Monday, September 19, 2011

Upcoming Coupon Class - Update!

I must apologize for not posting lately. We've had some family issues that have kept me otherwise occupied. I'm here now though.

Here's a class update:

Basic Couponing
Monday, September 19, 5:45-8:15PM at Santa Fe College's Northwest Campus. Coupon Mastery 101

Monday, September 26, 5:45-7:45PM at Santa Fe College's Northwest Campus. Coupon Mastery 102
102 is a follow up class for after you've done a trip or two to the grocery store with coupons. It's mostly a resource class to help answer questions and discuss issues. There will also be an informal coupon swap.

Saturday, October 8, 1PM at the Fort White Library. Basic Couponing. This is a FREE class!

Mystery Shopping
Saturday, September 24th, 1-3:30PM at Santa Fe College's Northwest Campus. Mystery Shopper 101

Keep an eye on the Columbia County Library for more classes in:
Solar Cooking, Alternative Fuel Cooking, Residual Heat Cooking, Couponing, Family Budgeting, Family Entertainment without Electricity on a Budget, and Rice Socks & Sand Sacks.

Don't forget... If you would like to have me teach a class for your group, I can teach all of the above and more anywhere in North Central Florida.
Save (at) Rural Budgeting (dot) com

Friday, August 26, 2011

Upcoming Gainesville Class Reminders

Basic Couponing
Tomorrow, Saturday, Aug 27 at 4PM at the Food Lion in Gainesville. 2302 SE Hawthorne Road
Cost $5/person. Net proceeds will be donated to Children's Miracle Network.

Monday, September 19, 5:45-8:15PM at Santa Fe College's Northwest Campus. Coupon Mastery 101

Monday, September 26, 5:45-7:45PM at Santa Fe College's Northwest Campus. Coupon Mastery 102
102 is a follow up class for after you've done a trip or two to the grocery store with coupons. It's mostly a resource class to help answer questions and discuss issues. There will also be an informal coupon swap.

Saving Money with the Internet
Tuesday, September 6th, 5:30-8:30PM at Westwood Middle School. Save Money With The Internet

Mystery Shopping
Saturday, September 24th, 1-3:30PM at Santa Fe College's Northwest Campus. Mystery Shopper 101

Tailor Made Worksheets for Kids
Wednesday, September 7th, 6-8PM at Westwood Middle School. Make Worksheets for Your Child

Keep an eye on the Columbia County Library for more classes in:
Solar Cooking, Alternative Fuel Cooking, Residual Heat Cooking, Couponing, Family Budgeting, Family Entertainment without Electricity on a Budget, and Rice Socks & Sand Sacks.

Don't forget... If you would like to have me teach a class for your group, I can teach all of the above and more anywhere in North Central Florida.
Save (at) Rural Budgeting (dot) com

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Halloween Planning

At this time of year, my Halloween planning ideas start coming. I thought I'd share some Halloween carnival ideas with you. *I don't mind if you want to share these ideas, and I hope you'll try some out, but please don't just copy the whole list and post it elsewhere without asking first.*

The Witch’s Pot – Cauldron with toy lizards, bugs, tree bark, eye balls, etc. The witch asks kids to pull a specific item from her pot. The kids have to search in the pot without looking and pull it out.
Version 2. Have a second container with items in it and have kids search for items to put into the “brew.”
Version 1: Cauldron; witch costume, toy lizards, bugs, tree bark, eye balls, etc.
Version 2: Caldron; Bucket or specimen jars; witch costume, toy lizards, bugs, tree bark, eye balls, etc

Pumpkin Bowling – Bowling pins with fabric tied to them to look like ghosts. Kids roll a fake pumpkin to knock down the ghosts. Younger kids could use an orange ball (basketball).
Bowling pins; fabric; string; a fake pumpkin; orange ball (basketball).

Spider Catch – Fake spiders tied to a rolling bar. Bar rolls up and down and kids try to catch a spider. (Same idea as the duck/prize game) Kids win a prize corresponding to the spider they choose.
Fake spiders; string; rolling bar. (rolling bar can be as simple as a mailing tube suspended from a pvc frame)

The Mystery Witch
Version 1. Paper with a witch hat and face circle drawn on it. Kids draw a face on the witch while blindfolded.
Version 2. As a group, kids each draw a different facial feature on the face while blindfolded.
Version 3. Velcro/felt pieces of eyes, nose, etc. Kids put the facial features on a felt face.
Version 1. Paper with a witch hat and face circle drawn on it; blindfolded; markers; easel/tape to attach to wall
Version 2. Paper with a witch hat and face circle drawn on it; blindfolded; markers; easel/tape to attach to wall
Version 3. Velcro/felt pieces of eyes, nose, etc. ; felt face; felt board/easel/curtain to pin it to.

Belfry of Bats – Felt bats are stuck to Velcro inside a belfry. Kids use a pole with Velcro on it to retrieve as many bats as possible.
Felt bats; Velcro; belfry. (a hollow pyramid shape with a shingle look.); pole with Velcro

5 Little Pumpkins – A sawhorse “gate” 5 pumpkins sit on. Kids pitch bean bags at the pumpkins to knock them down. (For older kids, you could let them knock the pumpkin head off the headless horseman.)
sawhorse “gate;” 5 pumpkins (stuffed fabric ones are best); bean bags.
Older kid version: stuffed body-possibly on a "horse"; platform for a pumpkin  head to sit on; pumpkin; item to throw (bean bag, fake knife, fake torch, pitch fork, etc)

Vampire Fang Toss – A bowl dressed as a vampire. Kids toss vampire fangs into the bowl.
bowl; vampire costume for bowl (cape, etc); vampire fangs. (The bowl could be a wooden board with a hole cut out for a mouth to toss the teeth into.)

Rolling Eyeballs – How far can an eyeball be rolled along a “bridge” over a “crevasse?” (a beam over a construction paper pit) Tape or chalk can be used to mark distances.
eyeball balls; beam/2x4; tape or chalk; decor

Grave Hopping – Tombstones set up to hop or hopscotch on. Tombstones can be foam, rubber, carpet, or cardboard with Velcro or tape on the back so they don’t slip. Older kid version: make standing tombstones to hop over.
Tombstones - foam, rubber, carpet, or cardboard with Velcro or tape on the back so they don’t slip.
Older kid version: free standing tombstones out of styrofoam, foam blocks, cardboard, etc (something that won't hurt if it is fallen on. Be sure to have extras to replace broken ones.)

Mad Scientist Guess – Basically it’s the typical carnival game of a grid of cups and ball to toss into them, but with beakers and a ball or Halloween toy.
beakers; ball or Halloween toy. For fun, fill the beakers with colored liquid. Gatorade makes lots of fun colors. Or, use phosphorescent colors-break open light sticks & necklaces then dilute- and a black light to make it more dramatic and much more difficult. Put items into the beakers to win or to aim for or just for fun.

Bone Hunt – Fabric, newspapers, or leaves fill a coffin. Kids sift through the filler to find and extract the bones inside. They can see how many they can find in 10 seconds or they can see if they can find the parts to construct a whole skeleton. Can be played as a team or individually.
Fabric, newspapers, or leaves; coffin; bone. This is a good use of broken plastic skeletons. Can be done on any scale and bones can be for different types of creatures. 

Halloween Tale(s) – A staff person starts writing a Halloween tale. Kids contribute a couple sentences a piece to the story to make a Halloween tale. If a kid ends the story, a new one can be started. The story can be hung for people to read through the week.
large paper; markers; tape; table or easel

Monster Drop – monster pictures or stickers and put on Popsicle sticks or decorated clothespins. The kids try to drop the "monsters" into a jar. The "jar" could be made to look like a jail cell, castle, grave, etc.
monster pictures or stickers; Popsicle sticks/clothespins; wide mouth jar.

Spider Toss – Put up fake spider webbing in a corner. Kids have try to pitch spiders into the web. Spiders can be plastic, rubber, or made from pipe cleaners.
spider webbing; spiders can be plastic, rubber, or made from pipe cleaners, tape/string to hang webbing.

