Friday, April 30, 2010

Seize the Deal is Coming to Knoxville!

I never tire of finding ways to save money, especially on goods or services I would have bought at full price. I've recently learned that Knoxville has been chosen to be one of the next markets to reap the savings from a website called Seize the Deal. They're still in the marketing and deal planning stages, but NOW is the time to register for their FREE daily emails.

If you sign up between May 1-15, you will be entered in a drawing for a $250 Target gift card. Who doesn't want that?! Now that's what I need to stay under budget.

So here's basically how it works. Every day (starting at midnight and ending at midnight), they will feature only ONE hot deal for local restaurants, salons, spas, entertainment, adventures, or other services. On Fridays, the deal runs through the weekend. By leveraging "the power of the group," each deal is 50-90% off retail!

The only catch is there is a minimum amount of people that are needed for the daily deal to be "seized." If that number isn't met, nobody is out any money, but no one gets the deal. So if it's something you really want, you should share the details with your friends fast so that you can all reap the benefits.

Since I think this is a great concept that helps local businesses, saves consumers money, and helps stimulate the economy, I've entered a marketing partnership with Seize the Deal and will be highlighting a few of my favorite daily deals as they come up. By clicking on the "Sign Up" button on the right at the top of my site, you're helping support my writing and deal finding efforts. For that, I thank you.

So what are you waiting for? It's FREE and you could win $250 from Target! Go, click, save! :-)

April Budget: Totals Are In

In case you're new to my budget posts, I'm not one of those women who can feed their family on $50 a week. I'm muddling through with a budget for the first time in my life, but I'm holding myself accountable. My monthly budget of $800 is relatively high to most couponers because I include all my "discretionary spending" on groceries, household goods, clothing, crafts, restaurants, fast food, and home stores.

For the month of April, I gave myself the added challenge of an extra week (5 vs 4) but keeping the budget the same. My shopping included 5 trips to Kroger, 2 to Target, 1 to Earthfare, 1 to Ingles, 4 to CVS, 5 to Walgreen's, 2 to Bruster's Ice Cream, 2 to Home Goods, 1 consignment sale, 1 pizza delivery, and 1 date night with my hubby (expensive but totally worth it).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not including the generosity of my visiting mother-in-law who paid for one dinner out for the family, toys for the kids, and some clothing for me for an early Mother's Day present. I also didn't include a few freebies I enjoyed (such as free coffee and ice cream on tax day).

Here's the break-down:
The bulk was spent at the grocery stores: $659.26
Dining out took second place: $90.10 (and that was only twice for dinner and twice for ice cream)
Pharmacies: $76.95
Target: $45.05
Gifts / Clothing: $23.16 (actually I spent $85.26 but I made $62.10 from the consignment sale; so that was factored in)

Total Spent: $894.52 ($94.52 over budget)

On a more positive note, through sales and coupons, I saved $585.15 or 40%. Coming into the last week, I had $70 in my budget. I thought I could eek out $20 at Target, $10 at pharmacies and $40-$50 at Kroger. I was wrong. My perimeter shopping went way over what was expected, and I found a few extra good deals at Target. I also bought some more gifts that I had planned to wait til May to buy.

So what should I do now? Say oh well, I'll try to do better next month?! Not me. I'm giving myself another challenge for May. I'm going to take off $100 from my May budget and see if I can come in at $700. I'll think twice before ordering pizza or stopping for ice cream; dining out really eats into a budget fast. I'm starting to get choosier about what deals I buy at pharmacies. And I hope to shift more of my spending to farmers' markets and away from big box stores. My goal is to spend less on packaged foods and more on fresh. I do a pretty good already, but I can do better. We'll see.

How does your budget compare? Have you found any of my experiences helpful to you?

Perimeter Shopping

This week I had a plan to spend less on groceries: only shop the perimeter of the store for the real essentials. Though I had never broken out a typical receipt to see what percentage usually goes to the perimeter, I was guessing I'd come in around $50. Wrong!

I'm shocked and a bit humbled to admit I spent a whopping $83.11 and saved only 28% (mostly sales with only 12 coupons). This included fruits, vegetables, fresh dinner bread and sandwich bread, lunch meat, hotdogs, milk, eggs, yogurt, butter, pudding, chips and juice. I did pick up a few deals that worked out to free or a buck after catalinas: deodorant, pasta, and Scrubbing Bubbles, but about $5 of those savings won't be seen until future trips or rebates are returned.

As I watched the numbers climb and climb, I felt smaller and smaller. I really didn't think I had splurged. This is what my family consumes on a weekly basis. I admit I buy GOOD food: hearty whole wheat bread, eggs from cage-free hens, organic butter, and premium hotdogs with no preservatives. These are choices that are important to me and I'm willing to pay extra for that. However, it's so hard to do that and stay on course with a budget. It's a fine line I walk, but ultimately I will always go with what's healthier for my family.

My mother likes to say, "No matter what, you will not starve." Our family has seen its ups and downs financially, but I always knew there would be good food on the table. I'm determined to carry that same set of values for my family. Stay tuned for how I did overall on April's budget.

