Tuesday, November 27, 2012

3 ways to earn extra cash and giftcards this holiday season

One of the ways that I increase my gift budget at Christmas is to look for little ways to make extra money while I'm doing my normal online activities. Here are three of my favorite ways to get extra cash and gift cards in my spare time.


Jingit is a relatively new way to earn money online. Once you sign up, you just watch short videos (less than 2 minutes each), and answer a few questions, and money gets added to your account. You won't earn a lot, maybe 10-50 cents a day, but eventually it adds up. I usually watch videos while doing my other online activities, but make sure you don't click away from these videos, or they will pause. I generally click a video to play while I fold laundry or wash dishes.

The money you earn can be added to a prepaid Visa card. There is a $3 charge for the card, so the first $3 you earn will go to cover that, but after that there is no minimum to add. I like to use my card when I have small balances after coupon at drugstores. So far, I've earned and spent about $15.

If you don't have any videos available on your account, try this one, which should reset so you can watch and earn every day (worth 10 cents). I'll try to keep posted when I find new ones.

(Note, this is my referral link. I think if you sign up under me, it increases my earn limit from $10-$15 a week. While this has NEVER been an issue for me, it might be in the future?)


I've been using Swagbucks for a while. The basic idea is that you can earn points towards gift cards for doing basic tasks that you do online anyway. When you search through their search box, you may randomly win swagbucks (I usually get some at least once a day, the average number of points for a winning search is 10). You can also earn points for completing simple daily actions on the website like taking a daily poll or watching short videos (I usually leave these videos on in the background while I read blogs or twitter).

You can earn a bigger payoff by doing things like printing grocery coupons from coupons.com (10 points per coupon that is printed AND redeemed, usually paid out at the end of the month), taking surveys ("Trusted Surveys"), and signing up for newsletters and mailing lists ("Special Offers"). You can also do your online shopping through their portal, but I usually use other cashback sites for that. They also release codes on their blog, twitter, and facebook pages, which can be redeemed for free points. That widget to the right will tell you when there is a code available.

The best redemption option is a $5 Amazon GC for 450 points, making each point worth a little more than a penny. If you don't use Amazon (wait, you dont' use Amazon?), there are other gift cards available, and even a paypal option, but the rate is not as good.

(This is also my referral link, but this one is a doozy. If you sign up under me, I get 100% of the points you get. I would greatly appreciate this, and if I get a ton of referral points, I will do an Amazon code giveaway to share the wealth. Also, please feel free to post your own referral link in my comments and sign up under each other instead.)


Mypoints is the site I've been using to earn points for the longest. The easiest way to earn points is to sign up to receive emails (I'd set up a separate email account, or at least a filter, for this). Just by clicking through the emails, you'll get 5 points each.

You can earn more points by taking the short surveys they send out, taking mini-polls on the website, printing coupons, and shopping through their links.

I usually accumulate enough points (without shopping) to redeem for a $10 restaurant gift card every few months. It's not a lot, but it's so easy that I don't mind spending a minute clicking every day.

(This is also my referral link. If you sign up under me, I get 10% of any points you earn. Thanks.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

And the winner is...

Charity! I'll be contacting you. And for the rest of you, Celebrating and Savoring a Simple Christmas is still only 99 cents.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

CLOSED: 24 Hour Giveaway: Celebrating and Savoring a Simple Christmas ebook

I am so excited to announce that I have a copy of Celebrating and Savoring a Simple Christmasby Crystal Paine from Money Saving Mom to give away today.

This book includes tips for how to organize and plan your Christmas so that it is less stressful and saves you money, including ways to shop, decorate and meal plan.

I haven't had a chance to read the whole book yet, but it looks like it has great tips and advice. I love Crystal and highly recommend you read her blog if you are looking for ways to live simply and deliberately. I also just finished her book, 21 Days To A More Disciplined Life which I found to be very insightful.

Buy it: Celebrating and Savoring a Simple Christmas is only 99 cents on Amazon, today only.

