Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Do good Challenge: Week 2

So, I know I'm a little late with this linkup for the week, but it's never to late to do good, right?

In the past week, here are a few of the things I've done

  • Cleaned out some clothes and a few household appliances that we don't use anymore and donated them to the Red Cross.
  • Went through the canned goods in my cabinets to find some to drop in the food bank bin.
  • Supported some good causes, like the Army of Women, by retweeting their requests for help.
  • Bought 2 board books to donate to the Children's Hospital through my MOM's Club service project.
And here are a few easy ways you can donate online without spending money.

For each like on their Facebook page, Leap frog will donate $10 to Toys for Tots.

Donate meals to the World Food Project by taking or sharing this quiz.

Subaru will make a donation to the cause of your choice for every like on their Facebook page.

For every virtual cookie you send from Glad's cookie exchange, they will donate 10 cents to Pediatric Cancer research.

And there's still time to donate through Kidfresh or Huddle to Fight Hunger

Happy Do gooding! Please link up!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Menus and freezers and budgets, oh my! (Part 2)

Okay, so in part 1 I said that next time I would talk about how I shop. But I also said I'm not good at sticking to a plan. So today instead, I'm going to talk about how I cook to freeze. There are three main strategies I use, and they work well for different things.

1. Freezer Day

The idea here is to block out a day (usually a weekend) and to just make a whole lot of food to put in your freezer. Some people call this Once a Month Cooking, and actually make 30 different meals in one day, but I have never managed to do anything like that. Usually I just choose one thing to make a lot of, or a few things that have common ingredients.

For example, this past weekend, my husband and I made 15 pans of lasagna. This honestly isn't much harder than making one or two pans of lasagna. Mixing a ton of filling isn't any harder than mixing a little. We just made the sauce, cooked some ground beef, then assembly lined the lasagna in disposable foil loaf pans. We had extra sauce so I froze that in Tupperware containers for easy spaghetti nights.

I find that this method works really well for me for most casseroles, where cooking the ingredients is really the most time consuming part, and having them pre-assembled means a super easy dinner. I don't pre-bake them; I just bake them on the day I plan to eat.

The problem with this method is that it takes a huge time commitment. Especially with a toddler running around, it's hard to block out that much time. My husband and I ended up doing the bulk of the prep after bedtime, and were up until 11:30 cleaning up. Boo.

2. Just make extra

This is actually the method I prefer. Instead of trying to make a month or a year's worth of something, I just make a little extra. Since it's just the two (and a half) of us, and most of my recipes are for four, I usually have extra anyway. Sometimes I go one step further and double it. Then after dinner, I pack up the extra and freeze it.

This is so easy because it doesn't take any extra time at all in my dinner prep, and gives me fully cooked, microwavable dinners for nights when I don't have time to cook. I like to do this with chili, sausage and peppers, shredded meat for tacos or sandwiches, stews, or anything that might require a long cooking time the first night.

3. Prep and freeze

Some things are just better if you make them the night of, but you can make your life easier and save money by doing the prep work ahead of time. For example, I keep a bag of diced carrots, onions, and celery in my freezer. I can dice it during naptime and then just grab a handful when I need it. I also buy bell peppers when they are on sale (because holy crap they get expensive), cut them into strips, and freeze them in freezer bags. You can even cook your meat ahead of time for recipes that use cooked meat. Browning an entire 3 pound package of ground beef doesn't take any longer than browning a single pound, and then you have some options for fast cooking dinners. Baking a whole bunch of chicken breasts ahead makes life easier too - just defrost as many as you need to make quick enchiladas, salads, or sandwiches.

Some people will even prepare and measure the ingredients for a specific recipe into a freezer bag. For instance, you could freeze sliced peppers and onions along with a chicken breast in a bag for quick, no prep, fajitas. Just dump the whole bag into a pan and sautee it up. I don't have much experience with this, but it's something I'd like to try more of.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Do Good: Give 30 (or more) meals

Just in time for my Do Good Challenge, I found out about this awesome initiative from Kidfresh.

Kidfresh is a company that makes ready to eat food for kids that it is both healthy and delicious. Since I am always interested in getting more real and whole foods into our lives, and especially into my daughter, this is something I would love to try. It's also a family run company, which makes me want to support them even more.

But what I'm here to talk about today is their initiative with City Harvest. City Harvest is a food relief organization in New York that feeds over 300,000 people a week. And until December 15, for every new like on their facebook page, Kidfresh will donate 30 meals to them. How amazing! And what an easy thing to do!

Because I wrote this post, Kidfresh will donate an additional 300 meals to City Harvest. If you have a blog and would like to do the same, let me know, and I will send you the details. Happy do-gooding!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Do Good this holiday season: A linkup and challenge

It's the holiday season, and I know that for me giving and helping others is a huge part of what makes it special. So, I thought I'd go ahead and start a Do Good challenge here on my blog. I'm going to try to come up with at least one thing I can do every day to help others, particularly things that I can do without spending a lot of time or money, and share them with you. I may not post about them every day, but I'll try to get at least 5 of them up every week.

I invite you to participate in my Do good challenge also! Link up below any Do good posts you write for your blog this week. Link up as many times as you like!

So here goes, my "do good" task for today is to read a book on We Give Books

We give books is a great website where you can read digital copies of children's books for free. For every book you read, Penguin Publishers donates one new book to the children's charity you choose. I cannot think of a simpler way to enjoy giving, and teach your children to give, this holiday season.

Now get linking!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Menus and freezers and budgets, oh my! (Part 1)

Anyone will tell you that meal planning is the key to saving money at the grocery store. As far as I can tell there are two main strategies for menu planning, as it relates to saving money.

The first strategy is to plan an entire week's worth of meals before you go to the grocery store. Make a list of all the ingredients you will need for your dinners, as well as anything you may need to make breakfasts and lunches. Buy only those things.

The idea here is that you save money by avoiding impulse buys, by avoiding extra trips to the store mid-week when you realize you forgot something (extra trips which inevitably lead to impulse buys), and by avoiding food waste when you buy something because it looks good but have absolutely no idea or intention of using it.

You can save even more money if you make your meal plan with your grocery ad next to you, planning the main ingredients around what happens to already be on sale. You end up with a little repetition of meat this way, unless you have a lot of great sales, but you can save big.

This is a great way to grocery shop. It is efficient, frugal, and can be very successful. But it's not what I do.

The buy ahead principle

Instead, my goal is to have everything I need for an entire week's worth of meals before I go to the grocery store. On Friday, before I go shopping, I survey my freezer and pantry and make a meal plan based on what I already have. Some of the meals are things that I've cooked ahead and stashed in my freezer. Some of the meals are quick cooking staples in our house, or easy crockpot recipes, that I just keep the main ingredients of onhand. But the idea is before I go to the store, I should be able to count at least 7 easily available dinners in my house. I double check all the extra ingredients and sides for each meal, and add any that I'm missing to my list, but it is a very small part of my weekly grocery list.


There are a few main reasons for this. The first is that I'm generally just not good at sticking to a plan. When I count my 7 meals of the week, I know I won't get to all of them. I'll probably have a leftover night. I may have a sandwich night. We may go out. DH or I may decide we don't want to eat anything I planned and just make a frozen pizza. If I bought only the week's worth of meals, I would lose that flexibility.

The biggest reason, though, is saving money. I try to buy things only when they are on sale. Other than fresh fruit and milk, which we buy almost every week, almost nothing enters my house that wasn't at least 50% off. This saves me big at the grocery store.


The basic principle here is that you need to start small. Every week, you can add just one extra meal to your freezer stash. This way you won't go crazy overbudget or make yourself crazy with all the cooking.

