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Friday, August 8, 2008

Grandma Mills' Watermelon Rind Pickles - Waste Not, Want Not

Almost a year ago, the News & Observer in Raleigh published an essay I wrote about my grandmother's watermelon rind pickles on the front of its Sunday Journal section.


I thought I'd share the essay and the recipe here with you. If you've never eaten watermelon rind pickles before, you should -- and not just because they're delicious. Here's one food that really pays tribute to the notion of frugality. Once you've finished eating the juicy, ripe melon, you can save the rind and make pickles. Waste not, want not.

I will caution that you should look for a watermelon with a thick rind, which will make your prep work so much simpler and safer. Many watermelons today are cultivated to have thinner rinds -- hence more melon -- but if you're planning to make pickles, you want to pick one with a thick rind.

The Department of Horticulture Science at N.C. State University has some recommendations for the best types of watermelons for making pickles.

I haven't made any watermelon rind pickles this year, but I need to as I don't have very many jars left. Now more than ever, I need to keep this family traditional alive. My grandmother, Nell Mills, who was thrilled last year when the article about her appeared in her local newspaper, died in February. What I wouldn't give to have her back to help me with one more batch.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A 10-Second Diaper Change

For some reason, Jackson can't stand to have his diaper changed on those hard plastic changing stations that you find in most stores and restaurants.

Maybe it reminds him of the doctor's office, which these days reduces him to hysterical screams.

This makes changing his diapers when we're out very difficult. But another mommy told me about a new kind of Pampers, available only online, that lets you change a wet diaper in 10 seconds. (All bets are off at poop time.)

These Pampers Change 'N Go diapers feature a replaceable slip-in pad that holds as much as a regular diaper. When it's changing time, you just pull out the wet pad and slip in a new, dry one in a slot in the back of the diaper. You can watch a video of a 10-second diaper change at the Change 'N Go Website.

I've not tried these yet, but my friend has, and she gives them a big thumbs up. I'm planning on buying a pack to take with us on outings to the mall, the park and other places where it's difficult to finding a clean and comfortable place to change a wet diaper.

Lately, when Jackson gets wet or springs a leak (as he did last week at AC Moore), I've had to change him standing up in the trunk of my car. That can be tricky, and I can never quite get his diaper on straight or tight enough when we do a stand-and-strip!

Anyone else out there tried Pampers Change 'N Go? If so, did you like them? Should I stock up? Or just buy a few?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Pooling Purchases To Take Advantage of a Coupon

How many times do you stumble across a great coupon but realize you can't use it because you don't need three boxes of Lucky Charms or you can't find $100 worth of clothes you want to buy at Coldwater Creek?

Happens to me all the time, but I've a way to use these coupon and share the wealth with my friends and family. We pool our purchases and share the discount. That way, we're able to take advantage of spectacular deals without spending more than we intended or buying more than we each need.

Need an example?

This week, I received a great coupon for Staples for $40 off a $150 purchase. Well, I'm pretty well stocked on office supplies, but I do need a few things. Just not $150 worth.

However, I happen to share an office with three other women and together we'll be able to use the coupon and share the savings. Depending on what we each buy, we'll either split the discount -- $10 for each of us -- or do the more complicated math and figure out percentages if one of us spends more than the others. Either way, we'll all save a little bit.

My friends and I do this all the time at restaurants. If one of us has a buy-one-get-one-free coupon, we'll all split the savings. Using this method, no one gets their meal for free, but we all save a bit each time we dine out together. And over time, that adds up.

Do you have ways that you share the savings with your friends? I'd love to hear about them. Maybe my friends and I can learn some new ways to save from you.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Good Couple of Days at the Mailbox

I've gotten a few good surprises in the mailbox these last few days.

Last week -- on the same day, no less -- I received a $5 off coupon for Sur La Table, the cookware store, and a $10 gift certificate to Target, courtesy of Ebates. (Pretty soon, I'll be getting a Big Fat Check from Ebates -- cash back on all my online purchases over the last three months.)

And yesterday, my first refund from Caregivers Marketplace arrived in the mail. I was able to request a rebate for several boxes of Huggies diapers I bought recently. Granted, the check wasn't a big one, but it bought my lunch today.

I've already used my Target giftcard (those don't last long around here), and I'm planning a trip to Sur La Table later this week. The challenge will be finding something there for $5 or close to it. (I love coupons like this one that don't have a minimum purchase requirement. They are just like free money, in my mind.)

I love getting something other than bills in the mail. Wonder what the postman will be bringing me tomorrow!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Saturday at the Farmers' Market

I don't make it every weekend, but I absolutely love shopping at the farmers' market.

I'm lucky to live in a city that has two Farmers' Markets, and both have the appeal. The Piedmont Triad Farmers' Market is open later (in case you can't drag yourself out of bed) and has some permanent vendors, so you can pick up produce any day of the week. But I prefer to go to the Greensboro Curb Market, which is much more stringent in its rules that products must be locally grown or produced.

Things were hopping at the Curb Market on Saturday, as they always seem to be in the summer.

If you don't shop the Farmers' Market in your community, you're missing out on some great prices and some great products. In addition to produce and homemade food, I've purchased books from local authors, homemade laundry soap, handmade jewelry, fresh flowers, tea, photographs and great crafts from the farmers' market. And I alway seem to run into old friends and acquaintances while I'm there, making each visit all the more sweet.

If you're interested in organic produce, the farmers' market is the way to go. At my local farmers' market (and indeed at many across the country), the food is organically grown and the prices can be significantly lower than they are at grocery stores and other retailers.

That's not to say shopping at the farmers' market is always a bargain. I've found that I alway spend exactly what I have in my pocket or purse, whether that's $10 or $100. And on those days when I do spend the big bucks, I don't feel guilty about it at all. I find some amazing products at the farmers' market. I think the quality of the produce is so much better than what I find at the grocery store, so I don't mind splurging.

This weekend, it was tomato day at the Greensboro Curb Market, and boy did I love that. I've been eating tomatoes since I was a toddler, and they may well be my favorite food. Farmers were sampling different varieties of tomatoes, and I think I bought a little of everything available -- Brandywine (my new favorite), Sungold (a close second), Better Boy, German Johnson, Cherokee purple, other heirloom varieties and cherry and grape tomatoes for salads.

To celebrate the bounty, we had a simple but delicious dinner on Saturday: a feta, tomato and basil salad, artisan bread and homemade marinara sauce, which I doctored up into a summer tomato soup with the additional of basil and a touch of sugary. Light, fresh and delicious.

When I'm shopping the farmers' market, I like to stop at every booth. But there are a few that I keep coming back to: Simple Kneads Bakery (try their iced cinnamon buns), Dodge Lodge Farm (the reason I love beets), Zaytoon (they introduced hummus to the curb market), Slices of Heaven (truly heavenly homemade breakfast breads), Handance Farm (my source for heirloom tomatoes), Homeland Creamery (great milk and ice cream) and REAL Catering (great homemade pimiento cheese, salsa and marinara).

[Pimiento cheese is something of a southern delicacy, and if you've never had it, then you're missing out on one of life's great gustatory pleasures. Who knew that mayonnaise, pimentos and shredded cheese could taste so good? If plain-old pimiento cheese is too country for you, throw some in a pan and melt it over low heat and then serve it with crostini for an easy and delicious appetizer (an idea I cribbed from Harper's Restaurant.)]

OK, that was a tangent. But it kind of proves my point that farmers' markets are wonderful. You never know exactly what you'll find there (besides great food and great farmers). And you're likely to be exposed to foods and cuisines you've never tried before. I know that I've many times brought home foods I had never before tried, and in every instance, I've been pleased with the purchase. And many times, I've come away with a new favorite.

The farmers' market also makes a great family outing. Sometimes, I go alone, but often Jackson and Bruce go with me, and we always have a ball shopping together. (And we usually treat ourselves to breakfast at Simple Kneads or to homemade pancakes by Cheesecakes by Alex or goodies from other vendors. Yummy!)

Most communities have farmers' markets and certainly local farms. You can find out about what's available in your area by visiting Farmers Market Online, Local Harvest or Farmers Market.

If you live in my area, I'd love to hear about your favorite markets, vendors and products. And if you live elsewhere, please feel free to post your recommendations, as well. As we all know, the world is getting flatter every day, and many farmers and local cooks will sell their products online.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

OMG: Oreos and Chocolate Chips in One Cookie

I'm not sure I can think of anything better in life than these Oreo Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Picky Palate.

I'll be buying some Oreos tomorrow when I make my grocery store run so I can mix up a batch as soon as possible.

These might be the greatest culinary invention since chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

Jenny at the Picky Palate: I bow at your feet. I kiss your ring. I give thanks for you and this wonderful recipe!

I love Triple Coupons

Today was the final day of Triple Coupons at Harris Teeter, and I finally got my act together and made it to the store.

And what a fruitful trip it was.

I purchased close to $60 worth of groceries for $15, thanks to tripled manufacturer's coupons. The way I see it, my savings was even more impressive than that. Included in my grocery purchase as a loaf of artisan bread (a special treat for our dinner tonight) that cost about $4.50. So, I really got all my groceries for $10.

