Thursday, February 25

Sixty Swagbucks for the taking!

Today is Swagbucks' second birthday and the company plans to celebrate in style over the coming days.

Perhaps the biggest change is in denominations. Before, you would generally get 1 or 2 SBs. Sometimes, there would be a 3, 5, 10 or even more. But it was rare.

Starting today, though, Swagbucks will be in 10s, 20s and several other denominations. It also seems we're being promised more wins. (See today's Swagbucks blog for a more thorough explanation.) That means your account will grow faster! (If you already have an account, your current total will be increased by a factor of 10. So 100 SBs becomes 1,000.)

This means that anyone starting an account today can start with SIXTY Swagbucks!

From 6 a.m. PST, February 25th til 6 a.m. March 4th, you can enter "ABBYSCODE" and start your account off on the right foot.

For those of you already registered, don't worry -- there's still new SB-earning opportunities for you:

  • There will be a ton of codes given away today. Check the blog, Facebook and Twitter throughout the day!
  • Download the new Swagbucks toolbar (3.0) and enjoy the new features. There will be new ways to win with the toolbar -- but you have to be logged in.
  • Be sure to check out the revamped homepage. It is supposed to be an easier interface.
  • Swagstakes galore! Okay, that's not Swagbucks, per se. But it's free stuff -- which is pretty much the whole point of Swagbucks! Check out the new Swagstakes portal. It will offer more contests and even feature some limited-entry formatted contests. That will help insure each entrant's odds of winning.

Normally, I'd say save up your Swagbucks for Amazon gift cards, but there are a LOT of great prizes being offered. So I say go and grab up as many codes as you can. Then use them to enter to win $100 Amazon Gift Cards, Sony Bravia 32" TV, Amazon Kindle, Apple iPod Touch, Flip Ultra HD Camera, Panasonic Blu Ray with Remote, Apple iPad, Sopranos Complete Series Box Set, Rachel Ray 10 piece cookware set, Playstation 3 system + games bundle, Canon Powershot Camera, Seinfeld Complete Series DVD box Set, Viziio 22" LCD TV, and lots, lots more.

So what are you waiting for? Download the toolbar, start searching and get entered in some contests!

Happy Swaggin'!

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Wednesday, February 24

Well that's $50 down the drain...

Chalk up another expense to exhaustion...

We had to board my cat for two days, to let the pest control chemicals evaporate for a bit. (I seem to be the only one amused by instructions begging you to keep your pet away for two days, but you can come on back after three hours. I swear PETA writes these things.)

When it was time to pick her up, I was so addled with exhaustion, I couldn't remember where her carrier was. So I just drove slowly/carefully for the mile and a half back to the apartment. And was rewarded with a big ole crap in the backseat.

I removed the actual offenders, but was too fatigued to actually organize a cleaning effort. My malaise continued until Sunday night, at which point I had to clean it up because I was picking Tim up the next day. So I opened up the back door, doused it in cleaning stuff and left it, as the instructions demanded.

The problem? I'm about 99 percent sure I didn't lock the door.

First thing we noticed was the remote was gone. It was a $25 deposit. But we thought perhaps I had just brought it in the apartment with me by accident. Then we went to get the office chair out of the trunk. The one that had been there for, like, a week and we just hadn't remembered to bring in. Except now, it wasn't there anymore.

I think someone noticed the door was unlocked and that the back seat pulls down. That exposed the office chair (still in box) and they helped themselves. It explains why no one took the small bag of miscellaneous office supplies up front: Accessing the trunk from the back seat, the bag wouldn't have been visible.

I'm pissed, too, because we waited for a good mesh chair to go on sale. (In case Tim needs to do phone work from home, the mesh will keep air circulating and prevent his skin from breaking out unduly.) I guess it's back to watching Staples sales.

Meanwhile, two $25 items are gone. Irretrievable. All because I just don't have the stamina of a normal person.

Don't get me wrong, my fatigue costs us in tons of ways that I've accepted and dealt with. I don't hit as many sales as I would like, because I have to apportion my energy to be sure other things get done. I sometimes pay a little bit in library fees because I'm too tired to get a book back on the due date. Little stuff.

But this one is new -- and pricey, at that. Especially considering that I'm normally a door-locking zealot.

I'm off to go stare at the empty spot in the office where a chair should be.

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Tuesday, February 23

Temper, temper

I did not get a good start on the day.

I woke up to a very insistently hungry cat. (We're trying to keep her food out only for short periods of time, to avoid attracting more roaches, especially after all the work I did.)

As I made my way to the kitchen to get her container of food, I killed a big, fat roach. I also saw that Tim hadn't taken out the trash. I asked him to do it right as I went to bed. I hadn't wanted it to stay so full, lest it attract more bugs.

I was stewing about that -- and wiping up the remains of the roach -- when I caught another, much smaller one. That's when I noticed that Tim had left two peanut-butter laden knives in the sink.

Now, chances are, those roaches would have been there anyway -- even without the trash or the knives. While Tim was gone, I would still catch a bug or two a day. And that was when I kept the trash level low and the sinks clear of dishes.

But my rational brain hadn't turned on. (Yes, we're operating on the assumption that it ever does.) I was tired and mad. I didn't have room to consider Tim's ADD or basic exhaustion. (The bed at his parents' house is not remotely conducive to rest.) I was just thinking about all the work that had gone into getting ready for the exterminators: how far it had set me back to stage the apartment and then put everything back.

So I threw on some scrubs, snarled something at a half-conscious Tim, and took out the trash, slamming the front door for good measure.

I came back slightly mollified, if still irritated. Then I heard some crackle loudly as I stepped in the apartment. There, face-down on the floor, was one of the 8"x10" prints Tim had picked up on our honeymoon. It had fallen when I slammed the door shut. The glass was demolished.

Talk about a reality check! Over two cockroaches, some peanut butter and an overly full trash, I almost destroyed something of great sentimental value to Tim. I realized I had once again overreacted to a situation.

Luckily, it was a cheap frame. It will be easy to replace, and he might even get a nicer setting out of it. But the whole incident reminded me about the high cost of my temper.

I'm not saying that I was wrong to be frustrated; and this probably won't cure me of overreacting in the future. It is, however, a wonderful example of just how un-frugal it is to have a short fuse.

A bad temper can lead to car accidents and fights (with corresponding medical bills). It can lead to strained inter-employee relations, which cost you raises and other professional advancement. It can lead to physical ailments, which cost money to treat. Or it can just lead you to break things -- purposefully or otherwise -- that you then have to replace.

What has your temper cost you recently?

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Sunday, February 21

Think positive, dammit!

Tim has really got to stop calling me in the middle of the night with sentences like "Don't get mad" and "You're not going to like this." It's enough to stop a girl's heart!

The first one -- "Don't get mad" -- was actually positive. He had been cast into the role of taxi for his brother, and had won $200 at a casino off $20. The second, unfortunately, was to announce that he had $30 leftover from said $200.

Yep, $170 gone in under 24 hours. Given that it was also about 3 a.m. my time, I did not react well to it.

To be fair, the bachelor party changed drastically from its original inception. Suffice to say, the bride came along, not having a party of her own. And, late at night in downtown Seattle, there's not a lot of cheap eats to be had.

Honestly, in his position, I don't know how much differently I would have done things. There aren't a lot of ways to tell you're best friend you won't pay for the woman he's about to marry. Especially when it's a one-time celebration. So a good time was had by all, but Tim ended up spending significantly more than expected.