Then as you start to develop a freezer stash, you'll be able to spend more of your budget on stockpile items and less on weekly need items. If I know I have 5 containers of chili, 5 containers of slow cooked taco beef, and 3 lasagnas in my freezer? Then each week's meals become very easy to plan.

The plan is to write part 2 about how I shop, and part 3 about how I assemble freezer meals, and possible a part 4 with recipes. But I'm not good at plans. Leave a comment letting me know how you meal plan, or what you would like to know about my meal planning and shopping, and we'll play it by ear, okay?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How I get deals at CVS


In order to get the best deals at CVS, you need to sign up for an ExtraCare card. Once you have one, you should register and sign up to get CVS emails. When you do, you will also get coupons to use and even get surveys you can take to earn more extracare bucks.

You can also sign up for the CVS beauty club to get extra offers.


Read a good deal blog that lists the weekly CVS deals along with coupon matchups. My favorites for CVS are Simply CVS and Coupon Katarina. They list all the deals and any coupons available to go with them.

Some of the deals will be cheap with just the coupon, but many of them are only cheap after extra care bucks. These are in-store dollars that you receive for purchasing certain items and can use on future purchases.


Once you've bought a few things and earned some extra care bucks, roll them onto future purchases. This is where the savings really comes in.


  • Always scan your card at the price scanner when you go into the store. It will print personalized coupons for you, sometimes for free items.
  • Extra care bucks expire, and some weeks have better deals than others, so if you can get something "free", it's often best to buy it to roll your ECB's, even if you don't really want or need it, just to extend the expiration dates of your bucks.
  • If you have a manufacturers coupon for an item that is already free after ECB's, you still get the full ECB value listed in the add, so you can actually grow your ECB's, essentially making money for taking home the shampoo or toothpaste.
  • When you have more than a certain number of ECB's (for me, around 5; some people carry over a lot more), it's best to spend some down by buying milk or some non-ECB deals that you happen to need. This keeps you from having a ton that you have to spend before they expire.
  • You can only use one manufacturers coupon and one store coupon per item, so if you have 2 $2 ECB's and want to buy a $4 item, you'll need to buy a cheap filler item.
  • If you can go more than once a week, or split your order into multiple transaction, you can minimize your out of pocket spending by only paying for the first item and using ECB's to pay for the rest.
  • You also get quarterly ECB's in the amount of 2% of your out of pocket spending. I now get almost nothing since most of my spending is coupons and ECB's.
  • Also get a green bag tag. It costs $1, but if you attach it to a reusable bag and scan it with your extra care card, you will earn $1 ECB for every four scans.

Make sense?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Free $15 credit to One King's Lane

Right now, if you sign up for One King's Lane, a daily deal site, you get a free $15 credit. It looks like that might be able to net you a few free or cheap Christmas gifts.

And if you sign up with my link, I get a $15 referral credit, too.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Just call me the razor fairy

About a month ago, one of my friends commented on how she really prefers to buy high quality brands of razors and deodorants, but she in trying to save money, she compromised quality a little and her skin started to suffer.

I told her, "Oh sweetie, I promise when I find free Venus razors, I'll let you know."

So, this post is for her. ;)

Right now, on, you can buy this spa gift set, which includes a full size bottle of body wash, a Venus razor, and either a can of shaving cream or a bottle of body mist. It costs $10, but it also includes a free subscription to Allure magazine.

However, if you don't want the magazine, you can send the card back and instead get a refund in the amount of $9.99. Making the gift set essentially free.

You do have to pay the shipping costs, which I think are about $2.39.

But, if you have an account at either Ebates or Mr. Rebates, you can also click through there first and get 2 or 3% cashback. (Which amounts to about 20 cents. But I never say no to free money.)

Disclaimer: The links to the cashback sites are my referral links. If you don't have an account and click through my links, I will get very rich. Or at least be able to buy a few cookies. Thanks.

Thanks for this deal Couponing to Disney

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Free breakfast at Chick Fil A this week

Today, I am headed to Chick Fil A for free breakfast. I'm a little late to the party posting this, but it looks like a lot of locations still have "reservations" available for the remainder of the week.

Just pick your favorite chick fil a location, pick a time you can go, and then tell them what you would like to eat (you can choose from any breakfast entree). You will get a voucher in your email to print and bring with you, but when I've gone during previous promotions, they've also had my name on a list.

I will probably buy a coffee and sit and eat, as a nice way to get out of the house, but there is absolutely no purchase required. I have definitely gone in, gotten a free sandwich and left on many occasions. My Chick Fil A usually also gives me a goodie bag with coupons and other little treats.

So, enjoy!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

$20 Chili's GC for $10 when you join Mypoints

Right now, when you join Mypoints with my referral link (that's it, right over there, see?), you can buy a $20 Chili's gift card for only $10.

Mypoints is one of my favorite online rewards sites. Every few months, I earn a gift card just for clicking on links they send to my email. You can earn them faster by shopping through their links or signing up for email lists. Do use a spam email address if you sign up though because you'll probably get a lot of junk mail.

Disclaimer: This is my referral link. If you use it to sign up, I get 10% of all the points you earn. Cha-ching! Also, if 3 people sign up under me, I get the same Chili's gift card offer I just offered you. But no pressure. Really.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Do Good: Huddle to Fight Hunger

It's that time again! Every year, Kraft hosts a fundraiser for Feeding America, the biggest network of foodbanks in the country. This year, all you have to do is like Huddle to Fight Hunger on Facebook, and Kraft will donate one free meal to a foodbank in your area. Then, play the 2 minute trivia game to donate even more meals.

Tip for the game: the faster you answer the questions, the more yards you gain (meaning you get touchdowns, and therefore meals, faster). I managed to donate 5 meals in my two minutes, but next time I'm hoping for more!

For more ways to donate to charity without spending money, also check out my lens on ways to Click to donate for free

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Saving Money: Restaurants are my Kryptonite

I love eating out. I love the food, I love the social aspect. I love getting out of my house, and not having to clean up or wash dishes. I thought once I had the baby I wouldn't do it anymore, and the budgetary problem would take care of itself, but then I had to go and have a happy, social baby who I could take everywhere. (I know, cry me a river, right?)

We eat out at least once a week. Usually more. I know, I know that the best way to cut down on this expense is just not to do it. I know. But it brings us both such joy that we don't want to cut it out entirely.

When we lived in a college town, it was easy to find cheap casual restaurants and to find coupons and deals for them. Here, not so much. So, in order to subsidize my eating out habit, I've had to get a little more creative. Here are some of the ways I'm trying to make eating out more affordable:

  • Drink water. Every single time. When a soda costs as much as a salad, it's just ridiculous. I'm not there for the soft drinks anyway.
  • Go to lunch. Honestly, with the baby, it's easier anyway, and a lot of the nicer places we go to have a lunch menu with lower prices for the same great food.
  • Split an entree. Okay, my husband isn't big on "sharing" (did I mention we really like food?), but sometimes if the plates are big enough he can be convinced to split one with me and get a salad or appetizer to go with it.
  • Get gift cards. I use my My Points and my credit card points to get gift cards for places we typically eat.
  • Get coupons. I have not had the greatest success with or Groupon, but some people do. I have had success by signing up for email or mailed coupons from restaurants we regularly go to. I also sign up for frequent visit/stamp clubs.

I am so open to tips, as I need to fuel my restaurant habit. How do you save money while eating out?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The state of my money and my life


We are doing pretty well, better than we ever have, but we could do better. We make more than we ever have, and we save more than we ever have, but we spend more than we ever have too. We still have debt, and we need to work on that.


Things have been different around here lately. I've been a SAHM for 9 months now, and it hasn't been at all what I expected. I am both more at peace with my choices and more worried than I have ever been in my life.