Obviously, I came up with quite a few almost freebies: 2 bottles of Pledge spray, OxiClean stain remover, lettuce, Chex Mix, six rice and pasta mixes, lettuce, a frozen pie, cereal and some other odds and ends.

I had other things on my list, but the store was sold out of some of the items that would have been free with triple coupons. I've found that's often the case, even if you go shopping very early on the first day of the sale.

So, the trip wasn't as fruitful, as it could have been, but I was able to get quite a few things that we really needed and some other things that we'd been wanting to try, but wouldn't have at full price.

Why can't every day be triple coupon day?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Goo Goo Giveaway Redux

I've been unable to reach the winner of the baby food Goo Goo Giveaway, so I'm going to have to choose another winner.

The first two people to post a comment will win some Gerber baby food purees, courtesy of Goo Goo Buy Buy, House Party, and Gerber. Be sure to include your email address in your comment, so I can track you down. If you're the winner, you will receive an email from me requesting your shipping address.

If you don't have a little one who is ready for 2nd foods yet, you may not want to enter this contest. A few of the packs of food have an August 2008 date on them, so they'll need to be consumed ASAP.

Thanks again for entering.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Salt In My Wounds - Another Charge at the Movie Theater

A night out at the movies is never inexpensive, but I've noticed that ticket and concession prices have been slowly creeping up where I live.

On Sunday, my husband and I went to see The Dark Night (excellent!) and as I stood at the concession stand, I experienced an outrage the likes of Harvey Dent's (If you've not seen the movie, you won't understand that reference).

I'm a popcorn fiend. I can't go to the movies without getting me a bag, and I love to add a generous dash of flavored salt to my popcorn. That's one of the reasons I've always loved the Palladium Cinemas in High Point, N.C. They have a salt and butter bar. (Unhealthy, I know, but such a treat!)

The Palladium and its parent company, Consolidated Theaters, were recently sold to Regal Cinemas. And in the tradition of big businesses everywhere, Regal has made some not-so customer-friendly changes.

Flavored salt is no longer free! If you want to add some white cheddar or nacho flavor to your popcorn, you have to pay $1.50 for your own personal bottle of salt. Such a ripoff, in my opinion. And my movie buddies who I've told about this seem to agree.

As a former business reporter, I understand the economics of the decision to charge for salt. Movie theaters make very little money from ticket sales; that cash goes to the studios, production companies and distributors.

So, the concession stand is the profit center of any first-run movie theater. That's why a 16-ounce soda costs $4 (or more.) That's why if you ask for a cup of water, many theaters will charge your the price of a soft drink. That's why M&Ms are $3.50 (or more) a box. And it seems like sizes are shrinking as prices increase.

The business reporter in me understands the profit motives. But as a consumer, I think nickel and diming your customers is a bad idea. I'm not inclined to go to this movie theater anymore, and if I do, I certainly won't be buying their overpriced salt and other concessions.

It's interesting to note that the Palladium used to be our favorite movie theater. It's not the cheapest theater in town or the closest theater to our house. But we'd go there more often than not because in our mind it was the "nicest." And part of the reason we (or rather I) deemed it the nicest was because of the popcorn amenities. No other theater in town offer the combo of a flavored salt-and-butter bar. And that just made the movies for me. But now that salt is no longer free, I don't feel the same way.

I'd much rather drive in the other direction to The Grand Theatre Four Seasons Station, another new theater in town, where ticket prices are $1.50 cheaper and the popcorn's just as good. (They don't have flavored salt, but I can always bring a shaker in my purse.)

In the grand scheme of things, I acknowledge that $1.50 isn't much to add to an already expensive movie night outing. But for me, that was the final straw. I'm tired of businesses overcharging for goods and services and eeking out profits on the backs of their customers. In my mind, that's a terrible way to do business and successful, customer-focused customers agree with that.

As some of my regular blog readers probably know, I write business books when I'm not busy saving money. And one of the things I've learned in researching great brands and great companies is that you need to appreciate your customers, not take advantage of them, if you want to be successful.

When I was writing about Build-A-Bear Workshop, CEO and founder Maxine Clark taught me that great companies learn how to "turn no into yes" to dazzle their customers. I figure Regal Cinemas could learn something from Maxine. A lot, actualy!

At Build-A-Bear, kids sometimes bring in their beloved and battered stuffed animals and ask if they can get them restuffed (or at least plumped up.) At Build-A-Bear, the answer is always yes -- even if that stuffed animal was purchased elswhere.

Such a small gesture generates tremendous goodwill for Build-A-Bear Workshop because potential customers remember the kindness and are more likely to return to that store and buy something because they were treated fairly.

Nordstrom has a similar approach. You can return a purchase to Nordstrom at any time, no questions asked, even if you don't have a receipt. One story (probably an urban legend) has it that a Nordstrom store gave a customer a refund for tires, even though Nordstrom doesn't sell tires! And if you're ever in a Nordstrom store and can't find what you're looking for, a sales associate will search the chain's entire inventory and offer to ship the item to your doorstep for just $5. It's important to Nordstrom management that customers don't leave emptyhanded or disappointed.

I didn't leave the Palladium with those same warm and fuzzy feelings I have when I shop at Build-A-Bear or Nordstrom. I felt taken advantage of. I was upset because I had to buy salt. I was upset because ticket prices had gone up 50 cents from our last visit. I was upset because I felt undervalued as a customer.

I'd venture to say that this new charge will cost Regal Cinemas more than free flavored salt ever did. First, there's the bad word-of-mouth. (I'm blogging about this, for goodness sake, and I bet other moviegoers will also complain about the new charge.)

More importantly, though, the movie theater's customers are going to become fed up with all the extra charges. And they'll take their business elsewhere or else they will sneak in snacks from home to avoid paying exorbitant concession stand prices.

In our household, we probably go to the movies at least once a month -- and sometimes more. If we stop going to the Palladium and other Regal-owned theaters, the company will lose at least $240 in ticket revenues from us; add in concessions and that figure doubles.

One family changing their movie-going habits won't make much of a difference. But what if 10 families change theirs as well? Or 100? Or 200?The lost revenues quickly add up: $500, $5,000, $50,000, $100,000.

Now, that's a little salt rubbed into the wound.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Menu Planning Update

So far, the menu planning is working really well.

The chicken enchiladas from Kraft were excellent, and I'm thinking that we may scrap tonight's dinner plan and have them for leftovers. Either that or I think this may be a night we eat dinner out.

The best laid plans..

In my original plan, I didn't account for how tired I'd be at the end of the week. I've been doing a lot of stuff around the house lately (organizing, cooking, cleaning, etc.) and lots of work work, too, and frankly I'm wiped out.

And let's just say that today is proving to be a challenging day.

It's only 10 a.m. and Jackson has already

  • knocked over the kitchen trash can
  • dumped a pile of his books on the floor
  • gotten into the tool drawer because he wanted to "fix" something with the screwdriver
  • found a box of baby toys (that were supposed to go in the attic) and dumped them out in his room
  • dumped dry cereal in the couch cushions
  • emptied out a bag from Lowes (with extra felt pads that we didn't use after replacing our carpet with flooring)
  • demanded that I put on his dirty Spider-Man shirt even though two others are clean
I'm not exasperated yet, but I already know that come 5:30, I'm not going to feel like doing anything but letting someone else wait on me!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Planning Your Menus Will Save Time and Money

Karen at Thrifty Mommy writes that if you plan out your menus, you're more likely to cook and less likely to eat out.

She's so on the mark there, and I want to try to do better about planning menus in advance because I think that will help me save not only money, but time. I hate wrapping up a busy day at home or at work by walking into the kitchen and trying to figure out what I'm going to cook for the family.

It adds another layer of stress to my already busy and stressful life.

Today, for instance, I was really busy. And I didn't take the time yesterday to plan today's meals. We didn't have any meat thawed, and I was't in the mood for a frozen pizza, frozen lasagna or another convenience food. And I really didn't feel like cooking an involved ditch from scratch, so I ended up digging in the cupboards for something.

I finally settled on a shortcut version of chicken and dumplings, using a seasoning mix from Company's Comin'. A little chicken broth, a little butter, a can of chicken and some flour tortillas (cut in strips) and about 20 minutes cooking time, and you've got chicken and dumplings that taste almost homemade. I made a salad and steamed peas to round out the meal.

So, going forward, I'm going to try to plan our weeknight meals. This will enable me to cook from my stockpile, prep ahead of time and even assign some cooking duties to my husband. We'll also make better use of our leftovers, if we have a plan for when to use and eat them. I'll also know what and when to thaw certain meats, which is probably the thing that keeps us from eating at home more often than we do. Best of all, though, I think I'll feel less stressed about cooking because I'll have a plan and a to-do list all mapped out.

Though I'll be doing more meal planning, I don't want the process of planning to become another chore for me. My plan will be a quick blueprint of what I'd like to serve; I don't intend to spend a lot of time planning meals and scouring for new recipes. No thank you.