But I wasn't there. I was in bed, half awake, and feeling utterly powerless. So I had a hard time processing anything other than the amount that was gone.

I just felt hopeless. I'm sure we've all been there: It seems that you are constantly hitting setbacks, no matter how hard you try. I had gotten my hopes up, and they had been dashed.

It didn't help that I was still exhausted from getting the house ready for the pest control guys. I've actually had to take a nap every day for the past three days. That's not supposed to happen when I take my energy medication routinely.

At any rate, there was a lot of crying and frustration.

I woke up the next day feeling better -- I'm sure sleep and venting had a lot to do with that. I also began to realize just how many things Tim was up against. His brother had kindly woken him up after two hours of sleep. And there was a lot of excitement/stimuli around that night, being with his friends and going to a loud place like Gameworks. That makes it hard for Tim to keep his impulsivity in check.

So, while I'm still frustrated by the results, I'm trying to think positively. The fact is, we're still about $60 ahead of where I expected. Tim will need to spend $10-20 on gas before dropping the car off. But we still come out ahead.

And even if the bachelor party had gone as planned, I hadn't counted on just how much driving Tim would have been doing, so the original estimate of $100 wasn't enough. By my count, we will have saved about $90, despite all the unexpected costs. (That's not even including the $20 we're saving on a rental car with a code from the Entertainment book.)

It's still hard not to let my mind drift to "What if" scenarios. But that way madness lies. I need to just be thankful that these unexpected costs didn't come out of pocket. And that we're still ahead of what had been planned.

I figure if I just keep repeating this mantra, the actual thought process will get easier over time.

How do you deal with disappointing results that are still better than they should have been?

Saturday, February 20

You don't need a cell phone

Matt over at Steadfast Finances had a piece recently on cutting down telecommunications expenses. He points out that most of us pay between $100-300 a month for land line, Internet and cell phone. (This assumes $25-100 for a land line, $35-45 for Internet and $40-110 for your mobile phone.)

He mentions three options for cutting down on expenses. The one I like most is the option of the Magic Jack. Apparently, he's had a good experience with it. And this is definitely one way to cut down on costs.


His other two suggestions? Kill the land line, up your wireless minutes.

Let me see... Our options are a $25 land line or a $50-110 (I haven't met anyone in ages who actually has a $40 cell phone) cell phone. Now, I haven't taken a math course in 13 years, but even I see some basic issues here!

First, let me say this post is not intended to criticize Matt. His is actually the second post I've seen in the past week with the same advice. So he just happens to be the most recent example.

Now, getting back to the matter at hand. I know you all love your cell phones. I get it. I do. They're awesome and shiny and fun.

But, if you are really looking to cut costs, why oh why would you choose a cell phone over a land line?

I haven't met anyone in ages who pays less than $50 a month for a monthly plan. In fact, with data plans, most people hover a lot closer to $100 than to $40. Yet, in the other post (which I wish I could recall) a reader was cutting costs as a newly single mom by getting rid of her land line. Meanwhile, she and her kids had cell phones.

Once again, I feel the need to point out some basic math here: $60 a month (the cheapest you can generally get with a three-line family plan) is a lot more than $25.

I guess I should take a minute to state what I hope is the obvious. If you aren't hurting financially, if you've budgeted for a cell phone and data plan and can still save money each month, I'm not talking to you. That's a luxureed, and that's just fine.

Similarly, if your company covers some (or all) of your cell phone service, by all means. Or if you are one of the few folks who is not really based out of a home office, but instead is on the road -- hey, that's legitimate.

The rest of us, though? We don't need cell phones. We want them. We find them useful. But for all of you who are about to protest that you absolutely need your phone, just know that I'm skeptical, to put it lightly.

Most people work in an office -- either at a company or from home. Offices have phones, and home offices can have phones. A cell is convenient, since you can be reached in transit to either place. But is it convenient enough to justify a $25-75 premium? I honestly don't think so.

For those of you who protest that you'll miss calls, most answering machines can be accessed remotely nowadays. At worst, you can usually get a $25/month land line package that includes voice mail. Again, a cell phone is a convenience, but hardly the necessity we tend to claim.

The one I understand best is that parents want to have a way to reach their kids, or to have their kids reach them -- especially in case of emergency. But that's when a prepaid phone can come in handy. At least once a month, some store is offering one of these devices for free after rebate.

Of course, no matter what I say, most people will guard their cell phones with their life. They will insist that their phone is absolutely a necessity, and no amount of arguing (logical or otherwise) will dissuade them.

Then again, it's easy to rationalize something you already have. I think the true test is whether you could justify the expense if you didn't already have it.

If you didn't have a cell phone, how would you feel about the expense? If you had the extra $50-100 a month to put against debt or into savings, would you still sign up? Would you really give up $1,200-2,400 you spend in the two years of a contract?

Maybe the answer is yes. I don't know. No one can dictate your priorities. But it is a convenience, make no mistake.

This misconception that people have fostered -- that, for the average person, a cell phone is, anything other than optional -- drives me crazy. It's a luxury, and it's okay to have it. But don't pretend otherwise. Don't talk proudly about how you're cutting down costs by getting rid of the far cheaper option.

Incidentally, two years with a land line will run $360-600. Even if you have to pay to cancel your cell phone, that's a pretty big chunk of change to save.

But I understand that I'm in the minority here. Most people consider their cell phone a life line, if you'll forgive the quasi-pun. So I'm interested in hearing from people who have chosen a cell phone over a land line.

That said, I feel the need to embed this hilariously angry little rant by one Foamy the Squirrel. (If you haven't heard of him, shame on you!)

Caution: The following video has a rather gratuitous amount of swearing!

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Friday, February 19

Super cool awesome wonderful contest!

Sorry, I was channeling Japanese game show titles there for a moment!

So, here's the deal about the contest:

I am going to hold it when I unveil my new site over on Wordpress at a (gasp) self-hosted site. With a domain and everything. I'm a big girl now!

It's not ready yet so don't go snooping, please. But I should be able to polish the last of the rough edges off it no later than next Friday. At which point, the contest goodies will be here, too.

The prizes will include a Starbucks gift card, a Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card, and of course, an Amazon gift card. And, as is befitting the blog, I'll have some personal finance books to give away.

So stay tuned, kiddies and I'll work furiously as I can to get the new site up to snuff!

Freebie Friday

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Thursday, February 18

My newest love: Mr. Rebates

I have, in the past, sung the praises of Ebates. It's a cash back site that offers you percentages (in cash) for your purchases made through its portal. It also features online coupons.

That was then, and this is now. I've discovered a far better cash-back site: Mr. Rebates. What is it? Well, I say it's a bucket of cash-back goodness. But apparently the company has a slightly more official explanation:

"Mr. Rebates is a cash-back shopping website that offers over 2000 stores plus money-saving online coupons that you can stack with the every day cash-back savings. Some of the top name brand stores include favorites like Macy's, Sears, Travelocity and more."

Hopefully everyone got that. Essentially, it's similar to Ebates, but it goes one step further. It has over 2,000 merchants, compared to Ebates' 1,200. And it still offers coupons, discounts and sales information for any store in its merchant list.

Even better, Mr. Rebates offers higher percentages of cash back. For example, we used to get 5 percent back from The Body Shop, through Ebates. But Mr. Rebates offers 7 percent back!

In fact, having used the site for a couple of months, I have consistently found higher cash back amounts on the site, compared to what Ebates offers. I think that'll get just about any frugal person's heart a'thumpin!

