Saturday, December 27, 2008

Time for end of the year decisions

There are a few days left 'til end of the year. Time still to make those last minute donations or to sell any stocks to lock in losses or gains.

Use up your flexible spending account funds and health care savings account dollars too--check your plan for rules about carry-over.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Walgreens quickie

I hit Walgreens last night for the last day of the 4-day sale. Biggies on the list were: Arm & Hammer laundry detergent for $1.99 (I got two, the max and had a $1 off coupon), bagged candy (Hershey's Kisses and Brach's both had $5 rebates for buying 4 bags and I need these for our holiday gift giving), Danish butter cookies (ditto, gift giving), a stocking stuff that won't be named in case the intended recipient is reading this.

I had a $5 Catalina, the store coupon for the Arm & Hammer and the manufacturer's for same. Total with coupons was just over $25. I received a $5 Register Reward, since my purchase was $25+. After rebates, the out of pocket is $15--that would have been the cost of the laundry detergent ALONE.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Free Shipping Day is December 18

Many online merchants are offering Free Shipping on December 18th. Christmas delivery is guaranteed-bonus!

Free Shipping Day! More merchants are added daily.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Entertainment Book on Sale

The popular Entertainment Book is now on sale for $10 off with free shipping. It's a great deal--you'll easily save the current price of $15 with use of just one or two of the coupons.

If you are a MyPoints member and go through MyPoints' link (search for Entertainment on the MyPoints page) you'll get 750 points!

This is the sale I wait for every year to buy my book.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

Did you get any bargains? Steal any deals? Or did you just sleep in?

I'm still in my jammies, so guess what I did?

Friday, November 21, 2008 80% off sale, which sells gift certificates for restaurants around the U.S. is having an 80% off sale! Use coupon code SURPRISE.

If you're a member of or, be sure to click through there to get your points as well as the discount!

These certficates are great for date nights with your sweetie or when traveling--type in the zip code of your destination to find deals on local restaurants.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Giveaways Galore!

It's that time of year, and the blogs are fruitful and full of giveaways to make your season bright.

  1. Over at Chief Family Officer, you could win Build-A-Bear swag!

  2. Money Saving Mom has a whole list of giveaways on various personal finance and homemaking blogs--enter away!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Black Friday is just around the corner!

Sign up for updates at Black Friday Alert and see the ads before T-day.

Yay for coupons

Thanks for a 30% off coupon at The Gap, I've got holiday gifts for two off my list. Here's the link--it's still good through today, online and in store at all Gap stores & Banana Republic, Old Navy & Piper Lime too.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Playing the Drugstore Game

I've been playing the Drugstore Game a bit lately. Today, since Walgreens had a special $5 off $20 coupon (good only yesterday and today), I made a couple of trips. They had deals on wrapping paper and other Christmas items--these I stocked up on for the girls' schools' holiday bazaar.

Also, due to a free after rebate item, some manufacturer's coupons and the above mentioned Walgreens coupon, I got all this for free: L'oreal moisturizer, two bags Hershey's kisses, two dozen eggs, and four cans of Progresso soup. I do have to wait for the rebate, but it's done online and is quite fast.


For tips on how you can play, check some of the links in my sidebar, especially Money Saving Mom--she has links to many more blogs that help one to figure out the Drugstore Game.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What will Tuesday bring?

Tuesday will bring change to our country, one way or t'other.

Don't forget to Vote!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Handling this ecomony

It seems that things will be slow for a while yet. Personally, I'm hoping that a new presidential administration will lead to a change for the better in the economy, but whoever wins the election will inherit quite a mess.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Can you feed your family for $3 a day?

Grocery Outlet thinks so! (caution: their site is noisy at first). For those who have Aldi's, Grocery Outlet is similar. It's overstocks, close-to-expiration, and out of season foods. Everything is still technically good, even if it's up to or after the sell-by.

I was there the other day picking up some frozen meals for my sweetie to take to work for lunches when I noticed some placards they'd put up around the store. Each one had a day's menu using only items from a frugal Grocery Outlet shopping trip. At the register, they had little booklets with tips, recipes and a shopping list for a week's worth of meals for 4 at $3/day per person.

Could you do it? I'm going to try it and see how it goes. I'll have to make some modifications to accomodate my food allergies, but it shouldn't affect the cost much.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Key Bank iPod promotion

Here's the quick: open a new account at Key Bank (not available all over the U.S., only in select markets) and get a free iPod Nano or Touch.

This is the promotion that I used last year to get my iPod Nano, which I love.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bargain Summer Camp...

if you don't mind a little bit of Jesus with your paper mache! This week, the kids are enjoying Vacation Bible School, essentially summer camp (crafts, outdoor activities, sing-a-longs and snacks) with a Christian twist. Many churches have them, some require you to volunteer at the camp, some only request a donation. I paid $7.50 per child for a week, 9-noon, of fun activities. I'm volunteering daily because of my younger one's age, but it is fun to help out. Today, I got covered in Elmer's glue.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Free Movie Ticket

Jonathan over at My Money Blog has a post about an Entenmann's Contest--you could win a free movie ticket.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Not Buying It

We've been keeping our non-essential shopping to a minimum. Food, gas, and sunscreen are the only recent purchases. I've continued avoiding the thrift stores (where temptation lurks). I've taken the kids to the park almost every day. Our local city parks offer free lunch for kids 1-18, so we've timed our visits for lunch time. Every bit helps, right?

