Saturday, October 31

How much WILL you treat?

It's the big day folks. Next to Christmas, I'm betting this is kids' favorite day. You get to wear special clothes AND get candy? Pure heaven! (Although this begs the question: How did it become such a grand old tradition to send our kids out into the night, instructing them go door-to-door begging strangers for stuff? And threatening them with a trick if they didn't comply!)

Moral qualms aside, I usually enjoy this holiday. The last few years, though, it hasn't been a big deal. Most of my friends don't throw costume parties, and we lived in a secure, child-free building. So Halloween has passed more or less unnoticed for four years. Well, except for all the great candy sales.

This year, though, we find ourselves in a large-ish complex. With a lot of kids. Maybe it's not a big deal. But the few kids we tend to run into are pretty horrible. Okay, I'm sure there are plenty of normal, well-mannered ones around. But there is also the group that keeps peeing in the elevator over the weekend, when maintenance is off-duty.

All this makes me kind of reluctant to give out candy. And, financially, there's not a great incentive either. If you stock up for a month or so beforehand, you can probably get a cache of goodies for $10 or less. Assuming you don't raid it when the cravings strike. But we've been cutting back on unnecessary expenses, which means very little candy. So what I do get, I prefer to eat.

And if you haven't been stocking up? You're looking at $15-20 of candy, gone by the end of the night. Maybe some people don't mind it; maybe I'm just the Scrooge of Halloween (Scrooge o' lantern?). But a few years ago, when I did bother with candy, half the kids didn't even bother to dress up. And a few even asked me for more candy! It didn't really endear me to the whole tradition.

So, what are our options? We could bite the bullet and buy some candy; we can just not answer the door (unlikely, Tim can't even let a phone ring until the machine picks it up); or we can go out. Frankly, if I'm going to spend $15-20, I would prefer to spend it on a rare night out with my husband.

Then yesterday I got a Dave & Buster's offer, buy $20 of credits, get another $20. Certainly cheaper than going to a bar. Since Tim got one too, we're taking his friend Joe and Joe's wife, Marty. They don't much like the kids in the complex either.

In case you're wondering, I do feel a little guilty. I benefited from so many people's generosity as a kid, and if more people were like me, the holiday would probably suck. But in the end, there are plenty of people who are stocking up on candy. And, if we ever live in a house, I'll probably bite the bullet. Right now, though, I think Tim and I need some fun.

Luckily, not everyone is like me. And to all those actually celebrating Halloween, I am interested to hear back from you:

For those of you who are more generous: How much are you giving out? Does it change along with finances? Have you been stocking up on sales?

Anyone who goes out with the kids: Are people giving out less candy these days? Or, like Christmas, is this something that everyone finds the money for?


Friday, October 30

Freebie Friday

Freebie Friday is brought to you by The Freebie Blogger. Check out the site daily for samples, events and more.

Olay Total Effects Body Wash Sample

Massage Oil Sample

Free Lysol Heathly Habits Activity Book

Pampers Extra Protection Diaper Sample

Free Halloween Weekend Events

Cherry Coke at Kum & Go (expires 11/1)

Employment Resource Guides

Free Lip Gloss w/Free Bra Fitting at Victoria's Secret

Sun Crystals All Natural Sweetener Sample

Halloween Recipes eBook

Halloween Crafts & Decorating eBook

Thursday, October 29

Frugal motivator: Answering to others

My mom once told me this great story about a man who needed to lose weight. He was severely overweight, but he couldn't seem to stick to a diet. He was a well-educated, successful lawyer with a family who loved him. But no matter what he did, he couldn't make losing weight a priority over his love for food.

His solution? The African American man put several thousand dollars in an escrow account and drew up an airtight contract; if he failed to lose a certain amount of weight (50 pounds, I believe?) the money would be donated to the KKK.

As you might suspect, the man lost weight. He simply couldn't allow the money to go to such a hateful organization -- especially one that despised him and his loved ones based solely on the color of their skin.

I think there is something to this sort of plan.

I'm not suggesting you go to a lawyer or even set money aside that will vanish if certain goals aren't met. Most people reading this blog need their money too much for that kind of arrangement. But the story does serve as a reminder: We're not always great at working without incentives.

Often, we use positive incentives. Once we get the debt down to X amount, we can have a small indulgence or a few more discretionary dollars. Something like that. It can work wonders for a lot of us. We have something to look forward to, and so we are motivated to keep working for that goal.

But perhaps some of us also work better with the stick, and not just the carrot. This doesn't have to be as harsh as it may sound. I'm talking more about implied punishment than actual. We don't need to create a spiral of guilt and depression -- certainly that's not going to help our ability to keep finances well in hand. Still, many people (myself included) function better when there are negative consequences, as well as positive ones.

Yes, yes, anytime you get deeper into debt -- or, at the very least, don't get further out of it -- you are experiencing a negative consequence. But is that always enough?

Most any fitness program/magazine/guru will advise you to get at least one friend in on the action. That way, you have someone else expecting you to exercise. It makes it harder to get out of, because you're letting someone else down. Similarly, programs like Weight Watchers and, yes, even the dreaded Jenny Craig are successful in large part because you have to answer to other people. They have expectations, and, more importantly, you know that they'll see if you've been slacking.

It's not much different for living frugally. When you're alone in your efforts, it's easy to get off-track. And you can be alone, even in a relationship. Ideally, of course, both partners are equally committed to, and capable of, a frugal lifestyle. They support each other, rally spirits, and all that good stuff.

But what about reality? Most savers marry spenders, though the degree of disparity is entirely case-by-case. That leaves one partner more in charge of finances, which often includes keeping the other partner in line. It can be an exhausting job, even when the other person is trying his or her best to behave frugally.

Tim is committed to being free of debt, but he is willing to take a more relaxed time line. I'm getting sick of the debt and, more importantly, worried that we won't have the same finances in a few months' time. So I've been cracking down. Which means, unfortunately, that I have to be the heavy -- a position I do not at all relish.

I was dreading the extra responsibility, honestly, but I didn't know what else to do. We have a very-probable deadline looming in the near future. Tim's unemployment will only last another 8 weeks. My contract work is looking increasingly imperiled, though no official word has come down. So I started really putting the brakes on our spending.

What I found, though, was that, in laying down the financial law, I was creating a system I couldn't easily break. That was new. In the past, we had rules about how much we could spend. But there were always reasons to bend those strictures. Not a lot, but enough to make our budget work harder.

I'm not saying that it was wrong. Most of these times, both of us were sick and exhausted. But at that point, we had more of a buffer: my contract work was secure, Tim had some time left on his unemployment. Now, those conditions don't apply. And, by making Tim stick to the budget, I am finding an equally stern partner in him.