But there is also the matter of payouts. Ebates pays you quarterly, so you wait three months in between checks, no matter when your purchases are made. Mr. Rebates allows you to cash out monthly, so long as you meet the $10 threshold. You can also opt for Paypal rather than a traditional check.

There are a couple of caveats here. First of all, you don't automatically get a check, like you do with Ebates. Mr. Rebates won't send you money until you request it. So be sure to keep an eye on your balance!

In addition, the payout threshold is a little higher: $10 instead of Ebates' $5. On the other hand, you're getting more money back, and you can get your check faster. I think that balances things out.

Finally, the sites treat referrals differently. Both will give you $5 for signing up. But Ebates also provides you with $5 once your referral has made a purchase through the site. Mr. Rebates takes a slightly different tack.

Instead of a flat $5 fee, the program allows you to earn 20 percent of whatever your referrals earn. (Their cash-back amounts stay the same.) So for every $10 that your referrals make, you'll make $2. While it's not quite the immediate gratification offered by Ebates, I think the 20-percent back is a much better deal.

In short, I really cannot recommend Mr. Rebates highly enough. If you choose only one cash-back program, choose this one.

Of course, in the end, I always recommend keeping your options open. While I think you'll end up favoring Mr. Rebates, I do advocate checking the other cash-back sites to be sure you're getting the best deal. Each program has periodic special offers. Ebates, for example, will double certain stores' cash-back percentages for short periods of time.

So to be your most frugal, do a quick comparison on stores and percentages earned. By and large, though, you'll find Mr. Rebates has the best rates. I know I have!

In the interests of full disclosure:

I actually contacted Mr. Rebates to say how delighted I was with the program. I also mentioned that I was going to recommend it to my readers as the primary cash-back program to use. The company was delighted and agreed to donate an Amazon gift card for a contest. It did, however, want a post about the merits of the site. Since I was going to write one anyway, I had no moral qualms about accepting the conditions. Still, I want to be open about the proceedings.

As for the contest itself, I'll give more details on Friday.

Wednesday, February 17

A lazy post and a roundup

The roach guy is coming today, and so I had the pleasure of getting everything prepared. Tim was busy doing laundry before he left (which I had to stuff into dressers and suitcases) so it was pretty much all on me. (He was kind enough to pull the heavy stuff away from the wall, despite some back pain.)

Everything had to be gone from the kitchen cupboards, drawers and counters. The bathroom counter and medicine cabinet also needed to be clear. The closets had to have a foot of clear space at the bottom. And I had to be sure everything was covered with plastic.

I finished that, dropped Tim off at the airport and, around 9 p.m., went to read on the bed for a bit. (The living room is cramped by plastic bags.) Next thing I know, it's 4 a.m. I went back to sleep and woke up a little before 9 a.m.

In other words: No time to write up a post for today. So I will regale you with interesting stuff I found on the web in the last few days:

Budgets Are Sexy does a piece on changing your life in 15 minutes a day.

Free From Broke talks about "analysis paralysis" when it comes to paying off credit cards.

Mrs. Accountability poses a scenario that may or may not have happened in Happy Valentine's Day.

PT Money talks about how to make extra money blogging.

Last, but certainly not least, Well Heeled With a Mission is giving away a $100 Amazon Gift Card!!!

Tuesday, February 16

The NEW stock game

I've seen many PF bloggers argue that finance needs to be a far larger part of the high school education. Which is to say any part of a high school education!

I didn't have to take personal finance. It was that or economics. I chose economics for reasons I cannot remember, except I had already learned how to write checks and balance a checkbook thanks to some work in another school program. So I really didn't want to go through all that again.

I remember just about nothing from my economics class, except for a vague recollection of supply and demand charts. But in a recent post, J Money had an excellent point: Why do schools teach about the stock market and not about credit cards etc?

I completely agree. Kids shouldn't be playing the stock market game when they know nothing about credit cards, saving or various investment options -- all of which ought to be covered in a mandatory personal finance class.

Unfortunately, if anything, it seems like curricula are getting less stringent, rather than more so. Maybe I'm just lucky. Alaska has some of the highest teacher salaries in the country. Which is to say, you can just about make a living as a non-university professor. Imagine!

Seriously, though, I had a fabulous education and took a lot of honors/AP classes because I'm a total nerd. And yet. I walked away knowing nothing about CDs, mutual funds, bonds, etc. I was lucky enough to have parents who preached financial responsibility and caution/restraint when using credit cards.

Meanwhile, it seems like the bulk of personal finance classes teach the stock market game. Kids pick some stocks and watch them over time. You keep an eye on the highs and lows. And that's about it.

Um... Isn't that just teaching kids that stocks are a game? They're fun, you can make money, and you can just pick some at random and hope they increase in value!

Here's my proposal for the stock market game:

  1. When studying stocks, you have to at least review the crash of '29. Preferably, you'd also cover the Internet bubble in the '90s and some of this past decades' debacles.
  2. You can't choose stocks at random. You select around three companies, read through the annual reports (as best you can, anyway) and write up a paper on why you chose the company you did.
  3. Track any major news going on with that company -- layoffs, expansions, problems with products -- and note how it affects stock price. You should also have to keep a log or do a quickie Q&A on whether you'd sell, keep or buy up more shares.

I think this is the best way to teach kids about the stock market. I took AP US History and that sums up my entire education about the stock market. (At least, before I worked for a start-up that tracked SEC information. I can now actually read SEC filings and make (some) sense of them.)

In other words, I learn to completely distrust the market. I learned that it's usually based on blind fear and/or blind enthusiasm.

I suppose this is definitely not the worst lesson to take away about the market. Still, if you want any kind of retirement account, you need to understand the stock market better than just to treat it cautiously.

Hence the new stock market game I'm proposing.

What do you think? Would you add or subtract to the rules I mentioned?

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Monday, February 15

Defending 79.9% APR?

Yep, the company with the eye-popping 79.9 percent card actually defends its methods in a recent Yahoo article. The article explains in quite a bit of detail, but essentially the company is saying that it's the only way it can continue to make money in the subprime lending market.

By now, I'm sure most of you have heard at least a little about this piece of plastic, but let's just recap quickly. The card is targeting people with credit problems. For the rate of 79.9 percent, you get a $300 credit limit. Oh, and a $75 fee for setting up the account. (That's 25 percent of the credit limit, which is the new maximum.)

It's usury, plain and simple. Sure, it's not the stereotypical loan sharking. The interest isn't 100 percent, compounding weekly. And you don't have to worry about Vinny coming over "ta break yo' t'umbs" if you can't pay.

Otherwise, how much difference is there? Both take advantage of desperate people who can't get credit/loans through the normal means.

The problem is that these companies, like loan sharks, will never die off, no matter how many laws we make. There will always be desperate people who don't know enough about their options. There will always be a population to prey on.

All the proof you need is in the results: Two percent of the people who received this offer have responded. That's twice the normal rate.

Of that amount, 83 percent were fully aware of the terms. I'm not sure which is scarier: that so many people accepted these conditions, or that 17 percent of them responded to an offer without reading the terms.

Seriously, has no one heard of secured credit cards?


Saturday, February 13

What's your Valentine's Day plan?

I've never been all that into Valentine's Day. It's nice to have someone around on the day, but it always seemed like a holiday designed to rub single people's noses in their status.