I spend most days trying to come up with ways to keep the baby busy, struggling to keep the house clean, and sneaking in as much bloggy time as I can. I still clip coupons and shop sales. I have a routine for hitting the drug store deals. That's about all I have a routine for, LOL.

I don't have much figured out just yet, but I'm working on it, and I'm going to try to share what I have figured out in the hopes that we can all learn together.

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ah, those blues

It's raining here again. It's been raining for about a week.

Some mornings, after my husband leaves for work, I convince Baby Girl she wants to go back to bed just so I can go back to bed. On some of those mornings, I take a quick nap and then pop up and carry on with my day. Usually, though, I end up bringing her to my bed to snuggle and play because I have trouble moving or getting out of bed.

I know, know, that what I need to do is get up, get dressed and have a day. I know that I need to turn off my computer, read a book, exercise, get out of the house at least a little. But what I feel like doing and what I'll feel good doing aren't the same.

I'm reading again, which is good - although my last choice, The Last Time They Met: A Novel
, left me in a horrible funk that lasted for days. Next time, I'll look for something more uplifting. Reading, though, makes me feel more like me. It keeps the days from all seeming the same.

And Baby Girl, who is right now sleeping on my chest because when I put her down, she immediately woke up, turned to look at me, furrowed her eyebrows (she did!), and let out a little whimper that clearly said, "Mommy! This is not going to happen"? She can stay right here with me because nothing makes me feel calmer and stronger than loving her.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Things I've learned this week

The Internet tells me there's an 8 month sleep regression. This in no way helps with the waking every 2 hours, but does assure me that Baby Girl and I aren't (too) weird.

When you sleep in 2 hour spurts, it's hard to maintain a train of thought longer than one sentence.

Coupon shopping is still fun with a baby if you go when the stores are empty. Not so much if you're in line behind 3 people with the world's slowest checker and it's lunch time. And nap time.

Coupon shopping is even more fun when it's for a good cause.

Social networking is fun and addictive.

8 month olds think that 3 year olds at the zoo are far more entertaining than lions.

Coffee makes me a better mommy.

The sun is in fact not a mass of incandescent gas. It's a miasma of incandescent plasma.

Bananas taste much better than peas. That's why they end up in Baby Girl's hair less.

Sunlight gives me energy. And gives my leaves their healthy green color.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Free stuff to donate!

Are you getting geared up for the Stamp Out Hunger food drive? What's that, you say, you have nothing to donate? Here are some things you can pick up this week for free that your local food bank would love to have.


Carefree Pantiliners are on sale for $0.99.
Use $1/1 from last Sunday's Smart Source coupon insert.

Tylenol Precise on sale for $7.99. (This is either a cream or a heating pad and is not with the pain relievers in my store, so you know.
Use $5/1 printable coupon.
AND use the $3/1 store coupon from the Walgreens May Coupon Booklet (found in the front of the store)

Nature Made Calcium 120 ct is on sale for $5. This was not marked down in my store but still rung up for $5!
Use $5 printable coupon on the Walgreens facebook page


Aquafresh Extreme Clean .8oz Travel Size regular price .97 (In the travel aisle)
Use $1/1 Any Aquafresh Extreme Clean Product HERE

Reach Floss $1
Use $1/1 Printable coupon (no longer available)

Similac Ready to Feed Formula (32 oz) – $4.99
Use $5.00/1 Similac Product from 4/3 Smart Source insert

Thanks to Coupon Katarina and Totally Target for finding these deals. If you have more time and more coupons, check out their awesome sites!

Don't forget to join the Facebook cause to ask Campbells to donate a pound of food and like Valpak to donate another $1

Friday, May 6, 2011

Do Good: Stamp Out Hunger

Stamp Out Hunger, the national letter carriers' food drive, is coming up on Saturday, May 14. If you, like me, have an overflowing stockpile of non-perishable foods and health and beauty aids, this is a great way to clean out your pantry while helping others. And it's so easy! Just leave the food out by your mailbox next Saturday, and it will be donated to a local food bank for you.

Plus when you join Stamp out Hunger on facebook causes, Campbells will donate 1 pound of food on your behalf. What are you waiting for? Go join!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rethinking the blog

When I first started blogging, I thought I knew exactly why I was doing it. I wanted to write. And help people. And be part of the frugal blogging community. And be accountable for my finances. And make money.

In my experience, when I have to come up with 5 completely different reasons why I want to do something, it means I'm trying too hard to convince myself.

For a long time, I liked blogging, and I especially liked blogging about frugality. I made lists, I waxed philosophical, I linked to other bloggers, I joined carnivals. I was having a lot of fun. Until I wasn't.

At some point along the line, I just stopped feeling the blogging love. When I was teaching full time, I often didn't have a lot of words left at the end of the day. And at some point, after writing about all things frugal for a while, I felt like I'd said it all. I felt boring. Sure, I could post deals, but other people did that better than I do. I could write money saving tutorials, but really? It's all been done. So I stopped.

But I have an underlying desire to keep writing, or to start writing again. I want to put things out in the world, to be really honest, to write as if no one is reading (because let's be honest here, most days no one is). And probably, there will still be some money involved with this because I'm still a pretty frugal chica. I love coupons. I unplug chargers. I turn my ketchup bottle upside down.

I think, however, for a while at least, there's going to be a lot more life here than money.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Works for me Wednesday: Papers

I am not a very organized person in general. When it comes to papers, as both a teacher and a homemaker, I suck. They would get everywhere and completely overwhelm me if I didn't have a system.

My years in a classroom actually taught me (through trial by fire) the necessity of two things when it came to papers: having a place for everything and handling every piece of paper only once.

So at home for all my papers, I have a three shelf tray (actually this one from Ikea). I place it on top of my filing cabinet and next to my shredder and recycle bin.

Every day, when the mail comes, or really any time papers come into the house, I open them immediately. I recycle or shred everything I don't need to keep, and everything else goes in one of my three trays. The top is for things I need to be able to see and grab immediately: checks that need to be deposited, reminder cards for upcoming appointments. The second tray is for "action items": bills that need to be paid, rebates that need to be filled out. The bottom drawer is for things that need to be filed.

Then, every few days or at least once a week, I go through my trays in order. Anything that needs my immediate attention gets dealt with first (appointments getting added to calendars, RSVPs), then if I still have time I pay whatever bills I have, then if I still have time I do my filing. In all honesty, I haven't filed very many times since I had the baby, but at least I know that everything that needs to be filed is in one safe place, and even if I don't get to my filing all my bills get paid on time.

(I also keep my stamps, checkbook, and address stickers right in the tray where I keep my bills. That way I always know where everything is and can get through the task faster).

It isn't a perfect system, but it works for me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On (not) sleeping babies and my super-ambivalence

So my beautiful 7 month old baby girl has decided to be extra clingy this week. I mean, she's been pretty clingy for the past few weeks, but for the past couple of days she won't even let me set her down. What's worse, she has decided to start waking up 3 times a night again and it's taken an hour to get her back down every time.

I'm tired. I'm frustrated. I'm completely braindead.

And I feel like a failure.

I'm snuggling with my completely healthy baby girl who loves me like crazy, and I feel like a failure.

I have read so many books and blogs and forums that tell me babies need a consistent nap schedule. I have no schedule. I've been told by experts, my doctor, and other moms that I need to let her fall asleep independently in her crib. I almost never do. My mother-in-law and Parents magazine tell me she should be sleeping through the night. She isn't.

And I want to stop listening. I want to say, leave me alone, I'm holding my baby and we're both just fine.

But I also want to get some rest.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Making Money Online: Paid to Signup

Sites I used

(these are referral links)

How it works

You sign up for a variety of services, and you get paid commission for doing so. Some of the sites only require that you provide an email address and name, others require you to scroll through a series of offers. Of the latter group, some will pay only if you accept at least one or more of the offers.