 Mousetrap Fishing – Set out mouse traps (yes, real mousetraps), lots of them. Give kids a fishing pole with a stuffed mouse/monster/scarecrow/rat/etc on the end. The object is to see how many traps can be caught in a single casting. The game can be played in a corner and a barrier put up for kids to not cross.
Version 2: Number the backs of the traps and have corresponding prizes. Allow the kids to only catch 1 trap.
Version 1: mouse traps, lots; "fishing pole"; stuffed mouse/monster/scarecrow/rat/etc; barrier (benches, yellow half walls, etc)
Version 2:  mouse traps, lots; "fishing pole"; stuffed mouse/monster/scarecrow/rat/etc; marker to mark numbers; prizes in numbered containers; barrier (benches, yellow half walls, etc)

Photo Boo-th – Take pictures of kids in costume and make them available via a the website.
camera, decorations

Staples: Milk, Eggs, Sugar, Ground Beef 8.25.11

I've decided to add potatoes to the basic staples list. Potatoes, like eggs, are considered a "whole food," meaning you can actually live on solely that item for a period of time. Not that you'd necessarily want to.

Albertson's $1.88/18 eggs (through 8/30)
WinnDixie $1.99/18 eggs (through 8/30) *not the best price ever, but not horrible.
CVS $1.39/doz (through 8/27) not great at all, but better than $1.85

Walgreens $3.29
CVS $2.79 after extra bucks (**Starting 8/28**)

WinnDixie is running a Make a Meal deal through 8/30. Buy 3 boxes cereal get milk, juice, donuts, fruit bowls "free" If you have coupons for any of the items on sale, sometimes it's worth it. Without coupons, it usually isn't worth it if the items are things you don't normally buy. (This is how I calculate it. Cereal should be $1.50 or less/box, milk is about $4/gal, juice has to be $1/64oz. The other items I don't buy unless they are free, so if I can use coupons and get the total to $9.50 or less, I'll buy it. It's priced at $17.97 without coupons.)

Publix $2.99 5 lb Domino Sugar $2.49 after coupon from RedPlum insert 6/26 and Sept All You (through 8/31)
Ward's $2.49 4 lb Dixie Crystal (through 8/30) $0.50/1 Dixie Crystals Granulated Sugar Rolling I'm not 100% sure the coupon matches, but I think so. So, it'd be $1.99/4 lbs

Ground Beef
WinnDixie Flanders beef patties 64 oz $6.99 = $1.75/lb (through 8/30) *can't vouch for the quality, but it's a good price poundage wise)
Albertson's 73% lean $1.99/lb (through 8/30)
WinnDixie 73% lean $2.49/lb(through 8/30)
Sweetbay 73% lean $2.49/lb (through 8/30)
Hitchcock's Ground Round $2.68/lb (8/25-27)

Albertson's 85% lean $2.98/lb (through 8/30)
Publix 93% lean $3.99/lb (through 8/24)

Albertson's  $2.50 5 lb bag (8/26-28)
Ward's $2.50 5 lb bag (through 8/30)

**Harvey's note: If you are located near Harvey's check them out on Wednesdays. They seem to be doing Wednesday specials. This week, milk, potatoes, and beef were on sale, but only on Wednesday.

Remember, if you see a price you like and you don't want to go to the distance for that store or to all of them, you can always print the ads offline and take them to Walmart for a price match.
Weekly Specials searched in Gainesville, FL: WinnDixie, Albertsons, Publix, Food Lion, Dollar General, Hitchocks,Sweetbay, Fresh Market, CVS, Walgreens, and Harveys (Keystone Heights)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

School's Starting Soon!

In someways I can't believe it's already August, and in others, school can't start soon enough!

Get ready for school
Keep an eye out for back to school festivals in your area. In High Springs, the Lion's Club will be doing an event from 10-2 on Sat, Aug 6th at the Civic Center. They're giving free hearing and eye exams to 100 children, free hot dogs and drinks to all of the kids, hamburgers and drinks for the adults, backpacks are being given to I believe 500 kids, they'll have sprots physicals, identa kid, bicycle helmets, hair cuts, the fire department and more.

Watch for more school supply sales. This is the time of year to stock up for businesses as well.

Making things easier at home
There are some things you can do to make life easier at home during the school year.

Breakfast and Lunch Menus
We have a menu for each kid. All it is is a piece of paper with lunch choices on one side and breakfast choices on the other. The lunch items are divided into food group sections with a number in each section stating how many can be chosen from each group. The menus are slipped inside gallon zip lock bags and the kids use wet or dry erase markers to indicate their choices for the next day. This way, I know what they want to have for breakfast before they get up, so I can have it ready (or if they make they're own, they don't spend all morning standing in front of the fridge or cupboard trying to decide). Lunch is decided so I can make it the night before, or they can again without the same stupefied look that can plague the decision making process. The menus are updated  with additions and crossing out things as the stock at home changes.

Backpack Hooks
We purchased pool hooks at a yard sale. They're large sturdy hooks with a hole underneath the hook. Seasonally appropriate coats are kept on a hanger hung from the hole in the hook. Backpacks hang from the hook itself. Homework is kept in the backpack on the hook at all times except when being done. This way, when it's time to go, we don't have to search for coats and backpacks.

Lunch Box Cleanup
Each child is in charge of their own lunch box. I refuse to clean up the sticky slimy old food mess in lunch boxes. Each child is in charge of their own drink bottle and lunch box. It gets emptied and cleaned out when they get home, or I get to send them with the extra lunch box (a very embarrassing one) that I have and then they get to clean both out. They also need to remember to bring home their lunch box at the end of the day, or they get the embarrassing one the next day. Most kids are capable of taking care of their own things and a little responsibility is a good thing.

This will be the first year that both kids have a required uniform to wear everyday. I'm looking forward to avoiding the issues that go with choosing clothing everyday. A good suggestion is to have them laid out before bed each night. It makes the mornings a lot easier.

Socks & Underwear
Have you ever heard the cry 20 minutes or less before it's time to leave that someone doesn't have socks or underwear. I have. Here's one solution... keep a "magic" stash where the kids can't find it of socks and underwear for everyone. Then when you hear the cry, you can come to the rescue and know it's time to re-stock the stash that night. You might want to stock a less desired set so that there will be more reason to have everyone responsible for their own clothing and not reliant on you for everything.

Notes for Home
Set up a box for notes home to be put. Then you just need to check the box each evening. The teachers usually give incentives to the kids to have notes signed or turned in on time, you just need to provide a place for them to be dropped off and possibly picked up by the kids (or you can put them in backpacks when complete).

Family Calendar
Families can have crazy schedules at times, especially with older kids. Find one place-by the door, in the kitchen, etc, where everyone will look everyday. Hang a white board, chalk board, or calendar and notepad. Keep writing utensils nearby. Let everyone update the calendar as needed so everyone knows what's going on and what to expect every day. Write reminders and notes to each other and keep a shopping list available so everyone can write down what they need. If your board is large enough, have a "wish" list and a "need" list. It's ok to write notes of encouragement for up coming challenges too. If you can, you can also have a quote of the day or week.

What Next List
When the kids were really little, I had a list of pictures hung for mornings, afternoons, and evenings. The morning one had pictures for changing clothes, including underwear, brushing teeth, using the toilet, eating breakfast, etc. The pictures were hung in a logical order so I didn't have to tell them each step of the process or quiz them on whether they did everything or not. All I had to do was to ask them if they did their "list." It gave them more independence and me more sanity. It also helped them to establish a routine.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Looking for Almost Free Groceries?

Head over to for some cheap food this week at Publix, starting Thursday, 8/4 for most stores.

Her prices are based on Atlanta, so you'll need to check your local store, but here's what it looks like so far...
You'll need the coupons. Michelle tells you where to find them.

Ocean Spray 64 oz $0.94 ea
Wishbone Dressing 16oz $0.33 ea
Skippy Peanut Butter 15-16.3oz $0.25ea  (if you buy 4 and have the tear pad, you can get free bread. 4 jars peanut butter plus 1 loaf of bread $1 sounds good to me)
Aunt Jemima Frozen Pancakes or French Toast 12.5-14.8oz $0.35ea has a post on Oral B toothbrushes possibly for $0.33ea. Today is probably the last day.

Today is also the last day for free SnackWell Cereal Bars at WinnDixie. $0.75/1 coupon If you buy 2 boxes, you get a Catalina for $3 off your next purchase. (You can use it on the same purchase if you buy something else - small is fine, maybe the toothbrush and pay a nickle or so in cash, the coupon will print and you can use it right then and probably pay nothing else.)

