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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Random Acts of Kindness

While we were in Disney this month, someone bestowed upon us a Random Act of Kindness. We were in Animal Kingdom and sitting on a bench trying to figure out what to do next. It was a pretty secluded bench in the games area of Dinoland. A young couple walked over to us and handed Charlie a small stuffed dinosaur. They had won it at one of the games and must have felt that Charlie would be much more happy with it than they would. Well, I believe they were right. That dinosaur is almost his favorite stuffed animal. The whole rest of the week we were there, that dinosaur had to be with him at all times. Even still, the dinosaur shows up everywhere he is around the house. And don't even think about losing it at bed time!

I'll bet that couple has long forgotten this act of kindness, but my 5-year-old has not. Neither have I. My thoughts constantly revert back to that day, and I'm glad they do, because that is when I decide I must bestow a Random Act of Kindness myself. Some recent RAOKs I have done include leaving coupons on store shelves, sending coupons to random people, and opening a door for a woman with a walker while I was passing by. I know there are others, but these stand out in my mind.

What Random Acts of Kindness have you done lately?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers

I picked up the Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers on a whim (combining a coupon with a sale, of course) and paid $1. I normally don't buy frozen foods, but I figured it would be good to try and review. Thank goodness I did not pay full price (but, then again, I don't pay full price for ANYTHING anymore LOL)! I'm a little disappointed that I paid anything for it at all, really.

I had the Grilled Basil Chicken flavor. As I was looking at the directions, my first thought was, "this looks complicated". The 'Heat' instructions were simple enough, just put it in the microwave for 5 minutes. That I can handle. But then there were separate 'Serve' instructions. You have to take the "basket" of noodles, chicken, and veggies out and dump the contents into the bowl of sauce, then stir it around. While executing the dump, I dropped part of the basket's contents onto the table. Had I been at home, I would have scooped it up and put it back in. Since I was at work, I passed on that. So I lost some right from the get go.

So I sit down to eat it, thinking how yummy it was going to be because it smelled heavenly. But when I took my first bite, there was almost no flavor at all! I thought, "OK, it was just the first bite, maybe I need to stir it some more or something. Give it a chance." Nope. By the time I was halfway done with it, I still had tasted no yumminess whatsoever. I could only down half of it before I threw it in the garbage. Very disappointing!

Bottom line: While the concept of a quick, healthy, steamed lunch is a great one, I tend to lean towards those that will offer some taste as well. They could have saved themselves some money by omitting the sauce altogether and it wouldn't have changed the taste at all. Try Stouffer's macaroni and cheese (in the red box). Not nearly as healthy, but a much higher yum factor!

Monday, October 27, 2008

More Giveaways!!

Over at Frugal Finds From Your Frugal Friends, they are giving away a $5 Old Navy gift card. Also, score at $10 Barnes & Noble gift card. Wisconsin Mommy is giving away a $25 BP gift card. Who couldn't use free gas??

Enter more giveaways at Bloggy Giveaways.

Good Luck!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Macy's 150th Birthday Celebration

Macy's is celebrating 150 years! Go to Macy's to print a 20% savings pass to use in stores until 10/26. They are also giving away FREE items! And today when we went, the were giving away free $15 gift cards to use today only. My husband and I both got 1, so we got $30 worth of merchandise for free! We ended up getting 2 blanket sleepers and a pair of pants for Elizabeth. Very cool!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ways to Save Money

Since we're all trying to figure out how exactly we're going to make it in this horrible economy, I figured it might be a good time to write about some ways to save money. I hope you find these helpful!