My assessment

There was a time when I logged onto GPT sites and could find several offers to complete that would take me only a few minutes each and pay $1 or more. Gone are those days. Now it seems that more and more of the paying offers are the long ones, where you have to scroll through what seems to be an endless path of offers, and say yes to at least one of them. These offers can take up to 15 minutes and give you no indication of length or progress along the way, and the cold truth about these sites is that, even if you do them exactly right, some of them just won't ever credit. Plus, most of them now pay less than 50 cents each.

Are there people who make a lot of money on these sites? Yes. If you set up several different email addresses, clear your browser cookies after every completed offer, and have the patience to complete longer offers, you definitely have the potential to accrue some money while sitting and doing other things. The big payday, like so many of these things, comes from referrals, so if you have a knack for that you can make some extra money off of other people's time.

The reason I like Dollar click or signup is that they payout at only $1, and they do so almost daily. A lot of the other sites won't payout until you reach $20, an amount which is almost impossible to hit without a ton of referrals.

The Bottom Line

This is not so much for me. I spent an entire day logged onto the site (granted while I did other things), and only earned about $4. While I probably will continue to stop by once in a while and fill out a few easy offers just to add a few bucks to my coffers, this is certainly not a reasonable way to supplement my family's income.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Saving Money on Groceries Part 3: Coupon basics

Coupons are pretty hot in the media right now, what with extreme couponing shows and commercials for printable coupon sites. There's a reason for that. Grocery coupons are an outstanding way to save money on the things your family needs and even to get things for free. They help you lower your budget, make it possible to afford treats that would otherwise be out of reach, and even sometimes help you to bless others with your abundance by donating some of your free products.

But coupons only help you save money when you use them wisely. Coupons are inherently a marketing tactic, and companies only give them out because they know they can convince you to buy their products. If you buy everything you have coupons for, you will usually end up spending more money on your weekly groceries - and probably end up with a bunch of junk you don't want to eat or use.

My personal grocery coupon strategy is essentially to acquire two types of coupons: coupons for things that I buy on a regular basis, and coupons for things that will eventually be free.

"Need" coupons If an item is on your regular weekly grocery list, and you're going to buy it anyway, then using a coupon for it clearly and immediately saves you money. For example, my family buys milk, yogurt, and orange juice almost every week, so whenever I see a coupon for one of those things, I grab as many as I can possibly get. Even if the item is not on sale, but you need it, you can use one coupon and buy one like you normally would, essentially putting a dollar back in your pocket.

As a more specific example: we generally buy one of three brands of orange juice, depending on which one is on sale. Recently, there was a $1 off coupon for one of our preferred brands. The coupon made the regular price of that orange juice less than the sale price of any of the others, so I got about 10 copies of the coupon. Then, every week, I bought one bottle of orange juice like normal but with the coupon instead of the sale. When the brand I had the coupon for went on sale, I bought 3 of them. Then, the next week, I didn't need to buy any and I could make it until the next sale. (When the coupon was about to expire, I bought up a couple extra, even though it wasn't a sale week. It still saved me money over what I would normally pay.)

Did I try to buy 100? No way. It would still have cost me a lot of money, and how could I possibly have used that much orange juice before it expired? Where would I store it? But 3 was a reasonable level for me, and enough to get me to the next sale. It was also an amount that fit into my grocery budget, which is really important to remember.

Coupons for need items like bread, milk, juice, and even meat and produce do exist, you just have to keep an eye out.

Free and stockpile coupons There are some coupons that I always make sure to acquire extras of simply because I know that, by my store's sales cycle, they will eventually be free. A 50 cent off coupon for mustard, for example, will yield you free bottles at many stores that double coupons. Whenever that coupon came out, I made sure to grab a few. When the sale made it free, I would pick up 2 or 3. You could choose to get more, provided your store doubles more than 3 like coupons, but you need to think of what you'll do with them. Do you have room to store them? Do you plan to donate them? Do you go through more than 2 or 3 bottles of mustard before the sale and coupon come around again?

This is how people manage to "never pay for" certain items. I know at the stores I used to shop at, I didn't pay for mustard for years. Other items you can consistently get for free in most places include hot sauce, salad dressing, toothpaste, floss, and 4 packs of toilet paper. There are regional variations, but the more you keep track of your store's prices and sales cycles, the more you'll start to get a feel for which coupons are most useful for you to stock up on.

Free items are also a great way to get some treats for your family for free. Especially when a product is relatively new, it's often easy to find a coupon that will make it free. I remember having a shelf full of Betty Crocker Warm Delights when they first came out, none of which I paid for. I probably wouldn't pay for them, honestly, but they made a nice treat if they were free. So, if you see high value coupons for new items, it makes sense to save them for at least a little while to see whether you can get them for free or very cheap.

I talked a lot today about using multiples of coupons. Next week I'll explain a little more about where you can get those coupons.

Good luck and happy savings!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Searching for happiness and why it matters

There's something I've been feeling like I needed to write for a long time, and I haven't been able to figure out how to say it and so it's been keeping me from saying anything else. I'm not sure how eloquent this is going to be, but I figured I might as well just get to the guts of it and see what comes after so we can all just get on with it.

I want to be happy. And so should you.

Now, I'm not saying that I'm unhappy. I realize how very fortunate I am. I am grateful for my family, for my beautiful baby girl, for my home. I am grateful that I am able to stay home, at least for now, grateful that I have always been able to pay my bills. I appreciate the things in my life and in no way mean to minimize them.

Nor am I suggesting that I need, deserve, or even want to be twirling-through-the-hills-in-Austria happy every minute of my day. I have seem a lot of people make themselves very happy seeking out that kind of happiness, which as far as I can tell,doesn't really exist. There is no perfect job, no perfect life. Having unrealistic expectations just sets you up for disappointment in the end.

And yet, and yet. There is a fundamental, to the core, happiness that I need more of in my life. The kind of happiness that emanates in everything you do, that comes from a basic satisfaction with yourself and with the way you are choosing to live. The kind of happiness where you know, even when you have a bad day and feel down, that you are on the right track and that there will be better days.

And it's important. It's as important as being a good mother, a good wife, a good friend because it informs all of those roles and improves them. Being generous of myself is something which often comes easy, but when I do it from a place of scarcity instead of abundance then it is more like martyrdom than true sharing, and honestly I don't think that serves anyone. It is more important than the money or the budget because until I am happy, I think I will be desperately and anxiously looking for more, and will never be satisfied with enough. Money won't ever fill the void of true satisfaction, but I think the converse can be true.

I'm not sure how to achieve it. I have a few ideas, but I'm not sure exactly how to synthesize it. I know the things that I can do in my life that bring my feelings of happiness, and I know the things which suck to do but give me a sense of happiness when they're finished. I know that there are issues of balance that I need to figure out, ways to do everything I need and still have time to build on myself. I know I need to cut out a lot of stuff that eats up my time and makes me feel worse in the end. And I know that it's worth the energy I invest because happiness just might be the key to everything.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Saving Money on Groceries Part 2: Lists

Once you have a handle on your budget, pricepoints, pantry, and repertoire, you can finally get into the nitty gritty of actual shopping. There are two main types of list that you need for good grocery savings:

A need list

Your need list will consist of all the things that you absolutely need to buy this week. To begin with, it helps to make a really detailed meal plan: list every single main dish and side item you will need for every breakfast, lunch and dinner you will eat this week. Include snacks that your family has to have. Then go to your pantry and see what you already have. Make a list of every item that you need to buy to make your meal plan work. You don't want to have to run back out to the store mid-week - you'll waste gas and probably spend extra on impulse buys.

