Monthly Archives: May 2011

Simplifying your Coupon Routine: A Realistic Guide for the Burnt-Out Couponer

By Mac Fife

Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe I’m right, but if I had to guess, I’d say most blog reading women have at least a baseline knowledge of what the coupon craze is about. This recession has made us all more aware of what good value is, and clipping those Sunday morning inserts has proven to save more than just the dimes and nickels we once associated with coupons.

If you’re heading into Kroger with a 4½” binder of baseball card holders, this post isn’t really for you right now. But if, like me, your baseball card holder has collected dust for months, or, if you generally look at the baseball card women like they have three heads (or at least too much free time), I think you’ll be ready for what I have to say.

(Also, if you have no idea why I would even be talking about baseball cards, there are plenty of great resources to help you out. Collin, over at hip2save.com makes it really easy to understand!  )

What can the rest of us do with our coupon burn out? Sure, it’s pretty great to come home with bags of free or almost free stuff, but personally, I found myself spending money for “almost free” stuff I never would have otherwise purchased. I now have more varieties of anti-itch cream than a girl could ever hope to use in a lifetime. (Although, I’m not sure why anyone would ever hope to use any anti-itch cream… unless maybe they were just always itchy… but that’s a different blog post.)

And have you noticed the best deals aren’t usually even on groceries?! When I started logging all my local store sales and coupon savings, I actually found that running from store to store and matching up my coupons RARELY saved me more than five dollars a week on food items, compared to my local Aldi!

So, where can you get the REAL savings in the world of coupons? Personal care items! I’m talkin’ toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, body wash, razors… Every Super Bowl, when they add another blade to the “Mach Whatever”, manufacturers and retailers alike want you to be the first to rush in and try the next big thing. This equals big manufacturer coupons and rebates, PLUS big retail sales. I’m assuming here that you know the drill, but if they’re both offering buy one get one free… that means you get TWO free! What a money saver!!! Plus, it’s just nice to have your bathroom stocked with the latest and greatest stuff that comes out! I love feeling pampered!

In light of this, do yourself a favor, and join me: THROW AWAY the baseball card organizer! Instead, take a trip to the Dollar Tree and buy a traditional purse sized coupon file. Remember those? Like our grandmas always used! Next, use the thirteen or so pockets to divvy up only the big savings categories: Like “Hair Care”, “Body Wash/Deodorant” (I like to keep these together because a lot of coupons are for either/or/both), “Dental”, “Feminine Hygiene”, “Meds/First Aid”, “Supplements”, “Shaving”, “Cosmetics”… You get the drift! Now that you have a sensible number of coupons to manage, it should only take 10-15 minutes a week to clip, sort, and purge expired coupons.

Now, go ahead and check those websites you always checked back when you were a couponista, but lets ditch this feeling like we’ve got to hit every single store and snag every single deal! For me, the drug stores are always a winner, so once a week I stop in my two favorites and stock up on the coupon deals that will truly help my family. (No more itch cream!)

And, just a side note: PLEASE don’t rush first thing Sunday morning to get your deals before they‘re sold out. Learn to ask for rain checks! I admit, this might be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. For now, just take the store circular to the check out or service counter, point to the picture, and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t find any more of these on the shelf! Do you have any more in the back? Or could you write me up a rain check?” They’ll take care of you from there! (I’ll write more on this later.)

You don’t have to go crazy to take part in the coupon craze, and you don’t have to spend a ton of time to save a ton of money. If you keep your strategies simple and your savings fun, you can be set for a lifetime of low cost living! And seriously… call me if your family gets poison ivy, and I’ll give you the hook up!

So, what’s your favorite store for coupon deals?

Categories: Money | 1 Comment

Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner?

By Stephanie Politte

I have gestational diabetes. Also, I’m not the weight I was in college. My husband suffers from a nasty case of acid reflux. I could add a few more points, but I don’t need to embarrass myself. Not all of this is directly our fault. Genes play a role, no question. However, we could stand to step up our game in the realm of healthy choices. As a mother of 4 1/2, (we are due with #5 October 1) I don’t have the time to exercise a lot. That’s certainly no excuse to forego it completely, but if anyone has a valid reason for having a hard time squeezing in a 5 mile run- it’s mothers of several babies/toddlers. I don’t like to use being a mom as an excuse, and I think that’s an easy trap to fall into. But my daily schedule just doesn’t have a lot of give. “Just get up early, before the kids.” Right! My kids wake me up at the crack of 5:45 as it is, these days. I have enough trouble trying to come up with a game plan for getting a shower. Maybe some of you can handle getting up earlier than that, but I am not cut out for dragging myself out of bed while it is still what I would consider the middle of the night.

