Thursday, January 31, 2008

Giving to Charity

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Stephanie of Coupon Mom speak to the ladies of our church. She encourages us to clip coupons and shop sales to get the most for our dollars, not only to save money, but to collect food and personal care items for the needy. After listening to her, a group of us at church decided to implement Stephanie's ideas and pool our donations every week. Our church already helps out at a local homeless shelter, and we have had food drives for the shelter in the past. Now we decided to step it up a bit and donate every week. I looked in my pantry and bathroom, and I realized I have many things that cost me just pennies. If I allowed just $1 a week from my budget for charity, how much would I be able to put in the donations basket every week? There's my challenge: maximize my dollar and see how much I can get, every week, for the rest of the year. I asked the Lord to "grow" the dollar every week, and to give me wisdom in my purchases. So far, I'm off to a good start because every item in the photo above cost me less than $1, and several were free. Totaled, they add up to about $4, so that will catch me up to the beginning of the year. (Not that I need to catch up, but I just want to.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

You Can Do It Too. Really.

In my bargain-hunting this week I found some great deals. I shopped at Publix and Kroger, and spent $15.62 plus tax for all the grocery items below. Here is my breakdown:
Ocean Spray cranberry juice (2): 95 cents each
Bounty towel roll: 1 cent (mystery coupon item)
Cabot yogurt (9): store owed me 20 cents on each
Quaker granola bars (2): 90 cents each
Kashi cereal: .50
Del Monte tomatoes (6): 10 cents each
Softsoap (2): 30 cents each
Fresh Express coleslaw: 49 cents
Kraft "Game Day Essentials" promo (buy 9 get $6):
8 oz cheese (6): $1.62 each
salad dressing (6): $1.30 each

At Publix, some of these were BOGO, plus coupons. The yogurts all had .50 peelies on them, doubled, but they were regularly 80 cents a piece. So I made 20 cents on each. The Kraft "Game Day Essentials" is a promo at Kroger this week. I walked around the store looking for the special tags to see what was included, then I matched items with coupons I had. I ended up buying a little more than I needed to earn the $6, but my coupons were nearing expiration, and both the cheese and salad dressing are items we use often. The salad dressing was actually a little less expensive at Publix in their BOGO promo, but buying them at Kroger allowed me to get $6 off my entire order, so in the long run I saved money. The cereal, tomatoes, and soap were all on sale, matched with my coupons. The coleslaw was on clearance in the produce dept.

I tell this here, not to brag about my great deals, but to encourage others to do likewise. It really isn't very difficult to find great grocery deals. It takes some planning and organization, some on-the-spot math, but it's nothing too difficult. Instead of rushing into a store and tossing stuff into the cart, read the ads ahead of time and plan how your family can use the sale items week by week. Stock up when the price comes way down, especially if you have a stash of coupons for that item. Look around for clearance items, as I did for the coleslaw. I wasn't planning to buy any, but when I saw the great price, I decided to make coleslaw for our greens tonight. The Cabot yogurts were the same thing. I didn't intend to buy any yogurt, but when I saw the bright red stickers on them, I did some quick calculations and realized I would make money on them. The more I bought, the more I would save. But I also don't want to be a glutton, so I limited myself to eight. (I bought one carton yesterday just to try it out. It was quite good, so I went back for the other eight today.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

How Not to Look Old

I was having a grand old time clicking around on blogs just now, when I came upon this site telling me how not to look old. I read the list of the top 25 things that must be removed from all closets (scroll down a bit), and then I ran directly to my closet and began pulling antiquities out.

(Note: She claims it's a list of the top 24, but the original list says 25. For some reason, the linked blogger removes overalls from the list. I wonder why. Does she like overalls? I say, toss the overalls! 20 years ago! We are not farmers in the field, ladies!)