Now, how can this help you save money? Well a few ways. First of all, preventing all the extra trips is huge. Also, for a lot of people, having meals planned and on hand can prevent those quick fast food meals that add to your budget really fast. Even if you get a day or two off, you can always look back at your initial plan and know that you have everything you need for enough complete meals for the week.

The big savings come, though, when you make this list strategically. Start to plan your meals around both your pantry and the grocery ad. For example, if pork chops are on sale, and you have applesauce in the pantry, you have the makings of a great meal. You just need to add a vegetable and maybe a starch and you're good to go.

A stockpile list

In addition to looking through your grocery ad for items that would make good dinners this week, start to look ahead to the future. If you have an idea of what your family regularly uses, and you know the normal pricepoint for each of those items, you can start to stock up when the items are cheaper than that. For instance, if your family eats a lot of pasta, and pasta is on sale for half your normal buy price, buy as many as you can afford! Over time, two things will happen: as your pantry gets fuller, your need list will get shorter and your buy prices will get lower. As your need list gets shorter, you will have more money to buy stockpile items. As your pantry gets fuller, you will be able to wait for lower and lower prices, eventually getting to the point where you can get most items for close to free. This is when you'll start to see the biggest grocery savings.

Next time I'll talk more about how to stockpile, with coupons and matchups, and some great resources to help you do that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Uprinting Postcard 2nd chance giveaway! 24 hours only

Unfortunately, it looks like my winner for the Upromise giveaway wasn't eligible, so you have another 24 hours to enter. Right now, there are NO additional entries, so you have a GREAT chance of winning. Head over to the original post to sign up now!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A new to us car?

My husband and I both drive fairly new cars, the newer of which will be paid off within the next month. The plan when we bought them was to keep them until they died, but since then life has changed a little. After a baby and a move to a state that actually has winters, my 2 door and his subcompact sedan just don't meet our needs anymore. We really feel like he needs a car with 4 wheel drive so that he can get to work when it snows and ices(after being stuck at the bottom of a hill for literally half an hour once this winter), we need at least one car that can haul a fair amount of stuff for when we travel, and I would be much happier with a 4 door car (although I can deal without, it's just a little hard on my back.

The plan right now is to sell the 2 door, get an AWD hatchback or crossover for my husband, and keep the sedan for me. This is doable even if we buy a new car, but then we'd go right back to having a car loan again which ANNOYS me to no end. Whenever I feel like we are making progress, it seems like we are just treading water.

Hubby has started feeling the same way, though, so he asked me to run numbers on how much car we could buy in cash. I ran the numbers and came up with a potentially good sized chunk of money, although not nearly enough for any new AWD cars. Neither of us has ever bought a used car before, except for the clunkers we drove as teenagers. Does anyone have good tips on how to find a good late model used car?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Uprinting giveaway winner!

The uprinting postcard giveaway winner is



Thursday, March 17, 2011

7 Tips for a frugal roadtrip

1. Plan ahead. We mapped out our route and booked our hotels ahead of time, rather than looking for a place to stop. This allowed us to budget more clearly because we knew exactly how much we were going to spend. In one case, we even got a discount for pre-paying for the hotel. Also, because we booked ahead of time, they were able to block our rooms for us with our crib and my husband's feather-free pillows, so we could be sure to get them.

2. Use points. We had accumulated several hotel points from our relocation and my husband's business trips and were able to use them to get one of our nights of hotel completely for free. This is the first time we ever had enough points to do that, but we have been diligent anyway about always using our numbers, and now are close to being able to book rooms at several different hotel chains. I'm also a fan of Free Frequent Flyer Miles for accumulating points and miles without traveling.

3. Look for promotions. When we were at the wedding, we used the wedding block code to get a great rate and a free breakfast. I also checked the hotel website before we left and found a promotion for one free night after every two stays, which I registered for. After our trip, we should have a free night to use next time we want to go away.

4. Consider giftcards. Our grocery store gives gas discounts for giftcards purchased, so we bought a giftcard to use for our hotel stay and for some of the restaurants along the way.

5. Find restaurant coupons. If you've planned your stay, you know where you're going to stop. Search each of those towns to find out what restaurants are there, and sign up for mailing lists to get coupons to those restaurants. It's also a good idea to pile up coupons for fast food and coffee places for stops along the way.

6. Make good use of breakfast. Mid priced hotels are most likely to offer free breakfast. Many of these breakfasts are so good now that you can eat well enough to skip lunch and just snack in the car. This saves you time as well as money.

7. Pack food. We always pack a bag full of snacks from my stockpile - things like poptarts, granola bars, cookies, crackers - as well a cooler with some bagels sandwiches and drinks. You could also pack cereal and milk, and even some microwave meals to eat in your room. Be sure to bring your coupon folder to go to the grocery store once you are there and restock for the trip back.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Giveaway: 100 Uprinting Postcards (Closed)

Uprinting has been kind enough to offer me another outstanding prize to give away. One lucky reader will receive 100 custom printed postcards.

The specifics: 5” x 7” 14pt Cardstock Gloss on a 2 Business Days Turnaround; Front Only printing

These cards would be great for small business owners trying to get the word out but would also make excellent Save the Date cards or birth announcements. My mind spins just trying to think of what I can make with mine.

To enter, simply leave a comment telling me what you would use your cards for.

You can get bonus entries by doing any of the following:
  1. Follow My Money or My Life publicly on Google Friend Connect.
  2. Follow me (story3girl) on Twitter.
  3. Like Uprinting on Facebook.
Leave a comment for each bonus entry. PLEASE be sure your comment includes a way to contact you if it isn't visible on your profile. The giveaway will close Sunday night, March 24. You must be a US resident, 18 or older to win. Disclaimer: This giveaway is sponsored by UPrinting. No monetary compensation was given and I will receive postcards for hosting. For more information about postcards, please visit them at Uprinting Postcards.

Do Good: Free $1 donation to Japan relief efforts

Right now when you like Voskos Yogurt and their current status, they will donate $1 to relief efforts in Japan.

As I find more ways to help Japan charities, I will post them on my Ways to Help Japan Now lens on Squidoo. Please feel free to link up your ideas there or here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Getting back in the swing of things

We are just back from a long weekend away, and it's taking me a day or two to get my life back in the swing of things. I have been plowing through the laundry and the mail, trying to get my budget reconciled, and getting my kitchen restocked.

Some random thoughts to share after 4 days on the road, including a wedding in the middle:

I have a fantastically even tempered baby.

Planning makes trips cheaper and easier.

11 courses at a wedding might be too many courses.

Gas is expensive. Very expensive.

There's no place like home.

More to come! Just glad to be back!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Free $25 to LetsGo Green

If you are a new member of the deal a day site Gaggle of Chicks, or if you've signed up but not used your sign up credit yet, you can get a $25 credit to Let's Go Green completely for free! There are lots of great green home products, so this is a way to stock your house for free while helping the environment. Count me in!

Thanks Couponing to Disney for finding this deal!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Saving on groceries, part 1: The Basics

As part of my resolution to save money this year, I wanted to work on tackling my grocery budget a little, and I thought I would run a mini-series on ways to spend less on groceries. Before we can get started on juicy insider tricks, though, we have to make sure we have our basics in line. Make sure you consider all of the following:

Your budget. A lot of bloggers talk about starting with your budget as if that were an easy task. Before you can cut back on your grocery spending, you need to know three things: how much you can spend, how much you do spend, and how much you want to spend. If you haven’t been actively budgeting so far, this may involve a lot of math and spreadsheets, and at least sitting down with some receipts or bank statements. You can’t just take someone else’s grocery budget and shoot for that because everyone’s situation is different. You need to actually do all the work.