In the past, when I was single, I was a big fan of the anti-Valentine's Day. One year, I rented Saw and made a bunch of spaghetti and had a friend over. We figured it was appropriate for Valentine's Day because the sauce was red... and so was the blood in the film.

But Tim likes holidays, even this one. So we've generally settled on going out to dinner. It's not too expensive, there's no gift-giving to worry about (I told him it was one or the other: gifts or food) and both of us are happy.

This year, though, things are extra tight. That's mainly because we're paying down debt. But there's also the cost of flying Tim up for the wedding. After using our miles as a partial credit against the ticket price, we're still paying $145 to get him up there, $153 to rent a car, and about $100 in various expenses while he's there.

Normally, I'd weep at these amounts, but it's his best friend's wedding. That's not something he can just get around to after we're out of debt. So, no weeping. A little moistness in the eyes at the bills, but, as far as I'm concerned, it's worth it.

Overall, the fates were conspiring against our having any kind of Valentine's Day celebration. Perhaps it shows a lack of a romantic soul, but I wasn't particularly put out. Tim was still hoping to do something, though.

My mom took pity on us and sent us an early anniversary gift: a $30 American Express gift card that she got as a rebate from some endeavor. So she has saved the (Valentine's) day!

Being the sentimentalist that I am, what uber-romantic spot did I pick for Feb 14th? TGI Friday's.

Before you roll your eyes... Tim never gets to go there. The closest one to us in Seattle was a good 20 miles or so away. Now, there are a couple within 10 miles of us. I had recently agreed to go with him, since they were offering the three-courses-for-$12.95 deal. But we got lost and then I got grumpy and just wanted to go home.

Given that debacle, this less-than-Valentinesy suggestion was actually met with some enthusiasm from Tim. I'm really not sure which is sadder: that I thought it was appropriate or that Tim is eager to go. Whichever it is, I certainly feel lucky that I found a guy who is so amenable to cheap, easy fun.

So our Valentine's Day will consist of three courses at a chain restaurant and playing the trivia game on those little mini-computers they hand out. And you know what? We'll have a blast, even with the long wait to get in.

Bonus: The gift card should cover dinner and sodas. We'll just have to pay for tax and tip.

What are you plans this Feb 14th? Are they more traditional? Are they unique like ours? Or are you ignoring the holiday altogether?

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Friday, February 12

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Thursday, February 11

Check online, then call

I love the Internet, I really do. It's a godsend for someone with fatigue, since I can check prices without leaving my house. And on days when I don't feel up to talking on the phone (one of the weird forms my depression takes) I can do most of my research online.

But, when it comes to services -- especially rentals -- it often pays to follow up your web investigations with a phone call. I was reminded of this today, while booking Tim's rental car reservation.

His parents currently share a car, so there is no way he could just borrow theirs. I had originally been dismayed at rental car prices. The cheapest I found was $220 for five days. Ouch!

Then I remembered Rent-A-Wreck. For those of you not familiar with the company, don't be fooled by the name. The vehicles are perfectly serviceable. They're just used, unlike most rental cars. There may also be minor aesthetic problems. The cars run perfectly well, though. My mom used one for over a month when she was visiting Alaska. No problems whatsoever. And she got a discount for paying in cash.

I checked online and saw I could get Tim a car for about $126 after tax. That was almost $100 less than the cheapest price I found. (And less than half what most of the companies were asking.)

Unfortunately, life intervened. I never got around to making the call to reserve it. (The company doesn't offer online reservations.)

Fast forward to today, five days before he leaves. And I'm officially paying the procrastination tax -- an offshoot of the stupid tax.

I called and was informed the cheapest they could give me was $189.25. That's after I cleared up that I didn't want the airport location, which came with a $30 surcharge. Always good to remember that convenience comes at a premium.

I told them I'd call back. Then I started hunting around to see what else I could find. I'd had good luck with Enterprise specials in the past, so I surfed on over to its site. Sure enough, after taxes, the price was $168.

That was definitely an improvement over $189. But I wondered if I could do better. So I found the phone number and gave a call. And wouldn't you know it? The price I was quoted was $15 less!

The agent also made it clear that I should call back if I found a lower price anywhere else. Always good to know when a company will match a competitor's price.

After a few more calls, it was clear that Enterprise was offering me the best rate. I called back and booked it. Tim is officially all set.

I am also going to see if my mom can mail an Entertainment Book coupon down to Tim's parents' house. (I'll also ask her to email the coupon code to me, that way if the coupon doesn't make it in time, Tim can always say he forgot his coupon but his wife read him off the code.) If that works, we'll be able to get an even better deal.

Of course, if I had been more on the ball, we would have saved $27: $126 compared to $153. But life isn't perfect, and I'm definitely not. So I consider this a small victory for the procrastinators.

One caveat: I wouldn't recommend trying to do this with airlines. I know of at least one or two that have actually instituted fees for booking over the phone.

Have you found that phone calls can get you lower rates? In what industries?


Wednesday, February 10

Talk & TV: How much is too much?

A post over on MSN Smart Spending had some pretty horrifying figures. Apparently, the average American spends just under $2,000 a year for entertainment and communication: $997.07 for Internet, TV and video game services, $1,000 for cell phones.

Oh, and that $1,000? That doesn't include data plans. The average $83 a month is just for talk time.

It all sounds pretty obscene, eh?

Then I started to do the math. Internet and TV add up pretty quickly. We pay $25 for DSL and $47 for DirecTV. We don't have a game rental plan, but we do pay $40 a year for Xbox Live. That means the average monthly cost is $75.33, or $903.96 a year. Not too far off from the article's $997.07.

On the other hand, our costs end there. Our cell phones are part of a family plan, since my mom needs to have a cell for her work anyway. Each of our lines is $10 plus taxes. And right now, my mom is graciously covering that expense for us, while we try to plow through our debt.

That puts us at 44 percent of the national average. Definitely not bad, but $900 a year is still pretty pricey for anyone.

Of course, our home entertainment costs are high because of my condition. With my energy problems, I can't be very active and outdoorsy. Books are great, but I already read two or three a week, on average.

So we invest in satellite TV and Netflix. From what I've read in the blogosphere, in-home entertainment seems to be one of the main investments for people trying to be frugal. So I guess I could kind of understand the increasing amount -- especially since it only started outstripping inflation since 2008, the year when the economy really started struggling.

So what do you guys think? Is $2,000 a year too much? Is the entertainment expense more or less acceptable than the cell phone costs? How do your own numbers stack up?


Tuesday, February 9

Weekly round-up

As I went tripping 'round the blogosphere, catching up on some much needed reading, there were some pieces that caught my eye:

My Two Dollars has changed his mind about walking away from your mortgage. I'm still not sure I am completely comfortable with it. But this article nearly swayed me!

J over at Budgets Are Sexy asks if you'd sell your virginity -- and if so, for how much?

Amanda over at My Dollar Plan wants to know if you have a plan for the worst case scenario. It's really something that everyone should ask.

Mrs. Micah explains the difference between identity theft and credit card fraud. I think we all tend to use the two interchangeably.

Money Mate Kate has discovered the Couponing for Food Banks Club. I'd never heard of a club like this, so it was really interesting!

Jill at Moolanomy explains how to have a no-spend weekend. We hear a lot about them, but she had some excellent points about the actual mechanics of it all.

Monday, February 8

Desperation frugality: 30 ways to make or save money

Frugal Dad had a reader plea for help recently. Short story: After two years of her husband's unemployment, she's used every cent of her $80,000 credit line. Now, they're paying the mortgage company $500 a week to catch up on that. (Doesn't say for how long.) And she can only put $40 a month on each of her 10 credit cards.