There are lots of "free" things at CVS this week, but you'll have to pay for at least one of them up front.  has them listed.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Trustworthy places to find free coupons

You should not pay to get coupons off the internet. You have to download the program, but as long as you're using trust worthy sites, it's really not an issue. Don't download toolbars or pay for them. You might have to give them some information for their demographic tracking, but what information you give them is up to you. I give them my correct name and address and that's about it. Everything else is made up, but I do have standard answers I use because sometimes you need to know what you told them.
and store and manufacturer websites
If you entered your home address when you signed up, they'll most likely send you coupons in the mail too.

The Sunday newspaper is the best place to get coupons. If you call your newspaper circulation desk, you may be able to get multiple copies of Sunday and you may be able to get it cheaper than you can at the store.

ALWAYS get coupons in pairs if you can so you will be ready for BOGO sales. Remember, you can use a coupon on the paid item as well as on the free item.

Also, check matchup sites. They tell you what's on sale, where to get the coupons, and when to buy the items. Here are some good sites to start with. Most of them cover more than one store. It's safe to click on any coupon link in the text of the site, but the ads on the sides may not be safe.,,,,,, Those are some to get you started.


Have you shopped at WinnDixie, Kmart, Food Lion, Albertsons, or WinnDixie (it looks like Hitchcocks has it too, but I don't remember ever getting any) and gotten a coupon from the cash register? Those are Catalinas. Sometimes, it's just coupons for future purchases, and sometimes it's almost the same as cash. Would you like to have a better idea of how to know when you'll get the cash ones? Check out CouponNetwork. It lists all of the current offers and the details so you  know when it's a good time to buy them.

A Successful Shopping Trip!

I thought I'd share my successes this weekend. I managed to save 50% on my grocery bill. Considering I purchased mainly meat, cheese, and fresh produce, that's pretty good, if I do say so myself. Here's what I did, in case you're wondering.

3 boxes SnackWell Bars $2.00 each (I had 3 $0.75/1 coupons and a $3 Catalina printed for the first 2 boxes, run as a separate order, and a $1 ran after the third box.) Total $0.75 for all 3 boxes.
3 pkgs Oscar Mayer Bun Length Hot dogs $2.50 each (1 $1/2 and 1 $1/1 coupon, printed a Catalina for $2) Total  $3.50 for all 3
1.5 lbs Bananas off the reduced rack $0.96
1.5 lbs green beans off the reduced rack $0.99

2 Tyson chicken breast packages $3.49 (2 $1/1 coupons) Total $5.98 for both
2 Dole Cesar Salad kits $2.50 (2 $0.75/1 coupons plus free salad kit with Tyson purchase) Total -$1.50

WinnDixie total spent $10.68 plus a $23.72 credit towards my $50 in fuel perks for 5 cents off/gallon

Food Lion
8 32 oz Gatorade bottles $1 each (I should not have purchased these. I should have purchased the ones at Publix, 64 oz BOGO $2.50. We all make mistakes.)
40 oz Frozen Chicken Tenders BOGO $12.99 (I couldn't find the ones at WinnDixie BOGO $10.99)
2 Red Baron pizzas $3.33 each (2 $1/1 coupons) Total $4.66 for both
3 lbs Food Lion cheese $1.67/8oz pack
Food Lion total spent $35.13 (If I had purchased chicken at Winn Dixie and Gatorade at Publix, I would have saved $5)

3 pkgs Hungry Jack pancake mix $0.99 each (B2G1 coupon) Total $1.98 for all 3
2 bags 48 oz frozen chicken wings $4.98 each
10 lb frozen chicken leg quarters $4.90
Country Style Pork Ribs $1.98/lb $9.13
Boston Butt Pork Steaks $1.48/lb $6.80
2.1 lbs Roma Tomatoes $0.88/lb $1.85
128 oz Sunny D $3.00 (I forgot my coupon. Free with $20 purchase Facebook coupon.)
12 oz bacon $3.50 (Free with $20 purchase Facebook coupon.)
1 dozen eggs $1.85 (Free with $20 purchase Facebook coupon.)
I had a Save A Lot coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase. Hitchcocks takes competitor coupons.
Hitchcocks total spent $29.62

Weekend total $75.43
for 1 doz eggs, 3 gallons of drinks, 5 lbs fresh veggies, 2 pizzas, 3 lbs of cheese, 18 cereal bars, 35.45 lbs of meat.

A note on the Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs... If I had checked the Catalina offers, I would have known to purchase 5 to get $4 in catalina coupons. Then I would have spent $5.50 for 5 instead of $3.50 for 3 (although in reality I would have only saved another 18 cents.)

Groceries for Gas

Many stores are now doing programs where if you buy $XX in groceries, you get reduced gas prices.

WinnDixie has been doing their fuel perks program for sometime now. The WinnDixie in High Springs, Florida just started the program this weekend however. For every $50 you spend at WinnDixie, you get 5 cents off per gallon of gas a specific stations. Some items in the store will give you more cents off/gallon if you purchase them. Look in the weekly ad to find those items. You can also earn 5 cents off per every $50 you spend online at special retailers if you go through the WinnDixie site first. That's a 1% savings. Personally, if I can get cash back through ebates, pennyful, mrrebates, or fat wallet, I'll do that first as long as it's more than 1%. If I can't shop somewhere through them or I'll get less than 1%, I'll go through WinnDixie.

Hitchcocks just started their own fuel program, PumpPerks. Certain items are marked with a cents off/gallon tag. If you purchase those items and scan your card when  you check out and get gas a specific stations, you'll get that amount off when you fill up.

Walmart will give you a 5 cent discount off per gallon if you use a Walmart gift card at Murphy's stations, and a 10 cent discount/gallon if you use a Walmart credit card.

CVS is running a promotion this summer for $10 gas cards if you spend $30 in specific items during the week. That's a good return on your money, 30%. You can also use coupons on the $30, so you don't actually have to spend $30 out of pocket. Watch the items though and make sure you're buying things worth the $30 and not just junk you won't use or don't need to get $10 in gas.

More Free Samples!

Kmart is now doing free samples, as well as Walmart, Target, and Sams!
Kmart currently has a free sample for Atkins bars (3 bars). After you request the sample, you can get a $3 mail in rebate for Atkins. Not too shabby.

Some of the samples the four stores are giving out are for the same items. Sometimes you can request a sample from each store, but normally you can't.

If you're requesting samples for things you may not need or use, consider donating them or giving them to Jeremy for his food drive in September in Lake City, FL.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gifts made with Felt

I just answered someone's question on Yahoo Answers about what could be made with felt for Christmas gifts. I thought I'd share the answer with you. I'll put other craft gift ideas up as we get closer to the holidays as well.

You can make lots of things from colored felt squares. The easiest and lightest would be a Christmas ornament. We have an ornament on our tree my son made out of felt. It's a yellow mitten with a white cuff and a sticker on it. Snowflakes out of white felt can be fun.

One of the best things we made was a stocking shape out of red felt. Then we filled it with about a pound of rice. The stocking can be put in the microwave for 1 minute. It makes a great hand warmer. My kids take them on the bus on cold school mornings. They can also be put in the freezer (I put them in a sandwich bag first) and used for bumps and bruises like an ice pack that doesn't melt and won't hurt skin like ice can.

You could make a felt board if you're giving gifts to a young-ish child or an adult who teaches young children or Sunday School. Just send 1 piece of felt left whole (you can attach it to a piece of chip board (cardboard like from a cereal box) and have your kids color and cut out characters and props made from felt or made from paper with a circle of felt on the back.

Puppets, small purses, and broach type pins can be easily made from felt depending on who the gift is for. Hair clips and headbands can be augmented with felt. Sachets of stronger scents or cedar can be made. Drink coasters can be made and glued on a piece of chip board or paper to give them stability. They won't be the best coasters, but it can be done. Napkin rings can be made if you put a piece of chip board or something inside a felt sleeve and sew it shut.

You could make covers for 3 ring binders. You don't have to give them the binders, you just need one to measure with. Just put a pocket in each side to slip over the cover.

Those are all ideas that can be done with felt and paper, chip board, rice, thread, needles, glue, pins, hair clips, or headbands (all pretty cheap items you may even have laying around the house). There are many other things you could make with other supplies, but not knowing your budget or what you have at home, I'd rather not make an exhaustive list of every possibility. There are many websites offering ideas of crafts to make with felt. Look around, I'm sure you'll get some good ideas.