Win it: In order to win a FREE copy, all you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post, saying what you need to simplify about your holiday traditions. I will randomly choose a winner on Wednesday November 14.

Disclosure: I was given a free review copy of this e-book, as well as one to give away. The amazon links are my affiliate links, so if you buy through them I will get a small commission. All words are my own.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Free Target beauty bag

This is one of my favorite freebies. Sign up now to get a free Target beauty bag. I've gotten these several times in the past, and they are always cute makeup/travel bags filled with tons of samples and coupons. Get it now because they go fast!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jingit: Possible easy money maker

I'm always looking for ways to make a few extra cents in my spare time. I recently discovered this site where you can earn money and earn boxtops for your favorite school simply by watching short videos, taking surveys, or checking in on your smart phone. It's called Jingit and so far I have earned $3.40 in the past two days.

You can cash out your earnings from it by requesting a debit card, which will cost you $3 from your account balance once. There is a maximum weekly earning of $10 when you start, which you can increase to $15 by recruiting friends.

Happy earning!

Disclosure: This is an affiliate link

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Grocery deals this week

I'm just trying this out, but here are some of the top deals for stores my friends have close to them.  If there's a store you'd like to see me add, please tell me!  I'd love to help!

I'm only listing bottom dollar deals and once that can be purchased without a coupon, or with a readily available printable coupon.  If you have newspaper coupons too, more deals can be found on the Hot Coupon World forums.

Winn Dixie

Buddy fruit bites or fruit squeeze $0.63
Dole salad blends $1.90
Naval oranges $1/lb
Aunt Jemima Waffles $2.69 and B1G1 free

  • Use the coupon here and buy 2, get them for $0.85 a box
Kelloggs Cereal $4.50 and B1G1 free
  • Use $1/2 coupon for Mini-wheats or Rice Krispies here and get them for $2 a box

Wegmans lemonade - $0.99
Wegmans tortillas - $0.99
Yoplait Yogurt – $0.62
  • Use the coupon here and buy 6, get them for $0.48 each
Bailey's coffee creamer $1.99
  • Use the coupon here, get it for $0.89
Thanks to Capitally Frugal for these deals


Juicy juice fruitfuls fruit snacks $2.25
  • Use the manufacturer's coupon here
  • And use the Target coupon here, buy 2 and get them for $0.75 each
Up and up foam scrubber $0.99
  • Use the Target coupon here for cleaning supplies, get it FREE
Up and up ibuprofen $0.99
  • Use the Target coupon here and get it FREE
Kraft salad dressing $1.89
  • Use the Target coupon here (print 2 of them)
  • And use the manufacturer's coupon here, buy 2 get them for $0.39 each
Thanks to Money Saving Mom for these deals.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Teachers want to teach: A rant and Giveaway

I was recently given the opportunity to read Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School by Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia.  Moskowitz and Lavinia are the founder and literacy curriculum designer of the Success Academies, a group of very successful charter schools in New York City.  In this book, they detail the various core principles that have led to outstanding results for their students, many of whom come from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in New York, and explain how those same key principles could be applied more widely to public schools throughout the country.  This is not, however, simply a theoretical account of these principles.  Woven throughout the book, and even as videos on an included CD, are sample lessons that illustrate how actual teachers implement these key principles with their young students.

Along with speed, rigor, a commitment to reading and writing, and an expectation of success, perhaps the most significant of the principles with guide the Success Academy is a focus on the preparation and engagement of the adults in the school: the teachers and administrators.  The Success Academies dedicate huge amounts of resources to inservices, practice, mentorship and other programs dedicated to the constant and immediate improvement of their teachers.

How different this is from what I remember when I started teaching.  I was fortunate enough to work in a district that had a strong staff development program for new teachers, but what this meant is that I had one week of extra workshops and three extra non-evaluative "coaching" observations every year.  In the Success Academies, teachers - both new and old - are observed almost daily and have constant access to training throughout the year.

If this were executed widely?  I think it would make all the difference in the world.