A lot of advice was forthcoming -- from Frugal Dad and from readers. I threw my own two cents in, of course. But it got me thinking about various desperation moves she could do to make money.

There are the obvious ones -- have a yard sale, take up pizza/newspaper delivery, etc -- but I was trying to think a little more outside the box. (Though I'm sure none of these are completely new ideas.) Here's what I came up with:



This isn't something that gets mentioned a lot on PF blogs. I think one reason is obvious: It's considered the domain of teenage girls. But most parents are thrilled to get a "mature" babysitter. My mom was in her late 40s and getting $9-10 an hour. The kids generally were in bed 1-2 hours after she arrived, but the gigs generally last 4-5 hours.

Of course, this is more of a problem if you have children yourself. That doesn't mean it can't be done, though. If you can't leave them on their own, you could bring them along -- for a reduced rate. Everyone loves a good deal. You'd still be making some money, and there's a chance the kids will play together and take some of the responsibility off you.

Try putting up fliers at the grocery store, any community centers, church, and gyms. Make sure to emphasize your age, it'll set you apart from the rest of the ads. If you distribute fliers around the neighborhood, you could make money without using any gas to get there.


You want to go out, but a babysitter is too expensive. So consider coordinating with another couple. Going in on a babysitter is a lot cheaper. Of course, the more kids, the higher the hourly rate. But if you're looking at 3 or 4 kids, it won't be too much more expensive than 2 would be.

I was once hired to help out at a holiday party. Three teenagers watching about 15 kids for a couple of hours. We had crafts to keep them busy, and it was hectic but fun. I think I walked away with $30, which was HUGE compared to the $5-6 an hour I normally got. Still, that means the hosts only paid about $6 per kid watched. Everyone got a good deal that day.

Another time, a bowling team went in on childcare for a specific game. So I spent 2 hours wrangling 8 or 9 kids, but for $20 an hour I was thrilled. Each parent had brought a toy or two, so the kids mainly played. I was just there to keep them from wandering off and to distract them if they got weepy.

Another alternative? Find a parent with kids in the same age range as yours. Ask if you could pay them to host a playdate at their house. They might offer to do it for free. If not, you'll still pay less than a regular babysitter.



We all know that I'm not a big fan of cooking. I'm coming around to it. (Friday night, I made some very tasty Chicken Enchilada Quesadillas.) But some people are darned good at it. And some even enjoy it.

So why not make some money off it?

There are plenty of people who would pay to have meals made for them. You can also be as simple or elaborate as you like. You can bring them a list of meals you are willing to cook and let them choose some; or you can bring them a list of what you're going to cook, and they can choose which dishes they want some of.

The latter way is easier, since you won't have to make different meals for different clients. You just have to be sure you make enough for everyone. Also, as you cook, set aside some containers for yourself. That way, your meal plan is taken care of, too.

The main investment here will be in ingredients, which you should be stockpiling already, as sales come around, and disposable containers. (Consider offering a discount if they wash the containers and have them ready for you when you drop off the next set of meals.)

Bonus: Since these people probably don't do a lot of couponing, you can probably get their Sunday ads and increase your grocery-shopping power.


Meal-exchange groups. I'm sure there's a more technical name. But that's what I call them. Everyone makes a big batch of one meal. You divvy it up into containers and then all get together. Each person gets one container of each meal. Voila, you have a varied diet for a set period of time!

Mainly, this is seen as a time-saver; but really it's very frugal, too. Making seven different meals is almost guaranteed to cost you more than one meal big enough to fill seven containers.

I would imagine these can be a little stressful to organize, at first. You have to make sure everyone cooks for everyone else. That means being aware of food allergies and other people's tastes. You don't want to make a seafood gumbo, only to find out that two of the six people in the group can't stand fish.

The key is to find some reasonable people, who agree to try a variety of foods. Then, you just need to make a "banned ingredients" list.



I really cannot imagine doing this over and above my own needs. But some people find cleaning to be relatively bearable. In that case, it's a great way to make money. Just as an employee of a maid service, you can easily make $12-15 an hour in many areas. So either get hired by a service or put out fliers advertising yourself as a maid service.

It doesn't just have to be cleaning, though. People need help in a variety of ways. I read an article once about a woman who was somewhat obsessive about her kitchen organization. A friend asked if her kitchen could get a similar makeover. Soon, people were paying her hundreds of dollars to organize their cupboards, and a business was born.

In other words, you should consider selling any and all services you can think of. Chances are, someone will need it:

  • Offer hands-on help to maximizing coupons.
  • Teach people sales cycles and how to shop them.
  • Help people create coupon organization systems.
  • Help people create regular organization systems. (There is a huge market for this from people with ADD.)
  • Teach people how to shop in thrift stores.
  • Become a mother's helper.
  • Run errands for other people.
  • Do their grocery shopping.
  • Do their laundry.
  • Offer hemming and other minor alterations.
  • Make food trays for events and parties.
  • Make cookies and other sweets for holiday/birthday parties.
  • Lend yourself out as a small-scale party/event planner.
  • Organize parties/events on your own, with per-person attendance fees to pay for your services.
  • Offer to help people pack for trips.
  • Offer to help people pack for moves. (Bonus: After the first move, you'll have boxes to offer.)
  • Rent yourself (and your car) out for moves.
  • Help organize yard/garage/estate sales.
  • Know what is worth selling on eBay (and maybe have an account to sell it from).
  • Assist in attic- and garage-cleaning efforts, and make trips to Goodwill.
  • Practice job interviews with people, give feedback about their dress and mannerisms, as well as answers.
  • Help write/revise resumes. (There are some really awful ones out there, even ones that the job center has OKed.)
  • Help people create budgets.

Obviously, this isn't an exhaustive list. So what other activities could help net a few extra bucks?

Sunday, February 7

What's your 500-word story?

I'm sure most of you have heard of the 6-word story. But, recently, a contest challenged me to write my best or worst love story in 500 words or less. My effort is shown below.

I wonder, though, what could you say in 500 words? Whether it's about love or debt or some other thing that sums up your life?

So I'd like to challenge you to write your own 500-word story. Since that would make the comments section unbearably long, I suggest you write it on your own site and link back. What say you? (What write you?)

Here's my love tale:

I met my husband on Craigslist. I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in…

It happened against all odds. His ex-girlfriend, sick of him moping around, nagged him to make an ad. I had sworn off Internet dating for a bit. But I was bored, so I got online.

Luckily, I was also bad at Washington geography. Sitting at a computer in Seattle, I had no idea that “Lakewood” was out by Tacoma. So I answered his ad, and we hit it off.

Two months later, he moved in. Two more, we were engaged – though we both agreed a long engagement would be good. We wanted to be sure we wouldn’t get sick of each other.

It hasn’t been easy. I am on disability; he had his own health issues. We’ve never made more than $40,000 a year, combined. Meanwhile, he came into the relationship with (defaulted) student loans. His medical bills/related costs have often had to be put on credit cards.

It’s not just financial difficulty, either. Neither of us is anything close to perfect.

Beyond his physical health, Tim has severe ADD. I used to think that just meant distractibility and forgetfulness. I was very, very wrong. It impacts just about every aspect of his behavior. There have been times I have wanted to bang my (or his) head against the closest available wall.

