Monday, January 28, 2008

Did Someone Say "Free Pretzel?!"

I have an email account just for signing up for newsletters, promotions, etc. that I don't want going to my regular email inbox. I usually check it about once a day to see what's new. Tonight I received a message from Auntie Anne's (as in the pretzel place at the mall). I don't even remember why I signed up for their newsletter because it's not somewhere where I go often. While I really like their pretzels, I don't usually snack while at the mall. However, I might have to make a special trip on Saturday!

Auntie Anne's is turning 20 years old on February 2. They are celebrating by giving out free pretzels from 10 AM - 4 PM. You can read more about their big day and the free pretzels at this link.

Happy Birthday, Auntie Anne! And thanks for passing out free treats!

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

More on Coffee Savings

My sister has realized that she has gotten in the habit of buying the largest size drink ("Venti" which is 20 oz) when she goes to Starbucks. She says she didn't really need the biggest one, so this year she's cutting back to the 12 oz cup called "Tall" (which she says is really more than enough). By doing this, she has reduced her spending and her caloric intake. However, as Kate pointed out in her comment on Cutting Down on Coffee, you can actually order a "Short" (8 oz) even though it isn't on the menu in Starbucks. However, it is listed on their website's nutrition information. Oh - a secret little tip! Thanks, Kate!

I had another idea when my friend was trying to think of ways to cut back on her coffee outings without cutting the "treat" factor out. I will tell you again that I don't know that much about coffee. So, I'm not 100% sure this is an excellent idea, but it might be at least a decent alternative. Ask for a latte maker as a gift (i.e. birthday, Christmas, wedding). Perhaps it would be less expensive in the long run to make them at home, even if you bought the latte maker on your own. In her comment on Cutting Down on Coffee, Nikki recommends the Nespresso Milk Frother for the home barista in you.

I know my parents often keep, wash, and reuse the coffee cups and lids when they get them at a coffee shop/fast food restaurant. They can keep them for quite a while before they get too worn out. This is good for coffee on the go. If you can't or don't want to keep the cup while you are out and about, just throw it away. You don't have to worry about having to tote a regular reusable mug with you for the rest of the day. But if possible, leave it in the car and reuse it another time.

Is the whole idea of getting coffee at a shop because it's a treat...out of the house? You probably shouldn't take your own drink into a coffee shop, but maybe there's another place you could hang out like a park or shopping mall, or even a quiet space in your home, and enjoy your drink.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cutting Down on Coffee

One of my friends emailed me a few months ago about one of her financial downfalls. She wrote:

"My weakness is treats. I love to go out for coffee or grab a treat after a long day at work or hanging out with my son (also a lot of work). One idea I have taken hold of is ordering cafe au lait at coffee shops instead of lattes. The average cafe au lait (steamed milk and coffee) is $2 or lower, depending on the shop I go to. Plus, I always go local (when I can help it) and then I know that I'm spending money in my community and supporting local business owners (like me)."

She didn't mention how much a latte costs, but based on what she is saying, it sounds like it is more than a cafe au lait. Not being much of a coffee-drinker myself (and having no idea what the difference is between these two beverages), I had to turn to Google for some help. Apparently, the latte is espresso with milk, and the cafe au lait is strong black coffee with steamed milk. I'm not sure if she's making a big sacrifice in flavor, but it sounds about the same to me. So, if there's not much difference, I'd go for the less expensive one too.

Another idea that I had for her is to look at the average number of times she goes out for coffee or other treats during a week or month and then cut that number down by 25% or 50%. She could give herself 1-2 months to be on the reduced plan as a trial. If it's shear torture, then she could go back to what she was doing. However, more than likely, after a month or two she'll be used to going out for coffee less. She should also track the savings from this plan. Watching the amount in savings account increase should be an added incentive.