Friday, June 20, 2008


I've been encountering more and more negative stories about Target. The Consumerist is rife with them. First the return policy changed from generous and understanding to draconian. And now it's simply inane.

Anything I actually need I can find someplace else. It won't always be as cheap as Target, though I'll bet just as often the price I find will be lower.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ending my Walgreens experiment

I've decided to end my experiment in the world of the Drugstore Game. Although I did get some good deals (shampoo, chocolate to give as teacher/library gifts, razors & shave gel), I also added some stress to my life. I will continue to check the Walgreens Easy Saver catalog each month, since I do have a Walgreens gift card now that has been reloaded twice thanks to rebates.

In our city, sales tax is now 9%. I know there are folks who do primarily the Free After Rebate (FAR) items each month, and because they choose to have their rebate loaded onto a Walgreens gift card, they get a bonus of 10% on top of the rebate amount. If your sales tax is less than that, there's a profit there. For me, a profit of 1% is not enough to overcome the hassle of remembering to enter my rebate receipt information.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gas is >$4 a gallon

Every station I passed yesterday had prices of over $4 a gallon. Diesel was closer to $5. A year ago, we were pricing gas in preparation of our cross-country road trip. Prices were just under $3 a gallon, usually $2.75 or so, so we used $3 for our calculations to allow for variations. And just a year later, it's up $1.

I've been contemplating a California road trip. We live in Washington, so it's quite a ways. I grew up in California, and would like to take my kids to see the places I used to visit as a child. Other than Disneyland, we haven't taken the kids to California yet. Lots of planning still to do though.

But back to that $4 a gallon gas. Have you changed your driving habits? I have, in that I avoid unnecessary trips, plan my errands for efficiency and walk when we can. Those are things I already did though. Things I won't do? Take public transport. It just doesn't work for me when I have a kid or two in tow. I love to Rollerblade and Razor scooter, and have ridden my scooter to the market (fun fun fun and faster than driving). I don't love riding my bike, because gunk gets in my eyes even with shields on. I do drive the speed limit (and get tailgated which irks me to no end). I try to go easy on acceleration and deceleration.

Monday, May 19, 2008

When you really need a human

Like I did today. I got a strange email from my bank, about an address change on one of my accounts. Of course, I called them up right away to take care of it. Turned out it was for an account for a non-profit that I'm a signer on, but not currently an active user. The treasurer post must have moved to a new member.

Trying to get to a real person took FOREVER. I had to call back three times, increasingly frustrated each time. I finally came to my senses and looked up "get a human". I love it. I really do. Bookmark this site, because you will refer to it all the time. In just two shakes, by following the instructions, I had a real person on the line who helped me sort out the problem.

Once I actually reached a live human, she was pleasant and helpful. Kudos to the bank for that at least. Curses for forcing me to go through heck to get through.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A must read book

Anyone who wants to lose weight, improve their health or who has been told to use drugs or diet to lower their cholesterol should read this book. I warn you, it's a fairly academic tome. The author spent five years researching and writing this book. It's an eye-opener!

The simplest way to save money

Don't buy stuff. Stay out of the stores. When you do shop, go in with a list, preferably written. Avoid looking at catalogs--get off the mailing lists (check out Catalog Choice for an easy way to opt out of multiple catalogs at one time). Skip those aspirational magazines, like Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living and worse, the "shopping magazines" like Lucky. They're pits of desire just waiting to trap you in longing for more and more.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fun items from The Consumerist

This first one cracked me up. Want something? Send $10 to the Somethingstore and they'll send you ... something. They pick it from their inventory. Recent somethings sent include: gourmet tea gift basket, leather wallet, duct tape wallet, Zippo lighter, hair trimmer. The list goes on!

And on a more practical note, CNN Money has a short & sweet article on the only seven investments you need for a balanced portfolio. Ready? Here ya go!
  • A blue-chip U.S.-stock fund
  • A blue-chip foreign-stock fund
  • A small-company fund
  • A value fund
  • A high-quality bond fund
  • An inflation-protected bond fund
  • A money-market fund
    They provide examples of all seven. Grab a Zecco account and get started today!
  • Saturday, May 10, 2008

    Save money on postage

    First, get thee to a post office and stock up on "Forever" stamps. They cost $.41 until Monday (when postage rates go up). "Forever" stamps though, can be used for first class postage forever. Even if the rate increases, if you use the "forever" stamp, no need to add extra, it's covered.

    Did you know that stamps don't expire? If you find your childhood U.S. stamp collection, you can still use those $.15 or $.19 stamps as legal postage today. You'll probably get more value out of them that way.

    Some folks have gotten good deals on stamps on eBay. I haven't tried it yet; I stocked up on "forever" stamps and should be good for at least one more postage increase.

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    What's up with the frozen yogurt?

    Suddenly, there's frozen yogurt all over! Pinkberry this and Red Mango that. Didn't we do the frozen yogurt craze already? Like, back in the late '80s & early '90s? Now it's the latest thing in Hollywood and spreading to the 'burbs.