I'm not saying there aren't fights. He was not happy to hear that I was cracking down -- especially since he was already getting sick of living so carefully for the past three years. The first week or so was pretty rocky. It included a fight over a $2.50 bag of candy (in my defense, it was the third one in three days, which is when I put my foot down) and a cheeseburger (we had food in the house, but Tim wanted a burger instead).

These arguments, though, have set some basic ground rules about spending, or lack thereof. Now, when I want some chocolate, I have to remember the arguments we had about that candy and that cheeseburger. So even when my frugal resolve fails -- I'm trying to only buy bagged candy when it's under $2, and then only 1-2 times per week -- I have to stick to my own rules. Otherwise, I become a hypocrite and Tim would, quite rightly, have a large bone to pick with me.

In other words, I'm answerable to him. My guess is that, by and large, that fact alone will keep me on the straight and narrow spending path. When it doesn't, I am quite sure that Tim will. That's one good thing about marrying a guy with sibling issues -- you have to abide by the "if he gets to, then I get to" rule.

I'm not saying it's easy. I've had to fight chocolate cravings every night. Thank goodness for FiberOne bars which have some small amount of chocolate. But I also know that Tim and I are in this together, and risking that isn't worth any amount of chocolate.

(And, for the record, when we no longer had much edible food at home, Tim did get his burger... with a buy-one-get-one coupon.)

Tuesday, October 27

The post where I brag

Since yesterday I talked all about Register Rewards and Extra Care Bucks and other savings programs, I figured now was as good a time as any to sing my own savings praises.

Now that my mom isn't just down the hall, I am trying to make sure we have a good, stocked pantry -- both food and toiletries. It hasn't been quite as much hassle as I expected. Part of me thinks of it as some weird treasure hunt -- where you are searching for the right combination of clues (circulars and coupons) to get something for nothing.

I have been eating a lot of FiberOne bars lately. They are incredibly tasty and keep hunger away a lot longer than I would have suspected, given that they're under 200 calories. The only problem is that a box costs over $3.50 and contains only 5 bars. Gulp.

I had been getting them from Sam's Club, where a pack of 20 is around $6.50. Good, but not great. Thankfully, Fry's came to my rescue with a weekly special. When you bought 4 participating products (which included FiberOne bars) you'd get them for $1.57 each. Even better, Fry's has been rounding up all coupons to $1, so my 40-cent-off coupons would knock the price down to 57 cents a box.

Due to limited quantities, we could "only" get 16 boxes. (That's $9.12 if any of you are counting.) I got a rain check for 8 more. To get enough coupons, I had to go to Coupon Clippers which I'd never been to before. (I'll try to do a quick review of the site tomorrow.) But even if those coupons are the only ones I use from the whole order, which was just over $4, I'll still have only paid $0.77 a box -- or $18.48 for 24 boxes. That's 120 bars for less than the cost of 60 at Sam's Club. I practically clicked my heels together on the way out of the store.

This weekend, Safeway had Wheat Thins on sale for 99 cents a box. Unfortunately, I had no fabulous coupons for those, but it was a good enough sale that we stocked up. There was a limit of 3 per person, so we had to go through the line a few times. But we now have 12 boxes sitting, waiting for Tim's love of cheese and crackers to kick in. And it will.

Walgreens had a great deal on foil. A 20 sq ft box of foil was 59 cents. The Dollar Tree was (surprise) $1 for a 15 sq ft roll. I'm using more foil nowadays, so that if I just make chicken in the slow cooker, I won't have to wash it. So we got 12 boxes. Three of those are actually 70 sq ft rooConsidering it's twice that at the Dollar Tree, I wanted to pile them up. We ended up with 12 boxes -- three of which are 70 sq ft because Tim misread the coupon and got the cashier to put the boxes through at the sale price. He may find himself taking more trips if those are the kind of results he gets!

Unfortunately, the rest of the Walgreen's transactions were a lot more complex. The plan was to buy:

  • 1st checkout: 3 bottles of Theraflu @ 4.99, or $14.97. With $4.50 in coupons, I would spend $10.47 and get $8RR.
  • 2nd checkout: Gillette Fusion razor @ $8.99. With the $8RR, I would spend $0.99 and get $6RR.
  • 3rd checkout: 12-pack of Quilted Northern double rolls @ $6.99. With the $6RR, I'd spend $0.99

I say that the plan "was" to buy these because there was human error almost immediately. I got rung up at the pharmacy, where I was getting my medications, so the total was combined and so didn't set off any alarms. At the end of the transaction, I only got $4RR, the reward for buying 2 bottles of Theraflu, instead of $8RR, the reward for buying 3 bottles. I had picked out three different kinds of Theraflu, so I assumed one of them simply hadn't been on sale. As I walked over to get it taken care of, I picked up a fourth bottle of just plain old Theraflu to switch out with whichever one hadn't counted.

But when I got to the counter and started to explain, I figured out what had gone wrong: The guy had only rung up 2 bottles, but had given me 3. (Though I still got the $4.50 off in coupons, for a total of $10.48.)

We started to go back toward the pharmacy to undo the mistake, when the manager offered to let me just keep the third bottle and take the $4RR. Since each bottle cost $4.99, compared to $4RR, it was a good deal , and I agreed. He handed me back the bottle and the RR slip. Tim and I were both thoroughly confused at this point and decided to go home, saving the next two steps for another day.

It wasn't until I got to the car that I realized the manager had, in fact, handed me the fourth bottle. The idea of going back and explaining yet another mistake to him and deciding what to do about the original mistake... I could actually feel the headache looming in the distance. So we just went home, and I tried not to see myself as a character from Paper Moon.

The rest of the transactions went smoothly (thank goodness), and my only slip-up was that I brought a coupon for the wrong brand of toilet paper. The right one was sitting at home. Too bad too, because it would have been great savings: $6.99 for the toilet paper and 59 cents for a box of foil, minus $6RR and $1 off the toilet paper. In other words, I'd have paid 58 cents for both items. Maybe next time.

In the end, things weren't that different. Under the plan, we'd have spent $12.45 (plus tax) for 3 bottles of Theraflu, a Gillette Fusion razor, and the 12-pack of toilet paper. Instead, we ended up paying $11.46 for 4 bottles of Theraflu, the razor and the toilet paper.

It was very nearly worth the headache that loomed nearby for the rest of the day of the Theraflu transaction. I suppose it will get easier. But next time I think I'll make sure to watch everything being rung up. Otherwise, I'll have to use some RR on some Advil.