If you think you'd like to try the idea of reducing the number of trips to the coffee shop but that it would be too hard to track, try using a gift certificate. Figure out how much you spend on coffee on average each month. Then, reduce that amount by 25% or 50%. Buy a gift certificate for the amount you want to spend for the month. Only use the gift certificate (not cash or credit) when you go to the coffee shop. Once you've used the entire balance, your treats are done for that month.

For example:
You usually go to the coffee shop 4 times a week.
You usually buy the $2 cafe au lait.
That's $8 per week.
There are roughly 4 weeks in a month, which means you spend $32 per month.

To cut back by 25% would mean that you would only spend $24 (an $8 savings).
To cut back by 50% would mean that you would only spend $16 (a $16 savings).

Buy a gift certificate for that amount and see how you do. If you can get gift certificates in small amounts (for just one drink), then you could do it like this:

You usually go to the coffee shop 4 times a week.
There are roughly 4 weeks in a month, which means you go 16 times per month.

To cut back on your visits by 25% would mean you should buy twelve $2 gift certificates.
To cut back on your visits by 50% would mean you should buy eight $2 gift certificates.

With the second idea, you would know exactly how many drinks you have left for the month based on the number of gift certificates you still have on hand.

Need some help or convincing on this kind of savings? Check out the website of David Bach (author of the Finish Rich book series). He has coined the term "Latte Factor."

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

High Yield Savings Account

As I mentioned in My Frugal $ense Pick for January, there are quite a few ideas that I like on Bankrate's contest this month. Another one of my favorites is High Yield Savings Account submitted by Sumit Malden. It's similar to Treat Your Credit Card Like a Debit Card that I commented on in November.

The online banks, like ING, do offer great rates -- relative to your standard "bricks and mortar" banks. Of course, with the Fed cutting interest rates lately, these great rates on the savings accounts are shrinking across the board. I know it's helping people with loans or who are considering borrowing (which in turn should help boost the economy). However, that means it's not helping me (because I'm fortunate to not have any debt right now). In fact, it's just hurting me because the earnings on my short term savings are decreasing with the interest rates. (And then I look at my retirement savings and groan too...but it's okay; I have plenty of time to ride out the market.)

All right, I'll stop whining about that and wait for the economy to sort itself out. I'll also wait for the $600 check that it sounds like Congress is going to send me this spring. That will more than make up for what I'm losing with the interest cuts! How I do love a rebate!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Frugal $ense Pick for January

This month has several tips on their Frugal $ense Contest that I really like. Picking just one favorite was a little difficult. However, for being unique, I'm going with Brenda's Host a dinner and eat for a week idea. The thought of gathering friends for an evening together and getting a week's worth of food after only making one casserole is awesome! I guess the one draw back is it doesn't work well if you (or some of your friends) are married and/or have children. But it would be great for a group of single friends.

Well, here's an idea for 3 couples: each couple brings 1 casserole that serves 6. Like Brenda suggests, only eat the one that the host cooks. Then, divide up the other two for everyone to take home. Each couple would get 2 two-serving dinners to go. Still a good deal!

Whether it's 6 singles or 3 couples, I think you'd also have to add some things to make it a full meal for a group (since you only get one serving). The group could divide up the extras: appetizers, salad, bread, drinks, desserts...and maybe the host gets off adding nothing else other than the location (including set-up and clean-up).

If you like this tip, vote "7" for Brenda this month! The contest ends January 31.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Morning Movie

Michael has been wanting to see National Treasure: Book of Secrets. I wasn't lucky enough to win screening passes through Ytic, so we were going to have to pay to see this one. I suggested that we use one of my coupons in the Entertainment Book because even for an evening show at Regal Cinemas, the price is only $6.00 (or $7.50 within the first 12 days of the movie's release). That's a good deal considering the regular price is $10.25 ($8.00 for a matinee) in the DC area.

However, Michael found an even better deal! AMC Theatres offer big discounts (no coupons needed) for their shows before noon on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. So, we went to the 10:30 AM showing of National Treasure this morning (MLK Day) for only $5.00/ticket. Half price! We also had no problems finding near-by parking, which was great because it's so cold out. The meter parking was free since it's a holiday. There weren't a lot of people there, so we got good seats without having to get there really early.