From the list:
1. A holiday sweater and one close-to-being a holiday sweater
2. Elastic waist pants (OK, I never actually wore these in public; they were just for grubby jobs like painting, but they have too much paint on them, and they DO have elastic in the waist.)
3. Shoulder pads in three dresses; I haven't worn them in perhaps 7 years, but they are taking up more real estate than they deserve.
4. Thin gold chains. Everyone else wears...what?...for jewelry. I'll have to notice.
5. Souvenir t-shirts. Well, I don't actually wear these as real clothes anymore. I pull them on in the depths of summer when I sweat like a pig as I exercise. But perhaps it's time to get some real exercise clothes.
6. A backpack purse. It was falling apart anyway.

And a few pieces that were not on the list, but it was time for them to go too:
1. A baggy knit dress
2. A too-short pink sweater

Now I'm left with my real wardrobe. For this icy-cold winter weather, I have exactly:
2 pr black pants
1 pr black jeans that are too big
3 long sleeve shirts
2 jackets
3 cotton cardigans (Make that 2. I just tossed another too-short one.)
1 dress
3 skirts
1 black cami to add a layer of warmth
Who wants to go shopping for/with me?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Coupon System

I just recently changed my coupon organizing system from a small accordion coupon file to a 3-ring binder with plastic baseball card holders. (Walmart. $1.44 per ten-pack.) I use one 9-pocket page for each category of coupon. I find it is very convenient to use in the stores when I prop it, opened, in the baby seat. I can quickly flip to a new page to see if I have a coupon for a product that catches my eye. No more leafing through a wad of loose coupons, while I try to keep the accordion from fanning out and emptying in a scatter on the floor. No more looking for a hard surface for note-scribbling; I carry one with me now. This system does have one drawback, though, as I discovered yesterday...

I must look too professional! As I walked down an aisle in Rite-Aid, the manager rounded the corner, then stopped and gave me an odd look. "Are you a very organized customer, or a vendor?" he asked. A vendor! How did he even have a thought that there was a possibility that I was a vendor? Vendors are professional people, wearing professional clothes that are color coordinated and stylish, and heels, and make up, and styled hair and brushed teeth; all those qualities which I definitely did not have at that moment. I had simply rolled out of bed, pulled on my sweats and a jacket, and taken my daughter to school. Rite-Aid was an afterthought. I was quite embarrassed about how I looked right then, bedhead and all. Oh well. It was funny.

Monday, January 21, 2008

82 Cents at CVS

After two days sick in bed, I got up to go do my CV thing today. And I did well. I spent 82 cents for $43.24 in goods. My main concern was figuring out how to spend a $12 xbuck I had. This seemed like the right week to go for it because some good CVS brand products are BOGO. Here is what I bought:
The 4 boxes of mopping pads were BOGO. I earned xbucks on the deodorant ($3.99), the cotton puffs ($1), Cottonelle wet wipes ($3), and the CVS trash bags twin pack ($2). I had mfr coupons for the Soy Joy (free bar) and the two Reeces Whipped (BOGO). I had a $1 CRT on the deodorant. I stacked multiple CVS coupons also. In the end I had to add filler, so I kept adding the ravioli until I had enough on the register to use my $12 xbuck. Canned ravioli isn't something I usually buy, but daughter can take them to work for dinner when she can't find anything interesting in our refrigerator, and it's only $1 a can this week. So, I spent a $12 xbuck, 82 cents cash, and earned $10 in xbucks.

At Walgreen's, I especially wanted to get the .99 grated cheese because the price is just unbelievable. I did find some, and I also found some clearanced conditioners. I got two Vive Pros for $1.29 each, and had a $1 coupon on each. That's a net of 29 cents each. The Sunsilk was $1.12, with a $1.50 coupon. So I earned $ on that. Overall, I spent only 20 cents on the three bottles of conditioner; $6 for my entire cart.
The Professor shakes his head in disbelief when he goes shopping with me, but he also sees how much time it takes me to clip coupons, file them, pour over the ads, write my lists, and figure out the best deals. He tells me every week how much he appreciates what I do to save us money. And I think it's a fun game!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Painless Ways to Save $100

Crystal at Money Saving Mom asked for a list of Five Painless Ways We Saved $100 in 2007. Here is my list:
1) I started doing the CVS thing.
2) We ate out using our own dollars just twice during the year. Several more restaurant meals were gifts given to us, or, in one case, a prize won.
3) I saved lots of money on gas by piggybacking errands on other trips I had to make anyway (like college kids drop-off at school).
4) I line-dried about half of our laundry.
5) We borrowed DVD's from the library at no cost, instead of paying rental fees at the rental store.