  1. The very first thing I did when I decided I needed to slash some bills was join www.hotcouponworld.com. This is a free website that joins together money savers around the world to share money saving ideas. You can trade coupons, learn about sales, free samples, compare prices of different stores, etc.
  2. Rite Aid has a fabulous rebate program called Single Check Rebates. Each month, Rite Aid begins a new Single Check Rebate program. They include dozens of products that you can purchase and receive money back. Many of these items are free after the rebate. You enter each receipt into their website and can request 1 check per month. You get your check in a couple of weeks. To learn more about this program, go to https://riteaid.rebateplus.com
  3. At the grocery store, purchase everything combining sales and coupons. This maximizes my savings. I have been able to get my grocery bill down to $300 per month for a family of 4 (with 1 still in pull ups!).
  4. If your grocery store offers gas deals, make sure you take them! I take advantage of every gas deal I possibly can at Giant. When they have groups of products that will earn $0.20/gal for purchasing so many, I try to get that many of the cheapest item and use that many coupons. The last time I filled up my minivan, I only paid $0.91/gal ($13 total)!
  5. Use insulated curtains for all of our windows to keep the heat out in the summer and the cold out in the winter.
  6. Take your screens out of the windows in the winter. The metal in the screens will absorb the heat from the sun preventing it from coming in through the windows. Removing the screens maximizes the amount of heat that enters the home through the windows.
  7. Stockpile non-perishable items when you find a good deal. If something like shampoo goes on sale for $1 and you have a few $1/1 coupons, buy as many as you can! These will last forever and you don’t have to worry about running out. You can do this with all health and beauty products, cleaning products, canned goods, etc.
  8. Run all of your errands at one time. Travel to the farthest store first and then work your way back home. This saves on gas.
  9. Take advantage of the Flexible Spending Account offered through your employer. This allows money (you choose the amount) to be taken out of your paycheck before taxes and put into an account to be used for medical expenses (dr. appts., prescriptions, OTC medications) and/or daycare.
  10. Fill your freezer. The fuller your freezer, the more efficiently it will run.
  11. Shop for new insurance quotes (auto & homeowners) each year to ensure you are getting the best deal. Sometimes you may already be getting the best deal you can but sometimes you may not.
  12. Check to see if you can pay your mortgage bi-monthly instead of monthly. Pay half of the mortgage 2 times per month. You are still paying the same amount each month, but you’re saving yourself tons in interest and will pay off your home years earlier. (A similar effect will occur by paying 1 extra full payment per year).
  13. Call your credit card companies to see if they will lower your interest rates. They most often will. If they don’t, transfer your balance to a credit card that is offering 0%. Just be careful with this one. You must be diligent about watching that promotion end date! You’ll want to pay it off or transfer the balance again before that date.
  14. Use a water heater blanket.
  15. Create a budget and stick to it. Use cash for the grocery store and spending money. This way, you are more likely to stay within the budgets for those areas.
  16. Use a gas credit card that offers cash back and only use it for gas purchases. Depending on how much gas you purchase, this can be a significant savings.
    Just be sure to pay it off each month so you are not paying interest!
  17. If you have PPL electric, check out their website http://www.pplelectric.com/. They offer an analysis tool to show where you can save on electric in your home.
  18. Pay your bills online! I pay all of our bills online through my bank. It is free and I haven’t bought checks or stamps in a long time. I still have to write the occasional check, but this definitely cuts costs.
  19. Check the clearance aisles of your favorite stores. I know at Giant, Rite Aid, CVS, and Walmart you can use coupons on clearance items. This means cheap or even free items!!!
  20. I have a price book where I keep regular prices of the things I buy on a regular basis of the 3 stores I shop (Giant, BJs, and Walmart). BJ’s takes manufacturer coupons and their own coupons. Many times, BJ’s is the cheapest place to get certain items. But one of the other stores may have a sale that makes it cheaper there. I reference the price book to determine the cheapest place to purchase an item at any given time.
  21. Print coupons online. Sites like www.smartsource.com & www.redplum.com offer printable manufacturer coupons each month. I know Giant, Target, and Walmart take internet printed coupons.
  22. I joined My Points (www.mypoints.com) a few years ago. I earn points by clicking on emails they send me or purchasing things at my favorite online retailers through their website. You can then cash in your points for gift cards to many different restaurants and retailers. I normally use my points to purchase a restaurant gift card to use for a date night with my husband.
  23. Use The Caregivers Marketplace (www.caregiversmarketplace.com) to get rebates on my purchases of Pull Ups. This site offers rebates on brands caregivers use like Pull Ups, Huggies, Good Nites, Nature Made, Poise, Citrucel, Cottonelle, Gold Bond, Icy Hot, and Cortizone 10, to name a few. You don’t have to be a caregiver to receive the rebates, just purchase the items, print the form and fill it out, and send in the form with the original receipt(s). They will send the rebate a few weeks later.
  24. Sign up for free samples. I find out about different free sample offers through Hot Coupon World and sign up for any I am interested in. A lot of times you will also receive high value coupons with your free samples. These samples are great for traveling or even stocking stuffers.
  25. Sign up for Pssst (pssst.generalmills.com.) This is a program offered by General Mills to try their products for free. Then you fill out a survey about what you tried. I just signed up and received a Macaroni Grill boxed meal. When I opened the box, tons of $1.25/1 coupons fell out too.
  26. Also sign up for BzzAgent (www.bzzagent.com). This is a similar program, but in addition to a survey, they want you to tell people about the product and then report back about what you told them and their response.
  27. Sign up for e-newsletters from the manufacturers of the products you buy. They will often send coupons in those newsletters that you can print and use.
  28. Sign up for e-newsletters from the stores you shop. There are often coupons in those newsletters as well. I know that Giant always has a coupon in their monthly e-newsletter. This month, I received $2 off $5 produce purchase. And you can print and use these as many times as you want before the expiration date.
  29. Take the bus to work (if this is an option). I only spend $45/month on the bus pass and I save tons in gas money. While I only live about 5-10 miles from where I work, sitting in all that traffic really drained my gas tank. Now I am not only saving money, I am also helping the environment (and I can sneak in some alone time with a magazine).