Monday, October 26

The peril of discounts "with your next purchase"

On just about any frugality blog, you'll hear about Walgreens' Register Rewards (RR) or CVS Extra Care Bucks (ECB) -- or maybe both. These programs can be great for people looking to stock up on toiletries etc for little to no money. But, more often than not, I'm betting these systems help the retailers more than the customers.

Both RR and ECB cannot be used on the item whose purchase generates them. That is, if you're buying a $2 toothbrush and you get $2RR, you're not getting it free. Instead, the slip of paper can be used for your next purchase.

This is really a win-win-win situation for the store.

Scenario 1: You come back to the store to use the bonus. You'll almost certainly see something you had forgotten you needed. You end up buying more items than anticipated -- and you still feel like you're getting one over on the store.

Scenario 2: You come back to the store to use the bonus, but you aren't cautious about how you spend it. You indulge in some candy, or whatever, because you have $5 free. You'll still have to come back to get the personal care items -- Qtips, toilet paper, deodorant, etc -- and you still paid for the purchase that got you the RR/ECB. So the store is assured profit, and yet you still believe you're getting a deal.

Scenario 3: You forget to the use the slip of paper before it expires. So you paid for the original purchase, expecting a future discount, only to lose that. But, because it's just a slip of paper, you don't feel all that cheated. It was never real money anyway. And this slip-up may just spur you on to try again, believing you'll do better next time.

The house, as they say, always win.

Of course, drugstores aren't the only ones playing this game. Clothing stores like Kohl's, JCPenney and more have been giving out "bonus bucks" for ages. You spend $50 now, and we'll give you a gift card worth $10 -- that will be usable in 1-2 weeks, and then only for a set period of time.

This spin is marketing brilliance. First and foremost, people will spend more. If they're already spending $40, why not spend $50 and get $10 back? You're practically cheating yourself out of $10 of spending if you don't buy more now! (The human brain does wonderful things with simplifying complex math problems into simple, if mistaken, nuggets of wisdom.)

Second, people will forget to use the bonuses. They'll get busy or lose the flyer or whatever. The point is that they'll find it, weeks later, while rummaging through their wallet for something else. Like the RR and ECB, they'll sigh, irritated with themselves for missing out on the opportunity. But they probably won't remember/dwell on the extra money they spent to get that bonus. They'll just look at it as potential free money that got wasted.

Third, people will use the bonuses. How is this great? It gets customers back in the door and buying things. A "free" $5 or $10 sounds great when they're justifying a purchase. In fact, they are just buying more things that they couldn't otherwise rationalize. In this scenario, $5-10 off the retailers' profits is paid back several times over: When the people try to "round up" their initial purchase to qualify for the bonus, and when they use the bonus as a discount on more merchandise.

Of course, if you're careful and keep your head, these sorts of sales can be terrific opportunities for frugality. Plenty of bloggers boast about their deals via RR and ECB. It can be a tremendous coup.

The problem, however, comes with the overall human mindset. Most people struggling with debt know all too well just how much we, as a species, crave instant gratification. We tend to deal best in the present tense, especially when it comes to sales.

So, looking at store circulars, it's only natural that we focus on the bottom line, post-RR/ECB price. That price is in nice, big type. Usually in a vivid color, too. In the smaller print, the ad explains the actual price you pay, how many RR/ECB you'll get and how it's like spending that nice, big-type, bright-color amount.

Technically, there's nothing wrong with this line of thinking. You can choose to take the discount off the initial purchase, rather than the one where you actually use that slip of paper. And if it stopped there, there's no problem.

Unfortunately, that darned present-tense predilection gets us again. We take the discount off both ends of the transaction. We spend $2.99 on the toothbrush and get $2RR, making it just $0.99. What a deal! Then, the next week, we go buy a $4 deodorant and use the RR, meaning it only cost us $2. Except that would mean we've only shelled out $2.99, rather than the $4.99 now missing from our wallet.

It's just too easy to get caught up in the heady mix of sales and discounts. It's too easy to forget when and how you are counting the discount. Was the toothbrush 99 cents, or $2.99? The deodorant $4 or $2? And, if only one is discounted, are they both still good deals?

It's a complicated thing to wrap your head around at times. And the more time between transactions, the harder it is to remember. When I was mystery shopping, I would constantly have problems keeping things straight. Payments come 6-8 weeks after the fact. Meanwhile, any expenses you incurred are abstract and forgotten. Sure, maybe you shelled out $40 for dinner and were paid $10 for the shop. But that was two months ago. Now you're excited to get a $50 check, and eager to apply it to some other, more current expense.

I was worried about this double-dipping of savings. Still, our pantry desperately needed soem fleshing out. We had gotten rid of so much, and my mom was no longer nearby providing us with toilet paper or pasta when we ran out.

I decided that the only solution was to choose: apply the discount on the first transaction or the second? It was actually kind of a difficult decision to make. All of the ads encourage you to count the discounts on that first purchase. I was tempted to choose that and just take every circulars' prices as shown. It's hard to read the circulars with suspicion and do your own, individual math to decide what things actually cost.

In the end, though, the only real answer was to only count the discount once it had been used. If you pay $2.99 for that toothbrush and then never use the $2RR, you haven't actually saved, have you? And given how unpredictable my energy can be, I figured I should rely only on what has been accomplished, rather than what might be.

Since my energy is unpredictable, though, I try to use all of the RR in one trip to the store. I buy one set of items, get the RR, then use those on the second set of items. If there are any RR from those, I use them on a third set. This way, nothing ever expires before I have had a chance to use it. It takes a little more planning, of course, but I find it infinitely better than hoping I don't waste the promise of savings.

Friday, October 23

Freebie Friday

Freebie Friday is presented by The Freebie Blogger. Check out the site for information about freebies, samples and events.

Free Cookie and Hot Chocolate at Barnes & Noble

Low-Fat Favorite Recipes Cookbook

Free Mattel Toy at Sears

Parenting Early Years Magazine Subscription

Free Crockpot Recipes eCookbook

NRG Dog Food Sample

Free Lubriderm Sample

Holiday Cookie Recipe Brochure

Free Tote Bag From Red Gold (select states)

Walls and Ceiling Magazine Subscription (must qualify)

Free Bagel at Noah's

Thursday, October 22

What lower prices?

It's not just economists who are insisting the recession is over. As many of you have probably heard, Social Security recipients won't be receiving a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this year. This is a first in 35 years.

So what heralded this change? Why, it's simple: Prices are going down. Or so says the equation that determines the COLA.

My only question: Where, exactly, are these lower prices?