    Frozen yogurt is dessert. That's all. It's not particularly healthful. If you want a healthy yogurt, try some plain Greek-style yogurt or plain organic yogurt. My personal favourite is Cascade Fresh. The fruity flavours have no high fructose corn syrup and no artificial sweeteners. The plain is tangy and light, with a slightly gritty (rather than creamy) texture. Serious yum.

    For an easy cheap dinner, marinate some cheaper chicken pieces in a cup or two of plain yogurt that you've mixed with 1-2 Tablespoons of Panak's mild curry paste (available at specialty asian & Indian markets or better grocery stores). Marinate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes or until chicken is done. Serve with Basmati rice and a lightly cooked vegetable, like green beans, broccoli or whatever is in season and cheap.

    Monday, May 5, 2008

    Making Saving a Habit

    The Wall Street Journal has a nice little article on simple ways to make saving a habit.

    I'm a fan of automation--once it's set up, you can (mostly) forget about it. Most banks and brokerages allow you to customize your automatic savings, so you can choose a day and amount that works for you. Have your savings stowed in a mutual fund or a money market account, or choose to save with bonds. It's creating the habit that's key, more than the specific choice of where to stash the cash.

    I find that mindfulness is the key to keeping a handle on expenses. Make active, aware choices. Keep your goals and vision in mind. Once you've practiced that, you'll automatically run your options through a "goal filter" before making a decision.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008

    Food Costs!

    Food costs are rising. I've noticed that even at the bakery thrift store, where we buy our bread, prices have risen a bit. I've always kept a pretty good lid on the food costs. I shop primarily at our local walking-distance independantly-owned market, and fill in with bulk purchases at Costco. For me, doing the Grocery Game wouldn't save us anything, as we buy very few convenience products. Most of our meals are cooked from scratch.

    We do have an upright freezer, so I'm able to stock up on the items we use frequently and can thus avoid extra trips to the store. We use a produce delivery service, not so much because the cost is less than buying the produce at the grocery store or the farmer's market, but to AVOID trips to the store and thus temptation. What we get in the bin is what we'll eat as fruits and veg for the two weeks. If we run out, then I'll throw in a trip to one of our many local farmer's markets.

    Friday, April 25, 2008

    We have a kitchen faucet!

    The faucet arrived! We ordered online from Not only did they have the only faucet that both of us agreed we like, they had free shipping, and there was a sale with an extra 8% off. AND, by going through, we saved an extra 4%. Not bad. We did check with out local plumbing source to see if we could get a better deal wholesale and the answer was "No", due to our insanely high sales tax and because the one we wanted would need to be special ordered.

    Also arriving at the door was our nifty new instant hot water faucet. We drink a lot of tea, and we have one of these wonderful Japanese-made hot pots. I bought it as a present to myself over ten years ago, and it's still going strong. However, in the new kitchen, we will have LESS storage room (I know, the reverse of the usual kitchen remodel--trust me, it's a Good Thing). So, when we realized that with our four-hold drilled sink, if we chose a faucet that has the spout and handle coming out of one hole, we'd have space for not only a sprayer and a soap dispenser, but also a hot water gadget, well, we were thrilled! We picked a medium priced one from Lowe's (they were able to order the one we wanted and ship it to us gratis, and they had the best local price). It has a tank where the water is heated; with our corner sink, we had plenty of space for it.

    I'll share some pictures once Blogger fixes the image bug, so check back!

    Saturday, April 19, 2008

    Tax Day ... Postponed

    I filed an extension to file for this year's taxes, and sent along the good ole' estimate of what is owed. We just didn't have the mental energy to handle it right now, with the kitchen remodel in full swing.

    Friday, April 18, 2008

    I married a genius!

    Thanks to a certain someone's ingenuity, we have a working gas stove. Extra cost due to the poorly placed gas line? About $3 in parts. Below is the new; below that, the old "argh" one.

    DIY Pitfalls

    We tried to install the stove today, tried being the operative word. Turns out the gas line we had installed (by an installer, we didn't do it ourselves) is too far away from the wall by about an inch and a half to accomodate our new (to us) gas stove. ARGH! We had the line installed about ten years ago, when we switched to a gas dryer and we were optimistically thinking we'd get a gas stove soon. No idea who the guy was, contact info is long shredded or tossed.

    DH is planning on moving the gas line closer to the wall. I'll update on how that goes. It is very handy to have a husband who enjoys systems--give the man a plumbing, electrical or gas project and he's happy. Ask him to paint and you'll get an "are you crazy?" look. Since I love to paint, we're a good team.

    The range hood installed just fine. Another of our Craigslist finds.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2008

    Floor: Done. Sink: Installed. Dishwasher: Installed

    Family: Happy!

    Seriously, we're thrilled to be in the final days of the kitchen remodel. I'm calling it a remodel since we've changed so much, more than I had originally planned. Cost so far is still less than $3000, including appliances, so again, we're happy.

    Still on the to-do list though (and some will up the final cost) are: kitchen faucet, install range hood and range (gas line is ready!), paint cabinet doors (still debating the final colour choice), clean hinges & knobs, shelf paper, triangle shaped shelf unit for behind the sink, new cupboard organizers (the old ones are stained and dingy).