We grabbed lunch after the movie -- and it was a nice (and very affordable) date!

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

What's Included in That Membership Fee?

Since Michael and I announced our engagement, my sister Angie has been working hard to reduce her expenses and save. We've lived together for 7 years, and now she's losing her roommate -- and thinking about buying a house on her own. Angie's not super carefree with her spending, but she has examined her financial habits and has realized that she can definitely do better by just putting a little thought into it. She wanted to share one of her own saving stories for my blog. So, here it is...

Angie: "I started working out at a small gym with a friend because of the 'Boot Camp' class they offered. I wanted to mix up my workout from my regular routine at my Gold's Gym. After Boot Camp, I decided to add a Spin class to my schedule two days a week for about $15 a class. The class was great because it was in the morning. I could take it and then head straight to work. The instructor (a friend of a friend) was decent. Then, when I wanted to start saving money, I knew I would have to drop something. I hated the thought of giving up the Spin class, but I had to cut back my expenses. So, I finally looked into my Gold's membership package that I started in 2001. Turns out the $41.95 membership fee I pay monthly includes all of their classes! I had totally over looked this benefit because when I started at Gold's I was not a 'fitness class' sort of person. I admit that I was skeptical in the beginning. Would the instructor be any good? Would I actually get a bike at a big, busy gym? Would the class schedule be convenient? But it's all worked out really well. I had nothing to worry about! In fact, I just had things to gain -- to the tune of about $120 per month!"

So, whether it's a gym membership, benefits at work, homeowner association/apartment complex amenities, take a closer look and see what you are already entitled!

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Finding Good (and Affordable) Restaurants in NYC

I just read this week's PostPoints Travel Tip of the Week entitled A Bite of the Big Apple by Scott Vogel of The Washington Post. He writes about Restaurant Weeks coming up in New York City January 21-25 and January 28-February 1. For the types of restaurants that participate and the number of courses that you get, it's a good deal. Vogel sites the latest Zagat Survey which says the average price of dinner in NYC is $39.46. (Wow - I wonder if that's just the meal or if it includes a drink, tax, and tip.)

Reading that article reminded me of when I was in the Big Apple for 3 nights this past June for work. I was staying in Times Square where I knew there would definitely be no shortage of restaurants. Before I went (because I figured I wouldn't have Internet access while I was there), I turned to Upromise to find out which restaurants near the hotel would give me some money towards college savings. There were 98 Upromise restaurants within 1 mile of my hotel! So, I sorted them by distance (low to high) and printed out the information on ones that were within a half mile of the hotel. When I arrive in New York, I was prepared with a list of dining options, complete with a description, price range, location, Upromise member ratings, and Zagat review, if the restaurant had been on their survey.

The first night I decided to try the Roxy Delicatessen. Like most restaurants on Broadway in or near Times Square, it's kind of a tourist trap. It was okay, but it would have been much better if they offered smaller sandwiches (and lower prices). I really didn't need a pound (literally!) of pastrami. With a soft drink, tax, and tip, that sandwich dinner was $19.20. And to think, Upromise said that the prices at the Roxy Deli were fair compared to Manhattan standards! However, I did get 8% of that total for college savings in my Upromise account.

The next night I met a friend who now lives in Brooklyn. We ate at one of her favorite Thai restaurants in Manhattan. (Note: this wasn't on the Upromise list, but it didn't matter because I had my friend to guide me to good eats this night.) It was a place called Klong. I got a great entree and a martini (plus tax and tip) for $17.00. Mind you, this seemed to be off the beaten path, so I guess prices weren't as high as in the tourist areas.