My husband likes to help with the cooking, and he certainly volunteers to prepare some of our weeknight meals. But that can often be hard to execute because he usually gets home later than I do and he's much less proficient in the kitchen than I am. (Read: he's slower than I am.) So, he really needs to have a dinner plan. And in some cases, it makes sense for him to do the prep work ahead of time in order to get the food on the table quicker. If we have a weekly meal plan, he can do that more easily and give me more help in the kitchen.

And believe you me, I'm going to make room in my plan for the occasional dinner out and for takeout nights. (Can't live without Chinese and Bojangles chicken every now and again!)

That said, here's my quick meal plan for the balance of the week:

Wednesday
Greek shrimp salad (recipe cribbed from the Green Valley Grill)
Crusty bread

Thursday
Fiesta Chicken Enchiladas from Kraft Food & Family magazine
salad
steamed corn

Friday
Grilled steak and chicken kebabs
green beans (from the inlaws' garden)
sauteed squash (also from the inlaws' garden)

Saturday
This meal is thanks to last week's Lowes' Foods meal deal. I paid for the burgers, and got the buns and sides for free. We'll be inviting my parents and/or some friends to join us.

Bubba Burgers on the grill
slaw
potato salad
potato chips
Grandma Joyner's baked beans
Homemade ice cream (it's the weekend, so we'll have time to make a batch)

Sunday
Cheddar Mac & Ham Casserole (also from Kraft Food & Family because my toddler loves mac and cheese, but we adults prefer something a little more upscale)
salad with homegrown and farmers' market veggies

Looking over my menu plan, I know that on Wednesday morning, I'll need to pull the shrimp out of the freezer to thaw. Once they're thawed, I'll devein them and throw them in a homemade marinade.

Also tonight or tomorrow, I'll need to pull some chicken out of the freezer for our enchiladas on Thursday. Ideally, I'd like to grill, bake or boil the meal tomorrow, so I can prepare the enchiladas quickly and throw them in the oven.

I'll thaw some more chicken and some steak beginning on Wednesday for our Friday night kebabs and get it all marinating Friday morning.

For Saturday's cookout, I don't have to worry about thawing the hamburgers because they can go straight from the freezer to the grill. But I will need to thaw some bacon for the baked beans.

Sunday's meal shouldn't require any advance prep work, which will be welcome at the end of busy weekend. And I'll be doing some grocery shopping and menu planning for next week on Sunday, so I want to minimize my time in the kitchen.

So far, I'm liking this meal planning. I generally find that when I have a plan, my life always runs so much more smoothly.

Tonight, for instance, I was able to hit three grocery stores and Aldi in about 90 minutes. I was able to dash in and out of each store relatively quickly because I left my husband and son at home and because I had lists printed out for each store and my coupons arranged in separate envelopes.

I'll let you know how well we stuck to the plan.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cooking up a fancy restaurant meal at home

I'm no Todd Wilbur, but I do love trying to figure out how to recreate delicious restaurant meals at home.

Earlier this week, some girlfriends and I had lunch at Green Valley Grill, one of my favorite local restaurants. I ordered the chicken salad croissant, which was very good, but I wish I had ordered the Carolina Shrimp Greek Salad that my friend Kristi had.

This wasn't your traditional salad -- there wasn't a leaf of lettuce in sight -- but it was absolutely delicious. So light, and yet so flavorful, mixing fresh Carolina shrimp with fresh local vegetables in a homemade Greek dressing.

I really like the idea of this salad because it's healthy, low-calorie, takes advantage of locally grown foods and also utilizes shrimp that I've been stockpiling when it's been on sale. Add a slice of toasted crusty bread and you've got a tasty and filling one-dish meal.

I'm going to try to recreate the salad this weekend using cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, shrimp, olives, red onions, peppers, feta cheese and a homemade Greek dressing. (My inlaws just brought us lots of tomoatoes and other veggies from their garden.) Once I figure it out, I'll post the results and the recipe here.

I'm drooling already.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Fruits of Our Cherry Picking Outing

Whenever we go cherry picking at Levering Orchard, we usually get carried away and come back home with more cherries than we could ever eat.

So, I'm always looking for different ways we can use up our cherries.

One of my favorite things to do is to mix some pitted cherries and maybe a few fresh-peached peaches with a little honey and a little almond extract. Tastes just like amaretto, which happens to be my favorite cocktail. You can eat the cherry compote straight or serve it over some grilled poundcake.

I know I could always make a cherry pie or cherry ice cream, but I like to do things out of the ordinary. That's how I came up with the idea of cherry muffins. But I couldn't leave it there.

So, I thumbed through my Williams-Sonoma Muffins cookbook and came up with the genius (and super delicious) idea of making cherry white chocolate chip muffins.

My first batch came out a little carmelized (OK, burned) because I somehow turned the oven up too high and didn't realize it until I started smelling smoke and char. But the second batch was perfect -- moist fruit, gooey chips, perfectly executed muffins.

Here's the recipe, my own creation, with a little inspiration from Williams-Sonoma:
Delightfully Delicious White Chocolate Cherry Muffins

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, add 3/4 TBS lemon juice or vinegar to
3/4 cup milk)
2 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups white chocolate chips
1 to 1 1/2 cups pitted cherries (any variety. I like the bing cherries and
the light pink and yellow cherries)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. GreasE 18 muffin cups with butter or cooking spray or line with paper baking cups.

2) In a bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla until smooth. (Don't add the hot butter directly to the eggs or you'll cook them. Add the milk first, allow the butter to cool slightly and add slowly to egg
mixture.)

3) In another bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center and add the wet ingredient mixture. Beat until smooth and well mixed, 1-2 minutes. (I'd use a wooden spoon and good ol' woman power instead of using an electric mixer.)

4) Fold in the white chocolate chips, being careful to overmix.

5) Add the cherries and fold in, until just mixed.

6) Spoon the batter into greased muffin tin, filling each cup about three-quarters of the way.

7. Bake until golden, about 20-25 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean. Allow muffiins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove from muffin tin. Serve while still warm.

If you make these muffins, I'd love to know what you think of them. I loved them, and so did my husband. Jackson liked them, too, but he thought the cherries looked like "doo doo."

For more cherry recipes, check out the Cherry Marketing Institute Web site.

Sticker shock at the pharmacy

Why are prescription eye drops so expensive?

Twice this month, I've had to buy prescription eye drops -- steroidal drops for me, antibiotics for Jackson. Both times, I was floored by the cost of a tiny little bottle of eye drops.

Mine set me back $44 and Jackson's was $50.

Our health insurance, which good, doesn't include a vision plan per se, so I'm used to paying out of pocket for my eye doctor appointments, glasses and contact lenses. But I really would have thought that eye drops -- a medical intervention -- would be covered under regular health insurance and that they would be on the formulary for United Healthcare (our insurance provider.)

But they're obviously not because our typical prescription copay runs only about $4 to $20.

Both Jackson and I needed our drops, and I'd never not fill a prescription to save money. But this was definitely one of those times when I was surprised by the cost of something.

Have you had an experience like this lately? Arrived at the checkout counter to be surprised by your total?

We all know that grocery and gas prices are rising. What else is costing more these days?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pay at the Pump? You May be Paying More for Gas

Pay-at-the-pump gas stations have made my life so much easier. I can swipe my debit card and fill up my car without having to go inside the store. That's definitely a plus when you have little ones, especially those who have to ride in car seats.

But those of us who take advantage of this convenience may be paying more for gas, as a recent report from ABC News reveals.

Some gas stations are charging more per gallon when customers pay for gas with a credit or debit card to offset the credit card processing fees. (Visa charges a 2 percent fee on every credit or check card purchase.) Some service stations disclose the credit/debit price hike with signs at the pump, but others don't. And that's deceptive.

I guess I can understand why some small mom-and-pop gas stations might charge more for credit or debit card purchases to preserve their profit margins. But I don't know of any other retailer who charges more when customers pay with a card instead of cash or a check. I personally think that credit card fees ought to just be treated as a "cost of doing business," light a ultility bill, employee salaries, etc.

When stores accept credit and debit cards, that certainly makes buying more convenient for customers. But I'd bet that for most merchants, credit/debit card acceptance is also a revenue stream. People are much more likely to buy and to buy more if they can pay with a card. So merchants who accept cards pocket more profits than those who don't.

The ABC News investigation discovered that some gas stations in New York were charging 7 cents to 50 cents more per gallon to credit and debit card customer. The 7-cent difference seems justified, given Visa's processing fee. But those service stations charging 50 cents more a gallon are profiting from deceiving their customers. And that's wrong.

The next time you swipe your card at the pump, check your receipt to make sure you haven't been charged more than the advertised price for gasoline. If the figures don't match and there were no signs indicating the price difference, make a fuss and request a rebate. If the station refuses your request, report them to the state agency that regulates gas stations. In North Carolina, that's the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

If you're worried about how you're going to pay for gas if prices keep rising, you might consider stockpiling gas. (Don't worry, though, you don't actually have to stockpile the fuel and risk setting your house on fire.) A new company called MyGallons lets consumers buy prepay for gas at the current price and fill up whenever they need fuel using prepaid cards. The company charges an annual fee of $29.95 -- an investment you'd recoup after buying 60 gallons of gas at a 50 cent per gallon savings.

