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:

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

Fiesta Chicken Enchiladas from Kraft Food & Family magazine
steamed corn

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

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
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)

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

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.