Eco Gifts for Teachers & Moms

It's that time of year when we're looking for the perfect gifts for teachers and mothers. Next week is Teacher Appreciation Week at our school followed of course by Mother's Day. So I thought I'd share some gift ideas that are good for them and the planet.

1. Find out the recipient's favorites or guidance for what is expected. My friends Amy and Jen said that specific suggestions were sent home for teacher gifts: Monday is a card and sweets, Wednesday a book for the classroom, and Friday something for special areas. Guidance is good. Since Amy knows her teacher's favorite sweet is peanut butter cups, that's an easy one. She also has a great picture of the teacher that she'll put on a homemade card--personalized and frugal.

2. Know some basic information about them. I'm terrible with this and didn't even know Devin's teacher's last name until a few weeks ago. She's always been Ms. Nancy! I stress the importance of this because of monograms; more further down. I also haven't noticed if either teacher is a coffee drinker or whether they like chocolate or sweets. If you know their preferences, you're more likely to give them something they really like. For an avid coffee drinker, you could get a reusable mug and a bag of fair trade coffee.

3. Consider gifts that either can be made from materials you already have (homemade cards or bookmarks), have had a previous life (a gently used book), or that will be reused again and again (water bottles, shopping bags, or coffee mugs).

4. Pick one location with a variety of stores to find a deal. The last tip is where I decided to turn my shopping sleuthing this week. In one stop I checked out Home Goods, T.J. Maxx, and Ross. Pier 1 Imports is one strip mall over if you need other ideas. Ross had several reusable shopping bags for $3-$4; cute designs but poor quality. For just $6 you can get a good quality canvas bag. T.J. Maxx had nice bags for $13 and up and their store bag for $.99. I also liked their designs and size but you get what you pay for in quality. They had a variety of water bottles and coffee cups for $5-$8. Home Goods had some nice thermal lunch bags for $13 and a variety of water bottles in the $6 range.

5. Make it personal. A few weeks ago at our consignment sale, a shopper had a very colorful bag that was monogrammed. She said she was a teacher and it was her favorite gift. You can find a variety of reusable shopping bags from just about any store. If you scored some for free a few weeks ago, you might consider having them monogrammed. My friend Elizabeth is a SAHM with a monogramming business on the side. She charges $6 for 1 or $5 each for 3 to stitch an initial or name on bags. She says canvas bags are much easier than plastic.

6. You can't go wrong with gift cards and they too can be personal. For Christmas I gave both teachers a gift card to Applebee's and a bag of chocolates. On the note I wrote, "Enjoy dinner and dessert on us. Every mom deserves a night she doesn't have to cook and a dessert she doesn't have to share." For a more sustainable angle, I was thinking of giving each teacher a gift card to Earthfare along with the free reusable bag from their store I just got.

7. Think local and fresh. My other gift that's gone over well in years past has been strawberry freezer jam with homemade scones. I always take the kids strawberry picking at Rutherford's Farms in Maryville. Freezer jam requires less fruit and sugar than traditional jam. When you're picking fruit with kids, that's a major plus. In the gifts, I've also included pictures of the kids picking strawberries with a card. I'll post more about that when I go the next couple of weeks.

8. My Pick: Since I haven't made it strawberry picking yet and I wasn't planning a trip to Earthfare between now and next week, I decided to pick up some reusable water bottles at Home Goods. They are selling monogrammed, BPA-free, stainless steel water bottles with sport caps for just $6. They look nice, they have the personal touch, and they're an environmentally conscious choice. And don't forget these make great choices for the grandparents too.

Please share your ideas below.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coupon Chief: great for online savings

Though I'm the primary store shopper in the family, my husband is the key guru to finding online deals. Every time he makes a purchase, he searches online for a discount code before he buys. After invited me to peruse their vast supply of coupons in April, I realized finding codes is not as tough as I'd thought.

What I like is that they're a one-stop-shop for discount codes. They have codes for thousands of online companies, and you can search by product or company. When hubby was planning a business trip and needed a Super Shuttle from the airport, I found 19 codes for Super Shuttle that saved him 5% or $3 per fare. Saving his company money shows he's a considerate employee. I also found $5 off every $50 code for an item we bought from Overton's.

Another really cool feature of CouponChief is their Coupons 4 Causes program. For select retailers, they'll donate up to 20% of my proceeds to my favorite charity, school, or church. Through an easy search, I found our school was included as a beneficiary. Super Shuttle was not participating, but Overton's donates 2% of the sale. If they can save me money and give some to our school, that's awesome.

Dog Ate My Deal

Once I completed gathering up 90 dental picks strewn across my dog's bed (cursing under my breath), I was able to laugh about the absurdity of what had just transpired. My dog ate my deal. Thankfully, she didn't really eat them, but she gnawed on a few and certainly made them unusable. At least it had been a freebie, but it got me thinking about all the lessons I've had to learn the hard way in my quest to Coupon for Charity. Hopefully, these Top 10 can save you some time, money, and aggravation.