Teaching is inherently such a solo occupation.  It doesn't seem  like teachers work alone because they are constantly with other people - but those other people are small people, not colleagues.  While some (but not all!) teachers have opportunities to meet with and plan with other teachers in the same subject area or grade level team, most days it is a solo performance.  We graduate from school and our thrown in a room, where we get to be Queen of the castle.  Or where we get lost.

When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher's advice on how to deal with bureaucracy and administrators was "Close the door and do the right thing."  And I wanted to.  I tried to.  I think - hope - that most of the time I did.

But really?  That's crap.  I shouldn't have had to.  I shouldn't have been on my own to figure out what the right thing to do was.  The administrators shouldn't have been adversaries.

And honestly, for veteran teachers, the situation is at least as bad.  New teachers usually have mentors now, and get extra check ins from their superiors.  They come in with fresh ideas from school - some of which work, some of which don't.  Veteran teachers?  Get almost nothing.  Their reward for doing their job well is to get left alone.

Even for the best teachers, this really isn't a gift.

In other occupations, where you work daily with others and their work depends on your work, people notice when you start struggling.  If the methods change, you know because you see it.  In teaching, if what you're doing stops working, you're kind of on your own to figure out what to do instead.

There's a huge discussion in this country now about teacher quality and its effect on student outcomes.  In many ways I think it's valid.  I've seen the research and I believe it.  Teacher quality is THE most important criterion in student improvement.  But I think the discussion misses one key point.

Most teachers? Really want to do well.

I hope with all my heart that our schools do learn this lesson, soon.

I have a copy of this book to give away!!

In order to enter, leave me a comment on this post with your point of view on what teachers need to be successful.  It doesn't matter if you're a teacher, a parent, or just a person who went to school.  Your voice matters.

For an extra entry, tweet about this giveaway and leave me a comment with the link. 

I will choose a winner on Wednesday August 8.  Please make sure if there isn't a link to your email in your blogger profile that you leave it for me, or else how on Earth can I get you this book??

If you have more opinions about this issue, Eva would love to talk to you.  You can find her on twitter or her facebook page.

Disclosure:  This is a sponsored post.  I received a free copy of this book and was compensated for writing about it.  All opinions - rants and all - are my own.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ask Story's money: What order to pay things off

Jenny from Tranquilamama sent me this question.

We have two credit cards. The first card is still open & we have a balance of $10,443.93 at an APR of 10.99%. The minimum payment is $199.00. 
The second card is closed to preserve the APR at a fixed rate of 5.74%. The balance is $4262.27 and the minimum payment is $64.00. 
So which one do we pay off first?

The age old question: do you pay off the loan with the lower balance or the higher interest rate?  It's a tricky one to answer, but I'm going to do my best.

The strict mathematical answer would be, always pay off the one with the higher interest rate first.  In the end, you will pay a lot less money in interest by doing that.  In theory, if you are going to be strict and keep your belts tight until you are finished paying off all your loans, you will be completely debt free sooner this way too because with less interest your payments will go further.

Real life isn't quite that simple, though.

Higher interest

Jenny has an extra $200 or so every month to put towards her debt repayments.  If she puts that money towards her higher interest loan, and then rolls the entire payment to the smaller loan once it's paid off, she is going to be finished paying off the debt in a little less time.

By my rough calculations, doing it this way will take her 80 months.  Starting with the smaller loan would take 81 months.

So it's a 1 month difference.  That's not very inspiring.

If you think about it, though - and I tried to get exact numbers, but unfortunately I don't have the time, energy or resources for that much math right now - the entire difference would come from a difference in interest.  That means, if we're talking about a total of $500 a month in payments, starting with the higher interest loan would save Jenny $500 in interest.  That's not a small amount of money.

Smallest loan

The argument for paying off the smaller loan first takes a different stance.  This argument is one that is emotional instead of logical.  

If you pay off the smallest loan first, then you get wins sooner.