My last night in New York, I referred back to my Upromise list. This time I decided to head a few blocks off of Broadway to a little Italian restaurant in Hell's Kitchen called Pietrasanta. It got good reviews from Upromise members and Zagat, and I was going to earn 8% for college savings. I guess I was hungry earlier than the usual crowd in NYC because I was the first one in the restaurant. (That made me a little nervous until the restaurant filled up soon after I got there.) Arriving early, I got a great seat by the window. This meal was awesome -- real Italian food! I think I just got an entree (with water to drink), and it cost $19.24. I wished I had gone there the first night instead of to Roxy's because for the same price it was a much, much better value. With a great local place like that, it made me wonder why people would eat at the Olive Garden in Times Square.

The moral of this story is when you are traveling, ask locals where they eat. You'll probably find some of the best restaurants in terms of food and price that way. If that's not an option for you, at least step out of the tourist areas to dine. Again, you'll probably get better food at a better price.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

A Little Cooking Tip

Brown sugar isn't something I need on a regular basis, but it's a rather common ingredient. Here's the problem: I would buy a package of it and use a few tablespoons, a quarter of a cup, or maybe a half of a cup. I would seal up the rest. The next time I'd need brown sugar, it would be hard as a rock. A tip on the side of the box suggested microwaving part of it with a damp paper towel to soften it. However, then I'd have to use all of it right away. Chiseling part of it off was nearly impossible. I read another tip that said you can freeze the brown sugar to keep it from hardening. Then, I got a good idea!

The last time I bought a package of brown sugar, I used just a little. Then, I put the rest in resealable sandwich bags -- a quarter cup in each bag. (Snack size resealable bags work too.) You could measure out different amounts, but I've found quarter cup is the most common amount. Plus, you can just open several bags if you need more (i.e. 4 bags for 1 cup). Then, I put all of those little bags into a larger freezer bag and put the whole thing into the freezer. Whenever I need brown sugar, it's ready: measured and soft!

I no longer have to throw out the unusable brown sugar "brick" after only consuming a very small portion.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Free in the City

Probably one of my most favorite things about living in the DC area is that there are tons of great cultural opportunities that are available -- for free! A great resource is the website for Cultural Tourism DC. I've looked at their website now and again. I even have it bookmarked. However, since I don't look at it often, I've been missing some things.

My friend Amy (who really is the go-to, know-it-all girl in terms of cool happenings -- and free activities! -- in DC) just pointed out to me that Cultural Tourism DC has a weekly e-newsletter. She thought it might be a good thing to put on my blog. Now, that's what Save 4 Fun is all about! (Thanks for the tip, Amy!)

One of the highlights in their e-newsletter this week is something called "Warm Up to a Museum" which includes all sorts of fun programs and events throughout February -- and they are free. Winter is a great time to hit the museums too because they aren't packed with tourists. (It's a good time to come to town too if you are an out-of-town tourist.) So, check it out. See what interests you and fits into your schedule. Go do something fun for free!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Budget Article in the Loudoun Times Mirror

I had the good fortune on Monday to speak with Lina Hashem, a reporter from the Loudoun Times Mirror, about some of my savings tips. The interview with me was mostly in regards to Coupon Mom's website. The whole article has some good ideas and inspiring money-saving stories. Read Trimming the Budget Without Trimming the List. (Kudos to Kim Jenkins of Leesburg for racking up on some awesome deals on toys!)

For me, it's fun to share my savings tips and to find out what ideas other people have. I hope folks in Loudoun County find Lina's article useful and make their way to Save 4 Fun on a regular basis. It's exciting that Lina referenced my January 5 post of this blog.

Lina mentions Target's clearance items in the article. I know where all of the clearance sections are in my Target store (mostly end caps in out-of-the-way areas). I always make it a point to swing past these sections every time I'm in the store. While I don't find something I need or want on every visit, I do often find great deals.