1. Store your deals in a safe place promptly. If it's not your dog or cat, it could be your child who can't resist opening a package mommy just brought home from the store. I keep all mine in an inaccessible corner of the master bath.

2. Understand that "free" always comes with a price. I've been pleased with the volume of goods that I've gotten not only for free but that have "made me money." But the truth is it always costs you something, and you're the one paying the tax on all these products. So even though this week I saved a total of $47.14 at Walgreen's and CVS and walked away with $5ECB and $5RR to use another time, I was still out of pocket $12.37. Decide beforehand how much you're willing to spend to get the deals.

3. Write down your plan beforehand and estimate your costs. If you plan to do separate transactions to use your rewards the same day, make sure you have the plan well laid out. I also pull all the coupons I plan to use and have those in hand when I walk in the store. If you know what your totals should be, then you can catch any mistakes a clerk might make.

4. Watch the clerk carefully and double check your receipts before you leave the store. I've found numerous clerks get intimidated by B1G1 coupons. Maybe they don't know how to key in the amounts; so sometimes they just don't do it. Watch and listen for the beeps with each coupon and confront them about any mistakes before you go.

5. Leave your kids at home if possible. I inevitably make mistakes when I get distracted by my kids. I take them because I don't always have a choice, but given the option, I'd go alone.

6. Go on Sunday if you can. Some crafty couponers swoop in and snatch up deals early in the week. Nothing is more frustrating than getting to the store to see all the deals are gone. If you can swing it, try to make your Walgreen's or CVS runs no later than Tuesday.

7. Remember the purpose. I use coupons for charity because it's a new way I've found to share my knowledge and skills. I love that someone who doesn't have the time or desire to shop the deals will benefit. And I can do this with little money out of my pocket.

8. Make your time a priority. I've spent more time on this in the beginning than I probably should, but I've always maximized running several errands at one time or only doing this when I need to kill some time in between school drop-offs. Make sure you're comfortable with the time you're spending.

9. See this as a puzzle to exercise your mind. To get the correct coupon to product ratio and find all the correct coupons can be exhausting. But if you look at it as a game that stretches your brain like a crossword puzzle, you'll see there are benefits beyond saving money.

10. Choose a charity that means something to you. Our MOMS Club has not yet voted on which group will get our goods first. This is your chance to reach out to organizations that mean something to YOU. Let this be an opportunity to connect with your community.

Couponing for Charity Update #6: $40 of products FREE

I've had a marginally successful week scoring deals for charity. Since many of these coupons expire 4/30, hurry to take advantage of them. Here's where I had outlined my plan, and here are my results:

Kroger: Sadly the free Speed Sticks and Tobasco were all gone, but I did "splurge" for the Dial deal (normally $1.63, on sale for $1, used a $.35 coupon which doubles, making it $.30). Thanks to Coupon Mommie, I got a Srubbing Bubbles sprayer for just $1 ($8.99, used $5/1 coupon, and got $3 to use next time). She had it as free; maybe other stores have it cheaper. Regardless, I'm going to keep this one to try. I also managed to get three deodorants as money makers. Here's how:

Thanks to a tip from Coupon Katie, I remembered I had loaded a $3/2 Old Spice deodorant e-saver from With a B1G1 coupon (expires 5/30) and a $1/2 coupon (expires 4/30) from the paper along with the $3 digital savings which deducts automatically, I actually made $.50. (normally $4.29 each, on sale for $3.50 each). So that was an $8.58 value for -$.50.

Last month I had printed a rebate form for Sure (can't seem to find it now, but here's their website with a $.75 coupon). Thanks to this rebate form, if you buy a Sure for Women with the designated "Try me Free" sticker before 11/15/10, you'll get the full refund up to $2.99. They're regularly $2.29 at Kroger and I had a $1/1 coupon (expires 4/30). Once I get my rebate, that will be a $2.29 value for -$1.

Walgreen's: I had a frustrating experience at Walgreen's this week--all three of them! Yikes--I know! My initial trip was cut short by squirming and out of control kids. I made the mistake of looking at Hallmark cards. Sometimes you have to know when to walk out of a store. My second visit I had a few minutes to kill and had only Brooke with me, but that store was out of all the free promotions. The third store was also out of the shaving gel, but I did get the Stayfree, dental picks, and two free chocolate bars. The Stayfree was $2.99, get $3RR, I used $1/1 coupon and made $1. The dental picks were $2, get $2RR; no coupon there, but it was free. The chocolates are for me! Since both charity items were on sale, I'll take the full value for accounting purposes: $3.79 for pads and $2.99 for dental.

CVS: Despite two kids running up and down the aisles and a clerk's error, I still managed to get good deals here too. The Irish Spring body wash was $3, get $2ECB; with a $1/1 coupon, that was free.

They had two Oral B toothbrushes left that qualified for the spend $3, get $1ECB; limit 2. I bought 2 for $6, used a B1G1 and a $2/1 (both expire 4/30), paid $1 and got $2ECB. So that was a $1MM. At first the clerk said I couldn't use both, but she scanned them and they worked.