That being said…no one has a legitimate excuse for not taking care of themselves, if they are able-bodied. This includes hygiene, diet, and physical exercise in some form. I do get some exercise, you should see how many trips up and down the stairs I make each day, usually carrying 1-2 children per trip. Then there’s the chasing I do. “Catch me, Mommy!” “Campbell’s holding Daddy’s coffee, Mommy!” “Adeline took yogurt up the stairs, Mommy!” Not to mention the number of times a day I sprint to save the poor 9 month old from the torture of any one of his toddler-siblings. I keep active.

As far as hygiene, I think we are doing a fine job in that category, assuming we’re talking about the days I do manage to work out a plan for getting a shower. I won’t lie, there have been several days that my shower for the day didn’t happen until the kids were in bed for the evening (I’m a shower first thing in the morning kind of girl.)

Now diet….I really have to say that I think we’re pretty well-rounded when it comes to eating. We aren’t health food gurus, but we love our veggies, and we don’t eat a lot of dessert, and our menus are generally fiber-rich. But this is the area I feel we can take the most control. Lucky for me, my husband is up for trying whatever I propose for our meal plan. He really notices the difference when we’ve been making too many unhealthy choices and starts to feel run-down. He’s come a long way from when we got married and his favorite food groups were bacon, sour cream and cheese. Don’t get me wrong, those still hold a special place in his heart, but he regards them now as “sometimes treats” rather than necessities at every meal.

So, in pursuit of feeling better, encouraging our children to make good choices, and preserving our health, I am on a quest to explore new culinary offerings. I am not one for extreme diets that are restrictive and that leave gaping holes in the variety that should compose our menu. (This is my way of saying I don’t have the willpower to cut something I like completely out.) But I do think that the way we eat as Americans is pretty far off from what our bodies are designed to consume. So, I’m proposing that we give some light vegetarianism a try. By that I mean I want to start making 2-3 meals per week that contain meat, and go meatless the rest of the time. Some of you are thinking, “She’s just now coming up with this idea? I haven’t eaten bacon is 8 years!” And others are thinking, “She wants to do wha?!? No way I’m gonna choose a garden burger over a big fat bacon cheeseburger!” I’m not ready to give it up completely, and I doubt that I will ever feel inclined to do that. (Believe me, as soon as this baby is born, I will be sitting down to a nice juicy rare steak at Longhorn the first chance I get.) But I truly enjoy meatless meals like black bean burgers, sauteed string beans and rice, or a tofu Triple Lindy from Moe’s (don’t knock it till you try it!).

Before you say, “That’s not for me,” give this a try:

Black Bean Burgers
Ingredients:
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup diced red onions
1 tsp finely chopped jarred jalepenos
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cheyenne pepper
Instructions:
Mash beans with fork or blend in food processor
Using your hands, work all other ingredients into beans
Form 4 burger patties
Freeze between layers of wax paper
Grill on med/high heat 2-4 min per side
Serve on whole wheat buns with tomato, lettuce, red onion, avocado and
bean sprouts

So…I want to know what you think. Are you enjoying a vegetarian lifestyle? Are you a confirmed carnivore with no interest in exploring meatless options? Do you like a little of both worlds? As I venture out there in search of delicious dishes that don’t contain beef, chicken, pork or fish, do you have a recipe to share with me? This is controversial, but I want to hear you weigh in on the matter!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Sneaky Cheap & Charitable

By Bectoria Stafford Crandall

Earlier, I noticed a friend’s Facebook post read “Happy Tax Freedom Day! As of today, you are officially free of your tax burdens. 102 days of work to pay your taxes for the year.” When “doing” their taxes, many people scramble for receipts they hope will somehow qualify for a charitable giving deduction while others just wish that they had done some type of giving during the past 12 months. In years past, I have found myself asking questions like “What am I doing with all of my money?” or “Have I really not helped anyone the entire year”?

In the madness of this great life, I admittedly find it hard to remember the needs of those outside of my own family. Given the economic climate, many people are not in the position to give monetarily, but do give to others in different ways. This is a wonderful alternative and should be celebrated. This post is for those of us who may not necessarily have the time or talent to donate but who would like to use monetary means to somehow help their fellow man.