Looking through the grocery store, I don't see much of a change. All that packaging that got smaller, while prices remained the same (or worse)? Still small. The prices? Still big.

There are plenty of food sales that make prices seem lower. And if you can catch those sales, you can definitely eat cheaply. But most of these tactics were around during boom times, as well. They just had fewer fans.

So where are these lower prices that made the COLA equation believe that seniors and people with disabilities could get more bang for their buck? Simple: Non-necessities.

Sure, you can get a great deal. If you go shopping, the stores practically roll out a red carpet. Everything's on sale, all the time -- because it has to be. People have finally clamped their wallets shut on a lot of unnecessary spending. They are occasionally lured in by a good sale, but they're wary and ready to bolt if things get too pricey.

Merchandisers aren't the only ones clamboring for people, either. Restaurants are flogging meal specials -- usually in the realm of 2 for $20. It's hard to walk past a bar or club without tripping over a happy hour special. Salons and spas are in on the act, too. Not many people can find room for $60-70 massages (plus tip). So there are introductory offers everywhere. Anything to get you in the door and familiar with their level of service.

So, yeah, there are great opportunities for specials that will stretch your dollar. But -- and here's the acid test -- how many of these places are patronized by senior citizens and other people on restricted budgets?

I'm sure that some seniors and people with disabilities pop into Chili's, Outback and TGIFriday's, but those folks aren't exactly the target audience, are they? People living on truly fixed incomes -- under $20,000 per person per year -- aren't going out to eat much at all. And how many seniors do you know who go to bars and clubs? Meanwhile most SS disability recipients are unable to work more than part-time. (If you earn more than $980 a month, you stop receiving benefits.) That means they're probably not healthy enough to go out a lot either. Trying to work around a disability, I can assure you, takes a lot out of you.

Yes, everyone needs clothes and shoes at some point. But these are people who know how to make do and how to do without. They shop at thrift stores or, at the very least, huge sales -- and they come armed with coupons. There are always cheap shoes to be had at places like Big 5, Target, Wal-mart, or on various store clearance racks.

But what about things you can't avoid? You can be careful about utilities usage -- turn off the lights, use the thermostat less, take quicker showers -- but you can't avoid it completely. And I've yet to hear about those prices lowering. (If anyone does know of a case, please feel free to correct me!)

In some areas, rents have lowered overall. But mostly it's just a proliferation of specials. While this can help minimize rent, you still have to be free of a lease and have good credit. In addition, the better offers are usually from the nicer communities. If you're just going for affordable rent, you won't get much of a break. And all the recent foreclosures mean a lot of renters on the market. It's a mixed bag. Oh, and let's not forget that you have to be able to save up a deposit -- if not first and last month's rent plus deposit. Could you do that on $1,000 a month?

If they're lucky, seniors will have their own homes. Then they are only responsible for insurance and property taxes. Both of those keep increasing, although some people have at least gotten a tax break as their house values plummet. If you rely only on Social Security payments, that could easily account for 1/3 of your income. And you better hope that no events cause you to need your homeowners' insurance. That will just increase your premiums.

Meanwhile, gas prices are back on the rise, assuming you have a car. If you don't, you can get discount fares on buses -- assuming the transit is any good where you are -- but even those costs will go up, especially as gas prices keep increasing.

Groceries can be gotten cheaply, of course, if people shop the right sales and stock up whenever possible. Of course, if you do this by car, it can mean more gas, as you shop at various stores for what you need, and perhaps make multiple trips to truly amass a full pantry. If you have to do it by bus, you're looking at a lot more problems and a lot more physical work. And all those sales are still based on smaller packages and/or higher prices.

And let's not even get into all the doom-and-gloom predictions of runaway inflation -- which would mean we actually get less for our dollar, not more. Even if the dollar does recover, there's absolutely not guarantee that the recovery will last. In fact, it seems that every proclaimed recovery -- in dollars and stocks -- is followed by uncertainty or even reversals. So what if the dollar plunges in the last half of the year? What do seniors do then, besides wait for the next COLA determination?

So, to recap:

  • There are lower prices -- but almost exclusively in items that most seniors and people on disability do without. There are food and drink specials, but most of the Social Security population don't make it out to bars and clubs, or even too many restaurants.
  • On the other hand, basic costs of living, such as groceries, rent/property taxes, utilities and transportation, keep increasing.
  • The dollar is fluctuating and a lot of people are predicting inflation -- runaway or otherwise. Any recovery that does happen, may not last.
  • Seniors and people on Social Security disability are getting more for their money, which is why they don't need any cost-of-living adjustment in the coming year.

Can anyone explain this to me? I don't speak bureaucrat.

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Tuesday, October 20

Holiday shopping and rewards programs

In my last post, I explained how you could still get as much as $20 in rewards before the holiday shopping deadline. But that's only half the equation when it comes to that heady mix of rewards programs and holiday shopping.

Rewards programs aren't just to earn gift certificates for free shopping. They can also reward you for the shopping you were going to do anyway. Since the holidays tend to be when the most concentrated bursts of spending occur, it only make sure you know where to go for "rewarding" online purchases.

It's important to choose the right programs when you're looking to earn by shopping. For quick, easy rewards without spending money, Swagbucks is my absolute pick. But if you are looking to get some bang for your Internet-spent buck, it's not the way to go.

The right program for you may depend on your goal. Some people prefer money-back programs, which give back a portion of the money spent. The checks from these can be snowflakes against debt, or toward a large purchase. On the other hand, some people are perfectly happy earning points toward gift cards. They use these as gifts, to buy gifts, or simply to treat themselves to something otherwise outside the budget.

Personally, I like both kinds of programs, and so I participate in both. This gives me a couple of advantages: variety and comparison shopping. The basic fact is that no one program will cover all the stores you shop at. But if you work with two or three programs, there is a better chance that your purchase will earn you some sort of reward.

That said, you don't want to stretch yourself too thin among the various rewards sites. Do too many and it will take forever to actually earn anything. And rewards points are no good if you can't use them.

I suggest that you sign up with MyPoints and Ebates. If you feel comfortable adding a third program, Inbox Dollars should be your next stop.


As the name implies, this is a points program. My favorite ways to earn through the site are to read emails, do searches (you only need to do about one a day), and to use coupons printed through the site. You can also earn by free trial offers and, of course, shopping through the site.

I love this program and have been a faithful user for just under a decade. I use it mainly to earn points for free. But it can also give a good return for online purchases. It has quite literally hundreds of merchants to do business with. The sheer expanse of names is a tad dizzying, and it keeps growing.