If Jenny puts her entire extra payment towards her smaller loan, she can get that loan paid off in under 2 years.  This will give her a huge sense of success, and help her to focus on the larger loan.  If she did it the other way, it would take her most of the 7 years she was paying before she noticed any change at all.  It's hard to keep the faith when you aren't seeing any difference.

Also, paying off the small loan faster provides increased security in the way of cash flow.  While ideally, you will will take the entire payment from the smaller loan and put it on the bigger loan, not having that payment every month is really important should you be met with an emergency.  In theory, this means you can keep less in your cash reserve too, thus having more to pay towards your loans.

The verdict

So, my very official answer is, it depends.  If you are very logical and mathematical, and trust yourself to keep at it, you really will do a little better by starting with the higher interest loan.  In the real world, however, most people will do better by starting with the smallest loan.  If the difference in interest were larger, the psychological boost might not be worth it, but really they are very close.

Also, hopefully seeing the progress will motivate you to put even more money towards your credit cards, paying it off even faster.  The faster you pay it off, the less the interest rate matters at all.

As a final thought, either way you choose to do it is fine as long as you DO IT.  Proud of you, Jenny, and the rest of you dear readers, for making the decision to do this.  You are doing great.

Got questions?  Please?  Leave them in the comments or tweet or email them to me, and I'd be glad to answer them!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's back! Free Meal Planning with Food on the Table

The deal for free meal planning software from Food on the Table is back. This is a service that lets you input your favorite recipes and plan meals around your local grocery sales ads. Normally, they offer 3 free meals a week, and an upgrade for $5 a month for more meals. But right now you can get a FREE MEMBERSHIP FOR LIFE by using the code SPRINGFREE before the end of April.

Meal planning, and particularly planning around sales, is a great way to save money.

Note: This is an affiliate link

Hot coupons to print

Print these hot coupons before they run out of prints! You can print most of them twice.

$1.00 off any Alexia sweet potato item!
$5.00 off Any Centrum ProNutrients Supplement
$0.75 off Multi Grain Cheerios
$0.75 off any Cascadian Farm product
$4.00 off Non-Drowsy Claritin Allergy Product
$1.50 off ONE Pampers Cruisers or Baby Dry Diapers
$1.50 off ONE Pampers Swaddlers Diapers
$0.75 off ONE Pampers Wipes 60 ct or larger
$0.75 off one box of Lipton Green Tea
$1.00 off on any (1) Emerald Breakfast on the go

Note: These are affiliate links

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ask story's money: Budgeting for variable expenses

My first question for Ask Story's Money comes from my good friend Elizabeth who blogs at She Likes Stripes:

I definitely still need help with budgeting, like how do you know what your monthly gas budget is? or groceries? Coming as someone who has no budget set right now (and I suppose that's probably also due to the fact that i'm coming off of 4 years of living alone) ... how do you set those numbers when you're pretty sure you already spend too much? ... Or how do you allow yourself little treats (like new shoes here and there, things for fun) amid trying to be super frugal because you know you have big things to save up for?

The first step to budgeting for variable expenses like this is to know how much you already spend. There are various software and online solutions for this, but for me the easiest way is just to sit down with your credit card or bank statements and start adding. Depending on how much time and patience you have, you can do one month or do three months and average them.

Odds are, the first time you do this exercise, you will be a little horrified. Most people have no idea where their money is going.

So how do you figure out how much you "should" be spending?

1. You can look at the national averages or recommended percentages for grocery budgets. Unfortunately I think this is probably the least useful
way to do this because there are so many variables at play.

2. You can figure out how much you can actually afford to spend. This requires you to really sit down and make a full household budget, listing all your regular expenses and your income. If you are currently spending more than you can actually afford to in a sustainable way, this is crucial.

3. You can set incremental goals. For the most part, I think this is where most people should be. Try to gradually reduce your grocery spending a little bit every month until it reaches a point at which you feel more comfortable.

How to actually reduce this? Is a much bigger question and one for another day.

Have a question? Leave it in the comments or send me an email.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I need your help

When I started this blog, it was to help me get my mind around my money. We didn't have much, and I had to work hard to make the numbers work, and I had so much to learn.