New Coupon Class 8.27

I'll be teaching a basic coupon class in Gainesville on Saturday, August 27th at 4pm at the Food Lion on Hawthorne Road. There is a $5 charge per person. A portion of that money will go to the Children's Miracle Network.

If you're interested, come on out and join us!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Staples: Milk, Eggs, Sugar, Ground Beef 7.27.11

WinnDixie $1.99 for 18 eggs (not a terrific price, but not a bad one either)
CVS $1.49 for 12 eggs (not great but better than $1.85 or more)
Food Lion Free eggs when you buy Tropicana Orange Juice
   *There's a coupon for Tropicana: $1/1 Tropicana Pure Premium Product 7/10/2011 RP Insert
          (exp 8/31/2011)

Fresh Market $2.99 (July Tuesdays only)
Harvey's $3.00 (TODAY only)
Walgreens $3.29
I don't have the price for milk this week at CVS, but they're still running the 5 gallon milk deal. If you buy 5 gallons by August 6th, the 6th gallon will be "free." As long as you use your Extra Care Card each time, you do not have to buy 5 gallons in one trip.

Yes, as some say, you can freeze milk. However, we drink whole milk in our house and whole milk doesn't freeze well because of the high fat content. The less fat, the better it will freeze. DO NOT just put a gallon jug in the freezer. It will burst!

WinnDixie 5lb bag $3.29 (not much of a sale)

Ground Beef
Sweetbay 73% lean Ground Beef $1.99/lb
Hitchcock's Ground Chuck $2.48/lb
Albertsons 85% lean Ground Beef $2.99/lb

Remember, if you see a price you like and you don't want to go to the distance for that store or to all of them, you can always print the ads offline and take them to Walmart for a price match.
Weekly Specials searched in Gainesville, FL: WinnDixie, Albertsons, Publix, Food Lion, Dollar General, Hitchocks,Sweetbay, Fresh Market, CVS, Walgreens, and Harveys (Keystone Heights)

Monday, July 25, 2011

How to Be a Mystery Shopper - reposted

Don't ever give a company money to be a mystery shopper!

There is no fee to be a legitimate mystery shopper. It's actually fairly easy too, as long as you're ok with writing and following directions. Rurally speaking, there aren't many opportunities, but that doesn't mean there aren't any.

I have two main companies I shop through, Shoppers Critique and Mystery Shopper Services. There are many, many others you can use. To find them, I look through the oversight group, Mystery Shopping Providers Association. I use the MSPA member company search option to find companies to shop for, even though they suggest you not. I search that way because I can find companies who are located in Florida. You don't have to do it that way, I just think there's a better chance of finding Florida shops that way. They have an option to search for "shops" (that's the word that's used for mystery shopping opportunities), but I've found they're usually for shadier companies or only sample jobs that aren't really available.

After I find a company, I search the internet for scams and reviews of the company before I sign up with them. There are many that have scam alerts because people use their names to create scams, even though the company isn't a part of them, so it's not an automatic sign for me, but I do try to be aware of them. I do read reviews from other shoppers to see that they pay out for the shops scheduled. Use some common sense when you look at the reviews though too. Sometimes people can't follow directions, so they don't get paid and then blame the company.

When I've read what I feel is enough and decide it's probably a reputable company, I go through the company website listed on the MSPA's website, not the ones on the search engine. I sign up through their system. Some companies require you to be certified through the MSPA, I'm not, so I don't shop for those companies. Some companies require you to have previous mystery shopping experience. I don't think Mystery Shopper Services does, that's the first company I shopped for. Most do require you to give them a sample write up.

You might find it helpful to go to a store specifically to evaluate it for a sample write up. I recalled a recent trip through a fast food drive through and used that. I paid attention to how I was greeted, the speed of the service, how I was asked for my payment, if the order was correct, how many people were before and after me, how an incorrect order was handled-if there was an issue, and if my change/receipt was correct. The more details you can give, the better. Use actual, tangible examples, not feelings. Feelings can be helpful, but most companies don't want that. They want specifics of verbiage used, facial expressions, minutes and seconds of service and wait, notations of dirt, spots, or holes in chairs or tables, etc. 

Most companies give you the option of checks, paypal, or direct deposit for payment. Personally, I use paypal as often as I can and checks when I have to. Just a side note, anyone you give permission to deposit into your account has permission to withdraw from your account. I try to keep that list of companies as small as possible.

After you've done one shop for a company, you can tell other companies you have experience as a mystery shopper and you can sign up with them. To start with, I'd keep the list of companies you shop for small at first. They look for different things and it's easy to get shops confused in your head if you do several in one day.

Many companies limit the number of shops they'll allow you to take on any given day because of that. You can "get around" that guideline if you shop for different companies, but like I said, it can get confusing. Most of the time, you cannot take notes while you're doing the shop, so you'll want to have paper in your car to write down everything you can when you finish the shop before you go to another one. I try to do 2 or 3 at a time to justify the gas. Usually, they're for totally different types of shops though, oil change, pet shop, cell phone, restaurant. Then it's easier to keep them clear in my head.

As soon as you finish and return home, submit everything. Usually, there's an online form (normally, you can take a hard copy with you to use for notes) to fill out, then you have to scan and submit a business card or flier and any receipts you have.

Mystery shopping isn't fast cash. They have to review what you submitted, send it back to you if there are any issues, re-review your submission, send it to the client for client approval, wait for the client to pay them, then send the payment to you. It usually takes 4-8 weeks to get your reimbursement/pay. It's usually worth the wait though.

You won't get rich from mystery shopping, especially if you live in a rural area, but it can help. It's a great way to get your oil changed. Oil changes usually pay $35-$75 in addition to the reimbursement for the oil change. You have to do it anyway, so why not get paid to do it. Some things don't pay at all, like checking to see if restaurants are carding people who might be underage, but you get "free" food and drinks for it. Some pay you but don't require you to spend any money, like cell phones and car test drives.

Most of the time, the pay is in relation to the time you have to spend there and the amount of work you have to do. Test driving a car will usually pay $30-$70 because you have to call them, visit the website, and go to the lot and do a test drive. That's quite  a time commitment, plus the time to write up each stage of the shop. If you have the time though, why not. It still usually takes 2-3 hours for a test drive shop including travel time. I'm ok with $10-$20/hr.

The trick to write ups being approved is to be as detailed as you can. Tell them EVERYTHING, all of the names of the people you interacted with, the exact words used, every step of the process, the conversations you had with people, etc. The other trick is to make sure you use proper grammar and spelling. They have to present your report to their client. It needs to reflect well on them. If they have to spend lots of time editing your report, you cost them time and you won't get approved for many jobs. If they have a question on your report, address it immediately. The other trick to being approved is to follow the directions. If they tell you a scenario to play out, play it out, don't make up your own. Read and re-read the directions before you accept the shop, immediately after you accept it, just before you leave to do the shop, before you get out of the car at the shop, after you get into the car after the shop, and before the write up. Make sure you didn't miss anything. If you don't follow the directions, they can't get paid and they won't pay you.

It can be lots of fun and it can be a nice way to get a little extra money. Enjoy it. If the shops are things you're not comfortable with or you think it's too much work for the money, don't do it. You're an independent contractor, that means you have to follow their directions for the jobs you do, but you can choose what jobs you take and how often you work. My son thinks it's the coolest thing that his mom is a spy.

If you want to learn more, I teach Home Parties on How to Be a Mystery Shopper in the North Central Florida area. I'm teaching a class in September for the Santa Fe Community Ed program as well.

Make Your Food Budget Stretch

There are some ways to change your diet to make your food money go further.
To help with dinner costs...
  • Have breakfast once/week. (Pancakes, waffles, and eggs are inexpensive foods. You can add canned/frozen/fresh picked fruit. You can also add bacon bits to the pancake mix, then you don't have to have a side of bacon.)
  • Have beans and rice once/week. (Stock up on rice at WinnDixie when it's BOGO 3lb bags for $2.99)
  • Have pasta once/week. (Stock up on pasta when it's BOGO $1.39 or $1.67 when you have coupons at Publix or WinnDixie. Buy pasta sauce when it's BOGO with coupons for $1/jar, or make your own from canned tomatoes or puree when it's BOGO.)
  • Have stir fry once/week. (Have it with rice or ramen noodles. Use the ends of roasts for the meat. Any vegetable can be added. Throw in some soy & worcestershire sauce and you're good.)