We haven't signed up for MyGallons yet, but it's definitely an idea worth considering because I believe fuel prices are going to increase more before they stabilize.

Another Goo Goo Giveaway Winner

I loved hearing from all the moms and moms-to-be for the latest Goo Goo Giveway. In my circle of friends, there aren't many other parents, so I don't get to chat much with other mommies who are struggling to balance jobs (work at home and otherwise), managng a household, saving money and raising little cuddlebunnies.

So, I love being able to connect with you through the blog. I think this is a great forum for us to share experiences and advice -- on childrearing, coupon clipping and whatever else strikes our fancy.

Your comments have given me lots of ideas for the blog, so please keep reading to see some of your questions answered in later postings.

But I know you're all just dying to know who won the Gerber Goo Goo Giveaway.

The lucky mommy would be Tami, who said she wanted help "feeding littles cheap , easy, and nearly free!" Well, Tami, I'm here to grant your wish. Two boxes of yummy Gerber fruit purees are on their way to you. I hope you and your little ones enjoy these healthy and free treats!

I'm sorry I don't have enough baby food to share with everyone, but I promise there will be more Goo Goo Giveaways in the very near future. (I'm feeling quite generous lately.)

In case you're wondering how I lucked into so much baby food, it's not because I'm giving away my leftovers. Recently, I was chosen by Gerber to host a House Party for other moms, and they sent me two huge boxes of baby food and cereal. I invited all the moms I knew to a get-together at Starbucks and handled out lots of goodie bags full of food and baby gear.

But even still, I had bunches left, so I decided to give the leftovers away to my loyal blog readers. (Jackson has graduated from baby food to table food. I hear him downstairs now with his daddy talking about eating a Chilly Willy frozen treat!)

If you've never been to or heard of a House Party, I'd encourage you to check out the site. Compaines are exploring new ways to reach out to consumers, and they're recognizing that viral marketing and word-of-mouth goes a long way. So, they invite regular folks like you and me to hold house parties and introduce brands to our friends and families.

There's no fee to hold a house party, and it's a great opportunity to get some free products for yourself and your friends. And I've always found that a party is a great excuse to get the house in tip-top shape. So, I like to host a get-together every few months.

Competition to host a House Party can be fierce, but if you fit the company's demographic profile, you may be selected to tout one of your favorite brands or products. Upcoming house parties will spotlight products from Gerber, Grey Poupon, Fisher Price, TNT, Better Homes & Gardens and Barbie.

Check it out, and if you're selected to host a House Party, be sure to send me an invitation. (Guests can attend virtually or in person!)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Home Depot Coupon Will Come in Handy If You're Moving or Planning a Big Purchase

We always seem to have so many household projects looming over us.

Last weekend, we did a major clean out of our garage, organized the things we store in there, and posted some unwanted household items for sale on Craigslist.

This week, I'm hoping to do some cleaning out in the office and get some family photos hung throughout. And I'd like to take down the crib and buy some bookcases for Jackson's room. And clean the carpet in the bedroom, where the dog has had a few middle-of-the-night accidents.

With all these home improvements on our to-do list, it seems that we're always running to Home Depot to pick up something or other. So, I was happy to find this 10 percent off coupon from Home Depot.

HomeDepot Movers

I know the coupon says Home Depot Moving, but trust me, you don't have to be planning a move to sign up for this deal. Just register at the site, and they'll send you a coupon for 10 percent off an in-store purchase.

I'll probably save mine until we have another big-ticket purchase to make, even though I'm crossing my fingers that none of those come our way anytime soon. I think I'd just freak out if my refrigerator or washer or dryer went on the fritz. That's stress -- and an expense -- that we don't need right now!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Goo Goo Giveaway -- Gerber Baby Food Purees

As promised, we're offering something for the little ones during our third Goo Goo Giveaway. The winner of this contest will receive 14 2-packs of Gerber fruit purees with DHA in the following varieties:
Banana Peach Granola
Apple Vanilla Mixed Grain
Pear Strawberry Granola
Pear Blueberry Oat

These are 2nd Foods from Gerber, and the DHA is supposed to help with brain development.


All you have to do to be eligible for this prize is post a comment telling me what you'd like to read more of on this blog. Winners will be selected randomly. And please, make sure to leave your email address, so I have a way of contacting you if you win.

The winner will be announced Wednesday.
Even if you don't win, you can score some great coupons from Gerber by calling 1-800-4Gerber. You can call every month and request new coupons that are for foods that are appropriate to your child's development stage. You can also find other great special offers from Gerber online.
And if you haven't done so already, don't forget to sign up for your free sample of Enfamil through the banner link on the right side of this page.

Thanks for playing and for reading Goo Goo Buy Buy. Good luck in the Goo Goo Giveaway.

By the way, the photo above is of my son Jackson enjoying his first solid food when he was just five months old in February 2007. Isn't he cute? Judging from his reaction to that first feeding, you'd never guess that the boy is a voracious eater.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Fourth of July Adventure

Boy, did we have a memorable July 4th.

For Father's Day, I gave Bruce tickets to see Kevin Costner and his band Modern West in concert at the Durham Athletic Park, a unique commemmoration of the 20th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham.

Photo from the Herald Sun

We trekked to Durham yesterday to see the band and were having a grand old time listening to music and playing on the playground at the ballpark.

Just as the fireworks were about to begin, the skies darkened and it started pouring. We thought we might make a run for our car, but we didn't have time before the rain and thunder and lightning started.

So, we and about 7,000 other people ran for cover inside the ballpark, but things kept getting so gusty that we had to keep moving for cover along the concourse. The lights went out, and Jackson and I hung out for a while in the bathroom where there were some emergency lights.

But he didn't like being separated from his daddy. So, we eventually went back to the concourse and waited out the storm.

It was a little bit like a scene from a Stephen King novel. I kept expecting the Mist to roll in and the crowd to start acting crazy. But, except for two low-class women who almost got into a fight, that didn't happen. For a moment, I thought we might have to spend the night at the ballpark, camped out in the bathroom. Wouldn't that have been fun?

Finally -- after probably about an hour -- it stopped raining enough for us to make our way back to the car. By the time we got there, we were all soaked. And I kept slipping out of my shoes. (Rain is the only reason I know to trade in cute sandals for tennis shoes.)

Luckily, we had some pajamas for Jackson, but Bruce and I had to ride home soaked, smelling a little bit like soaked dogs. Jackson, meanwhile, was asleep within minutes of getting into his carseat.

Quite a memorable July 4th -- and pretty fun, despite everything.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Free Money from Wachovia

I've been banking with Wachovia for years now, and I've been pretty pleased with the service they offer.

But I don't think they've ever offered me free money before.

But they are now -- and you can get free money, too.

Anyone who opens a free Wachovia checking account after being referred by a friend will get $25 -- and so will the friend.

You can open the new account in a store or by phone.

The terms are pretty straightforward:

A program brochure or referral coupon must be presented at the time the
account is opened. Referral must be a new personal checking customer to the
bank. Offer expires December 31, 2008. All accounts are subject to our normal
approval process. A minimum opening balance of $50 is required for Free Student
Checking. Free Checking requires a $100 minimum opening balance.

If you're interested in opening a Wachovia account, email me and I'll send you the referral coupon so we can both benefit.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Another way to save money at the grocery store

I usually try to do my grocery shopping alone because trips can get kind of crazy when you have a toddler along.

Occasionally on the weekends, we'll make grocery shopping a family outing. While I do like to have my husband's help lifting heavy items like sodas, I have noticed that when he tags along, we spend more.

I will confess that in our marriage, I'm much more likely to spend than Bruce is. But at the grocery store, his urge to spend seems to kick in. I think it's something inherent in most males. Whenever my dad goes to the grocery store, he always comes back with a pack of Big 60 cookies (which no one in our family likes) and other things that weren't on the list.

Bruce is the same way. He doesn't stick to the list when we go shopping.

And that was OK before I was playing the Grocery Game and being really frugal about our grocery bill. But it drives me batty now. These days, my list is my shopping bible, and if something's on the list, it's because it's available at rock-bottom prices. And I've probably pulled a coupon to make the sale even better. If it's not on the list, then I'm not buying it because the deal isn't good enough.

Here's what usually happens when the family goes shopping:

We'll be in the grocery store, walking down an aisle and Bruce will say, "Do we need Rice-A-Roni? It's a good price. "

I'll stop the cart, give him a glare and reply, "No it's not a good price. It would be if I had printed a coupon for it. But without the coupon, it's not a good deal."

Usually, he'll wear me down and we'll buy it anyway.

Sometimes, though, I win the battle.

We ran out of ketchup last week, but I've got a coupon and a raincheck that will allow me to get it for 37 cents a bottle. Twice in recent weeks, in Aldi and at the grocery store, Bruce has nagged me to buy ketchup at full price. And I've told him that I'll buy it as soon as the store is back in stock with the brand that's on sale. (Where is my cheap ketchup, Harris Teeter? It's been two weeks. The ketchup lovers in my house are rioting! Will I be forced to slip some ketchup packets into my purse the next time we're in a fast-food restaurant?)