It's hard to limit my list to just five, so here are more:
6) We trimmed our Christmas budget by about one third. I can't honestly say that it was totally painless, but it was necessary since prices have gone up on so many items, especially gasoline.
7) I cut everyone's hair but my own.
8) We grew some veggies this summer.
9) We don't have cable TV.
10) I cooked from scratch.

A Homemade Bread Day

Time to clean out the refrigerator and use up all the little bits. Leftover pancake batter, barley flour (that was a mistake; I accidentally ground barley instead of whole wheat kernels), and some aging sourdough starter, blended together in my big ceramic bowl; it sat on the counter to work its magic all night. This afternoon I enjoyed the smell of bread baking in the warm kitchen. It is a nice contrast to the chill of outdoors on this gloomy day as we await the possibility of an ice storm. Or snow storm. Oh! Just as I write I see giant fluffs of snow falling outside my window! Briefly ~ they are gone now. No matter; the warm bread is homey anyway. My next cooking projects will involve sweet potatoes, a tiny bit of beef broth, lemonade, chocolate icing, and rice. But not all in the same dish! Then the refrigerator will be tidy again.

Later, with a tidy refrigerator~
The sweet potatoes I simply baked in the skins and served with butter. I used the beef broth as part of the liquid in broccoli cheese soup (leftover broccoli from dinner). I made a pan of brownies and frosted them with the leftover chocolate icing. Someone ate the rice plain. And finally, I made "Easy Lemon Pie" with the leftover lemonade concentrate. That was the favorite dish I made from these leftovers. It really is very easy: blend together 6 oz lemonade concentrate, 1 can sweetened condensed milk, and an 8-oz tub of Cool Whip. Pour into a graham cracker crumb crust and chill. Yum!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Puttering Time

New year ~ time to tidy and refresh. I've been puttering around the house, trying to finish up a few projects that have been hanging around for months. Three closets were in disarray. The entry hall closet held the vacuum and mops. The laundry closet held the gift wrapping supplies, and the new utility closet was mostly empty because it needed a shelf.

First, I added the shelf to the new closet, then The Professor moved the vacuum hose rack and the mop clips. The folding table and spare table leaf are in there too. Here it is, all installed. Well, almost. The floor is still raw concrete and the two mis-drilled holes need patching. But it's usable now.
Here is the new shelf, holding the gift wrapping supplies.

The laundry closet without the gift wrap supplies now has room for my stash of spare cleaning supplies. And there is room to grow!

That leaves the entry hall closet. Using a Martha Stewart idea, I hung my dressy tablecloths from suit hangers, labeling each with a tag stating the tablecloth dimensions, table size, and trim. Now it is very easy to choose the best cloth for the event. And, just six steps from closet to dining table makes the spot very convenient for table setting. I still need three more hangers and the project will be finished. I think I will still have room to hang guest coats when needed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Old Testament Snacks

The Professor taught the first class of a two-week introduction to the Minor Prophets this morning for adult Sunday School. He was concerned that the topic would be dry and boring and sleepy adults might doze off. How to keep them interested? He decided to create a 40-ft timeline to stretch across the floor to give them visual stimulation. And he wanted snacks. In the spirit of the day, I made "Old Testament" snacks:
Good King Muffins
Bad King Muffins
12 Tribes Cheese Torta
Locusts and Honey
Noah's Ark Cookies
Apple and Eve Juices

Now for the translation. Judah had 12 or so good kings. The mini muffins representing them were light colored (lemon flavored). And the 12 or so bad kings I represented with dark colored mini muffins (chocolate). The 12 Tribes Torta was made with 12 ingredients, which I served with sliced baguettes. Dates look a lot like locusts, eaten by Elijah in the OT. I used animal cookie cutters to cut out sugar cookie dough for Noah's Ark cookies. I bought two varieties of Apple and Eve brand fruit juice in the grocery store.