  • Serve smaller portions. Most of us don't need a huge plate of food. Make the servings smaller, but allow people to go back for seconds. They'll think about it before they go back and may decide they don't need to at all. 
  • Remember the small you cut something, the less people eat. It's strange, but it works. If you're having a pizza party, have the pizza cut into 10 pieces instead of 8. Most people know they'll eat "2" or "4" pieces and will limit themselves to that number. If the pieces are smaller, they'll still only eat that number. If sandwiches are cut into quarters, instead of half, people won't eat as many sandwiches.
  • Buy roasts instead of steaks and then cut your own steaks, stew meat, stir fry, etc from that.
  • Set an eat out budget and stick to it. When you can, use coupons and certificates.
To help with lunch costs...

  • Take leftovers from dinner.
  • Take peanut butter and jelly at least once/week.
  • Buy snack type foods (chips, pretzels, etc) in larger bags and put them in baggies to take. (Pretzels are a better buy than chips, and healthier.)
  • Make your own chips at home. Bake potato slices, sweet potato slices, corn tortillas cut into wedges and top with salt, season salt, lemon juice, or whatever you like. 
  • Make non-microwave popcorn and take baggies of that. 
  • Instead of baggies, use re-usable plastic containers.
  • Buy drinks (Gatorade, soda, juice, etc) in larger containers and take them in thermoses.
To  help with breakfast costs...

  • Only eat cereal purchased on sale with coupons. ($4-$5/box is way too much for the few servings that come in a box.)
  • Eat eggs, pancakes, waffles, toast. (It stays with you better and encourages more family time in the morning.)
To help with kids wanting to eat out...
  • Have a make your own happy meal day occasionally. Make hamburgers or chicken nuggets, french fries (possibly from real potatoes), cut up fruit, include yogurt containers, whatever you want to include. Wrap each item in paper, wax paper, or make your own cardstock clam shell boxes. Let the kids decorate their own lunch bags to put it all in. Include a small trinket for fun (stickers, toy, craft kit, etc).
  • Have a make your own pizza night occasionally. If we order pizza, my son only wants pepperoni and my daughter only wants cheese. If we make our own pizza, they'll include ham, shrimp, greens, other cheeses, mushrooms, garden grown vegetables, etc. In other words, homemade pizza becomes much healthier and it's fun. If making the dough is too much of a pain, you can buy frozen bread dough cheaply. If you know someone who works at a pizza shop, you can sometimes get the expiring dough from them and freeze it yourself too cook when you're ready.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Holy Eggs, Batman!

We have 3 sets of Jumbo Coturnix Quail (5 hens to 1 rooster). They mature 8 weeks after hatching. Our birds were all mature by the end of May, middle of June. They laid sporadically during June. During most of July, we averaged 5-6 eggs/day. On Thursday, this week, we didn't get ANY eggs, not one! Well, yesterday, they made up for it and we got 18 eggs! We only have 15 hens! This morning when I went to feed and gather eggs, I found only one. After Friday's 18, I wasn't surprised. Then this afternoon, I gave them dinner and found another 9!

Last week, I told my husband it was time to clear out animals. We have too many! (2 dogs, 2 miniature horses, 5 chickens, 5 peacocks, 9 rabbits, 18 quail, 2 ducks, a 150 gallon tank of koi, and 1 betta) The rabbits are leaving tomorrow. I'd planned on getting rid of the quail too, but we're selling their eggs for $3/doz. As long as they lay at least 4 doz/week, they're paying for the feed for all of the birds, so they can stay. If they lay 2 doz every 2 days, I may consider raising more and getting into the egg business.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Staples: Milk, Eggs, Sugar, Ground Beef 7.20.11

Kmart comes to the rescue of all who didn't get eggs before Tuesday. 99 cents/doz. So you can buy eggs at Kmart before Sunday or take the ad to Walmart (or possibly a Publix within 5 miles of Kmart) and get your 99 cent eggs that way.

Fresh Market $2.99 (July Tuesdays only)
Albertsons $2.99
$3.19/gal this week at CVS, Plus the 5 gallon milk deal. If you buy 5 gallons by August 6th, the 6th gallon will be "free." As long as you use your Extra Care Card each time, you do not have to buy 5 gallons in one trip.

Yes, as some say, you can freeze milk. However, we drink whole milk in our house and whole milk doesn't freeze well because of the high fat content. The less fat, the better it will freeze. DO NOT just put a gallon jug in the freezer. It will burst!

Hitchcock's Dixie Crystals 4lb bag $2.50
WinnDixie Valu Time 4lb bag $2.99

Ground Beef
Hitchcock's Ground Beef Patties $1.98/lb
Hitchcock's Ground Beef $1.48/lb (7/21-23 only, limit 10 lbs, additional $20 req.)
Albertsons 73% lean Ground Beef $1.88/lb
Harvey's Ground Beef $1.99/lb

Weekly Specials searched in Gainesville, FL: WinnDixie, Albertsons, Publix, Food Lion, Dollar General, Hitchocks,Sweetbay, Fresh Market, CVS, Walgreens, and Harveys (Keystone Heights)

More Free Samples!

I was bumping around the internet and found Freebies are always fun, so here's a few more for today.

Newcastle Glass. You have to live in one of the states listed. I don't, but my parents do, so I'll send it to them.
Arm & Hammer Coupons. You can only print each 2 times per year, so plan when there's a sale and click on them then. They expire about 1 month after you print them.
LeatherCPR. I don't know about you, but we have lots of leather. Any product that will help keep leather is welcome around here, especially if it's free.
Gas-X Thin Strips.
Cut Spending Now Bumper Sticker. It will take you to a donation screen but I don't think  you have to contribute.

Free Samples

Here are more free samples I've found. Most of them are from AllYou.

Garnier Fructis Anti-Dandruff Sample. Walmart's Samples usually go fast.
Huggies Snug n Dry. Target's samples usually go fast too.
Quaker Oatmeal Squares. If you don't want it, consider donating it to Jeremy's food drive in Lake City. As long as you haven't requested a sample already today, you can get another.
Parent's Choice Baby Formula. Choose the type you want first and then fill out the form. If you don't need it, consider donating it to Jeremy's Food Drive or give it to a friend with an infant or as part of a baby gift. If you've already requested a sample, you can't do it again.
Eucerin Everyday Protection. Just like them and fill out the form. It doesn't look like a form to fill out, but it is.
Dove Daily Treatment Conditioner. If you've already gotten a sample, you can't get another. You can get coupons (be sure to have pop-ups enabled or you'll miss the coupon, after it prints, hit your browser's back button to print another)though for other Dove products.
Dove Insider. If you haven't done this before you should, if you like Dove products. Each month, they'll send you a sample and coupons, but you have to sign up each month. It looks like they haven't updated for July yet. Keep checking back though.
Playtex Tampons samples and coupons. If you've already requested a sample, you'll need a different email address or just get the coupon.
Purex Complete with Zout
Quiznos Sub. Just click on the link to print coupons.BOGO sub & Chips or cookie and drink WYB Sub. 
Rachael Ray Nutrish Dog Food. After you request a sample, you can get a coupon for Just 6 Treats. After you print the coupon, click you back button to print another.
U by Kotex Pads & Tampons. Click the Free Sample box in the upper right corner. There's a box there for coupons too.
Sunmaid New Taste of Tradition Cookbook. You can either download it or have it sent to you.
Aveda Men Pure-Formance Aftershave. This is a coupon to print and take to the store. You may want to click on the Find Locations link before you print and make sure you have a local store to go to. When you click on the Find Locations link, it will let you print the page to take it with you to a participating salon for a free Sensual Ritual (basically an overview of their products, but it sounds like fun if you enjoy the spa thing.)
Seattle's Best Coffee coupon. $1.50 off one 4 pack. Like them on Facebook.