And just like the merchants list, the rewards list is long. Very long. There are restaurants, computer stores, movie chains, clothing shops and more. You choose which reward to go for. Your choices are generally $25 or $50 gift cards, though some merchants offer $10 or $100 cards.

It's fabulous, and, in my opinion, it's the only points program you should bother with. And if you do take my advice, feel free to use as a referral. I can always use more points for my holiday shopping rewards!


Ebates is my favorite cash-back site. Maybe this is because it gives you $5 just for signing up. Okay, that's definitely part of it. But the other part is that it has shops that the other sites don't. In fact, it may be the only site I've seen with a more extensive merchant list than MyPoints.

The only downside to Ebates is that it only pays out quarterly, and only if you have earned over $5. So, unlike MyPoints, you can't cash out whenever you like. On the other hand, you're getting money, not a gift card. I figure that more or less makes the two sites even.

Inbox Dollars

Inbox Dollars is also a great program. The main reason it ranks third on my list is because the other two are so terrific. Also, they have lower payout thresholds than this site.

Like Ebates, Inbox Dollars deals in regular cash. Because of this, you need a minimum of $30 before you can request a check. Like MyPoints, you can earn by reading emails. But unlike the other two, if you refer new members, you keep benefiting as they earn. You can also head on over to the survey center for some extra money. They have a seemingly never-ending supply of the questionnaires, so if you don't qualify for the first one, be sure to persevere.

Inbox Dollars does only have 58 merchants to shop through, which is important when considering your holiday shopping. But it's always worth checking to see if your store is on there. Sometimes this site beats out Ebates on cash-back.

Check out one or more of these sites, so that your only reward for holiday shopping won't be a huge January credit card bill.

Saturday, October 17

You can do it!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Well, not here in Arizona, obviously. But, looking at the calendar, it's hard to deny that the winter holidays are creeping up on us. Slowly but steadily. (Except in retail stores, where plenty of Santas were out along with the trick-or-treat candy.)

Hopefully, this shouldn't catch too many of you unawares. Most frugal people shop around all year for various birthday and holiday gifts. There's the ever-beloved yard sales, of course, but also store sales throughout the year.

That's all well and good, but what if you're not prepared? What if you are new to frugality/rewards programs? What if a wedding gift or anniversary celebration drained your points coffer? Don't despair. Even at this late date, there's still some time to make use of rewards programs for the holidays.

Personally, I have a few rewards programs that are near and dear to my heart; but time is limited, so we're going to have to narrow our focus.

If you can only do one rewards program in the next 6-7 weeks, make it Swagbucks. Why? Because it only takes 45 SB to get a $5 Amazon gift card. (Actually, it's an electronic code, which makes it all the more handy, since you don't have to worry about the clogged holiday postal system.)

Now, even in hard times $5 doesn't sound like much, I know. But there's a few things to remember:

  • Every little bit counts: Especially when your funds are limited, any boost is helpful. If you've only got, say, $50 to spend, then you'll really appreciate that gift card. A $5 gift card on Amazon just increased your holiday spending by 10 percent.
  • Amazon prices aren't retail: With Amazon's many booksellers, $5 could cover the cost of a near-mint condition book. That's one present over and done with, though you'll have to pay $3-4 for shipping. (If there are several titles on your list, try and get as many as possible through the same seller. This cuts down on shipping costs.) Some books may be more expensive, but there are plenty of them for under $10. So a $5 card essentially cut your costs in half.
  • Think of it as paying for shipping: Amazon does have a wonderfully low threshold for free shipping, but if your purchase is under $25, your gift card could cover most of your shipping charges.
  • Amazon is more than just books: Sure, we all know this, but when I think of Amazon, I still think first and foremost of reading material. The fact is that Amazon offers a plethora of items. Last year, I got Tim's Marvel T-shirts through Amazon. My mom used some of her Swagbucks to stock up on some (nonperishable) groceries when the site had a sale. Amazon offers electronics, Target gift cards, cell phones, lotions and even MMA-style heavy bags. So that gift card has nearly endless applications.
  • No sales tax: Unless you live in Washington, Amazon doesn't charge sales tax. And the free-shipping threshold is only $25. So if you're going to buy a pricey gadget, you're doing yourself a favor purchasing online rather than in stores. I especially advocate this in the case of gaming devices. The prices are pretty universal, so you know you're not going to miss out on some huge sale. Meanwhile, you'll save yourself at least $10 in tax, plus the $5 off with the gift card.
  • $5 adds up quickly: Okay, $5 doesn't sound like much. But I bet you'd be psyched to think of $10 off your Christmas shopping. With some diligence on your part, it's possible to get that in the next 6 weeks. (I say 6 because you want to allow time for shipping. Although I am, against my usual trend, advocating a trial offer: Amazon Prime. A three-month free trial, it gives you free, 2-day shipping, which could be invaluable this holiday season.)
  • Having friends/readers pays off: Two family members and about 20 readers mean that I'll have enough SB for about $200 of Amazon gift cards. All in about 8 months. Of course, I have had the benefit of time. But can't you think of at least one person who would try Swagbucks out? Someone who loves free stuff as much as you do? How about just posting it on your blog and seeing what happens?

So, how can you be sure to get as many swagbucks as you can? First and foremost, do your searches. This is easiest when you download the toolbar. Be sure not to go overboard. Don't just sit there and type in random nouns. Instead, every time you need to go to a website, even if you know the URL, search for it.

When you do win, it will usually be 1 SB, but there are plenty of other denominations. My mom won a 10 SB once. (I still say she cheated somehow, since the most I've gotten is a 3.) I have won as many as 3 times in a single day. Most days, I only win once.

Even so, if you start today, you'll have about 6 weeks to go, depending on how late you feel comfortable ordering. That's 42 days. You get 3 SB just for signing up. So, right there, that's enough for a $5 Amazon card, even winning only the minimum every day. Chances are, you'll at least get a 2 or 3 at some point.

In addition, stay aware of swagcodes. There is usually at least one a day, and it's a great way to get at least 1 SB more daily. Even iI am installing a Swagbucks widget -- Swidget -- at the bottom of this blog to make it easy to check. You just click the "Swagcodes" button and then click "Check for code." If there is an active one, it will help you find it. Another site that keeps good track of the codes is Engineer a Debt Free Life. Check either the widget or EADFL throughout the day. If you stay on top of the Swagcodes, you can guarantee yourself $10 worth of Amazon cards in the next 6 weeks.