School desks for the table and a white board backdrop. (Note the dry erase marker on the rail!) The Middle Eastern-looking cloth came from the Professor's grandmother years ago. Baskets, brass trays, and wood bowls for serving. I hear it was all a hit, but I can't say for sure because I was helping in the nursery.

The doves and the zebras left from Noah's ark.

Many thanks to Meredith at Like Merchant Ships for the inspiration!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On a CVS Roll

This week, two copies of our Sunday paper were bundled together for 50 cents extra. So I got double the coupon inserts (12 instead of 6), plus we had two freebie papers thrown on our driveway last Thursday. One had two coupon inserts, the other had one insert. That makes 15 coupon inserts in one week! So, I was on a roll with the CVS deals this week, using the coupons from all the papers.
Monday's shopping at CVS #1 is posted the next post below.

Wednesday morning shopping
I went to CVS #2, and bought:
1 box Celestial Seasonings gingerbread tea on 90% clearance, 29 cents
11 Soyjoy bars, $1 ea, coupon for $3/10 bars and a "get a free bar" coupon, earned 12 xbucks (I had "credit" for the other bar purchase from Monday. The CVS computer keeps track of this info.)
2 Mennen deo, $1.99 ea, BOGO coupon, made them $1 ea
2 L'Oreal lipsticks, 75% off (couldn't get the BOGO on top of that), made them $2.25 ea, had a $2 coup on ea, brought them down to 25 cents ea
CVS coupons used: $4/$20, $3/$15 and 2 xbucks for a total OOP of 84 cents
I earned 12 xbucks

Wednesday afternoon shopping
I went to CVS #3 to find some of the things that store #2 didn't have, such as more Soyjoy bars. Here I found:
10 Soyjoy bars, $1 each, coupon for $3/10 bars, earned 8 xbucks
2 Mennen deo, $1.99 ea, BOGO coupon, made them $1 ea
1 Colgate, $2.99, .75 coupon, earned 2 xbucks
Used $5/$15 coupon and 5 xbucks for a total OOP of 43 cents
I earned 10 xbucks

That's a lota Soyjoy bars! College daughter likes them for class days when she has no lunch break.

At Kroger I found a lot of clearanced dairy products. Sour cream, cottage cheese, and pie crusts were 49 cents each; 4-pack yogurts were 99 cents, and single yogurts were 25 cents. I think all these items were near their expiration date, so they needed to move them quickly. I don't have to worry much about expiration dates around here with two teens in the house! I'm in the habit now of trolling the aisles of stores that have decent clearance prices any time I have extra time to shop. Kroger and Walgreen's are especially good for clearance items.

Monday, January 7, 2008

CVS Gave Me This Stuff

I just returned home from the best bargain shopping I have ever done at CVS. Here is what I bought:
Two Aquapod waters, two Palmolive, two baby soap, one Fructis hair gel, four Reece's Whipped candy bars, two pkgs Rubbermaid containers, one Soyjoy bar. This totaled $21 and change. I stacked three CVS coupons: $4/$20, $3/$15, and $2/$10. I had $1 coupons on just about everything else, except the Soyjoy was free, and the Reece's were BOGO. I had two coupons for that. After all my coupons came off, my total, including tax, was $4.04. I "paid" with a $4 xbuck, and expected to pay 4 cents. But the cashier did something to the register and it said I owed nothing. Absolutely zero! FREE! Yeah! And I earned $9 xbucks. And my receipt says there is the xbucks offer on Soyjoy. So, with my two coupons for $3/$10 on Soyjoy, stacked with CVS $2/$10, I can get those free too. Next time.

I also picked up three ivy bushes at Michael's, 50% off. These bushes were regularly $2.99 each; I paid $4.50 plus tax for all of them, then stuffed them in this basket and curled their ends so they could have their portrait.