    We're debating adding one of those hot water on demand taps for the sink, since we have space for it. It would eliminate one of our countertop appliances, and would be convenient for cooking too. Still, it adds about $400 to the cost, and may not be worth it. Also, we could add one later, since we already have the 4-hole drilled sink.

    Here's a reminder of what the floor used to look like. Isn't the transformation amazing?

    Tuesday, April 8, 2008

    Professional Development

    I'm taking a break from the kitchen, and heading off to the National Association of Professional Organizers conference. While I'm gone, the floor refinishers will refinish the kitchen floor. DH and the kids will hold the fort away from the fort (due to flooring fumes!)

    Back on Sunday with pictures of the new floor!

    Sunday, April 6, 2008

    Kitchen Cost Update

    DH came home with a gas stove so, to update the costs...

    Gas stove: $100 (Craigslist)

    And I forgot to list the plumbing, which was $50 including tools, since we did it ourselves.

    Friday, April 4, 2008

    Kitchen Cost Update

    I haven't worked the full numbers to date yet, but here's my estimate of what we've spent so far. Numbers are rounded for ease of calculation (since I happen to have a napping 4 year old on my lap:-)

    Vestfrost Fridge: $1000 (the biggest expense so far)
    Kenmore Dishwasher: $125 (used)
    Unknown Gas Range: ?? (not yet purchased, DH is looking at one as I type!)

    Benjamin Moore Paint: $100 (includes some brushes and two dropcloths, most gear I already had)

    Countertop & Sink
    Kohler Sink: $228 (friend has a friend, yada yada yada)
    Formica laminate countertop: $70 Formica and $40 high-grade plywood

    Floor Refinish
    Christian Brothers Hardwood Floors: $800 (the minimum charge, since our space is pretty small)

    Stripper: $80 (money not well spent, stripping was a bad idea)
    Misc. tools: $20 (scraper, sandpaper, spackle)

    That totals $2463. Not bad for essentially a whole new kitchen. What do you think?

    Tuesday, April 1, 2008


    Just go to Think Your Way to Wealth. Just do it.

    Rethinking the Big Picture

    So, with the economic downturn, I've realized we all need to re-think the big picture. In that spirit, I've decided to replace my old car with a new, leased model. I was thinking of this one: Of course, leasing is always the best decision for us drivers who put a lot of miles on our cars. It just plain makes economic sense, don't you know?

    While the kids are young, it doesn't seem fair that they not enjoy all the best things. Since our current furniture (dark plum couch and oversized chair) are showing their wear, I wanted to invest in some new pieces. These will go very well in my living room, and the furniture store even has a store credit card! Score!

    Saturday, March 29, 2008

    Keeping a Firm Hand on the Food Budget

    We've been renovating the kitchen since March 7th. Just over three weeks now. Without a kitchen, cooking has been, let's say, interesting. Before starting the project, I loaded up our upright freezer with 35 $1 (on sale) Banquet frozen dinners, hoping that would get us through. When the project expanded, of course, we had to re-stock. Since frankly with the Banquet dinners, you get what you pay for, I decided to go a bit more upscale with our next batch. I hit a local bargain haven, the Grocery Outlet where you can find great deals on such brands as Amy's Organic, Seeds of Change, Stouffer's, etc. I went up a bit more on the price point, paying as much as $1.99 each. Most were still in the $1.49-$1.79 range though. I bought $40 worth; a week later, as the project had expanded even more to include countertops, I had to head back to the Grocery Outlet and stocked up on 40 frozen meals. The Seeds of Change ones are especially tasty--they taste like real food, not a frozen dinner.

    Other than lunches here and there, and Friday Pizza Night, we haven't gone out to eat. Until this morning, we hadn't even hit our favourite breakfast place! We've thus been able to stick fairly closely to our usual food budget, despite the lack of a kitchen.

    I really miss cooking! I miss the smell of sauteing garlic and olive oil, the rich scent of baking sweet potatoes, the caramel smell of bar-b-que pork in the Crock-Pot. (Yes, I know I could still do Crock-Pot meals, but frankly, it's just too much to handle right now.)

    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    If you can do it, do it yourself!

    My goal with this kitchen makeover originally was to do everything I could myself except for the floor refinishing (I have no interest in learning to use a floor sander!) That changed when we added the countertop project of course.

    We did know that some plumbing was needed. The previous previous owners did a poor job of retro-fitting the plumbing when they added a dishwasher. We needed to remove the old pipe it's improperly placed junction and put in new pipe with a properly located junction for drainage of sink and dishwasher. We'd called a plumber, heard back once, but not to our reply message asking about price and scheduling. So, off to the plumbing supply store!

    DH always thought he could do it, but we didn't have a pipe wrench. Turns out they cost about $13 and our neighbor (Mr. Tool) had one as well. Good, since we needed two as it turned out.

    The cost of the supplies? Just about $50 including the wrench which can be used on other projects.

    Monday, March 24, 2008

    The Project Creeps Even More!