There are other ways to earn -- mainly via trade-ins (games, consoles, cell phones) and shopping. Personally, I don't recommend shopping. I love the site, but the SB: $ ratio is pretty bad. Trade-ins are a mixed bag. I think it's best to comparison shop. Find out what you could get in actual cash before taking the swagbucks. There are a lot of sites out there that buy used cell phones -- be sure to check the feedback, though, since some are frauds -- and places like GameStop will usually give you at least a buck or two trade-in value. In the end, it's your call.

I guess my second favorite thing about Swagbucks -- first, of course, is free stuff -- is the ridiculously exciting lift you get from winning one. When you see that you've won, you get a flutter. I have no idea why, but it's very exciting. Tim and I have both gotten into a ritual of exclaiming, "Cool, Swagbuck!" when the other person is in the room. It's probably very silly, but, honestly, I'll take whatever little jolts of happiness I can get.

So, what are you waiting for? Go over to Swagbucks right now and get started. The Amazon gift cards are waiting.

Friday, October 16

Freebie Friday

Freebie Friday is brought to you by the Freebie Blogger. The site offers all kinds of daily goodies, so be sure to check it out early and often!

Arm & Hammer Fresh-ins Sample

Harlequin Romance Books (must qualify)

Happy Baby Organic Food Free Product Coupon

Over 400 Free Audio Book Downloads

Playtex Sport Sample Pack

Victoria’s Secret Pink Panty Coupon

Baseball Digest Subscription

General Mills Coupon Book

Create and Send Free Personalized Postcards

Texas Tech Backpack

Tuesday, October 13

Beware of "bargains"

Today, Tim and I went to Peter Piper Pizza. It's a Chuck E Cheese-esque place. Still, Tim wanted me to check it out, since he worked there while he was just out of college. We came, we snacked, we played. It was a nice outing.

I felt okay about spending a little money because it was a bargain: $4.99 for a pizza buffet. Sounds great, right? Actually, not so much.

Picture a 14" pizza. How many slices are you actually going to eat? Most women will be done after 3 or so slices. Most guys would probably be done after 4 or 5. That means you're paying $1 or more per slice. Between the two of us, Tim and I had 7 slices. Soda wasn't included. So we paid $1.42 per slice. Two hours later, Tim was hungry again, three hours later, and I'm starting to feel it too. I'm not saying we were financially gouged, but we didn't really get the bargain we were expecting.

Of course, stores do this all the time. It's their prerogative to make their prices sound as attractive as possible. Grocery stores often have sales where certain items are deeply discounted, but many prices are only marginally better. I've seen "sale" items marked down by a whopping 30 cents.

But the strategy works. Seeing that something is on sale has a couple of psychological effects on us.

1. When you assume...

Problem: Shoppers can be persuaded to buy something simply because it's on sale. If it's on sale, after all, it has to be a good deal, right? Uh, no. Actually, plenty of sales are not that far off the normal retail price. Now, if you needed to buy that item anyway, any savings is great. But most of us, at some point, have fallen for the sales-sticker ploy.

Solution: Do your due diligence. (Try saying that five times fast!) Before you do your frugal-find dance, look at the regular sticker to find out what the non-sales price is. Of course, worthwhile savings is a completely relative term. Some people would be happy with 50 cents off. I prefer $1 or more. Ideally, you'll be keeping an eye on sale cycles, so you can also compare the current sales price to what you could pay later in that cycle.

2. I Need it now!

Problem: Sale signs create a sense of urgency. It's on sale now! It won't be on sale next week. So you have to buy it now, while the savings are there! This sense of urgency is a salesperson's best friend. It makes you buy on impulse. You don't want someone else to have the thing you desire. And it's fresh in your mind, so the desire is prominent. If you have time to think it through, your feelings may change. So a smart marketing team will put a time limit on any deal.

Solution: In most situations, you actually have plenty of time. Deadlines are often artificial. Many times, you can convince a manager to honor a special that has just ended. Some stores even have price matching. If you see a lower price in the one to two months after your purchase, you can bring in the ad, along with your receipt, and the store will give you back the difference.

Of course, places like grocery stores generally don't have such options. But one common mistake people make is to assume that any sales price is for only one week. In fact, most grocery stores have at least a few sale items that are discounted for a whole month. Check the sales sticker, which will tell you how long the sales price is effective. You may have the breathing room you need to make a decision.

3. In sight, in mind

Problem: One of the most potent aspects of the sales sticker is simply this: It attracts your attention. You go to check it out, and you consider its purchase. Sure, there are plenty of people who walk away. There are also a lot of people who buy.

Once we've seen something, our body and mind respond. You see Haagen-Daaz on sale, you'll probably crave ice cream right then and there. You're at Target shopping for a closet organizer, but look at the sale on frames! Weren't you thinking about getting a couple more anyway?

But maybe you're strong; maybe you pass by that ice cream and home decor. Nonetheless, the item has your attention. You'll start to notice all those photos sitting around -- ones that you had become oblivious to before. Commercials and ads will catch your eye more, because the product is already in the back of your thoughts. In short, there's a good chance you'll end up buying the product no matter what. Hopefully, you'll wait for a coupon and a sale, but you may just cave one night when those decorative little ice cream pints are dancing in front of your eyes.

All that effect, just from one little sales tag!

Solution: This one may be the hardest. Marketers test out different color schemes and fonts to see which ones are the most attention-getting. The stores place sale items on display, so that you can't help but see them.

The only real method I know of is sticking to your list. Religiously. If it's not on the list, it's not in your bag. Of course, this doesn't help when you're making the list: Weekly circulars flaunt products that suddenly begin to seem necessary. Sure you don't need a fryer. But think of how much you'd use it! It'll pay for itself... and then some!

So maybe there's no complete solution to be had here. A lot of it comes down to remembering priorities: What do you need, what do you want, and what luxureeds will you allow yourself?

So what does all this mean?

Well, it means you're human. People are being paid to manipulate you, and they're good at their jobs. The main way to defend yourself is to, as always, be vigilant. Make sure you know what you're getting for what you're paying. Check out the details of any "bargain" to ensure you're getting your dollar's worth.

Saturday, October 10

My frugal heating pad

When we moved, one of the things we jettisoned was our heating pad. We rarely used it, and I wondered just how much use it would get in a desert environment. It seemed like a logical decision at the time. But, of course, we ended up needing it the first week in our new place.

We realized we would have to do something. I was in favor of just trying to find one at a thrift store. Tim, however, was hoping for something more immediate. Later that day, at CVS, he held up a heating pad and asked if $15 was a good deal. Our last one cost $2 at Value Village. I was not paying $15 to replace it.

Instead, when we got home, I employed a trick a friend once taught me. I grabbed an old sock, filled it with rice, and tied it off with a knot. I put it in the microwave for 45 seconds, then handed Tim his new heating pad.

