Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tackle It Tuesday - Email

Since my daughter was born last year I feel like I’m always behind on everything that I need to do and the days just don’t seem to have enough hours. I’m working on this by improving my organization. I have always been a bit of an organization addict, but that has been sliding since my daughter arrived. To help motivate me I have decided to join in the Tackle It Tuesday. For this, my first week doing Tackle It Tuesday, I decided to tackle my email inbox.

I get a ton of email in my inbox every day. I have had the same email address for about fifteen years now so I also get a good deal of spam. I’m talking about the spam that gets through the filters. I also subscribe to a lot of email newsletters. All of this has a tendency to pile up in my inbox. I check it during the day and delete the obvious junk, but then there are all the other emails that I want to look at when I have more time and then I never get back to them. As a result I had over 400 emails in my inbox and I was getting warning messages that I was near my space quota. It was definitely time for a good clean out.

After a good hour of sorting, deleting, unsubscribing and so forth, I was able to get my inbox down to just 10 messages. It was such a relief to have all of that old junk cleaned out. Now I need to keep up with it and keep unsubscribing from the newsletters that I no longer read. I don’t want to miss out on any good emails because they get caught up in my email clutter. Now let’s just hope I can keep up with my inbox. Next up will be my work email.

How does your inbox look? Are you keeping up with your emails or getting swamped in a pile of junk mail?

Shopping Less to Find Balance

Today I read a post titled Joyfully Joining the Infrequent Shoppers Club over at Life As Mom. It tied in with how I was thinking this weekend that I spend too much of my weekend running around. My husband has also been complaining about my stock pile taking over the house. So, in a commitment to scale back my spending even further, I plan to start cutting back my shopping.

Currently I do my main grocery shopping trip on Saturday and hit other grocery stores in the area during the week to pick up their deals if they are something we use. Then on Sunday I typically spend at least three hours hitting Target and all the drug stores. Now I am going to cut back my visits to Target to once a month and the grocery stores to one main trip and one small trip each week. For the drug stores I will have to check their sales papers each week and make a decision based on that. I know that I don’t need to visit them all each week though. Maybe I'll pick one for the week depending on who has the best deals.

This plan is a work in progress. I may wind up adjusting it some in the coming weeks, but I must admit that I feel better already. Giving myself permission to not get every deal and knowing that I don’t HAVE to shop every Sunday is nice. Maybe I’ll even find some time to get back to my journal.

So how do you feel about your shopping? Do you feel like you spend too much time running around chasing after the deals or have you worked out a balance?

Monday, September 29, 2008

CLR Tackle It Tuesday Contest

5 Minutes For Mom is having a Tackle It Tuesday contest with prizes provided by CLR Bathroom and Kitchen Cleaner. Just for participating you will get a free bottle of CLR Bathroom and Kitchen Cleaner shipped to you. Then you use the cleaner for your Tackle It Tuesday project and post the results and your review. There will be three winners to this contest and each of them gets a prize pack of CLR cleaning products and a hundred dollars. If you’re interested, check out their post here for all the information. Just make sure you hurry because you have to notify them by October 2nd that you’re participating.

Menu Planning Monday

Sunday I managed to have a decent afternoon of cooking for the week ahead. I find that I just feel better about the week ahead when I can get some cooking done on Sunday. This week I roasted up an oven stuffer roaster, prepared a ziti and cooked up some acorn squash cubes for my daughter. Not too bad for an afternoon's work.

Here is our meal plan for the week:
1 - Chicken with gravy
2 - Chicken quesadillas
3 - Chicken salad croissant wraps
4 - Chicken soup
5 - Grilled ham and cheese with broccoli soup
6 - Baked ziti

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Baby Food Coupons

For those of you out there that buy baby food, Beech Nut offers a labels for coupons program. I personally like the Beech Nut baby food because they offer coupons, they participate in upromise and their food comes in glass jars. Combining a sale and coupons I was able to gets jars of Beech Nut baby food for $0.35 a jar. That’s the best price I’ve seen and since a lot of my coupons were expiring I stocked up. We bought over 90 jars of baby food. The cashier actually asked if we were stocking a bomb shelter. My daughter was very happy though. She kept turning around and making sure her food was still in the cart.

If you want the form for the labels for coupons promotion, click here. I also suggest signing up for their newsletter because it usually has a link for printing coupons. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

With the Labels for Coupons Promotion you can either send in 48 labels for 4 $1.00 on 10 jars coupons or 16 Table Time labels for 2 $1.00 on 4 Table Time products.