Mind you, we haven't cooked anything this week that needed ketchup, but I guess Bruce can't stand the idea of being without his favorite condiment should he have a late-night French fry craving. (Which he never has!)

Maybe I need to hand over Grocery Game duties to my hubby for a week or two so he understands why I say no to purchases that aren't on the list.

I'm sure some people reading this will think I'm a horrible person, denying my family the sustenance of ketchup, Rice-a-Roni and other essentials. Well, think what you will. I take pride in being able to maximize our savings at the grocery store, so if we have to wait to purchase some things, so be it. We're definitely not going hungry. Our pantry is stocked, and so is our stockpile.

And truly, I wouldn't mind buying the things that Bruce would like me to buy. But I wish he would tell me before we're pushing through the aisles with a wiggly toddler. At home, I have time to pull and print coupons, but that's often not an option at the store.

I've also noticed that when I take my son, Jackson, with me to the grocery store, I always end up buying something extra, often to stave off a tantrum. The boy isn't yet two, but he knows what Lucky Charms and Gerber Juice Treats (yummy yummys, he calls them) look like. And if we pass them, he'll have a terrible-two meltdown until he gets a 'nack. I don't give in every time, but sometimes he wears me down...

Just this weekend, we were in Food Lion, hoping to take advantage of a great BOGO sale on cereal. No sooner had I set the box of cereal down than Jackson had opened it. Almost instantly, I realized that I'd picked up the wrong size. This box wasn't BOGO but was full price. Instead of getting cereal for $1.34 a box, as I had planned, I paid $4.29 for one box. The cheapskate in me was steamed, not so much at my son but at the store for not doing a better job of separating sale merchandise from regular price merchandise.

On this site and others devoted to saving money, we talk about how clipping coupons and shopping sales can pay off. But as I've discussed in this post, certain behaviors (and people) could be derailing our efforts to save.

Do you have any people who you won't shop with? Or any unusual tips for how to save money at the store? I'd love to hear what you're doing to keep your wallets green. Please post a comment.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Free Coffee from Gevalia

I'm not one of those people who drinks coffee throughout the day, but I have to have a cup first thing in the morning, fixed my way with two Splendas and a dash of hazelnut flavored creamer.

If you've gotta have your coffee, then you ought to try out this freebie from Gevalia.

Sign up and you'll receive two free bags of coffee and a free insulated mug.

If you like the coffee, Gevalia will send you more each month, but you can cancel at any time and keep the freebies.

I've signed up with Gevalia several times throughout the years, and I've always liked their coffees and the freebies they've sent along. (In fact, we still use a free Gevalia coffeemaker at my office.)

There's no risk for trying this freebie out. And if you don't like the coffee -- or don't want monthly shipments -- you can always cancel before they send you the first one.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Great Coupon Offer from Cetaphil

This offer has expired, I'm afraid. I'll repost if it becomes available again.

Sign up for Cetaphil's skincare newsletter and get a coupon for $1 off.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Grocery Deals Using Printable Coupons from Goo Goo Buy Buy

I told you to print those Chex Mix coupons!

This week, Chex Mix is on sale buy-one-get-one free (BOGO) at Lowes Foods and Harris Teeter. Print out two copies of the 65 cents off coupon from my printable coupon bar on the right and get two bags of Chex mix for FREE at Lowes Foods and for 29 cents at Harris Teeter! (Both stores should allow you to use two coupons for your BOGO purchase, and the stores will double the coupons.)

Here are some other great grocery coupon deals I've found this week, using the printable coupons available on Goo Goo Buy Buy and Coupons.com Check back tomorrow, and I'll do a rundown of drugstore coupon deals for CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid.

Now, onto the deals:

Tava sparkling beverage four-packs are on sale for 99 cents at Harris Teeter. Print out the $1.50 off coupon on this site and get Tava beverages for FREE! (And you may even make a little money, if the store gives you the full discount for the coupon!)

Cetaphil cream, lotion or cleanser is $8.99 at Harris Teeter, but if you sign up for the company's mailing list through the link on the right, you'll save $1.

Other coupon deals of note this week:

If you clipped the Sargento coupon from the Sunday paper recently, you may want to use it this week. Lowes Foods had Sargento shredded cheese on sale 2 for $4. You should be able to buy just one pack, if you want, at $2 and combine the sale with a 55 cents off coupon from Sargento. The coupon doubles, so you'll pay just 90 cents for Sargento shredded cheese.

Blue Bunny ice cream bars are BOGO at Lowes Foods and Harris Teeter, and there's a $1 off Blue Bunny ice cream coupon available from the manufacturer. This way, you get to have dessert and save money, too.

California Pizza Kitchen pizzas for one are 2 for $5 at Lowes Foods. Combine this deal with a coupon for 75 cents off one pizza for one (clipped from your Sunday newspaper) and get each CPK pizza for $1.

Last week, I told you about some great deals using the printable coupons on Goo Goo Buy Buy.

Just so you know, I do practice what I preach.

I stocked up on creamer for my Coffee using a coupon I printed from Coffee-Mate combined with a killer sale at Walgreens and paid just 50 cents a bottle. I also bought some Little Debbie Muffins at Target, using a coupon I printed from Goo Goo Buy Buy and a store coupon from Target and got the muffins for 25 cents each. Remember, you can stack manufacturers' coupons with store coupons to maximize your grocery savings.

A couple of deals I was hoping to get -- ketchup for 37 cents at Harris Teeter and three boxes of mac-and-cheese plus a packet of American cheese from Kraft for 99 cents -- didn't pan out this week because the store was sold out of some advertised specials. But I asked for rainchecks and will be cashing in on those bargains this week when the stores are hopefully restocked.

Free Sample of Enfamil Formula

This sample is back. See the banner ad on the right side of this page. Sign up quickly, though, as this may be pulled soon.

We're past the formula stage in our house and onto whole milk (for another few months anyway), but I thought I'd pass along a link for a free sample of Enfamil formula.

I nursed my son until he was about 16 months old, so I never had the added expense of buying formula. But I know that formula is super-expensive, babies drink a lot of it and any break you can get is a welcome one.

In fact, I remember being in the grocery store one day and seeing this young couple filling their cart up with formula for their twins. Well, I had my coupon organizer with me (of course!) and I pulled out all the $5, $8 and $10 Enfamil checks that I had and gave tem to the couple. They were ecstatic over the savings.

If you've got a little one around the house, I encourage you to click request the free sample of Enfamil. Even if you're breastfeeding, it helps to have some formula on hand in case you need to supplement, run low on your pumped supply or simply need a break.

My son drank formula occassionally, particularly as he got older and I could leave him for a little bit longer with his dad and nana. Thanks to deals like this one from Enfamil and samples I picked up at the hospital, from my OBGYN and from his pediatrician, I never bought a can of formula. I'm thankful for that savings.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Earn Cash Back on All Your Online Purchases at Ebates


Do you shop online? Then you need to be shopping through Ebates.

Ebates is a portal to other Websites and every time you shop there, you can earn up to 25 percent back on your purchases. You can shop at more than 900 stores through Ebates, including Barnes and Noble, Target, QVC, Gap, Macys, Nordstrom, Wal-Mart, JCPenney, Kmart, Sears, Home Depot, Snapfish and the list goes on.

And just for signing up, Ebates will give you a $5 credit -- and maybe a free gift card, too. (I've seen both offered on the site.) And for every friend you refer to Ebates, you can receive a $5 referral credit if they sign up.

Every three months, Ebates sends out Big Fat Checks to its members. (You'll get a check if your cashback earnings total $5.01 for the quarter. If they don't, don't worry. Ebates will roll that money over to the next payment period and send you your check when you hit the magical $5.01 threshhold.)

In addition to offering cash back on all your purchases, Ebates has great coupons for the online merchants that are affiliated with its site. So, just as you might do in a store, you can stack deals -- use a coupon and still earn cashback credit.

I'm a big online shopper, and I'm just kicking myself for not signing up for Ebates sooner. I could have pocketed a lot of money over the years for all I've bought from Nordstrom, Target and QVC and other online merchants. Drats!

But I'm earning that money now. I bought my husband the "Bull Durham" DVD for Father's Day as part of a baseball-themed gift -- (we're going to see Kevin Costner's band in concert at the Durham Athletic Park in celebration of July 4 and the 20th anniversary of "Bull Durham.") And I earned cash back on that. Ditto for the stick vaccuum I bought today at QVC. Man, I wish we had an Ebates account when we bought a portable air conditioner for our office from there. We would have earned a nice credit on that purchase.

I encourage you to sign up for Ebates if you regularly shop online. You'll have to get into the habit of going to Ebates first if you want to buy something online, but that should be easy enough if you're always in the mindset of saving (and earning) money.

Getting paid for shopping -- now that's my dream job! And I'm living it now, thanks to Ebates.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Free Printable Coupons from Goo Goo Buy Buy

This site is about saving money and spending it wisely, so it only makes sense that I should offer printable coupons that you can use at the grocery store, CVS, Walgreens and wherever else you shop.