I've noticed that some of the best clearance items at Target are in the health and beauty section. Sometimes they'll get a promotional package of lotion, toothpaste, or the like. It might have extra ounces or a sample of another product attached for free. (For example, 30% more lotion for free or a free toothbrush attached to the package of toothpaste.) They don't always keep those things on the regular shelves until they sell out. After a certain period of time, they'll move them to the clearance section. So, you might get a larger size of a product you want on clearance for 15%-50% less than the regular size on the regular shelf. You just have to look for the areas of each department that have the big red "Clearance" signs and see what good stuff might be there. I've found it's worth the extra minute to take a look.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Planning Ahead for Valetine's Day

Valentine's Day is less than a month away. Of course, if you are like most people, you are just coming off from a big spending time in December. But you don't have to spend a ton on your "valentine" to make him/her feel special. To me, Valentine's Day can be blown out of portion in terms of amount spent on gifts. It's far more fun to see how creative you can be in expressing your love on this day.

Michael is smart. He has always cooked a great meal at home for me on Valentine's Day. It makes a lot more sense and is far more special than going out for a meal that is probably over-priced for February 14.

While it can sometimes be hard to dream up, I try to think of some kind of little, inexpensive (but thoughtful) gift to give Michael. He wouldn't really appreciate flowers. He doesn't care much for sweets of any kind. So, it does become a little more challenging.

Last year, I bought a clear glass vase at the dollar store and tied a red ribbon around it. I also got a package of place cards (at Dollar Tree in the wedding/party section). I thought of 52 reasons why I love him (from completely silly things to more serious ones) and wrote one on the inside of each card. On the outside of each card, I wrote the title "52 Things I Love About Michael." Then, I sealed the cards each with a Valentine sticker. (I got a whole sheet of them from Dollar Tree and had enough leftover to decorate the vase too.) To make it colorful, I used 10 different colors of felt tip pens (which I got free after rebate at Staples) to write the messages. The place cards actually came 50 to a package, so I used other little papers I had on hand for the remaining two cards and still sealed them with a sticker too. After all of the cards were done, I filled the vase. So, I had a cute, thoughtful gift for a little over $3.00! I told Michael that if opened one per week, he'd have a year full of great thoughts. However, he couldn't wait and ended up reading one each day. That still lasted nearly 2 months. It was definitely a gift that kept giving.

I don't know what I'm going to do this year. However, as you can see, whether you are planning to cook dinner or hand-make a gift, it takes some time and thought. Better to start working on it now. Then, you won't have to run out and buy an expensive (and probably, cheesy) gift for your Valentine at the last minute.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Saving on the Road

Michael and I just got back from our first wedding planning trip to NC. Just like my parents did when I was a kid, I stocked a little cooler with cans of Coke, bottles of water, and some snacks. Having those things on hand saved us from picking up expensive convenience store items.

The cooler stash also helped us save when we stopped for lunch. Yesterday, two fountain drinks at Burger King would have cost us $2.35. Instead, I got a 12-pack of Coke several weeks ago on sale at Harris Teeter for $2.03 (which includes tax). So, that's about 17 cents per can!

If we take one road trip per month between now and the wedding and stop to eat going down and coming home, at this savings rate on drinks with our fast food meals, we would save $32. For basically no inconvenience (just a little planning before hitting the road), we could feed another person or two at the reception. Since coupons for wedding vendors either don't exist or are very rare, I'll take these other savings as they come!

Even if you aren't taking road trips, think about how this could add up if you like to have a soft drink at work for lunch every day! (Of course, if you can drink good tap or filtered water instead for free, all the better.)

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Painless Ways to Cut Your Spending

Erin Huffstetler, author of's Frugal Living, has a good article entitled Top 5 Painless Ways to Cut Your Spending. Those ways include:

1. Switch to Store Brands
2. Shop with a List
3. Carry Snacks
4. Use it Up
5. Shop to Save

Sometimes I read articles like this and think some of the ideas aren't for me. However, I believe in all of them on this list and actually find them helpful. Here are just a few ways I've been using some of these tips:

Shopping with a list takes a little time up front, at home. However, by doing the prep work ahead of time, you know all of the sale items, what you have coupons for, and what you need. A shopping list also makes the trip to the store faster because you know exactly what you are looking for and can go straight to those products. It saves you time, and if you are impulse shopper, money because you aren't strolling down every aisle and being tempted by things you don't really need or that aren't good deals.