Then at some point, I didn't have so much to learn anymore, and so I got bored. I felt like I was repeating myself, like it had all been said, like anything I wrote on here was just so obvious.

But now I'm realizing it's only obvious to me.

In the past few days I've had a few really dear friends tell me that some money advice I gave them - which after all these years seems intuitive to me - was life changing. And I can't think of anything more gratifying. So I would like to start writing here again, and to use this blog as a vehicle for sharing what I've learned and what I know, for helping other people to get their money under control. And to be perfectly honest, I could use it too, to get my fired up again and make some real progress on our money goals.

But I need your help. Because I don't know what to write. So here's what I need from you:

  • Questions - what do you need to know about money? We can have an "Ask story's money" feature, or a longer series on specific issue.
  • Challenge ideas - want to do a challenge with me? Like a grocery challenge, or an extra income challenge, or a savings challenge?
  • Guest posts - Got a financial success, or even a problem, you want to write about? Send it over.
  • Any other ideas for what to write about?

Let's get some pep back in this blog and talk about our money.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On How I became a Stay at Home Mom

I thought about calling this post "How TO Become a Stay at Home Mom," but you know what? That really didn't work for me.

Because it isn't true.

I know that the reason I was able to become a stay at home mom has a lot to do with my husband's job. And frankly, that didn't happen by accident, and I didn't marry money. I married a graduate student, and I worked two jobs while editing everything he wrote and taking full care of the house for three years. Then he graduated and he made more money than the two of us had ever made combined. I put in my time, and I helped to make his earning potential what it is.

But I still know that I am fortunate. Many people live in a situation where it is simply not financially possible for a family to live on one income. It makes me sad when I read sites that imply that if you JUST did this one extra thing (clip coupons, make your own laundry detergent, use a certain kind of savings vehicle) you SHOULD be able to live on one income.

There aren't any one size fits all solutions. Some people have to work outside the home, even if they don't wan to. And if that's you, and you're reading this, I don't want you to feel judged or criticized. You are doing what you must for your family.

But this is my story.

As I said above, I worked two jobs for the entire three years my husband was in grad school. We lived in fairly small apartments, we ate at cheap restaurants with coupons if we ate out at all. We lived on less than we made, and we were always putting money away.

The year my husband graduated and we moved, I tried hard to find a job. It's not easy to find a teaching job, particularly when you have to move after the school year begins, but I hustled. I picked back up my part time job, and at the peak of it, I worked 19 hours a week at it. At the same time, I was applying to teaching and subbing jobs, cleaning up my resume, and making phone calls, and eventually landed a long term sub job that paid the salaried rate for the last three months of the school year. And every chance I got, I would write online or take advantage of some other money making opportunities.

During that time, I made our monthly budget so that it counted only my husband's income. This was pretty easy since he made more than we'd ever made before, and we still lived in a small apartment. Anything I made either went to pay off student loans, or went into a savings account. We were piling up money for both emergencies and for a down payment on a house.

So, we started trying to get pregnant. And succeeded on almost the first try.

We shopped around for houses for a while, and finally settled on one. Before we bought it, though, I wrote a new budget, taking into account our new house payment and all the added expenses that would be involved with living in a new house. We made sure we had 3 months of expenses saved and could still put down 5% on the house (I would have liked it to be more, but oh well). We included items in our budget to save every month for recurring expenses like insurance payments, and small savings for things like Christmas, travel, and improvements to the house. And all this had to work within DH's paycheck.

And it did.

It's close, though, and I have to be a lot more careful than I ever did. In my head I know that we are not really falling behind, that if the budget got closer I could just stop saving for Christmas or vacations for a few months. But when I run the numbers, and I see the margin getting smaller and smaller, it's hard.

And I still do work part time, although the 19 hours a week isn't happening with a one year old in the house. I work 3 hours or so most weeks, and that money still goes either towards debt reduction unless we have a specific savings goal we are trying to meet. The progress is slower, but for me it's worth it.