I do make as much of my daughter’s food as possible because that is the healthiest and most affordable option, but you can’t beat the convenience of jar baby food when you’re sending food to day care. They also come in handy when you’re going to be out during meal time. So in our house we wind up using a combination of homemade and jar baby food.

Have you found any good deals or coupons for baby food? Have any tips and tricks for feeding a baby healthy food economically?

Tracking The Savings

When I got home from all my shopping on Sunday I started going through my receipts. I try to keep them organized so that I don’t lose out on any rebates. When I was clipping my ECB’s off of my CVS receipt I noticed that my annual savings is now up over $500. My husband was standing there at the time and I read him my totals from the receipt. He was surprised at just how much I had saved at CVS this year. So I decided to start tracking my savings to see just what kind of return I am getting for all the time I’ve invested in my pillaging. I plan to start tracking these figures immediately and posting a monthly total here. I think it will be interesting to see just how the numbers work out.

Do you track your savings? If so, what methods work for you?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gas Discount Frustrations

In a previous post I mentioned that I had spent enough at Safeway to earn a $0.10 off per gallon of gas. I didn’t know their price per gallon, but I figured that with the $0.10 off it should be at least a few cents cheaper then other gas stations. I decided to stop there yesterday on my way home. Their price was $3.59 so with my discount it would be $3.49. That is the same price that the store near my daughter’s daycare has it without a discount. Since I was already there I figured I would get it anyway.

Well, I couldn’t get the pump to scan my card and without it I wouldn’t get the discount. You can walk in and get help, but then I would have had to get my daughter out of her car seat and go through all of that hassle. I decided it just wasn’t worth it and wound up leaving without getting gas. Tonight I will have to get gas after I pick my daughter up, but at least that station has someone right there to help if there’s a problem and it’s $3.49 without the discount. They are almost always the cheapest place in my driving area to get gas. The really cool part is that I am really close to earning a $0.10 per gallon discount from there too. Now that discount I am excited about.

At this point I’m pretty much done with gas from Safeway. We’ve had problems getting gas there in the past so this incident was pretty much it for me. This is one “discount” that just isn’t worth it for me.

Are there any gas discount programs out there that you have had success or frustrations with?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Menu Planning Monday

Meal planning is a sanity saver in our house during the week. It helps prevent the what do you want for dinner argument at the end of the day. Plus is saves us from eating out a lot. We're trying to cut back our eating out expenses and menu planning has been a big help with that.

Dinners for this week:
1. Lasagna (family favorite and the only lasagna my husband will eat)
2. grilled ham and cheese
3. steak and macaroni and cheese
4. Spaghetti with Italian sausage
5. Tuna quesadillas (new recipe I’m trying)
6. Pizza-dillas

My family favorite meal this week is lasagna. I don’t really have a recipe for it because it changes slightly each time I make it depending on what ingredients I have on hand. I taught my brother how I make it and he has even made shrimp lasagna based on this recipe. Once you have the basics down it is very easy to modify this recipe and still have yummy results. Here is how I made it this week though:

2 jars Spaghetti Sauce
1 box Lasagna noodles
1 lb ground Italian Sausage
1 small container Ricotta cheese
Parmesan cheese
Mozzarella cheese (5 cups or so)

Note that I do not cook my lasagna noodles ahead of time. I take them straight from the box to my lasagna pan.

1. Preheat oven to 325 (I use the convection setting, but it cooked just as well without it in my old oven)
2. Brown Italian sausage, drain grease. Combine cooked sausage and one jar of spaghetti sauce in a bowl.
3. In a small bowl mix the ricotta cheese with season salt to taste. Instead of season salt you could also use an Italian Seasoning mix to reduce the sodium.
4. Line the bottom of a 9x13 pan with half a jar of spaghetti sauce
5. Top the sauce with the first layer of uncooked noodles. The noodles can have some small gaps between them. Remember that the noodles will expand when they cook
6. Put dollops of the seasoned ricotta cheese on top of the noodles. Spread some parmesan cheese on top; Spread some mozzarella cheese on top of the other cheeses. Add half of the sausage and sauce mixture on top of all the cheeses.
7. Add another layer of noodles
8. Repeat step 6 for this layer
9. Add top layer of noodles
10. Top the noodles with the remaining half jar of spaghetti sauce. Be sure to spread the sauce out so that all the noodles are covered.
11. Add your top layer of mozzarella cheese
12. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 2 hours at 325

Back to Menu Planning

When I was a teenager one of my duties around the house was to plan the meals for the week and do the grocery shopping. When my husband and I first moved in together I continued the practice of planning the meals for the week while I was writing my grocery list. Over the last few years I have gotten very lax about planning our meals. That has resulted in us eating out more and having more arguments in the evening over what is for dinner. I feel like missing this one simple thing caused a lot more stress in our lives. So now I am working on getting back to planning weekly meals.