Some Super Duper Giveaways!

I would like to let you know about a coupon bag giveaway at Dani Saves Money! Click the link to enter the drawing and win one of the beautiful coupon bags! Also, Polly at Perfectly Provident is giving away assorted makeup! You have until Sunday, October 26 to enter both. Good luck!

October Rite Aid Stash

It was a good month at Rite Aid!!! And since I had $40 in gift cards ($10 from the P&G rebate last month and $30 from a prescription transfer), they literally paid me over $40 to get the products!!! Everything I bought this month was Free After Rebate, plus I had a few coupons, plus some manufacturer rebates, plus the Pull Ups will be rebated ($1/package) from Caregivers Marketplace, plus I had the $40 in gift cards. Whew! And we'll never feel sick in this house again!!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crazy at Kmart

Saturday was Charlie's birthday. He turned 5 and is thrilled about it. We decided not to have a party since we just returned home from Disney. We figured that was enough craziness for one month. So instead, we took him to Kmart. Under normal circumstances, this would be a lame gift. However, on this particular day, the store was having a CARS event. We'd never been to one of these events, but we read that there was a chance to be able to buy a few CARS cars that were not out in stores yet. That made Charlie ecstatic. He talked about it for a month. We didn't know what to expect, but were hoping, for Charlie's sake, that it wasn't some impossible feat.

Not knowing what to expect, we showed up an hour early for the event. Doug, being the smartie that he is, went straight to Customer Service. I'm not sure I would have thought about that right away, but luckily he did. We had to get tickets, 1 per person, which my husband, in another smart move, got 1 for each of us, so 4 tickets in all. Not sure I would have thought about that either. Then they sent us to the Toys Department. So straight to Toys we went. We figured we would be among the first people there. There were these 2 grown men standing there, tickets in hand. No biggie; I figured there would be collectors. But these guys were hardcore. You could tell they didn't like that there were kids there as competition. For the entire hour long wait, they were talking about CARS and Hot Wheels like they were gold. One was worse than the other, who at least one had a kid with him. But they were both salivating once the staff brought out the boxes.

The rules were then explained. They would call a ticket and whoever won got to go up and look through the cases for 5 minutes and could pick any 5 CARS they wanted. Then they would cal another ticket, etc. I heard that they would only be calling 6 tickets and then it would be a free for all. The collectors were almost on top of the tables. They called the first number and this woman won who did have a kid with her, but the kid didn't even go up to the table. She had this list of numbers and was looking for the numbers. She didn't even know their names. This made the collectors really mad! Then another kid won, which made me happy. Then no one claimed the 3rd ticket number. So we were the 4th ticket called and Charlie's face made it so worth while! He was so excited!! He picked out the CARS he wanted. There were others up there that he didn't have, but I convinced him to give his remaining tickets to another kid. It wouldn't be right for us to go up more than once if another kid didn't get to go up at all. And that kid got to go up next! I felt really good that we helped another kid get some of them too. We left after that because the kids were getting antsy. I really wanted to stick around to see those collectors get nothing.

What an interesting "event". Apparently they have these events for Hot Wheels all the time, so the collectors knew what to expect. It was funny because they were actually mad that they had to let kids go first. It probably really chokes their chains that these kids are going to take the CARS home, open the packages, and probably beat them up from playing with them so much. That makes me laugh. We've already seen a bunch of these on EBay selling for much more than we paid. That is just so sad.

That was our experience at a CARS event. It made Charlie's year to be able to get some new CARS that are not even out in stores yet. It made my day to see the collectors get so bent!