    So, well, the kitchen counter is off. It's been delivered to our friend who has ordered the new sink (from a buddy who is a plumber and can get a trade discount) and the Formica (ditto on the discount I hope!). Turned out that there were some reason to use a new undersurface for the countertop rather than just re-doing the Formica on top of the old plywood, so that's the current plan.

    The kitchen looks...naked. !

    (oh, the odd icky picture up there? It's the inside of the kitchen sink drain pipe. Serious gunk builds up in there! It'll be replaced with new, possibly PVC.)

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    Happy Easter!

    I hope the Easter Bunny paid you a visit. Easter Blessings, Peace be with You!

    Saturday, March 22, 2008


    Finally found the right dishwasher via Craigslist. We were all out and about today, took the kids to a (free) Easter Egg Hunt at the local community center. Then, off to check the Sears Scratch & Dent outlet (no gems found). We did take down a few model numbers and did some quick online research on them out in the parking lot. DH has internet via his TMobile phone USB interface, so hooked up the laptop and off to Epinions etc. Found zip zilch about the few models in the right colour that the outlet had, but, I also checked Craigslist and found just what I wanted in a new ad. Sent a quick email with our offer and phone number and got a quick call back! Sure enough, it turned out to be just the dishwasher for us and our offer of $125 was accepted. It's now in our garage, awaiting installation once the counters are finished.

    Friday, March 21, 2008

    Walgreen's Update

    I used up my last Register Rewards from my first Walgreen's Deal. They expired on the 18th, so I didn't want to lose them. I ended up buying my painting gloves (I use gloves when I paint, always, as I hate getting paint on my hands, so I go through a lot of latex gloves!) and some ice cream (Haagen Daaz was on sale, and the kids wanted Root Beer Floats:-). I won't be doing any more Walgreen's shopping until I get my gift card from the rebates. Then, I'll do the free-after-rebate items only for next month.

    Cost Creep

    Well, there's been progress on the kitchen project. I've bought the refridgerator, got 2% back via EBates and an extra $10 from a coupon code I found just before I checked out. It's the biggest expense so far. I also bought paint for the walls and cabinet, $100 for a gallon of wall colour and 3 quarts of trim and cabinet paint. I prefer Benjamin Moore and the paint store guys are always helpful and friendly over at Seattle Paint Supply. I had some ceiling paint left over from the last paint job I did, and I'll use that for the kitchen ceiling.

    But here's what happened today. We had a friend over, a contractor, who has been suggesting strongly that we consider replacing the countertops and sink. I'd been resisting, because, well, gee whiz, I can't do that myself! All the other aspects of the project were things I could do or DH could do (like the plumbing/electrical). Countertops are strange and mysterious. I didn't want to open that can of worms. But contractor friend has offered to help, so, well, take a look.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Cost of a Kitchen Makeover

    I'm trying to do my makeover on a realistic, but small budget. I'm not moving any plumbing, removing any walls or even putting in new counters. It's supposed to be a small-scale refresh of the existing space.

    Well, let me tell you. That can be done. But don't ever try to strip paint on a small project like this. I've spent almost $100 on stripper (less thanks to a 20% off Entertainment Book coupon) and countless hours scraping and brushing. Had I merely scraped the bits that were truly failing and decided to forgive the rest, I'd be done priming by now. As it is, I'm working on the third coat of stripper, and am close to fully demoralized.

    Now, I'll have to do some plaster patching as well. It's called project creep and it sucks.

    That said, it's really not so bad. I've got about another day of stripping, then some washing, plaster patching and a bit of sanding. I am still hoping to be able to start priming by Friday or Saturday.

    So far, I haven't spent much, but again, more than I wanted to. I've bought: primer (2 gallons for $9, special at Home Depot and a poorly worded sign:-); stripper, brushes, scrapers, drop cloths, latex gloves, paint tray liners, wood filler and paint remover.

    I've got my eye on three new appliances: fridge (Vestfrost compact $1000); dishwasher (Kemore Ultra-Wash--price will depend on whether we buy it new or used); range (gas of some sort, again, price will depend on whether we buy it new or used). I've been scouring Craigs'List for appliances.

    Friday, March 7, 2008

    Kitchen Makeover Part 1

    I finally did it--I packed up the kitchen and started the makeover! Here are a few before pics just so you can see what I've been wanting to change.

    Now, I'm trying to do this on a budget, but frankly, I've gotten a little discouraged as I browse the Internet and the home makeover magazines. I keep seeing articles on budget remodels that include countertops, painting, and even an appliance or two for less than $2000! I have no idea how they're doing that, unless they already have a lot of the materials and equipment. I've spent close to $100 so far just on prep materials: paint stripper, scrapers, drop cloths, primer, wood putty to fill holes in the trim. I've budgeted $1000 for a refridgerator because I want this one, and $500 for a dishwasher (but I'm willing to pay less for a used one; I want a Kenmore Elite Ultrawash). A new range is needed too, and we're switching to gas. We've got the venting and the gas line already. Again, I'm willing to go used for that, but haven't yet found the right one.

    The floor, which had vinyl tiles, will either be refinished ($1000, since that's the minimun at the refinishers and it's a small space) or replaced (probably with click-in bamboo, such as this). We'll find out on Monday if it's refinishable.