Finally the Nivea deal worked out to $1.25 a product for 2 body washes and 2 lip balms. It should have been $.50 a product but the clerk didn't key in one of my B1G1 coupons. Maybe she doesn't like clever couponers, maybe her machine malfunctioned, but her mistake cost me money. Live and learn. Each body wash was $6 and each lip balm was $3. I used a B1G1 for body wash, a B1G1 for lip care (didn't register), and a $2/1 coupon for body wash (all came from the All You magazine). If you spend more than $15 before coupons (my total was $18 before and $10 after coupons), you earn $5ECB. I'll be keeping one of each and donating one of each. So charity will be getting $9 of product for $2.50. Not everything has to be totally free, right?! The values before sale prices for the Irish Spring: $4.99, for the toothbrushes: $7.58, and for the Nivea products $17.96.

THIS JUST IN: Right after I originally posted this, I turned the corner to discover the dental picks all over the dog's bed. Smelling the mint flavor I suppose, she tore into them. Seriously?! I couldn't make this stuff up. So the new totals below will reflect one less product. Ugh!

Total products to donate this week: 1 hand soap, 3 deodorants, 1 feminine care, 2 body wash, 1 lip balm, 2 toothbrushes
Total value of products to donate: $37.84 ($1.63 for hand soap, $10.87 for deodorant, $3.79 for feminine care, $2.99 for dental picks--NOW TRASH, $10.98 for body wash, $2.99 for lip balm, $7.58 for toothbrushes)
Total spent: -$.70 (yes, all that and I made money: $.30 for hand soap, -$1.50 for deodorants, -$1 for feminine care, $1.25 for body wash, $1.25 for lip balm, -$1 for toothbrushes)

Total products to donate to date: 3 tubes toothpaste, 4 deodorants, 2 bars of soap, 1 hand soap, 3 body wash, 2 shampoo, 1 conditioner, 1 heat wrap, 1 feminine care, 1 lip balm, 2 toothbrushes
Total value of products to date: $74.54
Total spent to date: -$10.20

So how did you do?

Earthfare Online Coupons

Last week I reported the new spring coupon books for Earthfare are now in stores. They have $85 of savings in them. Some of my favorite companies with coupons are: the Earthfare line of foods, Seventh Generation, Kashi, Cascadian Farms, Ben & Jerry's, Organic Valley, and Pirate Booty.

But here's something even better. You can now print just your favorite coupons from that book here. I don't know how the coupons compare in expiration dates; so it's still worth picking up a book the next time you're in the store. I'm also unsure if Earthfare has a limit of two printables per product per visit like Kroger and Ingles. I don't think so. If you know, leave a comment.

For the latest fare deals, go here. They may be a bit slow getting May's deals up. And remember to check here for coupon match-ups the next few days.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Couponing for Charity: 4/25 - 5/1

Here are this week's picks for couponing for charity.

If you don't feel like doing the pharmacy runs, Kroger does have a few freebies or close to it you might consider. Speed Stick deodorant is 10/$10, and there's a $.50 coupon in today's paper; since Kroger doubles, this is free. Dial hand soap is also 10/$10. If you still have a $.35 coupon that was in the paper last month, that's only $.30. And though this doesn't fall under hygiene, you can get a free bottle of Tobasco (10/$10 and with a $.50 coupon in today's paper).

If you are willing to venture out for deals, there are good deals at both. Go here for all the CVS match-ups and here for Coupon Katie's picks. I'll be aiming for the toothbrush moneymaker, the Irish Spring body wash, and the Nivea deal. Last time I tried to get a deal on Oral B, they were all gone. I actually have a $1/1 Irish Spring body wash; so that will be free, and the Nivea deal is a lot of stuff for a small amount of money. I'll probably keep one of each and donate the others. I also have a $1/1 Eucerin coupon (which qualifies for the spend $15, get $5ECB); I might use that instead of the lip care if it's less out of pocket over-all; we'll see.

If you just can't let a deal pass you by, head to Walgreen's. Click here for all the match-ups and here for Coupon Katie's picks. I'll be going in for the $1.40 Starbucks ice cream, the free large chocolate bar, the free shaving cream, the free packing tape, the Stayfree moneymaker, and maybe the Hallmark cards. Tip: The coupons for the Tone body wash are gone and I could only get the Scotch coupon through Southern Saver's link. I don't have coupons listed for the Plackers or Reach deals. I had considered buying two Skintimate products and using the $1.50/2 coupon, but you only get one $3RR. So you either get one free gel or two for $1.50. I'll opt for the freebie.

And though this isn't for charity, I'll probably run into Target for two deals: Buy 3 Huggies jumbo packs, get $5 gift card. I have 3 $3/1 coupons about to expire. That will make each $4.33. Breyers is also our favorite ice cream since it's all natural. This week if you buy 5 at $2.79 each (a good price on its own), you get a $5 gift card, making them $1.79 each--oh goody!