Meanwhile, I’m an overachiever trapped in a fatigued body. So I have to use some of my limited energy just to be sure I don’t try to do too much. I also have severe depression, which can make me acutely unpleasant to live with.

It’s all worth it, though. (Caution, cheesiness ahead.)

Tim has taught me what real love is. It sounds like a Hallmark card, but I’m serious. I grew up believing that you put up with the bad, so long as it was outweighed by the good. That’s more math than love.

Tim accepts me as is. He knows I’m not perfect. I have flaws, but that’s a relative term. He sees “flaws” as just spokes in the wheel. They’re part of me, so they’re just facts, like brown eyes or pale skin. He sees me, the good and the bad, and still insists that I am his soul mate.

He also taught me to live a bit more in the present. I’m more inclined to always deprive myself now for some potential future, no matter how far away. It’s nice to enjoy life in the here and now, while still keeping an eye on the long-term goals.

So, there you have it. That’s our love story. It’s imperfect, but, then, it has to be. That just reflects the two main characters. Meanwhile, it’s filled with happiness and love. Sometimes, also, frustration. What do you want? It’s real life, not a fairy tale.

At the end of the day, whether we worked together or argued (or both), we still have each other, so we know we’re doing pretty well.

Saturday, February 6

The hidden costs of technology

All the recent hubbub about Kindle and pricing has reminded me, once again, about the hidden costs of technology.

Okay, we all know that technology is a guilty pleasure for most of us. Even people who live frugal lives indulge in some cool devices. They just save up for it, rather than put it on credit.

People love their smart phones, their net books, and other assorted gadgetry. Even I can't escape technology's lure: I would love an iPod Touch, even though I don't need one like Tim does. In other words, I totally get it.

What concerns me, though, is that people don't realize the full cost of technology. We're not just talking about the cost of buying (and the constant upgrading). Or how quickly the App Store can drain the coffers.

I'm talking about the sacrifices we make for digital media.

Buying an MP3, an ebook or even a digital game means your money is gone. Sure, you'll enjoy it, so it may be worth the cost to you. But the point is, your options are more limited:

  • You can't sell them once you're done.
  • You can't trade them in for store credit.
  • You can't exchange them for new titles through sites like Swaptree.
  • Other than MP3s, you can't share them with a friend.
  • There is no such thing as "used" digital media, sold for lower prices.

And, I want to point out, a book will never "crash." It will never run out of battery and become unreadable. If you spill something on it, all your other books aren't damaged. You'll never have to spend $250 to replace a book. In fact, you'll never have to spend $250 for the privilege of buying books.

Finally, don't count on getting digital media from your local library, either. Yes, more and more are offering digital media, but that doesn't mean it's compatible with your e-reader. Phoenix Public Library titles indicate which devices can download them; but it varies by title. And Kindle isn't an option on any of them. What's more, Seattle Public Library's ebooks can't be downloaded to any e-reader at all.

Don't get me wrong, if you adore your Kindle and sing it love songs every day... I'm glad you two are happy together. It's your money to spend how you like, and I hope that you are thrilled with your purchase. It would be a pretty costly disappointment.

I guess I'm just a little concerned. There is plenty of talk about how cool and portable and convenient digital technology is. But there seems to be little or no conversation about what we are giving up with digital media.

And it's important that we consider those sacrifices, because they are some of the main ways that people stretch their frugal entertainment dollars.

Friday, February 5

Freebie Friday

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

Pocket Constitution

Game Day Appetizers Recipe eBook

Eat Better America Coupon Booklet

Kotex Pads at Walmart

Glade Plug-Ins Scented Oil Gift Pack

Earn Cash With SurveyHead

Jovan Frangrance Sample

Cat’s Pride Free Product Coupon

Beyond Bodi Heat Pain Relief Heat Pad

Perricone MD Skin Care Samples

Yogi Tea Samples For A Friend

Redken Style Connection Sample

Wednesday, February 3

Grocery sales disappearing?

Has anyone noticed a distinct lack of impressive sales in the last couple of months?

Of course, there have been weekly specials. There have even been some decent deals. (Last week, Fry's had Keebler Fudge cookies for 99 cents, which made us happy.) But it seems like some of the staples just aren't going as low as they used to.

It's been at least 6 weeks since I've seen Albertsons do a special of "Buy X participating products, get $X off." That usually happens at least ever 3 weeks. I haven't seen any stellar cereal deals in over a month, either. If a register coupon hadn't printed out, I could have only gotten two boxes of cereal last week. (It was $1.88 per box, so the coupons brought it down to $1.38. That's still more than I'm used to paying.)

I don't know how many of you have a Fry's near you, but it seems like it's the store staying the closest to normal sales trends. It's had offers of special savings when you buy 10 products. Even then, I haven't seen as many of the usual items on sale.

It also seems like, when the deals are on, it's getting harder to match coupons to the sale items. I'm not trying to be whiny. I still do okay. Last week, I even got some items free after coupon. Still, it's making me wonder what's going on.

Part of me is blaming the recession. As people tighten their belts, they are becoming more budget-conscious shoppers. So they'll use a coupon and a sale, but won't keep buying after that. In other words, coupons aren't doing as well at building loyalty among consumers. That could cause manufacturers to rethink large coupon values -- or perhaps even the frequency with which the savings are issued.

But maybe it's just a seasonal thing, though I don't recall sales changing this much in previous years. And I know it's not just me: My mom has confirmed that the sales in Seattle have been a little lackluster.

What's happening in your area with sales and/or coupons? Any idea what could be causing the shift?

Tuesday, February 2

Get Smallpox, get $525

Okay, so it's not quite that simple. A study is being done on the vaccine to see which of the two delivery systems is more effective. And they need 250 money-hungry folks to agree to expose themselves to Smallpox over the course of 7 months.

Hey, it's only a little bit of a highly infectious, deadly disease!

Okay, you know, I'm all for scientific advancement. And for making money as a medical study participant. (My mom has written about medical studies as one way to make extra cash. At one point, she got paid to watch porn.)

I'm not even particularly worried about a resurgence in Cowpox cases. (If you don't get the joke, see the end of the post.*)

But I do draw the line at exposing yourself to deadly illnesses. Especially when we're talking about $75 a month.

Maybe I'm biased. One of my few memories before the age of 5 was getting a polio vaccine. By the end of the day, I had to be carried because my legs were so weak. I was fine in a day or two but... yeesh.

I understand the need for scientific advancement. And I'm grateful to the people who do volunteer themselves for studies like these. Still, I wonder if this is really the best use of tax dollars. And whether it's actually worth the risk (however small) of actual Smallpox infection.

Would you participate in a study like this? How much money would it need to pay, for you to expose yourself to a small risk of such a deadly disease?

*The Smallpox epidemic was solved when a scientist noticed that milk maids were practically unaffected. It turns out that Cowpox (transmitted through ulcerated skin on a cow's udder) is close enough to Smallpox to create an immunity.


Monday, February 1

Slow cooker success stories

In response to my piece about the ease of slow cookers, one reader asked what some of my recipes were. I decided it was easier to do a post than explain it all in the comments. So here are a list of some of my favorite recipes.

Mom's recipes

This set of entrees comes from my mom's repertoire. These are some of the main dishes I ate growing up. Good stuff: tasty, hearty and easy to reheat!

Spaghetti Sauce

I grew up on this stuff. Not only is it cheaper than the stuff that comes in a jar, it's a lot healthier. Most store sauces have a lot of added sugar.