Check out the pink banner on the right side of the page for some great coupons for Coupons.com

Now, let's see how you can leverage these coupons to maximum advantage by stacking them with store coupons and sales.

Lowes Foods

Hamburger Helper is on sale for 5 for $5. Buy 2 boxes and use the $1 off 2 boxes coupon. Pay just 50 cents for each box of Hamburger Helper.

Little Debbie muffins are on sale for 2 for $4. Buy one box and Use the 75 cents off (which may double at Lowes) and get the Little Debbie muffins 50 cents each or $1.25 each (if the coupon doesn't double) .

Food Lion

A twin pack of Bausch & Lomb Renu is on sale for $8.99. Use the $1 off coupon and get two bottles of Renu contact lens solution for $7.99.


Harris Teeter

Betty Crocker brownies are on sale 4 for $5. Use the 40 cents off coupon, and get Betty Crocker brownie mixes for 85 cents (or 45 cents if the coupon doubles) .

CVS

Neutrogena Acne Care products are $1 off with your ExtraCare Card. Use the $1 off Neutrogena coupon on my site and double your savings on Neutrogena.

Renu multipacks are on sale for $8.99, as they are at Food Lion, so you can use your $1 off coupon here and get two bottles of Renu contact lens cleaner for $7.99.

Walgreens

Energizer hearing aid batteries are on sale for $3.99, when you use the store's instant value coupon (found here or in the in-store rebate booklets). Use the store coupon and the $2 off coupon from my site and get your Energizer hearing aid batteries for just $1.99. And here's a bonus deal: If you buy $20 worth of Energizer batteries at Walgreens this month, you can send off for a free sleeping bag through the Walgreens EasySaver rebate program.

Windex is on sale for 2 for $3.79. Combine that deal with the $1 off Windex coupon here and get two bottles of Windex for $2.79 or $1.79 -- if you print the coupon twice. (You may have to use a different Web browser.) Check out your store, too. You may be able to purchase just one bottle on Windex at $1.89, use the $1 off coupon and get it Windex for 89 cents.)


Huggies Little Swimmers are on sale for $6.99. Use the $1 off coupon on this site and get the Huggies Little Swimmers for $5.99. If you buy Huggies diapers on the same shopping trip, you'll get $2 in Register Rewards to spend on your next trip to Walgreens. (Check the store ad for details; this offer expires Sunday, June 22.)

Opti-Free contact lens solution is on sale for $7.99. Use the $1 off coupon on this site and get Opti-Free Multipurpose Disinfecting Solution for $6.99.

I'm sure there are some other great free and almost-free deals that you can find to use with the coupons here on my site. I'd love to hear about how you use these coupons.

Also, please check back on the site often. The coupons change regularly, and as you print coupons, new offers are generated for you. Each week, I'll do a roundup of the best grocery deals using these coupons.

When you see these coupons, I'd definitely click print:

  • $1.00 off Muir Glen tomatoes (I'm told you can get diced tomatoes and tomato sauce at some Wal-Mart stores for 20-24 cents a can.)
  • $5.00 off Glade Wisp Flameless candles (These normally sell for around $9.99, but Target had these on sale recently for $5.99, but with the coupon, they were just 99 cents. Watch out for sales at other stores.)
  • 65 cents off Chex mix (My favorite snack food is often buy-one-get-one-free at the drugstores and grocery stores. And some grocery stores will double this coupon, making it a very sweet deal.)

For a listing of other great coupons from Coupons.com, check out this link (Thanks to Heather at Freebies4Mom!) I'll be printing out the $1.oo off and $1.50 off Coffee-Mate coupons and using them at Walgreens, where Coffee-Mate is on sale for 2 for $3. I'll get two bottles of Coffee-Mate creamer for just 50 cents. (A super deal for me because I use this in my coffee every day!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Saving money the Aldi way

No matter how bad the economy gets, groceries are one expense you can't get rid of. But there are tricks to cutting your grocery bill.

I'm sure many of you (like my wife) have pretty sophisticated methods of saving money via comparison shopping, clipping coupons, watching out for sales, etc. But one simple way I've found to save money is to shop at Aldi, the discount grocery store chain.

Aldi is based in Illinois, but has stores all across the country. There are 44 just here in North Carolina. Aldi stores are smaller than traditional grocery stores and are decidedly no frills. Items are stacked in boxes, not stocked on shelves. You should bring your own bags (or grab an empty box from the shelves), as bags cost extra. And be prepared to bag your own groceries - they don't do it for you.

But the biggest difference is the almost complete lack of name-brand items. Aldi sells almost exclusively their own store brand. For example, if you need ketchup, you'll find one brand - the Aldi brand - in one size. The selection is far more limited than in a traditional grocery store.

However, the prices are generally far cheaper than you will find in your average grocery store. I have to have my orange juice in the mornings. At Aldi, I can get a carton of OJ for $1.79. That's more than $1 less than you'll pay for Tropicana or Minute Maid -- even if you catch it on sale.

But what about quality? As always, store brands aren't quite the same as name brands, but overall, I've found the Aldi brands to be quite satisfactory. I didn't care for their brand of Pop-Tarts, but just about everything else I've tried has been fine. Some items, such as their potato chips, are actually very good.

So give Aldi a shot. You may not find everything you want or need, but you will save yourself quite a bit of money.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Beauty Bargains Galore from Amazon and Us Weekly

A shout out to Crystal at Money Saving Mom for passing along this great deal from Amazon.com and US Weekly.

For a limited time, if you buy $25 worth of merchandise from a beauty seller at Amazon.com, you will receive a free subscription to US Weekly magazine. Here are the terms for the Amazon beauty deal.

I do love the "celebrity news," but I like cash more and that's what makes this deal so appealing. If you don't want the free magazine subscription, you can request a refund. You'll get $19.80 back.

So that means, you can get $25 worth of beauty products for only $5.20, plus shipping and handling. If you're an Amazon Prime member, your shipping is free. To browse the products that are eligible for this promotion, visit Amazon Beauty .

Last night, I combined this deal with antoher Amazon promotion -- 4 for 3. That's four (paperback) books for the cost of three. You can access the 4-for-3 Books promotion here.

The 4-for-3 Deal also applies to magaines and home and garden items. How sweet is that?

What did I get?

I bought four mindless mysteries and a trio of Philosophy body washes.

Want to know how I sweetened these deals even more? I used $35 worth of Amazon gift certificates that I received from completing a customer-service survey and as earnings on my Visa card. So, I'll end up paying only $12.03 (including tax and shipping) for nearly $60 worth of books and beauty products from Amazon.

I'm VERY happy about that.

Now, if I could just find time for a relaxing read in a bubble bath...

Now

Bargaining and Dealing During the Hiatus

I can't believe it's been a week since I last posted.

Let's just say it's been busy in my world, so busy that I haven't had much time to spare to blog. But I'm going to do better about that from now on, I promise.

These next few weeks, I'll be posting about:

I don't know what my other-half Bruce is up to, but I hope he'll be adding some posts to the blog, too. Bruce is a great money manager, and he was raised by the tightest penny pincher I know. So, you know he has some great ideas about making your money work for you.

  • A great deal from Amazon.com for people like me who can't have enough cosmetics and lotions and perfumes
  • A family chore that's fun and that will save you money
  • How spending just a bit to spruce up your home can make a world of difference on your outlook and your property value
  • Making sure that money-saving deals are worth your while and fit into your lifestyle
  • How I'm working CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and other stores to Save Money
  • Some mommy essentials (these aren't what you think)
  • My favorite inexpensive getaway
  • A new series called "The Best Money I Ever Spent" about purchases that have made my life richer, easier and better
  • A new Goo Goo Giveaway -- something for the little ones this time.
  • How I organize my coupons to make sure I never miss a deal

I don't know what my other-half Bruce is up to, but I hope he'll be adding some posts to the blog, too. Bruce is a great money manager, and he was raised by the tightest penny pincher I know. So, you know he has some great ideas about making your money work for you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Goo Goo Giveaway!

In honor of Father's Day, Amy has given me the honor of picking the winner of the latest Goo Goo Giveaway.

Once again, we received a lot of great entries. I appreciate everyone who shared their embarrassing cooking story. Amy already has shared two of my grilling disasters and, sadly, she's not exaggerating. I'm not a steak fan, but it looked awful - just completely black. The ribs were even more burned, if you can believe that. So I can empathize with anyone who has ever made a mistake in the kitchen.

But as much as I wish I could give everyone a prize, we only have one BBQ fork. So the winner of this Goo Goo Giveaway is....

Storm!!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this nifty grilling tool. And we'll have more contests in the weeks to come, so everyone please come back and share your stories.

Thanks,
Bruce

Tomato Warning from the FDA - Check Yours Before Eating

If the taste doesn't do it for you, here's another argument for buying locally grown tomatoes. (Or for growing your own.)

The FDA is warning about an outbreak of salmonellosis in tomatoes -- namely romas and round red tomatoes.