I'm going have to watch my spending carefully this week since it's the final week of my "five week month." I only have $70 left in my budget. So I'll be making my Kroger run "perimeter only"--a few vegetables and milk. I will make the exception for the true freebies listed above. I also have $5ECB and a $5 gift card from Target that will help me out.

What deals did I miss?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Most Fun You'll Ever Have Upcycling

Tomorrow we'll be taking a car full of recycling; so today, the boys and I indulged in our favorite upcycling activity: water bombs and water guns. Ok, it sounds violent but it's a lot of fun, and when you're done, you toss them all back into the recycling bin.

After washing out a variety of plastic containers from the recycling bin well, we fill them with water and put the caps or tops back on. Milk jugs work best for the bombs, but you can also use juice or mouthwash containers. The boys love to toss them off the porch onto the patio below. Splash, crash, shpew! The milk jugs are usually good for just one toss, but the heavier plastics could last up to 5 throws.

When they're done with bombs, each boy chooses a smaller container, like a water bottle (which we rarely have in our house anymore) or the pint-size milk containers we buy for Brooke to have whole milk. I put a small hole in each and they squirt each other. When the water runs out, they refill them and continue the fun. The gun idea actually was an accident when the water bottle refused to burst but got a tiny hole instead. Thus, a new game was born.

I was going to take video of this wonderful pass-time, but the boys decided to start while it was raining. And within minutes, they had both stripped to their underwear, running around like hoodlums. This was certainly not a video fit to post to the Internet. And to my neighbors, I apologize for the chaos.

Yes, they tracked in wet footprints all over the floor and yes, they were a mess by the end. But hey, childhood only lasts so long and should be FUN! If they learn a valuable lesson--that materials should be used, reused, and then recycled--then my job as Eco Mom is done.

Eco Snack Mom--The Results

Today was my day to test out my skills as Eco Snack Mom. It was my small way of proving not all snacks must come in individual wrappers. An hour before game-time there were still sunny skies, and the game was on. So I cut up four oranges into slices, grabbed 10 granola bars, and packed 10 juice boxes. I put them in my new thermal bag from Ingles and cloth bag from Earthfare and piled into the car.

I'll admit the only choice that was really "eco" here were the orange slices, unless you consider one of my favorite environmental principals: Use what you already have. My pantry has plenty of granola bars, and I had just the right number of juice boxes on hand. I had contemplated pouring lemonade into individual cups and then collecting them to recycle, but I was afraid the kids would scatter too quickly. I was also testing the waters here; I didn't want to come across too crazy. Juice boxes really are a terrible environmental choice, but I don't buy them often and they are mighty convenient.

As for costs, I did pretty well on this one. I don't know what the juice cost because I had bought that awhile back on sale and had hidden them from my kids for just this occasion. The granola bars I got for $.24 a box (or $.04 each). I bought a huge bag of oranges at Kroger a few weeks ago for just $4. The amount I sliced worked out to about $1.50. My snacks were economical, environmental and relatively healthy--I was ready to don my Eco Snack Mom cape and fly into action.

Unfortunately on the way to the field, the sky opened up, lightning flared, thunder boomed, and we turned around. Bummer! The granola bars and juice boxes will keep, but we'll be snacking on oranges the next few days. When I do get to be Snack Mom again, I'll let you know how the oranges go over.

What snacks have you taken to sporting events that kids love?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Back-up Plan--Review

First of all, I want to thank Knoxmoms for coordinating an event where I could get a Moms Night Out for FREE. Though Jennifer Lopez's new movie, The Back-up Plan, was not on my must-see list, who can argue with free? 35 attendees were also treated to a drink, popcorn, and a BPA-free sippy cup. I am grateful to have been among them.

However, honestly, I wasn't too impressed with the movie. It had its moments of laughter but was a pretty standard Hollywood cookie-cutter flick. They poked fun at the typical parts of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting with few original ideas to get a laugh. They explored the scary parts of becoming parents including the financial commitment. And they mocked natural childbirth and breast feeding. Having had three natural births, I had to roll my eyes at their interpretation of it. Drums, frantic screaming, women swaying in the background--where do they get this stuff?

One of the Knoxmoms talking about it afterwards put her finger on it: "The creators of this movie must not like being parents; so much was negative; how sad for their kids." In the movie, there's a father of three who describes parenthood as "aweful, aweful, aweful, aweful...and then an amazing, magical moment. Then back to aweful, aweful."

I'll admit I like hearing other parents struggle with parenthood because it is hard, but I would argue "aweful" isn't an accurate description. I'd describe it more like a see-saw. I've found raising kids is a constant balance of changing poopy diapers / soothing away a boo boo with kisses; reprimanding defiant behavior / snuggling up with a favorite bed-time story; refereeing over a coveted toy / instilling values when they're not looking. Up and down, up and down, but everyone should be having fun--ok, most of the time.

So Hollywood, if you can make a movie like that, then I'll give you a standing ovation. As for this film, if you really want to see it, wait for the free codes at Red Box and rent it then.