12 oz tomato paste
28 oz crushed/pureed tomato
Pinch of brown sugar
3 tsp garlic
3 tsp black pepper
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp basil
2 tsp red pepper
1/2 lb browned ground beef (optional)

If you're feeding more than one person, you may want to double the recipe. (Doubled recipes used to fill up our slow cooker, which was about 4 quarts.) Be sure to adjust the spices to your taste. Personally, I use a lot more garlic and pepper than this recipe calls for. I like my sauce to have a definite bite.


  • If whole tomatoes are on sale, use them instead; you can puree in blender or put through a food mill.
  • You don't need to use ground beef. Add some chicken or turkey -- or just make it without meat at all.
  • I like to add pesto.
  • Use the sauce for more than just pasta: cut up some bread and put the sauce in a bowl to dip; make marinara sandwiches; bread some chicken breasts and top with Parmesan cheese and this sauce.


2 cans pinto, kidney or white beans (mix varieties for more interesting chili)
1 15-ounce can diced or pureed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tsp oregano
3.5 tsp paprika
3.5 tsp black pepper
3.5 tsp powdered garlic
3.5 tsp cayenne
1/4 to 1/2 lb ground beef

The beef will need to be browned before you can put it in. (Consider adding a little onion while you do this.)

Throw it all in a slow cooker; once it boils, let it simmer for at least half an hour. I'd recommend an hour or more to give the flavors a chance to meld, but half an hour is technically enough. If you're in a huge hurry after work, bring it to a boil on the stove and then put it in the slow cooker, where it can simmer while you relax and maybe have a small snack.


  • The meat doesn't have to be ground beef. You can cut up some leftover chicken, turkey or beef.
  • Pork 'n' beans are often loss leaders; you can rinse them off and use them instead of pricier canned beans.
  • If you have time use dry beans, which are even cheaper: Put 1 and 1/2 cups of them in the slow cooker with several cups of water and simmer for a couple of hours or until they taste soft enough for you (add more water if necessary); drain and put them back in the slow cooker with the above ingredients.
  • If whole tomatoes are on sale, use them instead; you can puree in blender or put through a food mill.
  • To make this stretch further -- or for a vegetarian option -- serve this over rice. (Rice + beans = protein.)
  • My mom often tears off a piece of tortilla and scoops up her bites that way. This really stretches the dish -- and it's actually kind of a fun way to eat.

Tim's favorite way to eat chili is to add equal measures salsa and BBQ sauce. It may sound a little strange (and it definitely adds calories!) but it's really delicious.

Bean Soup

2 cups Great Northern beans (or pintos, or whatever you like)
Chopped onion to taste
1 carrot, grated
A couple of smoked neck bones, a ham hock or some leftover ham
Black pepper
Garlic or other spices if you want

Simmer it all in the slow cooker until the beans are soft enough for you. Because the meats are pretty salty, you may not need to add any additional salt. You can put these things into the slow cooker on "low" when you leave for work and it'll be done when you get home. Or put it in on "high" when you get home from work and it'll be ready to put in the fridge before you go to bed.

This is fabulous for cold winter days. Bean soup is mushy and thick. It's one of the best comfort foods I know.

Mexican Chicken

2 chicken breasts
1 cup salsa
1 cup water
1/2 packet taco seasoning
Handful of grated cheese (optional)

This isn't traditionally a slow cooker recipe. Usually, you brown cut-up chicken in a pan, then add the salsa, water and taco seasoning. Bring it to a low boil for a couple of minutes, until the sauce thickens up just a little. For extra thickener, grated cheese is excellent.


  • If you want to make this a slow cooker recipe, cut up two chicken breasts. Put the salsa, water and taco seasoning in the slow cooker. Stir until they mix and then add the chicken. Cook on low for 4-5 hours.
  • If you need to be gone longer than that, put frozen, whole chicken breasts into the slow cooker. After 6-8 hours, the chicken will be cooked and tender. You can then reach into the slow cooker with a knife and cut the breasts into pieces. If you use this method, you may need to add extra salsa/water/taco seasoning, as the mix may have cooked down too far. Use your own judgment.
  • If whole chickens are on sale that week, consider baking one the night before. Then you can cut off pieces to throw in the sauce, either that night or the next day. If you use a whole chicken, double the salsa, water and taco seasoning.
  • Not as cost effective, but in the past, Tim and I have bought a cooked chicken at the grocery store. This was usually when we were tired and already hungry.

Beans & Rice

Okay, this isn't a slow cooker recipe at all. But it's quick, easy and filling. Once the rice is done, the dish takes about 5 minutes to make.

2 cans beans
1 can corn
1.5 cups rice
Black pepper
Red pepper
Grated cheese (optional)

Start the rice cooking. Open the beans and corn. Throw these into a colander and rinse off. If you're going to use cheese, grate it while the rice is still cooking.

Once the rice is done, put it in a large bowl. (Be sure there is room to mix, or it will get messy.) Pour about a cup of salsa over the rice. Mix the two until all the rice is covered. Toss in beans and corn. Mix thoroughly. Then shake in black pepper, red pepper and garlic to taste. Be sure to stir these in thoroughly.

If you are using cheese, sprinkle it in now, while the rice is still hot. This way, it will melt as you stir it in.

You can roll this up in a tortilla and eat it like a burrito. Or, as I prefer, eat it like a dip, with tortilla chips.

Internet Recipes

This set of meals are ones I found online and have had success with. Depending on how many leftovers you want, you should experiment with increasing or decreasing the amounts.

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

This was the first slow cooker recipe I tried down here in Arizona. It was a rousing success! Also, it's surprisingly fun to shred chicken with forks. (The meat gets so tender, it's really no work at all.)


  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 (17.5 fluid ounce) bottle buffalo wing sauce, divided
  • 1/2 (1 ounce) package dry ranch salad dressing mix
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 hoagie rolls, split lengthwise


  1. Place the chicken breasts into a slow cooker, and pour in 3/4 of the wing sauce and the ranch dressing mix. Cover, and cook on Low for 6 to 7 hours.
  2. Once the chicken has cooked, add the butter, and shred the meat finely with two forks. Pile the meat onto the hoagie rolls, and splash with the remaining buffalo wing sauce to serve.


  • We didn't have buffalo wing sauce, and I had no desire to go out and buy some. It's easy enough to find buffalo recipes on the web. It basically boils down to hot sauce and butter. I chose a slightly more complicated one was very happy with it.
  • I prefer blue cheese with buffalo chicken, so I picked up some $1 dressing on sale. This was also cheaper than the ranch mix, which runs between $3-5.
  • Hoagie rolls can be costly, and a nearby store had a sale on $1 hamburger buns. It was probably a little messier, but still tasty. We put two on a plate at a time. There were no leftovers.
  • If you're out of bread, or just want to make life easier on yourself, you can just serve the chicken breasts by themselves. I would definitely put some dressing on the side, though.

Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken


Chicken pieces-enough to feed your family-legs, thighs etc.
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup vinegar
1/4 cup lemon-line soda
2-3 Tbls. minced garlic
2 Tbls. soy sauce
1 tsp. pepper


Place chicken in crockpot. Mix all remaining ingredients and pour over chicken. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve over rice or noodles. You can thicken the juices after cooking with a little cornstarch. If using cayenne pepper, it gives dish a Szechwan flavor.

This. Is. Amazing.

I served it over rice. I cannot recommend highly enough that you use the cayenne pepper. I was so glad that I did. It was delicious!