As an example, with very little effort, one could begin the year with saving a minimum of just $25 per month that will then build by the end of the year into a $300 donation which could do a lot of good for any number of charities. In the remainder of this post, I will attempt to share some of the madness which is my means to this end.

Now, how does one go about saving a little extra on a monthly basis? I’m glad you asked! I don’t pretend to be very good at spending less money, but in recent months I have made a concerted effort to try. Since making this change, I have learned that the majority of excess expenditures have gone toward activities and the food purchases made during said activities. After making this observation, I began my first baby step in the money-saving direction by packing snacks before going on any type of family outing. I try to make it a personal rule to “never get caught unprepared”. Before each family outing, I go through what now has become the routine of taking a couple of minutes to pack a special toy, favorite snack, and some type of drink before putting on shoes and a coat and walking out the door. I noticed, right away that there were less “emergency” stops at fast food restaurants and far fewer arguments with my children over whether or not to buy snacks at the cash register. There is something to be said about the health benefits related to these choices as well, but that’s another blog post entirely! I will say this, however… For those with picky eaters, first of all, God bless you! A big problem with picky eaters when trying to grab nutrients while out and about is picking something that they will actually eat. Packing snacks from home eliminates the madness of the pleading with little ones and, my personal favorite, the deal-making like “five more bites and we can…”

Another huge benefit to packing your own food can be appreciated when making the trek to places like the zoo. We have an amazing zoo near our house that my family likes to visit as often as possible. Before my epiphany of packing our own food, we used to begin each zoo visit by waiting in line at a fast food counter and then spending the next 45 minutes to an hour fighting other zoo guests and seagulls for a table and rushing our kids to eat and not play with the enclosed toy so that we could “go have fun”. When looking back on this, one word comes to mind… “Ridiculous”. Now, we have the option of eating at our leisure. We still make the packed food fun by sticking with a zoo theme with animal crackers and by using cookie cutters to make sandwiches into the shapes of the kids’ favorite animals. This has inspired new conversations that sometimes get some interesting looks, like “Do you see that elephant honey?” “…Mm-hmm. I eat him!”

When packing food isn’t an option, I do try to conserve on menu items as much as possible. I do this by ordering water instead of fountain beverages or by allowing tiny kids, who eat very little anyway, to share meals. For instance, when visiting a popular family games and pizzeria joint, I am sure to bring the reusable beverage bottles once purchased at the chain and then I have the kids share a menu item. Let’s face it. They’re there for the fun and not the food anyway!

When splurging on a treat, like a special trip to the movies, theatres and other family friendly businesses have products that cater to savings through family-style sharing. Parents can request extra bags and glasses for divvying up concessions. Even the pretzel counter in most food courts has pretzel sticks designed for easier sharing.

Savings can go beyond food expenditures as well. I am sure that many can relate to the sticker shock felt when looking at merchandise at special functions like kid’s concerts, the circus, and other “kid friendly” venues. I have learned that a little planning ahead, like buying and then packing similar toys that light up or have the face of a favorite character can bring just as much joy to a child at a fraction of the cost. This little trick came especially in handy during a recent family vacation to a very popular resort and theme park (wink).

Playdates are another area of potential savings. In the past, I have been notorious for making plans to meet up at places that charge some type of overhead either through meals, ticket purchases, or the sales of some other type of merchandise. Parks, splash pads, the public library (if developmentally appropriate), indoor playgrounds, recreation centers, and other free venues provide just as much if not more opportunity for creative play.

While the majority of my suggestions may relate more to families with younger children, opportunities to save can also be found for parents of older kids and adults themselves. For some reason, the cost of participation in sports and other activities tends to increase as kids get older. Fundraisers or booster clubs can be very helpful in raising funds for any number of extracurricular activities. Even if the smallest difference in savings can go a long way when donated to a charitable cause.

Anyone who has parented a “tween” or teen for a second can tell you that, while they ask for fewer things, the exorbitant cost of the items that they do ask for makes up for it. As a disclaimer, I will have to defer to my dear friend Mac for all things coupon oriented. But, to help pay for the costly “must haves” I can recommend online searches. I have found that the internet has great deals on latest and greatest gadgets for far less. When bargain hunting isn’t enough, or even when budgeting for spending money, I don’t think its overreaching to ask teens to use their own money saved from babysitting, gardening/lawn maintenance, or garage sales to help or “go halvsies” with you. Be careful though! Doing so may accidentally teach them a little something about work ethic or pride in ownership.