Arby's Coupons and possibly free food.
Emergen-C Vitamin Drink Mix. If you don't want it, you can give it to Jeremy for his Food Drive. Only 1 per email address, so if you already requested it, you'll need a different email address, or just skip this one.
LACTAID Fast Act Dietary Supplement. If you don't want it, you can give it to Jeremy for his Food Drive.
Maggie Moo's Free Float. If you have a Maggie Moo's nearby, they're giving away free Floats tomorrow. I believe they have free items fairly regularly.
Carolina Herrera Perfume. You can request one for yourself and then for your friends (after 5 I quit requesting).
Sam's Member's Mark Baby Formula. Only 1 sample per email address.
Taster's Choice Free Sample and coupons. Limit of 1 per email and 2 per household.
SunMaid Gooseberry Patch Cookbook. Download.
Stevia Sweetner. Don't forget to scroll down to finish the form.

Have fun with Today's free samples! Starting in a week, it'll be just like Christmas. And look, if you save some, you'll have free stocking stuffers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sunday Newspaper $0.67 Each!

A friend told me she was able to receive as many Sunday papers as she wanted from the Gainesville Sun for only 67 cents per copy! She's received the daily paper for years and lives in Starke, so I figured it was special just for her. Well... I called today and low and behold, they'll even do it out here in Fort White! Even better yet, I don't have to get every paper, just Sunday! That's so cool! It's way cheaper than $1.50 each. Now I can get 2 papers for the price of one. And 4 for less than the 2 I was getting. That should make hubby happy. :)

Just thought I'd share the news. No more forgetting to buy papers, I can spend less money on papers, I can spend less on gas to get the papers, and I can have more time to go through coupons. All pluses. The only "bad" part is I have to pay for 6 months in advance.

Happy Couponing!

Calculating the Price Per

Have you ever tried to compare to products in the store but couldn't because they were different sizes? Sometimes the tag on the shelf helps, but sometimes it doesn't. So, here's a quick reference...

On your calculator (or phone) enter the cost of the item, then divide by the quantity of units (ounces, pounds, square feet, etc).

example: the 4 lb bag of sugar is $2.99, the 5 lb bag of sugar is $3.29 which is cheaper?
So this time, the 5lb bag is cheaper.

Don't you love math?

Sometimes it's not so simple. Toilet paper is very hard to compare because of ply's and square sizes vary.

Just for reference:
16 oz/lb
128 oz/gallon
a standard loaf of bread has 22 slices a sandwich loaf has 24 slices
4 quarts/gallon
2 pints/quart

Cheap Staples: Milk, Eggs, Sugar, Ground Beef

Harvey's is running a special. If you buy 2 packages of Borden cheese, you get eggs free! Borden cheese is 2/$4 which is the maximum I'll pay for cheese, but paying that and getting the eggs free makes a good deal. 
Albertsons has the best Egg deal this week $0.88/doz. This is the cheapest you'll find eggs! I believe there is a limit of 2. So you'll have to make multiple trips if  you want more than 2 doz. Despite popular belief, eggs actually keep for a good amount of time in the refrigerator. Older eggs are better for hard boiling. Fresher eggs are better for baking. You can freeze eggs in ice cube trays with a little salt, if you want to.
Winn Dixie this week are $1.99 for 18 eggs. It's not the best price for eggs, but it's a good price.

There are several coupons available for discounts on eggs. You MIGHT find a good deal if you have any of them, depending on the price of the required item.

Publix $2.99/gallon!! Only this upcoming sale week. If you sales start Wed, it'll end Tuesday. If you sales start Thurs, it'll end Wednesday. (Check your store first! I don't know if all of them are doing this deal.)
Harvey's has TG Lee milk BOGO for quarts of whole milk. It doesn't say what the cost is however. If you were to buy a gallon at $3.85, the BOGO quart would be $1.93. If it's less than that, you're ok. If it's less than $1.50, it's the same as Publix.
Milk is on special at CVS for the next few weeks. I called and they can't give me details on dates. The manager said he believes it runs through September (Don't take that as a guarantee, I'll try to get more info). If you buy 5 gallons, the 6th gallon will be "free." As a general rule, CVS and Walgreens have the cheapest milk, usually around $3.19-$3.39/gallon. Right now, it's $3.99/gallon. If  you divide it out (3.99-3.69=0.60x5=3.00) it means your 6th gallon costs $3.00 which is still better than the $3.85+ at the grocery store.
Yes, as some say, you can freeze milk. However, we drink whole milk in our house and whole milk doesn't freeze well because of the high fat content. The less fat, the better it will freeze. DO NOT just put a gallon jug in the freezer. It will burst!

WinnDixie $3.29/5 lbs = $0.66/lb
Sweetbay $2.99/5 lbs = $0.59/lb

Ground Beef
Albertson's 73% lean $1.99/lb 7/15-7/17 only
Sweetbay 80% lean patties $1.99/lb
Sweetbay 80% lean ground chuck value pack $2.00/lb

Coupons in ads: Hitchcocks ($5/$50), Albertsons
Weekly Specials searched in Gainesville, FL: WinnDixie, Albertsons, Publix, Food Lion, Dollar General, Hitchocks,Sweetbay, Fresh Market, CVS, Walgreens, and Harveys (Keystone Heights) 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Frustrating Farm Life

You never know what's going to happen from day to day when the weather, animals, plants, and kids have a say in it.

A few weeks ago, I thought things were going so well. The greenhouse was doing well, the goose and the chicken were sitting on eggs, we had the quail (well, they had their struggles).... Well, I told you we lost one goose and I sold the gander. (What's the point of having a gander if there's no goose and he's too old to eat?) The chicken ran away for a couple days, so I was incubating goose and chicken eggs, both had been set on for a while, but I wasn't sure exactly how long. I gave up on the goose eggs when I knew it had been at least a week past their guestimated hatching date. I gave up on the chickens too. Later the next night, I decided to stay up late and low and behold, there was chirping coming from those chicken eggs. I quickly turned the incubator back on. We had 4 hatch! Pretty good since I'd given up on them.

We acquired peacocks of varying ages and ducks this summer. We had a regular farm going. Well, since, white flies have taken over the greenhouse. I refuse to spray anything on my plants, "organic" or otherwise. They've left the tomatoes alone this year and they're not really bothering the herbs, strawberries, peppers, or sweet potatoes, but everything else is struggling. Yesterday, we lost 3 baby peacocks (2 to heat, 1 was too young) and one more today (from a chicken attack yesterday). Earlier last week, we lost our new buck rabbit, probably because of heat.

We have 2 miniature mares. One is doing really well and the other hasn't been able to keep weight on. We've "wormed" her a few times and she's still struggling. After talking to several people, the consensus is she may be pregnant. It is possible and if so, she should foal in the next month. After a struggle with the kids yesterday, I decided I've just had it. I'm done! We found a buyer for the rabbits. We found a buyer for the 4 chicks. We'll keep the horses for now and we've changed the feed schedule to see if it helps. If she foals, we'll keep her, if not, we'll find a new home for them. We'll keep the peacocks and chickens and ducks because they're easy. We hardly even feed the ducks, they keep the pond clean and get plenty to eat on their own. The quail have laid 12 eggs in the past two days, if we can sell their eggs for $3/doz and they continue to lay a dozen every 1-2 days, they'll pay for their own food and they can stay.

I hate to get rid of animals, but when we spend so much time taking care of them and so much (even though it's not that much, it adds up) to feed them compared to what we get from them, it just doesn't seem worth keeping them. I like storing food "on the hoof," as it's called, but it's a lot of time. We will probably get more rabbits later, when it's cooler, but if we get rid of the horses, we'll be done with horses. Besides, who really wants to eat a horse?

Just thought I'd share a little farm life. I wish it were more uplifting. I enjoy the security in knowing that we have them. I enjoy seeing life's miracles when we have animals and plants producing, I just wish it were as easy as opening a box.

How to Organize Coupons-in and for the store

Going to the store with a sort of list a binder/folder/or stack of coupons and a flier is a bad idea. I've been there. Talk about stressful, especially if you have kids &/or supportive but non-couponer spouse, in tow. It also takes longer to shop and when it's time to swipe your card and pay, you're in for a shock.

Spending the time it takes to organize on the front end before you go to the store helps A LOT. At a minimum, go without kids with a list of what coupons to use for what items and know exactly what you'll buy. It'll still take longer to shop than it needs to, but it won't be as stressful and you'll have an idea of what to expect at the counter.

There are several ways you can help yourself cut down on time and frustration. I'll share a few of them, but you'll ultimately need to find what works best for you. There are a few steps involved, so I'll break the process into steps and you can determine what system works best for you in each step and create your own system that way.