Your priorities. Is it important to you to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables? To have meat every day? To buy some things organic? Or are you just trying to get everyone fed? Wherever you are, and whatever you want to do, is okay, but it’s going to affect how much you can save and how much you need to spend. This is one reason why comparing yourself to other people is not useful.
Your repertoire. What do you and your family actually eat? What products do you use? If you regularly make only 5 different meals, and they are affordable for you and it works for your family, there’s really nothing particularly wrong with that. Use that list of meals to make your grocery list and stop buying stuff you aren’t going to use, no matter how cheap it is. However, if you are interested in trying new recipes, you can save money by planning meals around the sales. I love allrecipes ingredient search for this; it allows you to search for recipes based on what ingredients you want included (or not included).

Your pantry. If you are starting from scratch and don’t have any food, you are obviously going to spend a little more on staples than is someone who has a fully stocked pantry. If you have a stocked pantry, take inventory. Make sure you aren’t rebuying things just because you can’t find them, and see whether certain things are accumulating because you are buying them without any real purpose or intention.

Your pricepoints. One reason that it is useless to compare yourself or your budget to other people is that grocery prices vary so widely from one area of the country to another. If you're just starting out, you could consider making a pricebook - essentially, you track the prices of your most commonly purchased items over time and at different stores. If you don't have the time for that, at least develop an awareness for the "normal" price and the "good" price for the things you buy all the time. There's no way to know whether a deal saves you money unless you know what you're paying now.

Your time. How much time do you really want to invest in lowering your grocery bill? Do you have the time to go to several stores a week? To dig through forums, or visit a few blogs? Remember to search for that balance in your life instead of trying to meet someone else’s challenge.

So where am I in all this? I currently have a pretty well stocked pantry and a pretty fixed repertoire of meals, but I’d like to try a few new meals. I have a lot of different spices that I would like to plan some meals around. I’m currently spending about $300 a month, but would like to modestly lower that to $250, while keeping as much of my food natural and organic as possible. I am ready to start shopping at more than one store a week if I need to, as long as I can get in and out quickly.

Want to join in? What are your grocery goals?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Do Good: Join my village is back!

One of my favorite sites for donating for free, Join My Village is back for 2011. Unlike last year, when you could earn several dollars a day for the Malawi village of your choice, now you can only take one action a month. So far each of these actions have been videos to watch, and each has earned $1 or $2 for your village. Not as high an impact as last year’s program, but still definitely worth taking a few minutes to do. The coolest part is hearing about what the villages are doing with the money to help improve education and create jobs and businesses.
The sponsors will also match any donations you make, so if you are interested in giving for poverty relief, it’s a great way to raise the impact of your donations.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To do lists and other nonsense

I’ve never been much of a list maker. My husband (who very much is) always tells me to add things to my list when I think of them. I’ve always told him I’m more likely to lose the list than to forget to do it.

These days that doesn’t seem to be the case. Since I had the baby (and really a few months before), I have been operating in a sort of fog and constantly forget what it is that I need to do. I have decided to resort to the lists as a necessity. The daily chores get done and the weekly chores usually get done, but all the picky things like making appointments and writing thank you cards were falling through the cracks.

The problem is, to do lists still make me cranky. I forget to write things on them, then I forget to look at them, then when I do look at them I only see things I can’t do at that particular moment, and by the end of the day I just look back at the list and see a bunch of things that I still haven’t done and feel defeated.
So I think the solution (and this makes me even crazier) is to maintain two separate lists: a master to do list, and a basic daily plan. The purpose of the master list is to “catch” all the stuff that’s floating in my head, so that I don’t think later “what was it I said I needed to do?” The purpose of the daily plan is to actually have a reasonable and actionable set of things to do.
So, here’s how my strategy looks these days – this is a work in progress:
  • I keep a master list on a pretty notepad of all the things I need to do. As soon as I think about it, I get my rear end to the notepad and write it down. My notepad is on my refrigerator so I don’t lose it, but I should probably put it on my nightstand when I go to bed and in my purse when I go out because things are still getting away from me.

  • I take 5 minutes at night before I go to bed (but after the baby goes to bed) to read my list and choose a few things from it that I really need or want to get done the next day. If I choose too many, I won’t get through them or I’ll be overwhelmed and not do any. I also try to cluster tasks – I pay bills in a block a few times a month, I do errands once or twice a week when things are near each other – but not schedule huge things like “file 3 months worth of papers,” a task which would stay on the master list forever.
  • I take 5 minutes in the morning to think about how those tasks will fit into my day. Are they desk tasks that I can do while holding the baby? Are they errands I should schedule around naptime?
  • I cross things off the master list as they get done, and I throw away my daily schedule every day, whether I got to everything on it or not.
It’s not a perfect system, and I can’t believe that I actually gave in to using lists. Right now, it works for me, but I’m very open to suggestions. As you can see, I’m orgazationally challenged!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Get rewards and free stuff for exercising + Mamapedia deal

I've been looking for ways to motivate myself to exercise, so today's Mamapedia deal for a Switch to Health Replay is great. My understanding is that you just wear it and then it automatically tallies up your activity over the course of the day and gives you points to use towards discounts or gift cards.

The deal costs $10. I got a free $5 credit when I signed up, and I think you can too if you sign up through the link above (please let me know if that's not true!), making this only $5. The deal also doesn't include $4.95 shipping from the site.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Frugal Friday: Saving energy and money in every room

In my quest to save money in 2011, I thought I’d turn my focus on some ways to save energy. I thought I’d organize the tips according to room, although many of these energy saving tips can of course be used in more than one room.
  • Consider using LED energy saving nightlights to avoid turning on room lights when moving around in the night.
  • Use ceiling fans, blankets and warm night clothes to keep the thermostat lower while sleeping, thus saving heating fuel.
  • Switch any lightbulbs to CFLs.
  • Unplug cell phone chargers when not in use.
  • Keep any TVs and such on a power strip that can be shut off when not in use to prevent energy vampires.
  • Take shorter showers to save on water heating energy.
  • Reduce or eliminate blow drying.
  • Switch from electric to manual toothbrushes and razors, or at least unplug them when they are done charging (most only need to charge every few days).
  • Keep the refrigerator closed as much as possible. Try to plan to get everything you need for dinner out at once, and organize the fridge so you can find things quickly.
  • Check fridge and freezer temperatures. You might be able to set them a bit higher and still maintain safe conditions.
  • Use smaller appliances when possible. Microwaves and toaster ovens use much less energy than stoves and ovens.
  • Use appropriately sized pans and burners. Don’t waste energy and money boiling more water or heat more surface than you need.
  • Bake more than one thing at a time, or back to back if the temperatures are slightly different. The oven uses most of its energy preheating.
  • Don’t preheat the oven to roast or heat something, only if you are doing fussy baking.
  • Run only full loads in your dishwasher.
  • Set the dishwasher to air dry, not heat dry.
Living room
  • Turn off the TV when it is not actively being watched (and in our house, actively watch it less).
  • Turn off computers from the power strips when not being used, and unplug laptop chargers when not charging.
  • Use appropriate window treatments to keep rooms light in the day and dark at night, and warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Laundry room
  • Run only full loads of laundry.
  • Wash everything in cold water, unless there’s an allergy issue forcing you to use hot for sheets and towels.
  • Experiment with dryer times to hit the minimum that does the job.
  • Sort clothes by weight so dryer times are similar for everything in a load.
  • Hang at least a few of your heavier things to dry. You can throw them in the dryer briefly to soften them.
Do you have any great tips to add? For more great frugal advice, check out Frugal Friday at Life as Mom.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Formula Giveaway winner

And the winner of the formula coupon giveaway is....


Congratulations! I have sent you an email.

The funny thing is, your tip on layering crib sheets is my favorite tip for new moms too!