At times, I even consider this one superior to normal heating pads. For one, it uses less electricity. The rice generally retains heat for upwards of a half hour with only a minute's worth of microwave use. Even better, you don't have to worry about wiring wearing out some day, or any kind of electrical short.

Also, the sock often stays on better. With the standard pad -- a somewhat flimsy rectangle, never quite long enough to wrap around a limb -- you often have to weight it into place. This can me keeping a hand on it, lying a particular way or simply putting something on top of it. Whatever method you choose, it's often inconvenient. The rice sock, on the other hand, balances quite well. If you fill it less full than I did -- or use a larger sock -- it will do a pretty good job of conforming to the surface as necessary. Think of it as an early ancestor of memory foam.

You could also use the sock as a foot warmer on cold nights. Back before electricity, it was common practice to warm a bed before climbing in. They would heat a brick or piece of metal, and place it toward the end of the bed, thereby making a freezing-cold sleeping surface a lot more pleasant. Good concept, but the rice sock improves on this by not having the tendency to set the sheets on fire. I consider that a major plus. The same effect could be had with a hot water bottle; but a sock and some rice is probably less harmful to the environment than a bunch of rubber. And it's certainly cheaper.

The only potential downside to this is that heated, uncooked rice has a distinctive smell. It takes a time or two to get used to. Frankly, I find it kind of pleasant and comforting. But it could just be me.

Do you have any frugal shortcuts for common appliances/modern conveniences?

Friday, October 9

Freebie Friday

Freebie Friday is brought to you by The Freebie Blogger. Check out the site daily for information about free samples, events and other goodies.

Little Debbie Million Cupcake Giveaway

Dromeo Pain Relief Cream Sample

L’Oreal EverPure and RetivaLift Free Samples

2010 Inspirational Wall Calendar

Kids Eat Free at Boston Market (w/purchase)

Hendrickson's Dressing Sample (limited number per day)

Free Tube of PoliGrip

Stone & Tile Design Magazine

Free Angel of Praise Christmas Ornament

Free Game at Brunswick Bowling Centers

Eye Makeup Brush Set at Aerie Stores

Thursday, October 8

Use chapstick... and other frugal tips from the dentist's office

Yet another reason to always thumb through the Val-Pack coupons: cheap local services. I found an ad for a $39 cleaning, complete with x-rays (!!!). The place was called the Center for Gentle Dentistry, which sounded like exactly what I needed.*

I had been meaning to make an appointment with Tim's dentist for over a year now. There was just always something else going on, and the money was always needed in other places. Not at all responsible, but, if you read the asterisked story at the end of the post, you'll probably understand why.

Now that we had moved, it made sense for me to find a dentist and get into a regular care situation. I knew I at least needed a cleaning, but about a week ago, I noticed a very deep cavity in one of my molars. So I grabbed up the Val-Pak coupon and made an appointment.

They were all very nice, I have to say. But, more importantly, I learned a few things. The dental hygienist checked for oral cancer -- something I had never had done before. She checked my lymph nodes, neck and jaw area. I was supposed to tell her if anything was especially tender. Definitely a good reminder for my own uses. I was also warned to go to a doctor if I ever had a sore or spot in my mouth -- painful or not -- that didn't go away in 2 weeks. I probably would have noticed such things myself, but it was a good reminder nonetheless.

She also asked me if I was using good face and lip protection. It's imperative. She asked if I'd seen those little old ladies with barely-there lips; apparently that's actually the result of sun damage to the skin. More importantly, she said that same sun damage can affect your gums, and therefore teeth, as well. So she advised me to have a good face protector -- but also lip coverage.

Her recommendation? Chapstick. Apparently, they all have at least SPF 15, some have 30. I had already been checking into lip protection with SPF and couldn't find much. Well, other than The Body Shop's $10 a tube stuff. So this Chapstick thing was quite the revelation. Sadly, that one piece of frugal advice would have won me over as a customer. In the end, the care was great, but I do think it's funny how one small suggestion can cement a business relationship.

Later, the office manager also told me to never, ever, ever use a toothbrush with medium to hard bristles. Apparently, they're just terrible on your gums. She declard that the only thing those bristles are good for is cleaning jewelry and silverware. While I don't have a lot of forks to polish, it's always good to remind me there are grades of toothbrushes. I tend to forget such things.

The most important thing I learned yesterday, though, was just why it was such a bad idea to wait to see a dentist until you're in pain. I already knew the physical reason: If you wait until you're in pain, the decay as already reached the nerve.

But there's a financial reason too. It's spelled R-O-O-T C-A-N-A-L. And it will hurt your wallet amost as much as your teeth. If you wait until there's pain, you'll almost definitely need a root canal. That's $1,000. And, I was told, you'll usually need a crown to go over the tooth. That's another $1,000.

Even if you have coverage, you're likely to pay 50% of the cost. So rather than pay a $100 co-pay for a filling, you'd pay $1,000 for a painful root canal and a crown which might, in time, come off and cause more hassle. Once again, the cost of procrastination is steep.

Speaking of, my own procrastination will cost us. I need three fillings. Part of this is my need to floss more, which I'm finding easier these days. (It's strange the small things that seem impossible when the depression is heavy.) But a lot of it was probably lack of proper cleanings. Starting in 2010, I'm going to get a Medicare plan with dental coverage. It will only cover preventative care, but I'm more an "ounce of prevention" kind of gal anyway. At least, normally I am.

So the total of my procrastination (and love of sugary sweets)? Three fillings at $219 each. Ouch. But really what are the other options? Let my teeth get worse? Tim and I are well aware the costs of tooth extraction and dentures.

The office has a 5% senior discount, so I asked if that extended to disability. It didn't generally, but when the office manager found out I was on disability, she gave it to me anyway. It always pays to ask.

With the discount, that puts costs at around $625 before tax. Unless, of course, they'll stack the cash discount (5%) with my disability discount. I doubt it, but it's worthwhile to ask for another $32 off. Otherwise, we'll probably put it on the credit card for miles -- we just found out that we have a wedding to attend in February '10 -- and then just pay it off immediately.

This will hurt our payoff schedule of $1500 a month, but somethings are unavoidable, I'm afraid. And I consider my teeth an investment. Which is to say, my parents sunk a whole lot of money into my teeth, with orodontia from age 8-16. So I better keep the lil suckers in good health, or I could get in mighty big trouble!

*The last time I went to a dentist, it was a low-income dental clinic. Most cities will have at least one. It's common for priority to be given to children. In Seattle, I could really only find one that would take me. It was very different from the kind of dental care I had gotten before.