    So far, I've cleared out the space, moved the refridgerator, and started the stripping process. Why strip? So much of the old paint is failing--flaking or cracking--that I know from experience that new won't adhere properly. Also, I am changing to a lighter colour and don't want that old green to show through. I'm going to strip the cabinets and the trim and parts of the walls. Then, at least one coat of primer. Haven't yet finalized paint colours, but right now, it's looking like it'll be white trim and cabinet fronts, with a bolder colour for at least one accent wall. All the new appliances will be white, so the kitchen will seem airier and cleaner.

    I'll write about the emotional aspect of this on my Decluttering Blog.

    Tuesday, March 4, 2008

    Walgreen's Experiment #1: Part 2

    So, later that day...
    I went to the Walgreen's closer to my house to see if they had the Mach 3 disposable razor. I had a coupon for $3 off and Walgreen's was offering a free can of Mach 3 shaving gel with purchase, a $3.29 value. They DID have it, and I also found a paperback book for .34! Yes, a random find on a clearance end-cap. The total with razor, free gel and bargain book was $4.98. I paid with a $5.00 Register Rewards certificate earned earlier in the day, and got back $.02.

    I'm going to send in my rebates tomorrow. There are a couple of other rebateable items that we use, but frankly, the sooner it's in the mail, the less chance that I'll forget to mail it. You can submit only ONE per household per month, so for some, it would make sense to keep loading it up throughout the month and send it in at the end.

    Another thing...the Register Rewards expire about three weeks from the date they are earned. Not as good a deal as I was hoping, but still, it's a deal. I plan on using them to stock up on butter (on sale now for 2/$4), milk and other staples that have gotten so expensive at the grocery store.

    Soon, a special edition that will appear here and on my Decluttering Blog: Kitchen Makeover!

    Drugstore Deals: Walgreen's Experiment #1: Part 1

    Today, I started a Walgreen's Experiment. Money Saving Mom is, as far as I can tell, THE Walgreen's (and CVS, Rite-Aid, etc) guru. Using her beginner's guide, I decided to give it a try.

    First, I went through the circular and the Easy Save Coupon and Rebate booklet looking for deals (that we would actually use!). I found several including Pantene shampoo/conditioner, women's and men's razors, Kleenex, Garnier moisturizer and a couple of others. I'll post the full list soon, promise! I wrote down the deals, including which I had a manufacturer coupon for, which I had a store coupon for, which gave a Register Reward and which were rebate items.

    I was able to find most of the items on my list. Some, like a Noxema razor (there's a rebate going on from Noxema and I had a coupon), could not be found. They may just not carry them.

    Before going up to pay, I totaled rougly what my items should cost and what I should get right then and there in $ off from coupons and in Register Rewards. It all worked out just as planned, and although I did spend $63 out of pocket, I got $21 in Register Rewards and will get almost $21 back in the form of rebates. MSM suggests taking the gift card option for the rebate. You get an extra 10% back, and then you just use your gift card to pay for future purchases. The idea is that with the gift card, and with Register Rewards, you'll spend very little out of pocket and be able to stock up on all your drugstore needs.

    Trying out the Walgreens Deals

    One of my fave frugal bloggers, Money Saving Mom, is a big fan of the drugstore deals. CVS (which we don't have here in the NW), Walgreens, Rite-Aid. They all have weekly circulars, rebates, etc. MSM is an expert at getting the most for her money from these stores, and, bless her, she has a tutorial on Walgreens so you too can learn how to do the deals.

    Now for me, someone who has hoarding tendencies (see my Decluttering Blog for more on that:-)I've avoided even looking closely at those deals. But, I did spot a coupon this Sunday for a Venus razor and for the Mach 3, which the husband likes. And I remembered seeing something about those on MSM's site. I decided to risk a Walgreens deal and give it a try.

    I'll report back on the results! In the meantime, why not pop over to MSM and take a look at her tips?

    Wednesday, February 27, 2008

    Get Thee to The Consumerist!

    If you don't already read it, pop right on over the The Consumerist! This site is a gem. Yes, it's part of a group of corporately owned sites, blah blah blah. Corporate customer service management reads it. It's taken seriously. And if you are being screwed by a company, check The Consumerist. Someone else may also be in the process of being screwed.

    You'll find tips for how to get out of your crappy cell phone contract, tricks to reach a real person on a phone tree, and the private phone and email addresses for corporate head honchos.

    The Consumerist!

    Sunday, February 24, 2008

    How to Save Money: Stay Home!

    So, my kids have been sick this weekend. Lots of puke, yup. Not much fun for anyone. But, due to staying home, I've saved a lot of money! I did have to spend a couple of dollars to pick up some saltines at the market...

    Here's hoping your weekend was just as frugal, but for more pleasant reasons!

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    Frugal Lunch & Road Trip?

    I love this post by Clever Dude on how he makes his super-frugal lunch. Check it out!

    This coming week is mid-winter break so the kids are out of school. I'm thinking about a road trip...the question is, how many miles am I willing to drive in a day and how many will the children tolerate? Flying with four frankly costs too much for my wallet right now.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Using an External Aid: Lent

    I'm not aiming to talk about religion here, so just hang in there! Last Wednesday was the first day of Lent. Lent is the 40 days (Sundays aren't counted) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Go to Wikipedia to learn more if you're so inclined.