Adults are very good at spending money without even realizing it. Because of this, sizeable savings can be made with very little sacrifice or variation from their normal routine. To test this theory, order water interchangeably with a refillable soda the next time you go out socializing with other adults. Many clubs also offer free sodas to designated drivers. If you’re not much for alcoholic beverages anyway, try ordering water and sharing apps (not the techi kind) the next time you go out to dinner with friends. Even buying generic brands on just about anything or waiting for clothing items to go on sale or bringing the receipt back for a price adjustment once they do can provide sizeable savings.

Categories: Money | 2 Comments

Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Slob

By Mac Fife

Hello. I’m Mac, and I’m a recovering slob.

It’s not that I hate order. I walk into the beautiful, organized, color coded land of Target and say, “I want to LIVE here!” One peek at the planner/organizer aisle elicits a biochemical reaction similar to romantic arousal.

You see, most people automatically close cabinets when they’re open. I was born without that instinct. Most people don’t find it monumental to return the toothpaste lid to the tube. The thought rarely crosses my mind. Most folks pick up after themselves. I can barely remember to take things home with me from a friends house! (Bectoria knows this well.) And, while some slobs have a loving counterpart to enforce some semblance of order, the man I married is missing the exact same set of brain cells I am.

Folks like us tend not to notice the messes we’re making until they’ve overtaken the entire home. It suddenly seems like it would take DAYS to pick up! Overwhelmed, we procrastinate until we have time to do it “right”. While we’re paralyzed, the mess grows.

There was a time when we could almost NEVER allow guests in our home. (Stephanie, did we EVER invite you over when we were neighbors?) However, over time I’ve found ways to adapt in my weakness. Despite the dire condition I was born with, I’ve achieved a respectable quality of life! I’m sure deep down inside, I am, and always will be, a slob, but these days I am company ready in 15 minutes, keep food born illness out of my fridge, and maintain a walk-in closet I can actually, well, walk in! The transition didn’t happen overnight, but it’s not been the hopeless battle I once thought it was. I’ve narrowed it down to three crucial steps.

Step one: Be Kind to Yourself!

This first step is the trickiest, not just for me, but for everyone who tells me about their housework woes. When every show and magazine features perfect, never-messy houses, we feel inferior! If “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” do we have a moral issue?! Our born-organized friends make it more embarrassing. Their spaces are always tidy, while those who battle the same issues are often too ashamed to share. I remember the sinking feeling: I’m the only one, and nobody else can see how I really live.

Sometimes, we talk to ourselves with hurtful words we‘d never use on anybody else. This is no way to live! Let’s start here: You’re not lazy. You’re not lazy. You are NOT lazy… Okay, maybe you’re a little lazy if this is the first break from “Angry Birds” you’ve taken today, but I PROMISE you, laziness has nothing to do with getting good at keeping house. Don’t equate this challenge with moral deficiency. Self loathing is unproductive.

Most of our “laziness” is really just being overwhelmed. When I finally stopped hating myself, I was able to focus on fixing the problem!

Step Two: Work With Your Habits, Not Against Them!

I was that sucker spending fifty bucks when those nice looking wood charger stations first came out. With it’s black finish, brushed metal knobs, and velvety compartments for each electronic device, I would never look at jumbled power cords again! That was fine, until the power cords kept dropping back into their hidden compartment. Every day we would fish them out and thread them back through those tiny holes just so we could plug in before bed. Frustrated, we eventually left the whole thing open and disheveled. Today, it’s probably collecting dust in a Salvation Army Store, while a plain old basket holds our easily accessible mess of wires!

If the headaches that came with my phone charging station embodied all of housekeeping, I’m not sure I want to be tidy! Julie Morganstern’s book, Organizing from the Inside Out, changed my life in one major way: I stopped working for my home, and started making my home to work for me!

Some practical examples? If, like me, the toothpaste lid is an issue, don’t ever buy toothpaste that doesn’t have a lid attached! If a game controller is not wireless, it is no longer allowed in my home! My toddler never plays by himself in his room. Why would I store toys in the nursery? Get the picture?