I feel like there are a lot of benefits from planning out our meals for the week. The biggest benefit I see is the reduction in stress from trying to figure out what to have for dinner when we both just got home from a full day of work. We should also save money because we will be using what we have on hand, I can plan meals around the sales for the week and we will be eating out less. When we don’t have anything planned we tend to eat out more often because everything is frozen and neither one of us wants to deal with defrosting and cooking. Another good benefit is that we should see a reduction in the amount of food we throw away each week. Before I plan my meals for the week I check the fridge to see what items need to be used up that week. All of these benefits make it well worth my time to sit down and plan out our meals for the week.

When I plan our meals for the week I only plan six dinners. This leaves one night open for leftovers or going out. You will also notice that I typically don’t plan side dishes. We keep various veggies on hand in the freezer so we just grab whatever we feel like when we’re cooking each night. I also don’t assign any particular meal to any particular day. I just post the list of the six meals on the fridge and we decide in the morning or the night before what our next meal is going to be.

For our lunches we typically take leftovers or a sandwich. I try to keep a container or two of lunchmeat in the fridge. The containers cost a little more then the lunchmeat from the deli, but they last longer when you don’t open them. Just make sure that you check the dates on them when you’re buying them. I tend to stock up when I can combine a sale and a coupon. As an emergency lunch I also keep some cans of soup in my desk. There have been days where I’ve walked out of the house without lunch. This saves me from having to buy lunch out.

Breakfasts are never really planned in our house. We have a lot of cereal and granola bars on hand for weekday breakfasts. On Saturdays we typically go out for breakfast and on Sunday we have breakfast at my parent’s house. I think breakfast and lunch and the easiest for me since I don’t really have to plan them, just make sure we have the necessities on hand.

Now that I have resolved to get back to my menu planning we will have to see how it goes. Last week was my first week back to planning and it went very well. So far this week is looking good too. We have all the food on hand. Now I just need to use it.

Do you typically plan meals in your house? How does it work for you?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cashier Reactions

Some of the cashier reactions I've gotten when I've used coupons and specials to get really great deals can be rather amusing. Here are some of the reactions I've gotten this year:

At Giant earlier this summer I was able to combine a rain check and coupons to get Bob Evans Italian Sausage for $1.50 a pack. The cashier commented that I was her kind of shopper.

At Walgreens during one of their $10 on $40 coupon weekends I was able to get my original total of over $60 down to $30 and change. The cashier was completely amazed by this. He was so amazed that I didn't have the heart to tell him that after register rewards and rebates I had actually made money on the transaction.

At Safeway today I was able to combine their save $5 on 5 promo with coupons and register rewards to get my out of pocket down to $3.70. The cashier commented that I was a good shopper.

At Target a week ago I was buying several items with coupons. In typical Target fashion several of the coupons beeped. The cashier commented that she hated coupons, but she pushed them through. My brother checked out behind me with the same cashier. He purchased several bath towels along with his other items. While ringing him up she commented on how she hated bath towels. This girl was probably all of 16 and her grumbling wasn't done in a nasty way so we both found it rather amusing. We were even able to joke around with her about it.

At Walgreens today. I got a cashier I have gotten several times in the past. He remembers me so when I was checking out and I only had milk he asked if that was all I was getting today. The tone of his voice said he couldn't believe I wasn't buying more and using coupons. He is one of the more fun cashiers that they have there.

What kinds of reactions have you gotten from cashiers when you've used coupons?

Safeway Deals

Safeway has some great deals this week. In the past I had avoided Safeway because I feel their prices are high. I still feel that way, but you can also get some great deals if you look. Right now I've been getting some really great deals with their save $5 when you buy 5 participating items promotion. I've spent enough now to get $0.10 off per gallon of gas. That's the first time that has happened to me at Safeway. Now I just need to remember to stop and get gas there before the end of the month.