The paint is for some little furniture I'm refinishing; I used a 40% coupon and paid $2.99 for it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

New Year's Thrifting

I felt the itch to go browse the thrift store this morning. I wasn't desperately looking for any particular thing, but I never know what helpful/needed/pretty thing I might find. The shelves were loaded! It was great. I found:Vintage books and cross stitch folders. The two books in back were on clearance for .12 and .27. How to Make Something From Nothing is a 1968 book about thrifting! The other is a wedding planning book. I plan to use them both for altered books. Prayers for a Child will be cut apart to frame the prints. The cross stitch folders were .05 each.

An adorable little wood house with vintage, chipped paint. It stands just 2" tall. I have collected houses for years, but most of them are ceramic and cookie jar-sized. This is a nice contrast. Only $1.

A sterling silver cup, just $2.08. It polished up beautifully, and, although it is not a baby cup, I have it displayed with my silver baby cup collection.

New Year Savings

I haven't found all that many bargains yet this week, but that may be because I haven't been shopping very much. With family in town until Jan 2, I just didn't make it a priority to go shopping. So far this week, I went to:

Christmas clearance 75% off on gift wrap (.49 a roll) and gift tags (.25 a pkg)
Red votive candles 75% off, .10 each
Whitman's Soho boxed candy 75% off, brought it down to $1.25, had a $2 coupon but the register wouldn't take it. The manager offered to make the price $2, then take the $2 coupon. Net: free! The other nice thing about this candy is that the plain red box makes it appropriate for Valentine's Day too. Free treats for the kids.
Oreo cookie crumb crust, .49
Lip balm, .50
Wal-Born (like Airborne), $3.99
Angelsoft TP, .99 for 4 rolls. These seem like small rolls. Don't know if they are really the best price.
Wanted to get the Johnson's Softwash on sale, but my coupons expired before I could get to the store.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year, New Beginnings

The holiday season is over. We sent the last of our holiday house guests on their way this morning. It was wonderful to see extended family the past two weeks and we will miss them, but now it is time to begin the new year. There are many little nesting activities I can do this time of year to mark the change of season and our new beginnings. I have already done these activities:

We took down the Christmas tree and the outdoor lights. As I packed the ornaments back into their drawers, I checked them for damage and assessed the ones we didn't hang on the tree this year. Do I still like them? Do I view them as too dated ? Is it time to pass on any I don't really enjoy? About five or six didn't make the cut and went to visit the garage sale boxes. (Below are keepers, not rejects.)The Christmas stockings are back in the cedar chest (some of ours are wool, and cedar protects from moth damage).

I purchased gift wrap and tags for next year on clearance. Total spent: $6.We made a new calendar and added important family dates to it. It awaits a visit to the print shop for binding.

We "closed the books" on the '07 budget. We came in under budget, just barely, but that includes what we added to our savings account, so we feel satisfied with our budgeting in 2007.
I hope to do these things this week:
The front door wreath and front porch poinsettias will be packed up today to make way for a different winter decoration.
The nutcracker collection and angel collection will be packed away.
The Swedish decorations and the candle arrangements will stay out for now.
All the remaining sweets and other goodies need to go to the freezer for eating later. I believe we are over-saturated with sugar and too-little exercise. I'm sure we will enjoy them more later, even if they do have green and red sprinkles.
It's time for a big pot of soup or stew and some homemade whole wheat bread. Enough rich food!
I will photocopy our budget sheet master pages and prepare them for 2008, then pop them into the budget notebook.

And a bit of nesting by organizing:
Our new (two years ago!) storage closet still needs a shelf. I already know that the shelving supplies will cost only $10, so that is now a priority. Once the shelf is added, I can reorganize the closet into it's intended purpose of storing mops, brooms, vacuum, folding tables, and gift wrap. When the cleaning tools can be moved out of the entry hall closet to their new home, I can reorganize the coat closet. And when the gift wrap leaves the laundry closet, I can create a place to store my stash of extra cleaning supplies and paper goods.

The game shelf needs a second shelf added above it so the piles of boxes aren't so tottery. That requires a new Elfa shelf and two brackets, which are on sale this month. Time to head down to The Container Store.

Time to clean out and tidy up my studio. It looks like a tornado went through while I wasn't looking. I think it became the Christmas season dumping ground. Three computers, sewing, crafts, and gift wrapping in a 6 ft x 8 ft space just don't blend well.