Friday, October 17, 2008

My turn to be sick

So as I sat at work on Wednesday, I began feeling sick. My muscles started aching and I was a little lightheaded. I went home that night and the symptoms got worse. I couldn't clean up from dinner at all and I didn't even have it in me to get the kids to clean up (which, believe me, is a tough job). I almost let them go to bed without baths, but I really didn't want to do that. They had been playing in dirt that day and when Elizabeth doesn't get a bath daily, she tends to smell bad. So I enlisted Charlie's help. I gave them a bath together, but he cleaned himself, got himself dry, dressed himself, and brushed and flossed his teeth himself. So I only had to worry about Elizabeth. They let me slide on the story, too, so I only had to read a page or 2. Once I got them to bed, I went straight to mine.

When the alarm went off at 5:30am on Thursday, I automatically knew I wasn't going to make it to work. When I stood up, the whole room was spinning and my head was pounding. I emailed the office to let them know I wouldn't be in (nice thing about my office is they rely heavily on email, so a simple email is all they need) and went right back to bed. I slept until about 10 and then got up and took something for my headache. I'm not kidding when I say it was literally the worst headache I've ever had. I felt like I had a really bad hangover, but that couldn't be, could it? Definitely not. I went back to bed for most of the day. I did come down among the living for a little bit. I knew if I didn't get out of bed for a bit, I wouldn't be able to sleep that night.

When I woke up this morning, I felt much better. Still a little lingering dizziness, but nothing to call off work for. Besides, it's Friday. Jeans day. Not a day to be off if you don't really need it.

It was really nice to be able to be sick. That's not to say I enjoy being sick, but I do get sick from time to time. What was nice about it was that I actually got to take care of myself by staying in bed this time. I did hear some things from downstairs I didn't particularly like, but I wasn't budging this time.

Here's to being sick and actually getting to be sick!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A good night

I had a great night last night. I got more accomplished in 1 night than I have in the last month it seems. First, I took the kids out front to pull some weeds. They think this is the coolest thing. Charlie actually helps with the weeding, while Elizabeth "pulls" tanbark and puts that into the trash bag. She thinks she's helping, so it doesn't bother me. Charlie thinks it's cool to wear a gardening glove, which is way too big for him by the way. We were smiling and singing and it was really fun. So not only were we getting a household chore done, we were spending quality time together. No one was fighting and the kids really felt important.

Then, we came in and I had to vacuum the house. It really needed it. Normally, when I vacuum, the kids feel that it's open season for fighting because I can't hear them real well. But last night was different. Maybe it was the fresh air they just got or the feeling of importance, but they actually were getting ready for their baths by themselves while I was vacuuming. It was the cutest thing! Charlie was helping Elizabeth get her pajamas picked out and then he helped her use the potty! The fact that they were getting along made the night go very smoothly. And I got some things done to boot.

After I got them to bed, I was able to prepare food for my lunches this week, write instructions for Elizabeth's doctor appt. today for Doug, made little lunches for the kids to eat in the car today since they will be running errands with Doug over lunch, and did a few other things. I don't know where I found the energy to do all of this, but I'm glad I did. I feel better knowing I was able to get some things done.

So, what did you accomplish today?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Job Description: MOM

When I was pregnant with my 5-year-old, I had wonderful dreams of toting the baby around to stores, showing him off to anyone who would look, and singing him to sleep. For a while, that is how it was. No one warned me, however, that there would come a time when that dream would no longer be my reality.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. I finally took some vacation from work. Aaahh...wonderful vacation. So, I have been off work since the 2nd of October. We were away from the 3rd to the 9th and I tacked on a few extra vacation days at the end to just relax. Since we've been home from our trip, I have not stopped. Not even for a second. All 3 of the children (OK, 2 kids and 1 childlike husband) have been sick. The 2-year-old had a fever for 2 days and was miserable. Then my husband starts throwing up for 2 days straight. Then my 5-year-old catches that. He's a great sick person, never complains. But he's the "silent attacker". He woke us up in the middle of the night telling us that he was going to use the bathroom. OK, he never does that, so I knew something was up right there, but I stayed in bed anyway. Then he comes in to tell me that he wanted to sleep with us. Why, you may ask? Well, so did I and the answer was because he threw up in his bed. And ATTACK! So now I'm worried the rest of the night that he's going to throw up on me or in my bed, which will, in turn, cause me to start hurling. And I keep thinking about how I now have to strip his bed in the morning, on top of the mile long list of other things I have to do on my last day of "vacation". No sleep for me. So what else is new?