For the full listing of this week's Safeway deals, check out Mommy Making Money. Here is the listing of the deals I took advantage of:

Super Coupons:
$0.99 5 pounds white potatoes
$7.00 3 Oscar Mayer lunch meat
$4.00 2 Pepsi 6 packs (These are also part of the $5 on 5 deal)

Saturday/Sunday Only
$1.88 Oreo cookies

Buy 5 and save $5.00 Deals
$1.50 Old El Paso Taco Shells
$2.50 Progresso Chicken Stock
$3.00 Pillsbury Cookies
$2.00 Pepsi 6 pack (using Super Coupon, limit 2)

Weekly Deals
$2.89 Ragu Spaghetti Sauce - Buy 1 get 1 Free. There are also $1.00 on 2 coupons in today's paper making this $1.89
$2.50 Quaker Instant Oatmeal - I used the $1.00 coupon for the High Fiber version to get this for $1.50

Register Reward Deal
$1.99 Glade plug ins - Use the BOGO coupons from a week or two ago, these generate $2.00 register rewards for your next purchase. So if you buy 2 using the coupon you pay $1.99 and get $4.00 in register rewards.

Walgreens Catalinas

I stopped at Walgreens today to pick up some milk and the catalina machine printed out some notices for me on some upcoming deals.

#1 - Always Inifinity - Look for it on the shelf in early October. Visit Walgreens.com in September to order a free sample. You can get your sample here.

#2 - Buy 2 participating Crest or Oral B items 9/26 - 10/25 and receive a coupon for $2.00 off your next order.

#3 - Buy select Dove products 9/26 - 10/25 and save up to $3.00 off your next order.

Sharing the Plunder

Since I started really getting into finding the deals a few months ago I have built up quite a stash of items that we regularly use. My stash has gotten to the point that my husband has been complaining about it taking over the house. Please note that it isn’t that bad, I do have it contained to closets and the laundry room, but there is a rather large stash for two adults and an infant. Anyway, my husband’s employer has started a collection of personal care items to be sent to the hurricane victims in Texas. When he found out about it he asked if I wanted to give anything. Since we do have so much I was more then willing to donate. I put together a large shopping bag of items that he took in. It felt really good to be able to help people in need like that.

For those of you with a stash, have you ever donated anything? Are you one of those generous souls who makes regular donations to a local charity or homeless shelter?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Taking Advantage of Clearance Clothing

Buying clothes for children can get expensive really quickly. We have been very fortunate in that we have been given a lot of clothing for my daughter. There is still some clothing that needs to be purchased though. To help keep my costs down I have been trying to pick up clearance items at the end of the season for the next year. Just this past weekend I was able to pick up several tops for her for $1.97 each and I even got an adorable skort for $4.97. To help keep up with what clothing she has in storage I decided to start an inventory. I just made up a master list of what clothing she has in what size. I'm trying to keep it simple so the list is something like this:
Tank Top - Purple - 2T
Jean Shorts - 2T
This list helps me keep tabs on what I already have so that I don't buy too much of one thing and not enough of another. By creating this list I discovered that my daughter has plenty of tops for next summer, but she needs some shorts. So now I know to keep my eyes open for clearanced shorts and to stop buying tops.

Do you buy ahead for your children? If so, how do you keep track of what you have?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Coupon Perceptions

During my drive in to this work this morning the radio hosts mentioned that a study had just been done that found that less then 2% of coupons are ever redeemed. The reason they gave for this was that most people perceive coupon users as being cheap. Now, I am a coupon user and I have been for several years now. I personally don’t care if other people think that I’m cheap. When I look at how much I am saving it makes it all worthwhile. This whole concept of people worrying about how strangers perceive them and not wanting to look cheap amazes me. This is exactly the kind of attitude that got us into the financial crisis the country is in now. So many people worry about looking successful and having all the trappings of the good life. They don’t seem to realize that buying that “stuff” on credit today means you will be paying a lot more for it in the future. Eventually you have to pay the piper and so many families are now unable to do that.

This reminds me of a conversation I had earlier this year. I was outside talking with one of the kids in the neighborhood when another neighbor’s girlfriend pulled up in a BMW. The kid commented that it was a really nice car and that she must have a lot of money. My response to him was that the car you drive has absolutely no reflection on the amount of money she has. There are millionaires out there driving old clunkers and there are plenty of people out there driving luxury cars and hiding them from the repo man. You just really don’t know. He was amazed to hear me say this and I could tell from the look on his face that he had never even thought about that. I can only hope that what I said sunk in. It was definitely something that he needed to hear. Heck, there are a lot of adults out there that need to hear this too.