Determine what you will buy and what coupons to use
1. You can use the weekly fliers and compile a list of what you feel are good specials you want and then go to a coupon database or your binder/file and find the corresponding coupons.
2. Go to a matchup site for your primary store, see what the author suggests, and buy all of the superbuys for that week at that store. Use their coupon list to find the coupons you have available to you. (Keep in mind, there will be regional differences.)
3. Go to's grocery comparison. List what you're looking for. Use their store suggestions (keep in mind it's not always 100% accurate.) Use the coupon database to find the corresponding coupons.
4. Determine what you need, look through your area store's matchup sites, determine whether to go to one store or several. Compile a list of items and corresponding coupons (based on the matchup site's suggestions) for each store.
5. Browse the matchup sites and see if anything hits your fancy and make lists of items, stores, and coupons.
What I do: I look through the super deal sections of the matchup sites for my area. I decided if it's worth going to one store or multiple stores (sometimes I don't go at all that week). I copy and paste the item and corresponding coupons from their list for the items I'm interested in into a Word document with the name of the store at the top of each page. Then I determine if I have the coupons and how much money I have to spend that week (that last thing usually narrows my list down quite a bit) and if I have need of/room to store the items.  Then I print the Word document, that's my shopping list.

Pull the necessary coupons:
If you have a binder, you're going to flip through the pages and pull the appropriate coupons based on your list/findings. If you have a file system, you're going to find and clip the appropriate coupons. (Binders take more time, with that time being spent primarily when you get the paper. Filing systems take less time overall, but more time when it comes to pulling the coupons for your shopping trip.) If you need internet coupons, you'll either have printed them earlier and need to locate them or you need to print and cut them out. (To save paper, whenever possible I re-use paper that's only been printed on one side and print coupons on the backside. Or if the coupon only uses a small portion of the page, I flip the page over and print other coupons on the bottom, that takes a little practice so you don't print over or directly behind other coupons.)

Organizing the coupons to take to the store:
Organize them by store or by product. And then:
1. Just leave them in a stack of whatever order and hand them to the cashier. (not recommended)
2. Organize them by aisle/order of shopping at the specific store(s)
3. Organize them according to your list order
4. Organize them by general category but not necessarily by aisle.
What I do: I have all of my coupons taped into my binder with a small piece of tape at the top of the coupon. After I print my Word list, I transfer the coupon and the tape to the appropriate location on the list. I don't worry if they overlap or hide part of the list, or exactly what order anything is in on the list. I can pretty much see them all and by the time I've selected the items, found the coupons, and taped the coupons onto my list, I have a pretty good idea of what I'm shopping for, so I don't worry about zigzagging all over the store too much.

Shopping with coupons:
1. Put the coupons in a coupon wallet all together at home in the order you decided and move them from one pocket to another as you pick up items.
2. Keep the coupons in your hand and go through the stack one by one selecting products as you flip through the coupons in your hand. (definitely not for the parent with small children at the store)
3. With no thought about the coupons, just buy what's on your list, knowing you have coupons for some of them.
4. Purchase the items on your list and go through the coupons in an out of the way place in the store before you go through the checkout line.
What I do: My coupons are taped to my list, so as I put an item in my cart, I transfer the tape and the corresponding coupon to the product. That way, I don't have to organize them at or before I get to the cashier.

Checking out with coupons:
1. Hand the wad to the cashier with no thought as to if you even bought all of the items or not (not recommended)
2. Hand the stack of coupons for the items you purchased to the cashier. Either at the beginning or the end of the order.
3. Hand the coupons to the cashier for each item as it's rung up. (IF you do this, have the items in the same order as they are on the belt.)
4. As you're rung up or after the cashier has rung you up, go through the coupons, selecting them while the cashier (and everyone in line behind you waits) (also not recommended-because the non-couponers will think even less of those of us that do and will probably be impatient, but mainly because you'll be concentrating on your coupons and miss watching to make sure everything, including the coupons rings up correctly.).

What I do: Because my coupons are taped to the products, when the cashier is checking me out, he/she can see what I have coupons for, knows if I have the correct item for the product, knows if a price is needed for the coupon and can either write it in then or can wait and knows about where on the receipt to find the price, and I can watch the screen to make sure everything rings up correctly. It makes checking out much less stressful. The Publix cashiers love it when I do it that way. *** If I have a $X/$XX coupon, I take the coupons off the items as I place them on the belt, so they're in the same order as the products were scanned in, and I put the $X/$XX on top. Whoever takes the coupons off the products (the cashier or myself) just folds the tape over.

Order of coupon submission:
The order in which you give your coupons to the cashier can affect your total and which coupons are accepted by the register. Having them organized at least somewhat will help your bottom line. This is a general guideline, there are circumstances in which you might want to change things slightly, but I'm not going to list every possible scenario here.
1. Reward/Loyalty card
2. Coupons that require a total bill of $XX amount (Gas/Gift card offers and $X off your order of $XX or more)
3. Coupons that require an amount be written in on them, usually buy this get that free.
4. Manufacturer coupons
5. Store coupons for specific products
6. Store coupons for $X off your order when they don't require a minimum purchase.
What I do: This is the order I submit coupons in, but because they're taped to my products, I arrange the products in this order on the belt.

General Checking out Thoughts:
Most people are at least a little nervous, the newer they are, the more nervous they are. After you get established and you know you're not trying to scam the system, especially if you're with a cashier you've built a rapport with, you won't be so nervous anymore. People are nervous because they don't want to mess up, they don't want to "cause a scene," they don't want to hold others up, some of it is nervous excitement because they're saving money.

If an item doesn't ring up how you thought it would, let the cashier know. It could be: you read the wrong sign/label; it could be the item was on sale, but isn't now, and no one removed the tag; you were going by what the matchup site told you and it was for a different region; or you picked up the wrong item. All of those are possible and that's why you need to watch as items are rung up. It's not uncommon to have at least one thing ring "incorrectly."

Also watch to be sure your coupons ring correctly. Normally, it's not a coupon price that's the issue, but usually a coupon might not go through because of a computer or human error. It's your job to watch for those errors and point them out. Sometimes you misread the coupon and didn't fulfill the requirements, it's ok, it happens to everyone. Sometimes it has to do with the order the coupons were rung up in. Sometimes coupons (especially cat food for some reason) don't like to ring up at all, no matter what. Sometimes the cashier misses one or forgets to scan a double coupon twice.

If something doesn't work out how you expected-either because of the coupon or the price, ask the cashier to take it off your order. It doesn't make any difference to them and no one will think any less of you (if they do, their opinion doesn't matter anyway). It's your money. Spend it how you want.

By the time you've made your list, found the coupons, picked up the items, and seen them rung up, you should know what you bought. Look over your receipt. Is it right? Make sure. The statistic on incorrect receipts is amazingly higher than you think it would be. If you have issues, take it to the customer service desk immediately. Don't make a big fuss, just ask questions.

Don't argue with the cashier or manager. It's not worth the time and energy. If it's a big deal to you, have the item(s) removed from you bill or have the whole order refunded if it's that bad. If there are one or two small things that are in the store's favor this time, realize next time, there will probably be one or two small things in your favor. Pick your battles, don't stress over unnecessary stuff. Enjoy your savings and be proud of yourself.

How to Organize Coupons-at home

You've probably now found you love getting that final number on your grocery receipt. You enjoy coming home and sharing (bragging) about how well you did at the store. But when you've had a busy week and not been able to clip or organize those coupons from Sunday and it's Saturday night and tomorrow you're going to get your Sunday papers and now you've got two weeks or more piled up, it can be overwhelming. Sometimes you can call in help and sometimes you can't. Here are some tips to help you whether you've been in that spot or you're just starting out.

Every person is different and not everyone uses their coupons or shops in the same way. If you need to cut down on the amount of time you spend couponing or you're just starting and you don't want to make this be your full-time job, you can go with the filing method.