Friday, February 4, 2011

BeRuby Superbowl contest

Do you have a Be Ruby account? If you do, go vote in the forum SuperBowl contest. The winner gets $10, and if at least 50 people post then everyone who entered gets $1 for free.

Be Ruby is a web portal where you can make money for doing things you already do on the web. Earn 1 cent a day just for visiting and half a cent each for clicking through to sites like gmail and twitter. I never say no to free money.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Making extra money in 2011

Making Money in 2011

One of my goals for the year is to make a little bit of extra money to help finally pay off our student loans and to save for some big purchases. I work a few hours a week outside the house, but I was hoping to squeeze out a few extra dollars from home. They have to be things I can do sitting on the couch with my husband after the baby is in bed, or in bits and pieces through the day while the baby is sleeping and after my house is clean. Here are the various venues I hope to explore:

  • Blogging – As of right now, this blog earns me a few cents a month and I’ve always been pretty okay with that. I’m not interested in overly monetizing it. I know, though, that there are a lot of little changes I could make that would help to make the blog more user friendly and also make me a little bit of money. I have a lot to learn as I know the blog is kind of a mess right now, so besides writing, I’m going to invest a little time into researching good blogging practices.
  • Writing – At one point, there were a variety of websites I used to get paid to write articles and reviews. I haven’t done this in a while, but I’d like to get back into it.
  • Squidoo – I have a few squidoo lenses that you earn me a couple of dollars every month. I am especially proud of the click to donate lens, as it’s something I get excited about and can do good while I earn some money (for myself and for charity). I could spend a little more time updating and promoting these, and probably make a few more as time allows.
  • Surveys - No one ever got rich doing surveys, but if you’re looking for a few dollars to snowflake on your debt, this is a low impact, low commitment way to go about it. I always have an inbox full of surveys and end up deleting a lot of them because they have expired, so I could stand to stay on top of these more.
  • Offers – Once upon a time, I used to make a good chunk of cash at GPT sites. My impression is that they are not nearly as impressive anymore, but I’m going to look into it and see what I can do.
  • Sweeps – I really enjoy entering sweepstakes and instant win games. By picking good ones, I can usually win a few free item coupons or other small prizes a year. And who knows, if I kept at it, maybe I would eventually win a bit item or two. It’s not a priority, but I’m willing to spend a minute or two a day doing this.
  • Blog Giveaways – Similar to the sweepstakes, I’m getting really excited about blog giveaways these days. If I’m willing to spend time on sweeps, I should spend time on these too. The odds are usually better and you get to check out and help support some really great bloggers while you enter.
    (PS – Did you know I’m giving away a coupon for Free formula? As of the writing of this, there’s only one entry!)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Giveaway: Free formula coupon

I don't use formula, but sometimes I get things in the mail from formula companies anyway, and I hate to see things go to waste. I currently have one FREE coupon for a Similac SimplePac, Sensitive or Advance, value up to 25.99 to give away to one lucky reader.

To enter, simply leave a comment below with your favorite tip for moms of infants. I'll close the giveaway February 8, so the coupon has time to get out before the 2/28 expiration date.

Bonus entries:

  • Subscribe to my blog in a reader.
  • Follow me on twitter (story3girl).

I might edit to add more bonus opportunities later, so check back. Good luck!

Edit: PLEASE leave contact info if it's not in your blogger profile! I can't send a coupon to an anonymous poster!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Do good: Feed a child in Haiti for free

Right now, at the World Food Program's website you can Feed a child in Haiti simply by taking a free quiz. Please take a minute to go do it. Every little bit helps.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Frugal Friday: Cutting the water bill

So, in evaluating our budget for our Saving in 2011 goal, one of the areas I wanted to address first was our utility bill. The bills themselves gave me an answer as to where to begin: my water bill was through the roof.
Water is a bill that I haven’t really thought about much because usually when we lived in apartments, it was included in the rent. When we moved into the house, I remembered being told that “water is cheap” – which is true compared to electricity and gas. However, if you don’t keep track of your usage, it’s also a place where you can waste a lot. So, I decided to spend the month attacking it. Here are the steps I took to monitor and decrease our water usage.
(Note: If your water bill is through the roof, the first thing you should always do is check for leaks. Check all your faucets, see if any of your toilets are running. This is waste that’s just pure waste. However, if you’ve done that, move on and look at your usage.)

  1. Wash full loads. This is the easiest tip of all because not only does it not involve any sacrifice, it actually involves doing less work. Instead of doing laundry, just. . . don’t do laundry. I don’t like to pile it all up, but instead of doing laundry every day, I skip every third day. I also don’t run my dishwasher unless it’s full, and have been pushing to go from every day to every other day. This takes a little more planning so I can make everything fit and so I don’t run out of bowls.
  2. Use “light” cycle. Also a no brainer. I set my dishwasher to light cycle and my washer to “light soil.” These are shorter cycles that use a little less water. Probably not a huge difference, but for every cycle, it helps.
  3. Take back to back showers. With the weather as it is, it’s been taking especially long for our water to get warm, which means running the water for a while before we can stand getting in. If I shower immediately after my husband does, I don’t need to let it run first.
  4. Wash pots and pans while the dishwasher is running. Same idea as above. The water is already hot, so I don’t need to let it run before I can wash things.
  5. Scrape, don’t rinse. Another tip that involves less work! Most decent dishwashers don’t require dishes to be rinsed first. Scrape off all solid particles into the trash and throw them right on in.
  6. Lower your flow. If you don’t already have a super low flow toilet, you can make it a little lower by putting a brick or a plastic bottle of water in the tank. You might not want to do this with a low flow toilet because it will decrease your flushing action even more.
  7. Turn off your icemaker. Okay, I felt dumb about this one. It’s January. The ice that’s already in there will last me an awfully long time.
Moderate – These tips require a little work or sacrifice, but are definitely doable.
  1. Turn off the water while you brush your teeth, for goodness sake. This one is a no-brainer for me, but somehow it makes hubby feel better to have it on. Some gentle reminding, however, can work wonders. 
  2. Take shorter showers. Okay, I like luxuriating in a 30 minute shower as much as the next gal, but honestly with the baby, these days I like sleep better, so this one has been pretty easy to establish. I don’t wash my hair every day which makes this easier, but mostly if you just get down to business, your shower will be short enough. Aim to decrease by even 5 minutes a day.
  3. Wear your clothes more than once. I don’t mind at all wearing the same pair of pants or pajamas more than one day, but you have to go on your level of squeamishness here. Think about, though, those big bulky sweaters and hoodies that you wear over your own clothes. Hang them back up instead of throwing them in the hamper. They aren’t dirty. Honest.
  4. Practice smart dishwashing. There is a technique here. First, fill any pots with stuff stock on them and let them soak. Here’s the trick: use that same water to wet your utensils and miscellaneous stuff. Either fill the pot with the water running off everything else, or fill the pot, then swish the items around in the water. Then, with the water off, wash everything with a soapy cloth or sponge and set it aside. Turn on the water once to rinse everything clean at the same time. Maybe not the clearest explanation, but play around with it and look for ways to use less water. Often they are more efficient in terms of time as well.
  5. Use the same glass or mug all day. Use the utensils that you cooked with to eat with. Man, if it means less washing, I’m down.
Hard/extreme – may not be suited for all readers – or, you know, for me.
  1. Turn off the water in the shower while you wash your hair, lather yourself up, or shave your legs. I am a fan of this idea in theory, but dude, it’s cold. If you’re tougher than me, though, go for it.
  2. Don’t shower every day. I could totally pull this off, especially with being home now, except for hubby’s judging stare. Oh, and the spit up in my hair.
  3. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. Another one I’d probably try if I lived alone but that would not go over so well otherwise. Consider guests’ feelings as well, please.
Since I am clearly not so extreme, I’d love to hear your suggestions on ways to save water. My most recent water bill was much lower (err, so much lower I’m thinking the last reading might have been a fluke, but oh well! I’m still saving money and going green!), but I’m always looking for ways to conserve even more. For more frugal ideas check out Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Keeping the house clean in 2011: On the baby's schedule

So, I said earlier that it was one of my resolutions this year to keep my house cleaner. If you’ve been a reader for a little while, you know that this is an area I have struggled with for a while. You also know that I have a 4 month old at home.
In the past month or so, my precious angel has decided that she doesn’t need naps that are longer than 30 minutes, and sometimes that she doesn’t need to nap at all. Needless to say I disagree. I Unfortunately, trying to get her back on track and rested means that I’m spending more time sitting in her room trying to get her to go to and stay asleep, giving me even less than 30 minutes at a shot to get my household work done. This has made it a bit challenging to try to keep up with the cleaning. So I’ve come up with this threefold plan, and hopefully it will work for me.

