coupons). After looking at weekly match-ups that other bloggers do, I'll make my recommendations on my blog. I'll list what I plan to pick up for charity that week and how it will cost me little to nothing or even save me money. At the end of the summer, we'll look at what we've all acquired and vote on a charity to donate to (probably something related to women or mothers). Service is a big part of what we do.

Here's an example. A few weeks ago, Walgreens had a RR for Dove Men's Body Wash: spend $6, get $6RR. Since I had a $1.50 coupon for that product, I only spent $4.50 and got $6RR. In a separate transaction, I bought a pack of Huggies diapers on sale for $9 and used my $6RR and a $2 coupon. I had to buy another item to get the coupon ratio correct, but stay with me. In the end, I only spent $5.50 for both diapers and body wash (cheaper than if I'd bought the diapers alone), and as a bonus, the diapers gave me another $3RR. Since my husband is more of a bar soap man, I'll donate the men's wash to our cause. It's a win-win: I saved money and a charity gets a great product for someone.

I plan to keep a running tally of my finds (value vs money spent). In the above example, I'd record a $6 value and -$1.50 (a "money maker"). That will make me feel better when I spend some money on products--like $.24 for a tube of toothpaste.

Thanks to Gabe from Couponing in Critical Times for the inspiration to get this going. If you need guidance for mastering CVS or Walgreens deals, Coupon Mommie has put these tips together.

There are several deals you might consider this week. At Kroger, if you buy 8 qualifying products, you save $4 instantly. With that sale, Speed Stick deodorants are $1; with a $.50 coupon that Kroger doubles, that one's FREE. I'll buy 2 3-count bars of Irish Spring soap on sale for $1, use a $.50/2 coupon, and pay only $.50 each. Dial hand soap (also $1) will only be $.30 after a $.35/1 coupon.

Click here for Coupon Katie's Walgreens recommendations and here for all the Walgreens match-ups. I'll be picking up the Colgate (spend $3.99, get $3.99RR) and will use a $1/1 coupon. I'll be doing this in twice in separate transactions to get two register rewards to use next week. I also have all the coupons for the $.38 toothbrushes and the $.22 boxes of Kleenex.

Click here for Coupon Katie's CVS recommendations and here for all the CVS match-ups. This will be my first trip to CVS, but I have my new card and I'm ready to give it a try. I'm excited about the Dove and Degree deodorant special (spend $15, get $5ECB) that should make 6 of them $.17 each with coupons. If you have not printed these high value coupons, do it now before they're gone. I have 3 $3/2 coupons (hoping the Degree Girl is included in the special) and 1 $1.50/2 Dove coupon if not. I'm hoping the shelves won't be clear by the time I get there. Save a few for me, will you?

I'll let you know how my plan works out (with totals) in a future post. If you have any tips for me and my money saving mommas, please leave a comment.