Because of the matchup websites, you really don't need to clip any coupons unless you're going to use them. All you need to do is set up a filing system. The number of papers you receive will determine the container you need. If you only get 2 papers a week, you can probably fit them in an expandable folder with divisions in it ($4-$25). If you get 6 or more papers per week, you're probably better off with a file storage box/tote or a desk drawer with hanging folders, either way, use hanging folders. To keep the amount of space needed as small as you can, thumb through the inserts, if you have the time, and remove the store fliers and pages without coupons you don't need. Write the date of the newspaper really big on the front page of the insert (VERY IMPORTANT). Do the same with store coupon booklets. Then file them by date in your system. The matchup site will tell you the date and insert in which you'll find the coupons you need. Then you just clip them when you need them. If you need to find a coupon, use the coupon database on the matchup site, most of them have one. For other coupons like blinkies and internet coupons, you can use a small accordion file like a normal coupon sorter and file them by product. Just keep that container inside your larger one up front somewhere.

I like having a binder with the coupons organized in it. So, I clip 2 paper's worth of inserts each week and file any other inserts in a filing system by date. When I'm clipping, to make things more expedient, I put two inserts together at a time, sorting the pages and matching them up to create 1 SmartSource or  Red Plum  with two of each page. Then I cut both pages out simultaneously. As I'm cutting, I sort them into folders (1 folder for each category (meat, personal care, cold, dry goods, etc). Because they're in envelopes by category, if I'm interrupted, I can put them down and not worry about pets and kids disturbing them and when I'm ready to put them in my binder, I can do one category at a time without having to flip back and forth all of the time. Also, by sorting them into envelopes as I'm cutting, if I don't have time to file them all immediately, I can still find the coupon if I need it and if I don't get to it before the next paper, I can just add more coupons to the envelope and put them all in my binder at the same time later.

If you don't have time to clip at all, but want to, just file the insert for now and clip them when you have time. Just make sure you put the date on the front of the insert. Then you'll have them and be able to find what you need when you  need it and you won't have to go through an enormous stack of coupons to find the needle in the haystack. When you have to spend 30 minutes looking for a 30 cent coupon, it's really easy to get discouraged.

As far a categories goes, you'll find what works best for you. Some people sort them by expiration date, others by grocery aisle in their primary store. I have my sorted by type of product in a general category and then broken down further within that category by having pages devoted to specific products. For example, I have a "personal care" category, within that category, I have a page for body wash/bar soap, a page for deodorant, a couple pages for shaving products, several pages for dental care (I tried sorting mouthwash, toothpaste, and toothbrushes separately, but many coupons are for more than one of those things, so it wasn't possible), etc. My general categories are beverages, cleaners-dish, cleaners-laundry, cleaners-other, personal care, general merchandise-paper, general merchandise-pets, general merchandise-air fresheners, general merchandise-batteries, general merchandise-other, Food-dry goods, Food-cereal, Food-canned goods, Food-dairy, Food-cold, Food-meat, Store $X/$XX coupons, Non-grocery, and Restaurant.

Don't let time and clipping discourage you from a good thing, just find a system that works for your organizational and personal lifestyle.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cheap Paper and School Supplies

Looks like the school supply sales are starting early this year, or at least it seems that way to me. Office Max has folders and pencil sharpeners for a penny and others that are cheap with their reward program. Office Depot has many items that end up being free because of their reward program.Walmart has some of their school supplies on sale already. If you cannot get to Office Max or Office Depot easily and you can get to Walmart, you can take their fliers there (or print them off the internet) and Walmart will match the prices, but they will not match reward offers. Target has free sharpies with their online coupon. Keep an eye out over the next month is when you should try and stock up on your office and school supplies this is when they're the cheapest. Also, watch for events with backpack giveaways. I know there are some scheduled for August. Keep in mind it's nice to get some of the cheap sale items and donate them to the backpack programs.

Summer's halfway over and school's around the corner.

Baby Shower Gift Idea

Have you ever been invited to a baby shower but been short the cash to bring a nice gift or not been sure what to bring? Here's an idea for you.

I use a container (a box bottom wrapped in gift wrap, a basket I had around the house, a gift bag-with some weight in the bottom-a rice sock will work nicely, or even a larger plastic container mom can use again) stuff it with something (shredded paper or stuffing covered with tissue paper or wrapping paper to look nice if you don't have enough tissue or easter grass) then use straws or bamboo skewers and tape coupons on them like flags, you can twist the coupons so they wrap around the "stick," then add some other items to the basket to fill it out.

You can get samples and coupons from many places, just register yourself as the expecting parent. Parents always have to buy supplies for their babies, giving them coupons is a way to help them save money on things they'll need to purchase anyway and it gives them the option to choose the brands, sizes, colors, etc they want and need so you don't have to guess.

Places to get coupons and samples:
Enfamil, Similac, Gerber, Pampers, Huggies, Luvs, Publix, WinnDixie, Food Lion, Save A Lot
Payless Shoe stores in the past has given one pair of free baby shoes per baby away if you go in and request them.
babytobee-no need to do the other offers, babiesonline-you decide what you think is a good idea to do

Have a terrific shower!

More Free Samples

Not all free samples are for exciting things, but it's always fun to see what you can get for free. Here are a few I found, thanks to AllYou.

*A Note on filling out internet forms for samples and coupons. 1st make sure you use a separate email account set up just for receiving these "junk" emails. Use your real name, in case there might be a rebate that needs to have your name on it. Use your real street address so you can receive future samples and coupons in the mail. Use a fake birthday, but one that's still close to your day in case there are bonuses sent out for birthdays, but the year doesn't matter as long as you're over 18. On any other questions, income, marital status, etc, it's up to you whether you give the correct information or not. I NEVER do the "surveys" for free items if you just do one of the following offer things. I never remember to cancel them and they're not worth my time. What you choose to do is up to you. One hint, choose one password to use in conjunction with your "junk" email for requesting samples and coupons. Choose something different than your normal passwords though.

Flexitol Foot Creme Just click on the link on the left for Free Samples and then fill out the form.
Natural Nibbles Dog Treats Click on the Free Samples sticky note on the bottom right and fill out the form.
Home Made Simple Booklet containing $35 in coupons.  Just fill out the form.
Parent's Choice baby formula If you know of anyone having or that has a baby you can give this as a gift, or give it to Jeremy for his Guiness World Record food drive in September. Just choose your sample choice and fill out the form.
Jiffy Recipe Booklet When our children were in kindergarten, we found a box of Jiffy mix muffins made into mini muffins was the cheapest way to go for snack for the kids. We just baked them the night before and put them in ziploc bags and hoped they didn't get crushed. The kids and the teachers loved them and looked forward to our kids' snack days. After you request the booklet you have to confirm it in your email.
Dove Daily Treatment Conditioner Dove often has samples and coupons. Check their site once a month to find more.
Playtex Sport Tampon sample and coupon Even if you don't need/use these, you can give them to someone who does.
Purex Laundry Detergent Just fill out the form.It will give you a choice of a sample or a $1 coupon. The sample takes 12 weeks to arrive (it'll be like Christmas when you just get random free packages in the mail). If you regularly use Purex, the $1 coupon may be of more use to you. They often go BOGO at WinnDixie.
BeechNut Starter Kit The kit includes 2 jars of baby food and a coupon for a free box of cereal. If you don't need baby food, use this as a baby shower gift with coupons for other baby products or give it to a friend who has a baby or donate it to Jeremy's food drive.
Emergen-C sample. If this isn't something you use, you can donate it to Jeremy as well.
NESCAFE Tasters Choice This is an assortment of their single serve flavors. There are coupons as well. Once again, if you don't need them, Jeremy can add them to his food drive.
BreathRight strips I don't know how they make money on these, they're constantly giving away samples and high value coupons. Just fill out the form.
Prilosec OTC If you qualify for the free sample based on their form, you can get a free sample. Isn't it funny they give out free samples and yet it's one of the most commonly shoplifted items in the grocery store?
Free Movie from VUDU If you have a PS3, Blu Ray Player and HDTV, or Boxee, you can get 1 free trial of their movie service. After the free trial, you can rent or purchase movies. The account is free and I don't believe there are any subscription fees, so you can just watch the free movie and not do it again if you want.
FLIX Interdental Sticks I'm not sure, but this looks to be a UK company. It didn't say they wouldn't ship a sample to the states, so give it a try and see if you get a gift in your mailbox.
Miracle Whip They'll send you 2 free sample packets. Click on "Free Sample" at the top of the screen.
Fiber Choice You can click on the "free sample" button at the bottom as well as the "$2 coupon" button on the right.
Zantac 150 Just fill out the form.

I think you'll agree, that's enough samples for today. Enjoy the shower of gifts in your mailbox.