  • I do everything I can with the baby. For example, I clip my coupons and pay my bills sitting on the floor while she has tummy time, and I made a game out of folding my laundry. I bundle her up to go outside and get the mail, and I try to carry her around as I do light decluttering. This makes these tasks take a little longer, but it’s fun for her and it means I can spend those few nap minutes on things I can only do when she’s sleeping.
  • I do as much as I can in the evening when my husband is home to play with the baby. I do all the dishes, some housework, make lunch for my husband and sometimes for myself for the next day, and defrost something for the next day’s dinner.
  • I need to prioritize the work in the household and accept that not everything will get done all the time, but that some things must get done and I must do them first.
So, when I do have a few minutes, like at the beginning of a nap, or when the baby is entertaining herself on her play gym (and ignoring me), I choose a quick 5 minute task to do. I do them in the order listed below. This way I know that the things that must be done are getting done, and when possible I also do what should be done. Since the length of a nap is never guaranteed, breaking things up into 5 minute chunks means I never have a job half finished when I have to run and get the baby. First, I do my daily chores:
  1. I make my bed.
  2. I start a load of laundry, or switch it to the next position.
  3. I put away any dishes on my draining rack, empty my dishwasher, and reload it. (Or any one or two of these tasks, if I get interrupted.)
  4. I grab the bags out of any full trashcans, and gather up all my rinsed recyclables to take out to the bins.
  5. I do a quick throw-away/put-away drill in my living room and kitchen.
  6. I do any make-ahead meal prep that I can do for dinner (i.e., chopping onions, washing vegetables).
Then, once all my daily household chores are done, I pick a weekly chore from the list below. At one point, I had chores assigned to specific days of the week, but then if I had a bad day two Mondays in a row, my floors didn’t get washed for three weeks. Now I just do the chores in order. If I get to two in a day, I get ahead, if I don’t get to any, it’s okay.
  1. I sweep and damp mop all my hard floors. (Or just sweep, or just mop)
  2. I vacuum my carpets. (Usually I divide this, upstairs and downstairs)
  3. I dust with a damp rag or microfiber cloth.
  4. I clean my mirrors and sinks, toilets, and shower (Again, or I break this up if need be)
  5. I clean any old food out of my refrigerator.
  6. I change my sheets and towels (Okay, this one I still do on the same day every week)
And if I get through all that I’m done. Actually, if I get through a little of that, I’m usually done. If I get through one or two weekly housekeeping chores, I give myself some downtime for the rest of the day. The thing is, knowing exactly what to do and getting to it right away actually means that I have more time to rest or to sit and watch the baby sleep. So far at least, it works for me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cookie Giveaway Winner

And the winner is....


Congrats, Shelly, I'll be emailing you. I need to hear back from you ASAP, or at least in the next 24 hours to make sure I get your info in by the deadline.

Monday, January 24, 2011 70% off and a free $10 card

Ending today, when you enter code ENJOY at check out, you can get 70% off a gift certificate at This would make most $25 certificates cost $3 after coupon. Plus, you can get a free $10 certificate with any order.

Keep in mind, most certificates have minimum order requirements, so these are more like coupons than gift cards, but if there is a restaurant you frequent anyway then this is a great way to save money.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Giveaway: (Slightly belated) Holiday Cookie Exchange pack

One of the things that I didn't get to do as much of this year as I usually like to do at the holidays is to bake cookies. Between the new house and the new baby, I really only managed to get off two different types of cookies, which didn't make a very impressive cookie tray when I went to give them away.

A solution for this I've used in the past when I was busy for other reasons is to have a cookie exchange party. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, you get together with several friends and each bring a different type of cookie. This way, you each leave with a number of different cookies and can give them as beautiful gifts; no one needs to know you didn't make them all yourself! Plus, you get a fun evening with your friends, and cookies eaten during the exchange don't have any calories.

Bake Sweet Memories has some great tips on how to host a cookie exchange, as well as recipes and information about discounts. I was lucky enough to receive a gift from Safeway, Betty Crocker, and Glad through My Blog Spark containing everything I need to host my own cookie exchange, as well as a pack to giveaway. Unfortunately, I wasn't organized enough to get it before the holidays. Fortunately, it doesn't need to be Christmas to enjoy delicious cookies.

Soooo, without further ado, I announce the giveaway. One lucky reader will receive a prize pack consisting of Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix, a GladWare sample pack and a $25 Safeway gift card (also valid at Dominick’s, Tom Thumb, Randalls, Vons, and Genuardi’s), everything you need to host your very own cookie exchange party. To enter, simply visit Bake Sweet Memories and tell me in the comments what cookie recipe you plan to add to your repertoire next year.

You can receive an additional entry for each of the following:

  • Follow me (story3girl) on Twitter and leave a comment with your username
  • Subscribe to my blog and leave a comment saying that you did.

That's it! The giveaway will end January 25th, so get those comments in soon. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

$20 Amazon Giftcard for $10 ends tonight!

If you somehow missed it, Living Social has a deal ending in 9 hours for a $20 Amazon giftcard for only $10! Act fast!

Saving in 2011

So one of my goals for the year is to trim the budget a little bit so that we have a little more breathing room and can start making progress on some of our savings. I thought I'd briefly break down some areas where we can save money and which I will be attacking in the months to come.

  1. Utility bills. One area that I would like to trim the budget a little is my utility bills. My water bill in particular has been running pretty high, but I could also cut back on my gas and electricity. This is an area I would love to trim because it's both frugal and green.
  2. Other household bills I'm not sure how much leeway I have on the cable, internet, phone, etc. because we just switched to a new promotional bundle a few months ago, but these are things that are always worth keeping on top of. Also, I should check our cell phone bill for any extras we could cancel.
  3. Groceries At one point, I was quite the coupon queen (or at least the coupon princess), but with less time and all my life changes I have let this slack. While I don't think I'll be on Extreme Couponers any time soon, I would like to cut this to a level that is in balance for my family.
  4. Restaurants This has been our Achilles Heel for a while. I would like to cut back, but I'm not sure how well that would go over, so I'll try to explore some other ways to save.

Does anyone have any other suggestions for budget areas to examine, or anything you'd like to hear my talk more about?

Monday, January 10, 2011


Every year, my resolutions are too ambitious and I can't follow through. This year, my goal is progress, not perfection, so if I can't do all of these things every day/week/month, then my goal is simply to keep improving.

1. Play with the baby every day and do so joyfully.
2. Avoid yelling at my husband.
3. Write at least once a week, whether on the blog, in a paid content site, or just in my journal.
4. Earn at least $20 a week in "extra" cash.
5. Try out one new money making method every month.
6. Reduce monthly expenses by focusing on one major bill each month and exploring ways to cut it.
7. Keep my house clean - try to vacuum, dust and mop entire house at least every two weeks, preferably every week.

What are your resolutions?