    Anyway, one of the things those who celebrate Lent do is to set an intention, something we'll either add to or subtract from our lives in order to move closer to the spirit/God/whatever you call it!

    This year, I've chosen to stay out of the thrift stores and out of Target. I was finding too much there to tempt me and ruin my budget.

    A Lenten intention can help set or re-set a habit. If you're aiming to stop smoking, for example, doing it during Lent can really help. Because millions of people all over the world are pulling for you, as they work on themselves and their own Lenten intentions.

    Anyway, back to pure Personal Finance!

    Saturday, February 9, 2008

    Blogs to Look Out For

    Here are a few blogs I've enjoyed recently.
    • Cutting Back--biting musings on life with an anti-shopping agenda

    • Waiter Rant--if you've never worked customer service, you haven't yet lived through hell. Waiter has a great sense of humour and a light touch with the sarcasm. Bon Appetit!

    • The Consumerist--The place to go if you've been wronged by someone who took or wants your $$.

    • Cocktail Doll--a must read for anyone going to Las Vegas hoping to score some comp cocktails. No, gambling may not be frugal, but heck, ya gotta have some fun once in a while.


    Friday, February 8, 2008

    Tracking the Spending: Focus on Food

    Last month, I kept track of our food spending. Grocery store, warehouse, dining out, coffee, all of it noted down. Turned out for the month we spent just about $500. We didn't eat out much at all, a few lunches, snacks and coffees. No major dinners, no ordering in.

    So far this month, we've spent about $125 (I've been rounding to the nearest dollar). That includes one small warehouse trip, a few lunches out and a produce delivery. I was hoping to keep it to $400 for this month, and that's more than the first week's amount should be.

    Curious about the produce delivery? I decided to try getting a bin of produce every other week, both for health reasons and to keep myself out of the grocery store. The fewer reasons I have to browse the less I'll spend. We'll see if it ends up saving money. It has already enhanced our diet: last night's dinner? Roasted butternut squash with a lacinto kale-chicken-bacon-sage saute. Delicious! The day before? Shrimp with baby bok choy and broccoli in white wine sauce with brown rice. The shrimp were frozen, from Costco, purchased in December and still tasty!

    Tuesday, February 5, 2008

    Super Tuesday

    Today's contests could bring us closer to decisions on presidential candidates. The real answers won't come until January though, when the new president is sworn in and the agony begins. How to end the Iraq conflict (is it a war if Congress didn't actually declare war?), how to fix the mortgage crisis, the health care crisis, and the coming employment crisis. Fun fun fun.

    I'm for a balanced budget. I'm for assisting other nations in crisis, but against getting involved in their internal affairs (so long as they're not invading us). I'm all for universal health care, but not provided by HMOs. I'm against a generic mortgage bailout, but all for increasing standards in the mortgage industry.

    Which candidate do I support? It's tough. There are some strong, determined, people on the campaign trail this year.

    Friday, February 1, 2008

    Reducing Clutter: Junk Mail

    Part of keeping your financial house in order involves keeping track of your mail. Unless you've switched entirely to estatements, you'll need to watch what comes into the mailbox.

    And guess what gets in the way? That's right, junk mail! Today's tip? How to get rid of those pesky ValPak coupon packets.

    Sure, they sometimes have a good pizza coupon. But, really, how often do you actually use them? I sometimes spend a few minutes browsing the coupons and magnet them to the fridge only to remove them months later, expired and unused.

    Go here and follow the instructions. Note that it's best to have a recent ValPak so you get the codes off of the address label. Mine came in yesterday's mail and I deliberately saved it and set it next to the computer so I could get off the list before recycling it.

    Have fun!

    Thursday, January 31, 2008

    Much Ado About Nothing: or the Starbucks $1 Cup of Coffee

    So, it was all over the blogosphere last week, that Starbucks was going to sell its short brewed coffee (8 oz) for $1 and offer free refills. Well, Starbucks Gossip was on the story, as were some of the finance blogs and the news magazines (Business Week and Newsday.

    Well, what a non-starter. For such a widely distributed story, it turns out that is was only a one-week test, and only at select stores. How do I know? I tried to buy a short coffee for a buck today! No such luck, it's $1.40. So, I got a Tall instead.

    Moral of the story? Don't make purchases based on something you read on someone's blog.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    Menu Planning to Save Time and Money

    Cathy, over at Chief Family Officer writes about menu planning today. There are so many advantages to planning your menus! For me personally, having planned menus helps me avoid impluse purchases. You know, you go to the grocery store and my, that asparagus sure looks good. And it's on sale! So you buy some, forgetting that your fridge already has enough veggies for the week and buying more means something will go bad.

    I use a tool for menu planning called the Menu Mailer. Created by Leanne Ely, the author of the book Saving Dinner: The Menus, Recipes, and Shopping Lists to Bring Your Family Back to the Table, the Menu Mailer is a weekly email containing a menu for the week, along with a shopping list, separated by type of food. For example, all the meat is in one section, the produce, canned goods, etc. Also noted by each ingredient is the day it is used, so if you're not making one of the dishes, you can easily avoid buying the items for it.