And I do plan to go back to work full time again, and if we haven't accomplished our financial goals yet by then, we should hopefully be able to make a lot of progress very quickly. And until then, I'm rocking my baby girl, and we're doing just fine.

Friday, February 10, 2012

$20 Gift card to CVS for $10 from Living Social

Today's daily deal at Living Social is for a $20 gift card to CVS for only $10. If 3 people sign up with my link I get the offer for free.

Please feel free to leave your own link in the comments! Once I have my 3, I'll edit this post to tell people to use your links instead.


Free meal planning software from Food on the Table

Right now, you can sign up for Food on the Table, a meal planning site for FREE. This is not a free trial; if you use the link above and the code FEBFREE your membership will be free forever.

Food on the Table uses local sales at your stores to help you plan meals that are in your budget. The free membership includes 3 meals a week. For $5 more you can upgrade and receive more meals.

This link is an affiliate link.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Deal Alert: Sesame Street Board Books

There is a great deal on Eversave today that I wanted to share.

$12 for three Sesame Street board books and CD sets, plus free shipping!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Debt reduction resources

I've been asked for some resources to help with debt reduction. I'm sure more will follow, but here's a good place to start:

You can subscribe to a free Dave Ramsey podcast on Itunes. I don't always (okay, often) agree with his politics, so I like the podcast so I can fast forward.

There's a free Debt snowball calculator over at What's the Cost.

Read about how to get lower interest rates from Wise Bread. If you have credit card debt, I think this is a MUST DO step. It can lower your payments and get you out of debt faster. Also, Wise Bread is probably the best personal finance blog out there right now.

Learn about Snowflaking from I've paid for this twice already. I love this technique. It's what I do.

This may be overwhelming but 73 Great Debt Elimination tips from Zen Habits. Love him.

10 common debt reduction mistakes from NCN at No Credit Needed. His blog is really inspiring.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Free hot chocolate k-cups

Right now, you can get a completely FREE 12 count box of Green Mountain Hot Chocolate K-Cups by liking their Facebook page and filling out the form on the tab that says "Cafe Escapes Giveaway." Some people are having trouble getting the page to load, but it worked just fine for me in Firefox. I do love free!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Diaper deals on Amazon

Pampers Baby Dry diapers are $37.75 after Amazon Mom discount. (You do have an Amazon mom account, right?) You should also be able to scroll down and add a $1 coupon, bringing the price down even more. (The link is for size 4, but there should be similar deals for all sizes.)

Huggies Snug and Dry diapers come to $24.40 after discount and $2 coupon. That's less than 19 cents a diaper for size 4's!

Just remember to cancel the subscribe and save after your order ships if you don't want to keep getting them - and since prices rise and fall, that's probably wise.

Disclaimer: All Amazon links are my affiliate links. If you use them, I will get very rich. Or at least be able to buy some cookies. Please feel free to go straight to Amazon, or use your own links. You deserve cookies too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Monday, January 2, 2012

How to Get Free Stuff: Word of Mouth marketing

For the new year, I'm going to start a series on ways that I get free stuff. The first, and best, way to get free stuff is to sign up for word of mouth marketing companies. These companies send you free full sized products in the hopes that you will share them with your friends and get the word out.

  • She Speaks has a variety of test and try programs aimed at women. Once you sign up, just log into your account and fill out surveys to qualify for free products.
  • BzzAgent has probably the most comprehensive word of mouth marketing program. When you qualify for a Bzz campaign, they send you products to try and coupons to share with your friends. You can also earn reward points for telling people about the products.
  • Vocal Point sends out free full sized products on a first come first serve basis. These products usually go fast, so when you get an email or see a mention you should sign up quickly.
  • Kraft First Taste offers free products and coupons for Kraft products. You simply need to log into your account every once in a while and request the samples for which you qualify.
  • Psst from General Mills will send you free full sized General Mills Products. You don't really have to sign up for the products, they almost seem to come randomly.