So today, my husband still cannot muster enough strength to do anything, really. It is day number 4 of this "illness" and he can still do nothing but sit on the couch watching TV. I can honestly say that in the last year I have literally taken 1 day off work for actually being sick, and I was in bed only a few of those hours. The remaining time I spent tending to the kids and the house because somehow me just being home is some sort of signal to him that he can do nothing. But I digress. I did 5 loads of laundry and put it all away, ran a bunch of errands, made lunch and dinner, played with the kids outside, emptied all the garbage cans (which were disgustingly full), vacuumed, talked to our insurance guy for a half hour, pulled together a week's worth of snacks for preschool this week, and straightened out our daughters Dr. appt. for which my darling husband wrote the wrong time in the calendar. Whew! So much for a vacation day!

Unfortunately, this type of chaos occurs any day I have off work. If I stayed home with the kids, these things would be done throughout the week, but since I can't be here, I have to do them when I am. I guess my job away from home is my second job, really. My first job is here, at night and on the weekends (and sick and vacation days, too). Not exactly what I dreamt about as a new mom all those years ago!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Vacations are supposed to be fun, aren't they?

So we're finally back from our vacation. I want to preface this recount by saying that I love my family and had a great time with them. That being said, here are the highlights:

We had to stay at a hotel in Baltimore on Thursday night because we had to be at the airport at 5am on Friday. We picked this particular hotel on the recommendation of my mother-in-law and because we could park both cars for free all week (worked into the price of the rooms, I'm sure). So the hotel was definitely not the best hotel (probably the worst I've ever stayed at, but you can't go by me because I very rarely travel). I didn't get a wink of sleep the whole night because I was convinced there were bedbugs. I kept feeling biting sensations all over my body, but no one else did, so I guess I was just being my psychotic self. They did take us to the airport and pick us up, so that was nice.

When we go to check our bags, they informed us that our smallest bag was over sized by 1.5" and we had to pay $39 for that. Umm...it's our smallest bag...what? I was a little PO'd because our travel agent should have gone over the size/weight requirements with us (isn't this one of the reasons we would go through a travel agent in the first place?) OK, so we paid the damn $39 and were bound and determined to have a good trip. My exact words, which I don't think have ever come out of my mouth, were, "it's only money". The kids did GREAT on the plane. I was nervous that one or the other would scream the whole way there, the way I did when I was little, but they were totally fine. I think I was more freaked out than they were.

So we get there and we use the Disney Dining Plan to buy a counter service lunch. When we looked at the receipt, the remaining counter service lunches seemed to be short a few. So Doug went to the front desk to ask. Come to find out that our 2-year-old isn't included on the meal plan, so we have to pay outright for all of her meals. I was doubly PO'd that our travel agent failed to relay this information to us as well. But I was tired and just figured we'd deal with it. Until we went to our first table service meal. We didn't order her a dinner, instead, she shared off of the rest of our plates. But they included her as part of the party of 6 (there would be only 5 not including her) that is required to pay the 18% gratuity that is automatically added to the bill! Excuse me? So she doesn't exist in the eyes of Disney when it comes to the meal plan and we don't order her a meal at all, so no extra work for the server, but she magically appears when it's time to add that automatic 18% gratuity?? How wrong!! They justified this by saying that we didn't pay for her to get into the parks, so we're saving there. I don't think so! If she doesn't exist on the meal plan and doesn't exist in the parks, then she shouldn't exist for gratuity's sake! Most nights, I wouldn't have minded. But 1 night in particular, we had a horrible waitress and we never would have paid an 18% gratuity to her. But we were forced to.

Some other highlights included my mother-in-law deciding that flip flops were the way to go for footwear when walking 5-10 miles a day. She proceeded to blow out her knee on day #2 and had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair the rest of the week. This made most rides great because we got to get in the front of the line, but the buses on the other hand, took forever. Oh well, not the end of the world.

We arrived home on Thursday night and quickly got the kids to bed. The next day, we go out to lunch because we have very little in the way of food at the house. So Doug eats a salad and then gets food poisoning. He was throwing up all night Friday night and it was coming out the other end all day Saturday. By today, he was feeling a little better, but not 100%. Elizabeth spiked a fever on Thursday during travel that lasted until Saturday. Charlie spiked one today.

And I decided to see an endocrinologist to get my dosage increased since my other doctor (who was not an endocrinologist) had left the practice. The endocrinologist told me that she doesn't think I even have any thyroid problems. She said my thyroid is normal size and she can't imagine why my other doctor said the things she said. Of course she can't explain why I feel the way I feel. Now what do I do? I'm pretty much back at square one. I'll probably get fired from my job because I can't concentrate or remember anything and have to call off because I'm too tired to get out of bed.

Anyway, I did have a nice time on vacation. I know, though, that our next vacation will be very relaxing instead of chaotic. I'm thinking beach chair, book, sounds of the ocean, glass of wine in hand. Aaahhh...