I learned about carrying a snack when I was studying in England in college. Without a car, I did a lot of walking, which meant I was often hungry and normally I wasn't anywhere near home when my stomach started growling. I realized quickly that buying snacks at convenient stores every I time I needed one was expensive. Not eating just wasn't an option, but even 12 years ago, I wanted to "save 4 fun" and save my money to use for touring, not snacking, while I was in Europe. Early on that semester, I decided I'd always carry a bottle of water and some digestives (British cookies) in my bag. I've started doing that again now that I'm taking public transportation to work. (Just don't eat on the Metro -- it's illegal.)

With my upcoming marriage and move, I know I need to clean out a bunch of my stuff. Several weeks ago, I realized that I have some lotion that I've opened and like okay but just didn't use on a regular basis. It's time to use it up so that I can try to downsize some of stuff before having to pack it. It's also saving me a little money by not having to go out buy some things like lotion right now.

So, if you aren't already using these tips, see if you can get them to work for you and find a little more cash to save in 2008. They've worked for me, and hopefully they will for you too.

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Monday, January 7, 2008

Taking Control of Your Numbers

Okay, I confess. I'm addicted to Microsoft Excel! If you haven't noticed already (especially by most recent posts), I pour everything into spreadsheets. In fact, most of what happens in my life goes into Excel in one way or another. I track my savings goals, pledge to the church, gas mileage, coupon savings, rebate savings, baby shower gift budget, Christmas gift budget, grocery store savings, and more. I've even made calculators with Excel to help me do some comparison shopping at places like the dry cleaners. Is it nerdy? Yep. Is it helpful? You better believe it!

Knowledge is a good thing when it comes to money. If you don't know how you are spending your money, how are you going to keep up with it? You may be silently hemorrhaging cash and not even realize it. I admit that I'm really over the top. You don't have to track all of these details. I started many of my worksheets out of curiosity. Was I really saving with coupons, rebates, etc.? Is something really a deal? They aren't all completely necessary.

I like hard facts, so tracking and analyzing my data is helpful to me. Actually, I even it find it comforting and stress-relieving to have the facts. I've been posting less in the past few weeks because I've been consumed with wedding plans. I'm not really into event planning, so this hasn't been the easiest or most fun task. I was stressing during Christmas at my parents' house because I couldn't figure out which photographer offered the best deal on paper (meaning just the cost, not factoring in things like their personality and style that have to be determined through a face-to-face meeting). There was no way I could meet with 30 of them, but how could I narrow the pool? You guessed it -- I poured the information into Excel! It helped me to compare like information -- apples to apples, so to speak.

The same is happening with the reception sites/caterers. We might like one location more than another, but what is the price difference? Now, do we like it that much more? Do we need to trim the guest list in order to have it at one place? Could we extend some more invitations if have it at another location? Through my calculators that I've made in Excel, I can figure out the answers to these questions pretty quickly. The more informed I am, the less stressed I am...the happier I am!

You don't have to like numbers or spend lots of time with data entry and analyzing. Start with something simple like tracking your spending in a certain category (i.e., dining out, groceries). Write it in a notebook if that's easier for you. Do some month-to-month or year-to-year comparisons. See what you learn. See what habits you can work on changing or that you want to keep. I bet you will find that the more informed you are, the better off you will be.

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Disappointing Results in Food Spending for 2007

Sad, but true: I spent 26% more on food (groceries and dining out) in 2007 than in 2006. The one consolation is that I spent 5% less last year than in 2005 (which was an expensive year for me).

While I'm not sure of the exact reasons, my best guesses are:

1. Inflation - I have notices prices creeping up.
2. Being lazy - There were quite a few weeks in 2007 that I didn't go to the grocery store on my regular schedule which resulted in either eating out more or making a fast trip to grab whatever I could eat right away.
3. Not sticking to the spending plan - I know I ate out far more this past year than I should have.