What did you think of the movie?

Ink for a Buck

In celebration of Earth Day today, I ask that you do ONE positive thing for the planet. Just one. Doesn't have to be huge. You pick. I decided my one good deed for the day was trying a refillable ink printer cartridge.

Today only (4/22/10) Walgreens is offering printer refills for just $1 (with coupon found in their weekly circular). Refills are normally $12.99 for any size (regular or XL). Since the XL size holds 3 times the amount of ink, that's a good deal. I recently paid about $40 for one XL cartridge at Staples.

Now this is an experiment for me. I've never tried ink refills because I've always heard "they're so messy." Frankly, I'm not sure what's messy about them. I just dropped off my empty cartridge, they refilled it, and I brought it home. I think I just install it as if it were new and there should be no difference. I have yet to test this; I'll let you know otherwise.

If I don't have any problems with the cartridge, I'll definitely try this again. The box the cartridge is returned in has a 50% off coupon on a future refill. To see if your printer's ink qualifies, go here.

So have you decided your one green deed today? Share it with me in comments.

Note: I have no affiliation with Walgreens, and I received no compensation for this post.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Organic Deals for Earth Week-UPDATED

In celebration of Earth Week, I've been scouring the ads and online blogs for the best organic and eco-friendly deals this week. Here's what I found.

Kroger disappointed me big time. Other than marginal deals on Seventh Generation, I didn't see anything to celebrate there.

Ingles is my neighborhood store, but I've been shopping more at Kroger the past few months to save money. I was happy to be one of their patrons today. Through sales and coupons, I spent $31.35 and saved $34.87.

They have excellent prices on Muir Glen products (all organic). You can buy the 15oz cans for $1.25 or the 28oz cans of tomatoes for $1.84. Many of the cans have stickies on them that will save you $1/2. I used 2 $1/1 printables here and will save those for another visit. I also bought 4 jars of MG red sauce for $2.50 each and used 2 $1/2 stickies on those jars.

Cascadian Farms frozen vegetables (all organic) were on sale for $2 each. I picked up 2 16oz bags of peas and used 2 $1/1 printables found here. Organic raisons were $1.50 for 6 boxes; those will be good for lunches. Tip: I save the boxes and fill them with raisons again from a larger box. And Greenworks detergent was on sale for $3.99 (B1G1 but you don't have to buy two). I still had a $3/1 coupon I'd printed months ago, but the paper had a $1.50/1 coupon recently.

Lots of Seventh Generation products were also on sale and you can find $1/1 coupons for lots of their products here. There was a rebate form for 3 products but that seems to have disappeared. Let me know if it's still available.

Finally they're also running a special with Muir Glen and Cascadian Farms: Buy 2 products, get a free Ingles bag (value: $1; limit 1). However, I asked the manager since I was buying 8 qualifying products, would he consider giving me one of their insulated bags instead (value: $2). That I could really use! He agreed and I was thrilled. Now that's good customer service!

So my final costs on organic or eco-friendly products were:
2 28oz cans tomatoes: $1.68
4 jars red sauce: $8
2 bags of peas: $2
6 mini boxes of raisons: $1.50
1 30 load detergent: $.99
1 insulated reusable bag: FREE

Update 4/22 (deals good through 4/27): I just returned from Earthfare, where I spent $39.13 and saved $20.38. I can't say the deals are amazing this week, but I'm glad I went. With this coupon, I got a new cloth bag with snaps (a nice feature) and because I was one of the first 200 customers today, I got another one as well (value: $2). I chose for my bulk item dark chocolate covered almonds (which I will be hiding from the kids--seriously ;-). They are a little bit of heaven on earth that I'll take as my reward for couponing. They are on sale for $6.99/lb (regularly $9.99/lb), and the coupon took another 20% off. Tip: Although this product is already pre-packaged, it qualifies for the discount. My final cost for a container was $4.30.

Though I don't usually buy sausage, I decided to try the Organic Prairie pork links in the freezer section. They were $1 off and I had a $1 coupon from some newsletter. Stonyfield yogurts are on sale for 5/$4 ($.80 each, normally $.86). Apparently you have to buy 5 to get the discount because I only bought 3. Using a $.50/3 printable found here, I saved at least that and I'm not one to squabble over $.18. I also got a free Honest Tea with a coupon I think I picked up at the coupon fair.

I spent most of my money on organic produce:
2lbs strawberries: $3 each (phenomenal price for organic and they looked great!)
3lbs apples: $4.97
5lbs carrots: $4.99
5 Valencia oranges: $5
5lbs red potatoes: $5.99
5lbs russet potatoes: $3.97

Since my total was over $35, I used the $10 off $35 coupon I got at Earthfest. Tip: It's good through May if you want to save it for another trip.

And don't forget to pick up the new Earthfare Spring Savings coupon booklet with coupons worth $85. They had arrived just as I was checking out. Some of my favorite companies with coupons are: the Earthfare line of foods, Seventh Generation, Kashi, Cascadian Farms, Ben & Jerry's, Organic Valley, and Pirate Booty. Tip: Pirate Booty (a yummy snack) is currently on sale and there's a $1 coupon in the book.