The salmonella outbreak hasn't been linked to all states, so you may be safe if the tomatoes you buy are from these states and countries:

Alabama
Arkansas
California
Georgia
Hawaii
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Minnesota
Mississippi
New York
Nebraska
North Carolina
Ohio
Pennsylvania
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
West Virginia
Belgium
Canada
Dominican Republic
Guatemala
Israel
Netherlands
Puerto Rico

However, to be truly safe, the FDA recommends eating only grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes with the vine still attached and homegrown tomatoes.

Homegrown tomatoes -- those are the best -- but we don't have any here yet. So, what's a tomato lover to do.

I wonder if it's safe to buy tomatoes from the local farmer's market from farmers that you know well and trust. And I guess certain heirloom tomatoes (the purpose ones) and yellow tomatoes will be safe.

I hope they announce more news on this soon because tomatoes are my absolute favorite food. It wouldn't be summer without them.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Goo Goo Giveaway -- Digital BBQ Fork for Father's Day

Welcome to the second Goo Goo Giveaway. This time, I'll be giving away something that will be perfect for dad (or hubby) for Father's Day.

Given that Father's Day is just a week away, the entry period for this giveaway is short. I'll stop taking entries at 8 p.m. Monday night. The winner will be announced first thing Tuesday morning, and I'll ship out the BBQ fork on Tuesday morning via priority mail, so it will arrive in time for Father's Day.

The ability to control fire ranks as the most important discovery/invention of mankind. But sometimes I wonder about that ability -- usually when my husband's standing in front of the grill.

The worst steak I ever ate was chargrilled -- blackened, actually, but not in that yummy Cajun way -- after my husband left it unwatched on the grill too long. Goodbye ribeye, hello carcinogens.

And then there was the time I spent all day marinating and steaming baby-back ribs. As dinner approached, my husband took the ribs to the grill to sear them.

Flash forward a few minutes, and I start smelling smoke. The ribs -- which I had slaved over all day and spent a pretty penny on -- had turned to inedible ash. Seems that the flash plate (or something like that) had moved, meaning that there was nothing between the meat and the fire.

My husband couldn't have known this would happen, but that was his second grilling strike. One more, and he's banned from the barbecue for life. Kinda like Pete Rose and baseball.

To be fair, I don't have a great track record with fire either. My mom would love to tell you all about the time I set her backsplash on fire. And in high school chemistry class, I proved that heavily lacquered bangs are combustible.

My problems with fire might be genetic. As a teenager, my dad caught the curtains in the basement on fire while flicking matches at a styrofoam cup.

I figure this notion that humans can control fire might be a myth. But with tools like the digital BBQ fork that I'm giving away, you may be able to avoid the disasters that we've had on our grill.

To enter the Goo Goo Giveaway, post a comment sharing with me your funniest cooking, grilling or fire disaster. (No injuries, please.)

I'm sorry I don't have a photo of the digital BBQ fork -- no time. But I'll describe it here.

The unit includes an interchangeable fork or prong. The digital readout tells you when you're food is done.

Good luck...safe and happy grilling...and happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Free Magazine Subscriptions

If you love magazines as much as I do, you'll want to check out lowpricesubs often.

Today -- while supplies last - they're offering subscriptions to Spin and Bassmasters Magazine for free.

In our house, we like to read "the news" -- that's what we call celebrity news and gossip -- so I signed up to get Spin Magazine for free. Earlier today, I also signed up to get Woman's Day -- also free.

I think I'll pass on Bassmasters, but it would make a great Father's Day gift for some dads out there.

In addition to free magazines, lowpricesubs also has some great deal on popular magazines. Everyday with Rachael Ray, for example, is just $4 for 10 issues. Yum-O! That's a deal too tasty to pass up.

FYI, if you purchase a magazine from this site, you'll have to pay by PayPal.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Buying for a Baby - Temptations to Resist

S.B. at Be Thrifty Like Us had an interesting post recently about buying baby gear, specifically what she and her husband did right and what they did wrong when buying for their daughter, who is now 1.

I've thought about this issue a lot -- usually everytime I go into Jackson's room -- so I'd like to add my thoughts about some other things you should avoid buying when you have a baby. And I'll follow up later with our list of must-haves now that we're veteran parents of an almost 2-year-old.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't buy...

A big, fancy diaper bag. For my baby shower, two dear friends of mine pooled their money to buy me a fabulous -- and fabulously expensive -- Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag. It's gorgeous, but it isn't practical for everyday use. My diaper bag is still bigger than my son. It wouldn't fit under the stroller, and if I hung it from the back of our umbrella stroller, it always threatened to tip the thing over.

I do use this diaper bag to pack Jackson's things in for overnight trips. But a diaper bag isn't supposed to be luggage. It's supposed to be used every day.

I ended up buying a very simple chenille polka dot bag and using that as my diaper bag. It was no bigger than a purse, had to pokets on the outside, a small pocket on the inside and a removable cardboard bottom. (I've found that some Vera Bradley purses also have designs that lend themselves to be used as diaper bags.) I'm of the opinion that a diaper bag should be cute because you'll be carrying it instead of a purse for quite a while. And I think the bag should match the mom, not the baby. I had a boy, buy my diaper bags -- the big one and its replacement -- are very girly because that's my style. Jackson never knew the difference.

Stuffed animals. When I found out that I was pregnant, the first thing I bought for the baby was a stuffed animal. Because it was cute and soft, just the kind of thing that stoked my hormone-fueled image of what motherhood would be like. Because in our minds, it's always cooing babies being rocked by beautiful mommies in nurseries decorated with lucious linens and bunny-soft stuffed animals. Cue the lullaby.

Everyone thinks that about babies, and they'll shower you with stuffed animals and keep buying them for every occasion in your child's life. Several months back, I counted Jackson's stuffed animals and was amazed to find that he had more than 20 -- not counting the ones that are in the toy bin in the car. His room and our entire house was turning into a zoo for plush playthings.

Since that count, Jackson's grandparents, aunts, uncles, other relatives and friends have added ot the menager.

This week, Bruce and I decided -- enough. After Jackson was asleep (in our bed), we tackled the chore of cleaning up and cleaning out his room. We took some of his baby stuffies with special significance and stored them in bins with other outgrown toys. (We're saving them for Number 2 -- if we decide to have a Number 2.) We also picked through the stuffed animals -- some of which have never been played with -- and choose a few to donate to Goodwill.

We still have too many for my liking, but Jackson has his favorites and is very attached. I don't have the heart to banish Elmo or Snoopy, his mo-mos (monkeys) or even that annoying, emotially needy Learning Puppy.

Receiving blankets or any other kind. Blankets are kind of like stuffed animals. They evoke images of sweet, sleeping babies. When you see them, you want to buy them to swaddle your little one in.

Don't. Resist the temptation. Take it from someone who knows. In a house with a baby, blankets are like kudzu. They seem pretty and innocuous and even useful, but they have a way of taking over...

My mom is a crocheter, and before Jackson was even born -- heck before any of her grandchildren were even conceived -- she had a drawer full of blankets in baby blue, petal pink and "we're having a surprise" green and yellow. When I was pregnant with Jackson, she gave me several handmade baby blankets. After he was born, she gave me more.

We still have all of those blankets, and we cherish them. They are keepsakes, and I will never throw them away.

Only problem is, my mom wasn't the only one buying blankets.

I bought some because I couldn't resist the cute factor. I got some at my baby showers (all of them beautiful, I might add.) People shared their hand-me-downs. Suddenly one little boy, who doesn't much like being swaddled or covered up, had dozens of blankets. They were everywhere. In his room. In the car. In our room. In the living room. In the laundry room. In the kitchen.

Blankets are one of those baby necessities. You will need them, but you don't need to buy them. Because you will get them as gifts. In this case, it's OK to have more than you need -- because when you have a peeing, pooping baby being cared for my sleep-deprived parents who have trouble finding their own feet, much less a blanket, you're always going to need a backup.

As my son has grown from baby to toddler, I've slowly pared down his linens, stashing the extras in the attic for Number 2. (That nonexistent baby has a great headstart on a life of excess.) We have just a few special, cozy blankets in Jackson's room now.

Baby bottles. S.B. mentioned this in her post, but my reasoning is different. Her daughter was picky when it came to bottles, but Jackson's never met a nipple he didn't like. But we didn't need as many bottles as we had. Jackson nursed until he was almost 16 months old -- and by then he was drinking from a sippy cup. He would take a bottle if I wasn't around, but we never needed as many as we had in the cabinet. Two or three would have been fine for us.

Of course, this bit of advice doesn't apply to babies who are formula fed or whose mommies aren't able to stay home and nurse them. (I'm lucky to have a flexible career as a writer. Many times, I've left my computer to let Jackson refuel.)

Interestingly, now that Jackson is a toddler, we never seem to have enough sippy cups. He goes through... I don't know how many a day. Leaves them everywhere. Drips them on the carpet. On the sofa. On the bed... but I digress.

Extraneous baby-proofing gear. If you have a child, it's essential that you take proper steps to babyproof your home to protect your child from some very real and very scary dangers. But there are some baby-proofing items that you may never use or need.