I did save an average of 40% at the grocery store this year. (That includes whatever I bought, not just my food. My other numbers in this post are only food.) However, on 15% of my grocery trips I saved nothing at all! On a third of my grocery trips, I saved less than 25%. I can do better than that.

It's a new year! And I know what has happened in the past year. So, I'm going to work harder to keep my food expenses down and my savings up. I can do it!

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Are Rebates Worth It?

I really like rebates! Coupons are great, but rebates are where you save the most money. Rebates can be a little more challenging than coupons. You have to be organized and be able to follow very specific directions or else you won't get the check in the mail. However, with a little thought and a little effort, you can reap great rewards.

Let's see how I did in 2007, and see if rebates really are worth it!

I cashed in on 105 rebates on a whole variety of products, ranging from computer software and cough & cold medicines to dental care products and hair care products to light bulbs and snack food. The grand total that I got back from manufacturers and stores in 2007: $383.24! (Yes, I really did get those checks in the mail...because I followed the directions, bought the correct products in the correct quantities at the right time and met the rebate deadlines.) Wow! To me, nearly $400 is definitely more than worth it.

However, combining sale prices and coupons with rebates is where you save even more. In fact, in 2007, on the 105 products for which I used rebates and was able to also use sale prices and/or store and/or manufacturer coupons, I spent $49.47. The total retail value? $705.84! That's a 93% savings. Awesome!

Many of these products I was able to use for myself or give them to friends or family. There were still more things that I got for free or nearly free that we weren't able or didn't need to use ourselves. So, I gave those things to charity.

What's great about combining coupons and rebates is that you can often make a small profit. For example, last year I bought a tube of Colgate toothpaste at Rite Aid.

Regular price: $2.99
Sale price: $2.49
Coupon: $1.50
Rebate: $2.49
Price paid at store (including tax): $1.11
Total price spent (after rebate check came): -$1.38 (Yes, that's a negative number!)
Savings: 144%

I actually don't like Colgate, so I gave it to charity. Someone who needed it got free toothpaste. I earned $1.38.

If you are wondering about how the cost of stamps factors in to my rebate savings, I actually don't consider it. Most of the rebates I claim can be submitted online, so I don't even pay for postage to request the rebate money.

So, yes, rebates are worth it! Give them a try this year.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Are Coupons Worth It?

A lot of people don't think coupons are worth using. "Saving 25 cents isn't going to help me," doubters say. However, over the past two years, I've tracked my manufacturer coupon use to see if it's worth my time and the amount we spend on newspaper subscription. I have found that it is worth it. (You can get coupons from other sources, even free sources. However, I've found the newspaper to be the best means for me.)

In 2006, I saved $246.52 in coupons (and that includes the face value plus any doubling or tripling of value that some stores do). In 2007, I saved $276.65. My sister and I pay a total of $192 for the Washington Post (daily subscription plus a little tip for the carrier). Since we split the bill 50-50, I only pay $96 annually. So, there's definitely a savings there. (Of course, we get more value out of the paper than just the coupons because the newspaper itself is worth the price.)

Knowing that we are getting a "divorce" this year (since I'm leaving my sister as my roommate and taking on Michael as my husband), Angie is working hard to do better with her personal finances. After several years of hearing me talk about Coupon Mom (and making fun of me for being so into that website and the coupons), she finally registered the other night. (Registration is required but free.) She was amazed at how easy it is to use that system and what great deals you can find. Did she think I was making this up?

So, if you too are resolving to use your financial resources more wisely this year, try out the Coupon Mom system and give coupons a whirl! It's not that hard or time-consuming...and you'll definitely save.

Disclaimer: don't just buy something because you have a coupon. Only get it if you need/want it. Do some comparison shopping and figure out if the name brand with a coupon really is cheaper than the generic or another name brand.

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