I hope you can take advantage of some of these deals and realize once again, you can go green and save green.

Eco Snack Mom

Ok, moms, I need your creative juices flowing to help me with a dilemma: how do I serve eco-friendly snacks for T-ballers? I'm scheduled to bring snacks on Saturday, and I'd love some new ideas. It seems our society has moved away from orange wedges and towards any pre-packaged foods for all sporting events. Are we so safety conscious these days that we only trust foods sealed in their own wrappers? Would we rather our kids eat cookies in individual packages than fresh fruit already sliced? How could I possibly give them drinks that don't result in trash, trash, trash?

So here's what I need to know: How would you serve food and drinks with the most amount of nutrition and least amount of waste? Please leave a comment.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Styrofoam Remorse

Confession time: I brought home take-out in a styrofoam box Friday night, and it has been haunting me since. After reading Gabe's great post about how to reduce waste when you go out to dinner, I was determined that I would say good-bye to styrofoam take-home boxes forever, but here's what happened.

A few minutes before my mother-in-law planned to take me and the kids out to dinner, I had thought, "I should really put a few Tupperwares in the car." Soon ensued the mad scramble for a clean shirt for Bobby, nicer pants for Devin, and two shoes that matched for three kids. My good intentions hit the back-burner until we neared the end of our meal.

The boys had a good amount of food left-over, and I'm never one to waste food. When the waitress politely asked if we needed a box, I hesitated and then conceded, "Sure." Why was asking for foil so hard? Was I afraid she would think I was an environmental freak? Even if she did, why should I care?

I begrudgingly accepted the box, even though I was consumed with guilt. We then ordered dessert and once again had left-overs, but this time, I mustered more courage: "Could you bring some foil instead of styrofoam, please?" I asked. Without a second thought she responded, "Of course!" and returned with foil and a smile. It wasn't an imposition for her, it saved the restaurant money, and helped me feel confident about making better environmental choices. I finally felt empowered to refuse styrofoam!

The following night Bob and I went on a rare date night since the mother-in-law was leaving the next day--two meals out in a row, alert the media! My meal was delicious but more than what I needed. I was secretly excited to demonstrate my new confidence. When the waiter asked if I wanted a box, I boldly replied, "No, could you bring some foil instead?" He looked puzzled and headed to the kitchen. He returned with a box of individual sheets of wax paper, explaining they had no foil. Huh? I hadn't expected a restaurant wouldn't have aluminum foil. How exactly was I supposed to wrap up steak with some juice, asparagus, potatoes au gratin, and squash in these small sheets?

This was clearly a project for an engineer; thankfully, I happen to be married to one. Stack the food just so, fold it this way, then that way, tuck in another piece the opposite direction and presto! Another waitress seeing us wrestle with this project offered, "We have boxes; would you like me to get one?" We burst out laughing.

Bob: "Styrofoam boxes?"
Waitress cheerfully: "Uh-huh!"
Bob: "No thanks. It'll just sit in a landfill for 100,000 years."
Waitress confused: "Then you don't want one?"
Bob politely: "No."

Still not getting that we are avid environmentalists, she returned a few minutes later with a plastic bag. She seemed surprised when we refused that too. We should have taken it to at least recycle it because she just probably put it in the trash. Sigh.

In the future, I probably will bring a couple of reusable containers with us--yes, even on date night. I don't think about it because we go out so infrequently, but just like with cloth bags, every little bit counts. Even though I'm happy Knoxville now recycles styrofoam, it's always better to not use it in the first place.

A few fun facts about styrofoam:
  • Each year Americans throw away 2.3 million tons of packing peanuts, used coffee cups and other Styrofoam products. Source here.
  • Styrofoam products take up approximately 25 to 30 percent of space in landfills around the world. Source here.
  • Styrofoam was invented in 1952 and is created from petroleum and natural gas by-products. It's unclear how long it takes to biodegrade, but once it does, harmful chemicals can eventually end up in groundwater. Source here.
  • Burning landfills containing Styrofoam release 57 dangerous chemical byproducts into the air. Source here.

Couponing for Charity: 4/18 - 4/24 & Update #5

Time for the weekly deals for charity. Honestly, if you'd like to take a week off, this would be a good one. I just got back from Walgreens and CVS with some deals but nothing spectacular. I suppose if you want to pick one, go to CVS.

For all the CVS match-ups go here; for Coupon Katie's CVS picks, go here. If you do not already have a green tag, get one this week. They are $.99 but you get $.99ECB; limit one. I already have one and you can't use more than one per visit (like on separate bags). Too bad. I did pick up two Thermacare products ($2.49 each, get $2.49ECB); limit 2. Tip: You can buy both in one transaction and it will print one ECB for $4.98. I was also able to use 2 $1/1 coupons from the paper, making this a $2 moneymaker. I'll keep one for us and donate the other.