    I found I was saving money on my grocery bill because I stuck to a list. With the Menu Mailer, dinner was decided already, there was no last minute fuss or desperate dive into the pantry to look for a package of pasta and some jarred sauce (Scarpetta Barely Bolognese, 20-Ounce Jar (Pack of 4)).

    Sure, you say, but for $30, I can buy a couple of cookbooks. Why pay for this? Why? Well, Leanne has done all the work! She's done the shopping list, created the recipes, and put it all together in an easy-to-use package. I balked at first, but after actually using it, well, money well spent. I know I saved more than $30 in the first month, just by avoiding impluse dinner buys.

    You can try a sample menu, to see if you like it. In addition to the Regular mailer (which is what we use), she also offers a Heart Healthy option, a Low-Carb, a Body Clutter menu to go with her book, written with Flylady Marla Cilley, Body Clutter: Love Your Body, Love Yourself, and a few others. I've been wanting to try the Crock-Pot menu...

    Monday, January 28, 2008

    It's Tax Time!

    We have a tradition in our family of doing our taxes on Super Bowl Sunday. We keep the game on, and work on the taxes during the pre-game show, and during the game itself if it's not going well for the side we're rooting for (this year, we're for the Giants).

    Are you ready for tax time? Do you use your computer to do your taxes or are you atraditionalist and prefer to use the paper forms? I always know it's tax time when I stop in at the local library and they have three large racks of paper tax forms.

    Do you have your tax software? Some of the office supply stores offer good deals on other products when purchased with tax software. I use Tax Cut, mostly because way back when we changed our IRAs from regular to Roth, Tax Cut was the only tax software that could accomodate that.

    I live in Washington state, where there is no state income tax. We have a killer sales tax though, so imagine how happy we were when Congress (finally) decided that we could deduct the sales tax we paid, to make if fair for us in comparison with those folks in states with an income tax.

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    Should You Buy an EBook Reader?

    Ebook readers have been around for over a decade. I remember attending a Book Festival here in Seattle, and seeing several booths featuring ebook readers. I was vaguely interested, but I am old-fashioned and I do like my paper. So, I never went any further toward learning more about them.

    The latest entrant into the ebook reader market is Amazon, the Internet King of Books. Amazon's reader is called the Kindle, and it's quite nice to look at. They've chosen white for its case colour and it looks, to me, very retro-futuristic, a la 2001 or Minority Report. You can buy books for it, or even magazines and newspapers (the New York Times sans the newsprint marks on your fingers). It features an internet link, allowing for remote purchases. Say you're at Starbucks, hanging out and you just finished a great book and want another right away. Well, Kindle will get you one.

    I think it's expensive. It's about $400, and that's before buying any books. Still, if you like to read books on the go and can tolerate the interface, it might save you money (and will certainly save you space) in the long run.

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Markets are Down, Time to Buy

    So, seriously, the market is heading for a downturn. Housing down, stocks in general down, we're bleeding money to the Iraq war (over $250 million dollars PER DAY). So, what's the average Joe or Jane investor to do?

    DON'T panic sell. It happens with every market downturn. People panic when they see their accounts going down and they sell. If that's your pot of money that you need to use in a year or two for something (college, car or home purchase, etc), well, selling might be the right decision. You may need to lock in your gains and avoid further losses. But, if that's your retirement account that's going down and you're nowhere near retirement age? Let it ride!

    DO purchase bargains. When the market goes down, it's like a fire sale for those with some free cash they don't need to access for some years. If you have some sitting around in a savings account, now might be the time to take care of setting up an investment account. For those with a Costco card, Sharebuilder (now owned by ING) is offering a bonus of up to $90 on a new account (you must make a deposit and one trade to secure the bonus).

    DON'T become obsessive about checking up on your account. If you've chosen your investments with care, you'll have chosen stocks and funds that you like enough to hold for the long term. If that's the case, just let them be. For buy and hold investors who aren't planning purchases, times like these are a good time to take a break from market watching. Hey, the Super Bowl is coming up, how about those Giants?

    DO keep an eye on the big picture. The market goes up and it goes down. It's a cycle. Consider doing some reading on historical ups and downs. Read about the Great Depression, pick up a book by one of the great economists (here's a cool timeline, hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco) or learn about another country's economy, say South Korea or Taiwan.

    Sunday, January 6, 2008

    Prospective Homeowners Avoid Subprime Meltdown

    "Homebuyers sidestep subprime trap
    By Joanne Cleaver Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    MILWAUKEE — Keith and Vicky Newson appeared destined to become subprime-lending statistics.

    Three years ago, at the height of the housing and lending boom, the longtime renters and parents of three children started house hunting in Milwaukee in earnest.

    They quickly found real-estate and mortgage brokers intent on persuading them to take on more house and more debt than they thought they could afford."

    I love this couple! They knew what they could afford, and despite temptation from all sides (real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and banks) they stuck to their budget and bought a house they could actually afford. They saved up money to cover at least the first three months of payments, so that if something happened (emergency repair etc.) they wouldn't be faced with financial disaster.

    The real question is, why are people like the Newsons so rare?

    Read the whole article here.