The hygienist was rather into scare tactics. She told me -- in a tone far beyond scolding -- that if I didn't stop eating sugary snacks all my teeth would fall out. I know this is, on some level, true; I also knew at the time it was hyperbolic. But it got to me.

Maybe I was just extra vulnerable that day. Maybe it was that I was already nervous because it had been so long since I'd gotten my teeth checked. Or maybe it's that supremely powerless position you're in while they're looming over you. Whatever it was, tears leaked out steadily and I was fighting against full-on crying. The woman just looked on dispassionately, as though this was no big deal.

Sunday, October 4

Getting serious

I've been living frugally for most of my life. That's not to say that I've always been the strict definition of frugality.

My disability certainly made things harder, but particularly being careful with money. Before my mom moved to Seattle, any grocery trip meant a walk. That wasn't always possible. Other times, even preparing food I already had was simply too much to consider.

But, throughout most of my life, I have been acutely aware of my money and how it is spent. I have tried to spend within reason. At times, though, just staying on my medications while uninsured put me in debt every month. Tim brought a lot more money into the equation, though there were more expenses to consider, as well. And we've spent the last 3 years together paying off his oral surgery, his student loans and our combined medical expenses.

So I hope you can appreciate what I mean when I say that we're "getting serious" about our debt reduction efforts.

Of course, we were already planning on making larger payments against our debt, now that we aren't forking over $502 a month to insurance. But we got a nice little spur in our proverbial hindquarters the other day: My contract work may not last much longer. It's a convoluted story, full of "if" and "maybe" and "could," so I won't delve into it. The point is, we don't know how much longer we can count on the extra $900 a month -- almost 1/3 of our monthly income.

I probably have at least another few months for sure. I'm hoping for at least six, which I think is relatively realistic. The kind of changes that may occur would most likely take 3-6 months to get decided, and even then they may not affect the majority of the work I do.

Even so, we have decided on a new goal: $1500 will go to debt each month. That's just over 1/2 of our earnings, so it will be dicey at times. But if we can accomplish this, we should be out of credit card debt in 6 months.

Essentially, we will have money to pay rent, buy groceries, get our prescriptions and have our in-home entertainment of DirecTV and Netflix. Up until we get back into therapy, there will be about $250 of wiggle room. But there are other draining costs to deal with in the meantime. A speeding ticket from our move down will take a chunk. We have some checks to send back to doctors in Seattle. And I need to see a dentist asap about some cavities.

That's not to say we'll be living entirely hand-to-mouth. Currently, we're having to replenish our cupboards, which is always a budget drain. Once we're a little less Old Mother Hubbard, we can scale back on groceries. And that will free up some funds for the occasional meal out. (Emphasis on occasional.)

I've already started preparing Tim for the idea that we'll be buying only sale items, preferably ones we have coupons for. This may sound simplistic, but remember that Tim has severe ADD. He has trouble knowing what he wants until he's in the store, which is to say that his cravings develop as his eyes roam the aisles. An expensive habit, to say the least, but one that he's working on.

It probably goes without saying that more cooking will be important. In the past, it's been a problem because of energy. I frequently lacked the energy to get the ingredients, let alone actually prepare the meal. Part of this was also the depression making small tasks feel overwhelming.

Here in Arizona, though, Tim is doing most of the driving, which frees up a lot of my energy. In addition, the sunshine is helping with my depression. Overall, then, I'm finding it easier to accomplish my daily tasks. That will be huge, when it comes to staying within budget.

Of course, another big boost comes from my determination to use a slow cooker in meal preparation. I find that cooking sounds a lot less onerous if it mainly involves my dumping ingredients into a pot, then coming back 7 hours later and declaring it dinner. I've already had one successful meal through this method. I cobbled together a spicy sauce by grabbing whatever we had on hand and mixing to taste. Then I slathered it on some chicken in the slow cooker and, 6 hours later, it was a tasty entree.

Besides cooking, the biggest obstacle will be not eating while out and about. There are several places in this area that we still consider rare treats. There are few, if any, Dairy Queens in Seattle city limits. But there is one about a mile from our apartment. A couple of blocks from that is a Sonic. Luckily, DQ has a semi-regular buy-one-get-one coupon in Sunday papers, which will allow us an indulgence or two; and Sonic has a daily happy hour that gives us half off their oh-so-tasty drinks. In the end, it will be about strategy rather than total deprivation.

At least, that's what I'm trying to convince Tim. He has been tethered to the apartment, for fear of going for a walk/bike ride and being stranded with hunger pangs. It's a valid enough fear, since most of his food is sugary and/or insubstantial. And in Arizona heat, Quaker bars will become a gooey mess. Luckily, Walgreen's and CVS have both been discounting their canned nuts lately. I pointed out that these would be a good, lasting snack to carry with him in a backpack. He's agreed to give it a try.

If it works, he can go burn off some energy for free as necessary. That will help keep him from being so antsy at night, since that leads to a desire to go out -- which always seems to lead to spending money. As for myself, I'm trying to get back into working out. The fitness center is mere steps away from our door. That should take up any restless feelings I have, as well as getting me closer to my goal of overall health. Gotta love those two-fers.

All this planning, of course, is not to say that I expect success immediately. It will take time for Tim and I to adjust to these strictures. We'll do our best to accomplish the goals, but there will be a learning curve. For this reason, I included some broader expenses than we are currently using. For example, we aren't using all that much gas at present, but I budgeted for $100 per month. In our first month here, we probably used closer to $70 -- and that included a lot of back-and-forth as we looked for home furnishings. And as I mentioned earlier, I budgeted for therapy, even though we're not yet back into that groove.

Still, having these numbers in the budget provides us some much-needed padding. If we come in under budget, it will be a psychological boost. In addition, I hope it will prove to be a source of "fun" money, so that we can go out once in awhile in order to stay sane.

So that's our plan. That's our "getting serious." I wish there were some pithy way to sum it up; some wisdom I could impart to you. But I think I better save any and all wisdom for keeping in budget.

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Friday, October 2

Freebie Friday

Freebie Friday is brought to you by The Freebie Blogger. Check out the site daily for special events, offers and other freebies.

Herbal Essences Free Product Coupon

Nautica Oceans Fragrance Sample

Clorox Wipes Sample Pack

Sandwich, Wrap or Salad at QuickTrip (use zip 30501)

$5 SC Johnson Rebate

Nutri-Dog Chews Dog Treat Sample

Exfoliating Foot Ointment Sample

Geek Flirt Lip Gloss

Soybutter Sample

Tall Brewed Coffee at Starbucks

Entree at Ruby Tuesday on Birthday