Deals at CVS I couldn't get: I tried to do the Rimmel deal where you get two products for free but the CVS I visited doesn't carry Rimmel. I also tried to get the free Colgate deal with a coupon, but the coupon they describe is not for the specific type of toothpaste on sale. It may have worked but I try to follow the rules.

For all the Walgreen's match-ups go here; for Coupon Katie's Walgreen's picks go here. Again I tried the Colgate deal but the same thing. They were already cleaned out of the Nature's Bounty vitamins, and I'm not sure who really needs that much Vitamin D. I did pick up 2 boxes of children's Zyrtek for my son (on sale for $10, buy 2 get $5RR). Since I had 2 $3/1 coupons from the pediatrician, I saved a total of $17. I also bought a pack of pull-ups for $5 ($2 Walgeens coupon, $2 manufacturers coupon) and some Raison Bran that worked out to $1.50 a box--not great deals but ok.

One more deal I just saw in the Kroger circular. Speed Stick deodorants are $1 each. I got a $.50 coupon from a mailer. So I'll be getting that for free.

All told I spent $24.44 today, saved $49.10 and left with $4.98ECB for another trip. Before I do the charity totals, I have one adjustment to make. When my son started showing signs of allergies, I pulled one item I had set aside for charity: the Simply Saline. So the following numbers account for that.

Total products to donate this week: 1 heat wrap
Total value of products to donate: $2.50
Total spent: -$1.00

Total products to donate to date: 3 tubes toothpaste, 1 deodorant, 2 bars of soap, 1 body wash, 2 shampoo, 1 conditioner, 1 heat wrap
Total value of products to date: $36.70
Total spent to date: -$9.50

How did you do? Have you noticed any freebies at Kroger or Target?

Top 8 for Earthfest

Call me a crunchy chic, call me an earthy geek, but I had a GREAT time at Earthfest yesterday. If you missed it, too bad, but Oak Ridge is having its Earth Day next Saturday, April 24, 11am-3pm. Many of the same vendors will be there with the addition of lots more based in Oak Ridge. Check it out!

Due to our busy schedule, I actually went to Earthfest twice: once with the kids and once without. Here are the Top 8 Reasons I'm glad I went:

  • Kids Tent: They had several eco-friendly crafts which Bobby loved. I'll be repeating some of these for them during the summer. They turned toilet paper rolls into bugs, made art with seeds and glue, and painted their own canvas bag with vegetables. Bobby painted his initials with a carrot, stamped shapes with potatoes, and made interesting effects with broccoli and artichokes.

  • Thank you, Earthfare, for that $10 off $30 purchase coupon. I'll probably be using mine on 4/22 to get one of your free reusable bags along with organic apples, potatoes, and strawberries--on sale for $3--zowie! (Kroger had organic strawberries for $6.25 last week).

  • All the major solar installers in Knoxville were there. In no particular order: EETN, Green Earth Solar, and Sustainable Future. If you own a business and are interested in solar, this is a particularly good time to pursue that technology. A system could pay for itself within 5-7 years!

  • Alcoa was selling their very sturdy recycling bins for $5 each (a great value). Since we've loved the one we got last year, we picked up another one. Tip: If you don't yet recycle, start with aluminum and steel. I'll be posting about the many reasons why in the future.

  • The Green Living Tent was filled with expert farmers. I learned there is not a single certified organic farmer in all of Tennessee, largely because of the expense and red tape involved. However, dedicated farmers to sustainable farming practices have created a comparable certification: Certified Naturally Grown. There are 15 CNG farms within 100 miles of Knoxville and 5 or 6 of them--including Organicism Farms and Colvin Family Farm--regularly sell at our farmers' markets. Look for them on your next visit.

  • Farmer's Market tip: Off the record, some of the farmers I spoke with preferred the Market Square Farmer's Market to the others. Starting May 1, I'll probably be making that part of my routine: Saturdays 9am - 2pm, Wednesdays 11am - 2pm. We're also partial to the New Harvest Market because the kids can play on the playground and splash pad during the summer.

  • I stopped to chat with the police in charge of the medication disposal program. I learned that they dispose of them through incineration. In a special giant oven with enormous heat, an entire batch of unwanted medication is evaporated within 30 seconds. Cool! This program is important to keep powerful medicines out of our water supply. So NEVER throw away extra antibiotics. Take them to the police department downtown instead.

  • Finally, I was SO EXCITED to learn there is now a way to recycle styrofoam--what I call "the scourge of the earth." I bought a massive plastic bag from the Knoxville Recycling Coalition for $5. Once I fill that with as much styrofoam as I can fit, I drop it off at their Bearden location, take my bag home and fill it up again as many times as I need--no additional costs. With special machines, they compress an entire bag into a dense block you can hold. They in turn sell this to a company that uses it in their products. I encourage you to buy a bag to do the same. I'm going to offer to accept styrofoam for my entire neighborhood. Think about all the electronics, kids' toys, etc. that are shipped with styrofoam that now will never see landfill! Gives me the warm and fuzzies just thinking about it! ;-)