Case in point -- our toilet locks. I bought two of them (or maybe three) because that's how many thrones we have in the house. I installed one of them before Jackson was even crawling, just to test it out. Only thing it proved was that we adults are idiots. My husband and I and everyone who visited us struggled to work the thing and ended up just taking it off to do their business. (And can I mention that you don't want to be messing with a toilet lock when you've really got to go.)

Interestingly, Jackson has never been very interested in throwing anything but toilet paper into the toilet. We usually keep the bathroom doors shut, so he stays out. (I know that may change as he gets older and tall enough to reach the door knobs.) But at that point, a toilet lock won't be very effective.

We also didn't use furniture corner covers. Jackson walked pretty early, and he became fleet of feet very early. I can't remember him falling once or hitting himself on the edge of a table. So, we never used the cushioned furniture corners that I bought too early in his babyhood to return by the time he was walking. (They're in a box destined for Goodwill.)

When it comes to babyproofing items, my advice is that you shouldn't buy these items on the hunch that they're be useful. Observe your baby and see what attracts his or her attention. Things like gates (especially on the stairs), plug covers and cabinet latches are essential, but you may not need all the other things you find in the safety section at Babies R Us. You'll end up wasting time and money. (Babyproofing is time consuming.)

And you may be able to find frugal or no-cost solutions that work just as well. To keep Jackson out of my jewelry armoire, I tied a scarve through the drawer pulls. To keep him out of our living room end table (our junk drawer), we removed the drawer pull, as my own parents had done decades earlier. I'm sad to report that Jackson has now figured out how to open that drawer. He delights in grabbing pens and running off with them and in wiping his bottom with neon pink Post-It notes. That's a problem I don't know how to solve.

Do you have children? If so, I'd love to hear what you'd add to the list. And if you're a mommy- or daddy-to-be, feel free to ask me if the baby gear you're planning on purchasing is really necessary.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Stockpiling Can Save Time and Money

The idea of stockpiling may seem at odds with one of the tenets of frugal living -- simplicity.

To live frugally is, by definition, to live simply. The goal is to purchase only those things that you need and to fulfill only those most precious wants. It follows that if you don't buy a lot of extraneous things then you won't be emptying your bank account.

And this certainly makes sense. However, one of the best ways that I know of to save money in the long run requires me to horde certain things.

I'm talking, of course, about stockpiling -- that notion that when you see a great deal on something you use regularly that you should buy as much of that item as you can afford/use/store.

Please note my wording -- a great deal on something you use regularly. That's important. A great deal, not a good deal. Something you use regularly, not something you use every now and then.

In our family, those items that we use regularly and that we stockpile include:

  • diapers
  • baby wipes
  • toilet paper
  • paper towels
  • toothpaste
  • toothbrushes
  • deodorant
  • detergent
  • dishwashing and dishwasher detergent
  • Shampoo (conditioner, not so much. A bottle lasts me a long time!)
  • soap
  • cereal
  • apple juice
  • salad dressing (especially in the summertime)
  • frozen vegetables
  • frozen shrimp
  • meats
  • occasional convenience meals (for when I'm too tired to cook)
  • soft drinks (or sodas or pop to those of you living outside of the South)
  • dog food

Actually, the list could probably go on for awhile. But you get the idea.

I like to keep these items on hand, so I don't run out. Just today, I tossed out an old tube of toothpaste and ran upstairs to my toiletries stockpile to grab a new tube and a new toothbrush for myself.

That was so much easier than wrestling the empty tube for one last squeeze and then trying to remember to swing by the drug store for a replacement. And thanks to some great deals I've found at CVS and Walgreens and the Grocery Game, that toothpaste and toothbrush didn't cost me a cent. Not one cent. (If you're a super frugal shopper, you know how I did it. If not, I'm happy to share my secrets with you. Just post a comment or a question.)

Because of certain circumstances, I have stockpiles of other items, as well. These are things that I don't use as often, but I've still got a lot of them thanks to a variety of reasons. (Remember, I'm a reforming shopaholic. Also, it seems that certain items have a way of multiplying because they're such popular gifts. What woman doesn't have more candles than she can use? And my skin would have to be drier than the Sahara for me to use up all the body lotion that I've amassed.) I'll use these things as I need them or I may pass them along to friends or donate them to charity.

By keeping these items organized together, I always know what I have and what I need. Ideally, I should never run out.

Sometimes even I get fooled. For example, I thought we were stocked up on toilet paper last week, but my husband informed me that we were completely out. I'd mistaken our stockpile of paper towels for toilet paper! Ouch -- and I mean that literally and figuratively.

To remedy the TP disaster, my visiting father-in-law ran to the store to pick us up enough rolls to last us a week or so. Since then, I've stumbled on a great ExtraCare deal from CVS, so I'll be buying a bunch of 9-packs of Charmin this week. We shouldn't run out for quite a while.

Stockpiling How-To

If you're contemplating starting a stockpile, I'd love to share with you some tips on how to create and organize yours. I've found that you really don't need to devote an incredible amount of space to your stockpile (or stockpiles, if you spread them around the house, as I do.)

  1. Group like items together. That way, you know at a glance what you have and what you need. I struggle with this often -- not because of my own organizational skills but because of others who live with me. My toddler loves to get in the stockpile and rearrange things. Apparently, it's fun for almost 2-year-olds to load baby wipes, dog food and canned goods into their wagon. And my husband, bless his helpful heart -- never seems to sort things quite right on the shelves.
  2. Keep items handy. Like everyone else, my time is tight. So, I like to be able to grab something and go. I hate searching for something or having to traipse halfway across the house to get something that I need right this minute. For that reason, I keep things like cosmetics and shampoo and hairspray and body washes stockpiled on a small shelf in my closet. If I run out, it's easy for me to dash in the closest and grab something while my toddler is sitting on my bed reading or watching Curious George.
  3. Consider a second refrigerator or freezer. As I mentioned, we keep a stockpile of certain food items -- lots of frozen meats, veggies and convenience meals in the freezer. Since we live in the south, we never like to run out of cold drinks, so the second refrigerator comes in handy. Ours is in our garage, and we've only had it for a couple of months, but I couldn't live without it. I suspect it will become even more essential as my son gets older and his appetite grows. (When my brothers were teenagers, my mom had to keep her second fridge packed.)
  4. Shop your stockpile. When I find great deals on groceries, I stock up. However, I don't have room in my relatively small townhouse kitchen for all those extras. So, I repurposed an old bookshelf as a secondary pantry. It's in my garage, as well, and I keep nonperishable, pest-proof foods and household items there. (Think canned and bottled goods, toilet paper and paper towels, plastic bag and laundry and dishwashing supplies.
  5. Keep pests away. I learned this the hard way. Apparently we are -- or we were -- providing rent-free housing to a family of rodents in our garage. Before we got rid of the problem once and for all, we lost a tremendous amount of food to these vermin. They were attracted to anything sweet and anything in a box -- macaroni and cheese, cereal, rice mixes, hot chocolate in foil packs, and even Splenda. Now, we don't keep any perishable food unprotected in the garage. If I need to stockpile these items, I'll store them in the pantry in my kitchen. In the case of snacks and cereal, I keep a few items in a small plastic bin on top of the refrigerator in the garage. I only buy what will fit in there. Depending on your storage conditions, you may have to contend with ants or other insects. But there are ways to prevent these invasions.
  6. Let your stockpile guide your cooking. Every now and again, I'll find a recipe that I just have to try. But I usually plan our meals around what we have in the stockpile. Tonight, we grilled chicken (marinated in an expensive grilling sauce that I got for less than $1), a noodle side dish (bought on sale for less than $1) and some steamed frozen peas (bought on a super sale with a coupon.)
  7. Try other brands. I'm brand loyal to a few things -- Coke Zero, for example. But since I've started stockpiling and bargain shopping for basics, I've relaxed some of that brand loyalty. It is possible to stockpile only your beloved brands, but it will take longer, and you probably won't be able to keep as robust a stockpile. But if you're willing to try other brands, you'll save a lot of money. And you may discover that your brand allegiances weren't so deserved. For example, I used to use only Degree deodorant and Finesse hairspray. But since I've begun stockpiling, I've given some other brands a try and I've been pleased with the results. My pits don't stink, my hair looks great, and I have extra money in my purse. As for Coke Zero -- I always have to have some in the house, but if I find a good deal on Diet Cheerwine or Diet Dr. Pepper or Diet Mountain Dew, I'll buy a few. But never Diet Pepsi. Ick!
  8. Know when to say, "Enough!" Nearly every week, I find toothpaste on sale for nothing or next to nothing (when combined with store and manufacturers' coupons and rebates). But I won't be buying any for quite a while. There are just three of us -- and Jackson doesn't have a full set of teeth yet! -- and we probably have enough toothpaste to last us the year. Even when you stockpile, you much set a threshhold of how much is enough. Your threshhold will be different from mine, and it will likely vary from product to product.

Do you stockpile? I'd love to hear your comments on how you make this budget-trimming tool work for you.