And I would definitely recommend the corn starch. I thought not thickening the sauce would help it go farther; but it just meant it was a little runny.

Lemon Pepper Chicken


5 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or any chicken pieces)
Lemon Pepper seasoning
2 tbsp. melted or squeeze margarine


Put chicken in slow cooker/Crock Pot. Sprinkle generously with seasoning. Pour margarine over chicken. Cook on low for 10 hrs. or on high for 6 hrs.


  • We didn't have lemon pepper. So I just used lemon juice and black pepper. I added a little garlic, too, as memory serves. We were both very happy with the result.
  • The cooking times seem long to me. I can't remember if I let it cook for the whole 6 hours or not. Usually, chicken is done after 3-4 hours on high. Consider trying this dish when you have the time to keep an eye on it.

Homemade Applesauce

4 large apples
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup water


Peel and core apples. Slice into quarters. Put them in the crock pot, then add lemon juice and water. Pour in vanilla, cinnamon and brown sugar.

Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Once apples are super tender, mash with potato masher or large fork.

This comes from Stephanie over at A Year of Slow Cooking. I absolutely love it. The first time around, I used the applesauce to make the Applesauce Chicken from her book, Make It Fast, Cook It Slow. That was also a great recipe, but I don't feel comfortable reprinting it here. (The applesauce recipe only appears because it's available on her blog.)

Point is, this is great stuff! A few days ago, I made a huge batch, thanks to an apple sale at a local market. (Three pounds of apples were 99 cents. So my 3-4 quarts' worth of applesauce cost under $3.) The sauce may be a little lumpier than the stuff in a jar. But it's delicious and, frankly, it makes the stuff feel more substantial.


  • Like Stephanie, I used imitation vanilla. It's much cheaper.
  • Rather than quarter them, I used an apple slicer, which will core the apple for you. I toss the cores in a bag and the apple slices in a large bowl. Once I'm ready to peel, I just grab a piece from the bowl. The peels go into the bag, along with the cores. The apple slice gets thrown into the slow cooker. It's nice and efficient.
  • You can use just about any kind of apple. Most people who have made their own, though, advise you to steer clear of Red Delicious. Otherwise, anything is fair game. Just make sure you only buy apples that are on sale. Otherwise, you're not really saving any money.
  • If you have a potato masher, that would probably be best. Like Stephanie, I mashed my apples with a large fork. It was relatively easy, but I can't help thinking a masher would have been best.
  • Just an FYI: When you first dump everything in, there will be almost no juice. Don't panic. The juice seeps out from the apples as they cook. By the midway mark, the apples will be just about covered by juices.

My recipes

I have started experimenting with my own recipes. I personally thought they were pretty tasty, but I'm still perfecting them.

Lime(ade) chicken

3-4 chicken breasts (mine were frozen)
Limeade concentrate
Lime juice
Lemon juice
Black powder
Sugar (optional)

We had a can of limeade concentrate sitting around. So I threw it into a bowl and let it thaw. To that, I added a couple drops of lemon juice, 10-20 drops of lime juice (Tim really likes his lime) and liberal shakes of black pepper and garlic powder. You may want to add a pinch of sugar.

I took out 4 frozen chicken breasts and placed them in our 6-quart slow cooker. I poured about half of the mix over the chicken, then turned the breasts over and poured the rest on. I set the slow cooker on high. At the 3-hour mark, I flipped the breasts to be sure both sides cooked in the juices.

My one problem here was that there wasn't quite enough juice. I think next time, I'll add a cup or two of water. It shouldn't hurt the recipe. It may actually help cut the citrus taste just a bit. As it was, the citrus tang was good. But it was a little stronger than I had intended.

Jalapeno Lime Soup

32 oz chicken broth
1/3 cup lime juice
2 chicken breasts
2 cans of beans
1/2 bag frozen vegetables
2 tbsp diced jalapenos
1/8 tsp salt
5-6 drops of hot sauce
Black pepper

The only work you need to do is to cut up the chicken breasts and to drain the beans. Otherwise, throw everything in and cook for about 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low.

Both of us were very happy with the result. Tim and I both finished off our bowls pretty quickly. The lime was more obvious than it is in a lot lime dishes. But it was far from overpowering. Still, depending on your own lime-leanings, you can adjust the amount of juice used.

I count this dish as a success, but I think the recipe could still use some tweaking. I'll list my thoughts down below. But if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment.

Possible tweaks

  • I had originally intended to use sliced jalapenos. Personally, I thought they'd be aesthetically pleasing. Also, having the seeds would have changed the flavor a bit. Probably in a good way. (So long as I was moderate in my use.) Unfortunately, Tim had already diced all the peppers, so I went with what we had. Next time, I'm going to be sure to used sliced ones.
  • I would like a slightly different color for the broth. Maybe that sounds odd, but the pale color just did nothing for me. I think I'm too used to tomato-based dishes. They're colorful, as well as tasty. I actually considered adding salsa, but decided to wait until next time.
  • We used large frozen vegetables. (The same ones as the limeade chicken above.) Smaller ones might have made it more colorful and added a little more substance to the soup. As it was, I felt there was too much broth, even with the beans and veggies added.
  • I used black beans, but next time I might try a mix. Again, it's mainly an issue of aesthetics. But I think I'll at least try kidney beans, since they're larger and a slightly different texture than black beans.
  • I may add rice next time. I've seen recipes that include wild rice, so I just need to find out if regular rice requires any different steps. An added bonus: With the rice and beans forming a protein, you could potentially skip the chicken. That makes the dish easier and cheaper.
  • Finally, and most obviously, I could just use less broth. If I used just half a carton, I could always add more later. I guess I just prefer to make hearty soups riddled with ingredients -- especially ones high in fiber.

Cooking with a slow cooker

I just wanted to make a few notes about cooking with a slow cooker:

Which size to buy

We have a 7 quart slow cooker that we got for our wedding. I think the smallest I ever used held about 4 quarts. I wouldn't recommend going any smaller than that, especially for your first one. Later, you can always scoop up some deals, since the smaller ones go on sale all the time.

What to look for in a slow cooker

Beyond size, there are a few other items to consider when buying a slow cooker. The biggest factor for me -- and I cannot stress this enough -- is whether the stoneware is removable. If it's not, don't bother.

When the stoneware isn't removable, this means you have to wash the damn thing by hand and make sure the cord stays dry at the same time. Pay a little more and get convenience!

You should also figure out whether you want one with a timer. I know a lot of people love this feature. And if you're gone most of the day, this can be a way to ensure that your meals don't get overcooked. The ones with timers are only $10 or so more, by and large. So it may be a worthwhile investment.

Should you buy multiple slow cookers?

If you're just starting out, I say stick with just one. If and when you get into the slow-cooker groove, extras could be useful. Even then it's hardly necessary. It's mostly a matter of convenience.

I'm considering getting one more. Having a backup would make life easier. I wouldn't worry so much about immediately cleaning the stoneware after a meal. As it is, if I want to cook consecutive nights, I have to make sure the stoneware goes through the dishwasher that night. Otherwise, it won't be clean and dry when I need to start the next meal.

But there is another alternative: liners. These bags line the stoneware while you cook. I should warn you: they don't always work. Sometimes, I tear a small hole in the bag when I'm cutting up the chicken. Other times, the bags just leak. But the liners have definitely helped me avoid washing the slow cooker every time I use it.

If you have any other questions that spring to mind, or if you want to share your own recipes, go ahead and leave a comment below!