I want to make my home the most convenient and beautiful place on earth! While the two are not mutually exclusive, we can sabotage ourselves with decorating. I remember when sitting in my living room involved throwing at least two to three pillows on the floor. The room was BEAUTIFUL, but sitting on the couch trashed the whole thing! Your décor can greatly aid your quest to keep tidy, or make it nearly impossible. (But don’t think throw pillows can’t be cute AND functional! I want this: http://www.engadget.com/2010/11/15/universal-remote-arrives-within-a-pillow-makes-channel-surfing/)

Step Three: Prioritize and Form Habits

I’ll admit, my house is tidy most but not all days! We’re okay with that. When things are totally wrecked, I still feel peace if three things are managed: The laundry, the dishes, and my family‘s meals. If these bases are covered, who cares if there’s toys on the floor?! It isn’t easy at first, but developing routines will get that stuff happening on autopilot. Imagine a morning where before the sleep fuzz is out of your brain, the bed has been made, the dishwasher has been unloaded, and laundry is already spinning in the washer! My hero, “The FlyLady” Marla Cilley, has made a career of brainwashing people like me to do the work automatically. The free brainwashing on FlyLady.net doesn’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it, you’ll be surprised how quickly things start coming under control!

My journey from slob to organista will be lifelong, but if you take anything from this post at all, know that anybody can eventually enjoy a tidy home… even slobs like me!

Categories: Organization | Leave a comment

Donatella Versace has nothing on me!

By Jaymee Skelly

When I first came around to the idea of this blog I contemplated what I wanted readers to know about me. Introducing oneself to the world is hard enough, but doing it in 1,000 words or less seemed impossible.

I am the crafty/DIY contributor to this blog. I tend to be the one that my circle of friends turn to and ask “how can we make/recreate/design __________ at little or no cost?” I realized long ago that this has become a part of my identity. I have had complete strangers email me because they had the perfect idea for a birthday present for a niece and need someone who can design and make it. I have had co-workers come to my office to ask for help on craft projects. I have even had Bectoria’s four year old daughter identify me as the person to come to when she has broken toys. There is no way around it; this is who I am, so why not share it with others?

Before we start down this virtual road together there are a few things that you need to know about me.

I’m poor.

Ok, so I’m not poor in the grand scheme of things. In fact, I’m pretty blessed. All of my needs are met, I have a good job, a house, etc. I live a comfortable life but I do have to live on a budget. Just like most people in this day and age, I have to manage every penny that comes and goes. My disposable income seems to shrink every day yet I seem to have a growing list of things to spend it on.

A few years ago I noticed the gifts for friends and family seemed to be eating away at my disposable income; bridal showers, baby showers, birthday presents, Christmas presents, the list seems to go on and on. I’m not sure if any of you have noticed this, but gifts for kids are expensive. As the cool aunt to multiple nieces and nephews (including a few honorary nieces and nephews) I never want to give the lame gift at the party. I’ll admit it, I secretly want to give the gift that everyone notices and all the other kids are jealous of. This can be hard on a strict budget. I have found that I can make some pretty awesome gifts on a budget if I get creative. I’m proud to say that my tutus and super hero capes have been a huge hit at many parties.

Which leads me to the next thing you should know about me . . .

I totally made this!

I love to utter those four simple words. I get a smile on my face just thinking about it. I love to throw this phrase into conversation. It is a great feeling when someone compliments the dress I am wearing or the gift I just gave and I can hold my head up high and proudly announce “I totally made this.”

You should try it. Find a project, make it and show it to your friends, family, and co-workers. Hold off on telling them you made it until they compliment it. Then, with all the pride you can muster proclaim that you totally made it!

Imperfection = Character

I know that some of you are thinking “I could never do that; my work would never be good enough to show to others.” Don’t fall victim to this detrimental line of thinking. The truth is my projects are never perfect. They often do not come out exactly as I envisioned them, but that is okay. It makes each project unique and one of a kind. I can still be proud of my work without focusing on the imperfections. The woman who taught my mother to quilt told her to never remove stitches from a quilt; your mistakes are what give the quilt character.

I always wanted to be a computer hacker.

There is something about the idea of computer hacking that I find glamorous. I always wanted to fight the system and live on the fringe. The only problem is that I lack the necessary computer skills to be a hacker. I also have an innate need to follow laws. It’s hard being a rebel who plays by the rules.

So I have turned my attention to hacking fashion. I cannot afford to buy the latest runway fashions, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have the latest styles. If I see something I like I can try to make it myself or incorporate details. Donatella Versace has nothing on me! I’m always up for the challenge of figuring out how to make or recreate things. It may not be perfect and I may devise unique/odd ways to complete projects, but I always have fun and feel a sense of accomplishment when I do it.

As I move forward as a contributor to this blog, I hope to share some of my projects, tips, and tutorials with you. If any of you have ideas for projects or want me to show you how to make something, leave me a comment or send me a message with your ideas and I will see what I can do.

Categories: Crafts | Leave a comment

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